Waleid Abdulkareem, founder and owner of On Time, has built up a Dubai SME on document outsourcing for government offices and now eyes an public offering.
Good timing for Dubai firm handling government work
A company handling outsourced government processes was not the first career move Waleid Abdulkareim considered when he dropped out of high school in the 1990s.
Besides teenage angst, the Emirati had a vague idea of reducing the gap between the Government and the private sector.
First he tried his hand at his brother's document processing firm, a service he feels was hampered by a lack of clear guidelines from government departments and the time it took to process paperwork. "The services weren't that effective," Mr Abdulkareim says, recalling a visit to the labour department 10 years ago with his brother to observe how it handled customer service.
However, after later returning to school to complete his studies and a stint in a government public relations office, he opened his own company, On Time, in 2003 to process Saudi commercial and transit visas.
The timing coincided with the boom in Dubai's economy and efforts to streamline the government's customer-care services. On Time now handles government work from translation to trade licences and setting up new businesses with assignments from a number of government departments and several consulates. The company also services the needs of individual and corporate clients handling licensing and registrations. Named one of the top 100 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Dubai last year by Dubai SME, an agency of the Department of Economic Development, the company has now expanded its services and locations and is eyeing international markets as it toys with the idea of going public.
It's easy to see how On Time has grown so rapidly.
According to Jitendra Gianchandani, the chairman and managing partner of Dubai-based Jitendra Consulting Group, which advises start-ups, outsourcing and document outsourcing is a big industry with the Dubai Outsource Zone, set up in 2004, one example of how the sector has expanded in recent years
"If the government continues to support SMEs by retaining their services, I don't see any problem for [such] SMEs to survive and grow," Mr Gianchandani adds.
In 2003, there were only 12 document outsourcing companies in Dubai, including On Time, allowing those with the right strategy an opportunity to grow and grow fast.
"We began with a proper financial and administration system," says Mr Abdulkareim, 38, who first opened with a 200-square-foot office on Khalid Bin Walid Road in Bur Dubai housing four employees.
Mr Abdulkareim recalls how one employee asked him: "This is small document processing firm, why make fuss with staff uniforms and make it look like a big thing?"
The founder says he replied: "There is a big government services company coming", adding that his success was inspired by the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi.
"Gandhi once said: 'first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win'. I went through all the four steps."
After four years in business, the entrepreneur opened a further 16 branches across Dubai. Today there are 25 branches with 250 employees handling 3,000 clients daily. Half of all its employees are Emiratis - something Mr Abdulkareim thinks is important for the business and the country.
In five years, the entrepreneur plans to list On Time on Nasdaq Dubai as a small to medium sized company and would like to attract investment from a financial partner or bank.
"Any company with healthy long-term financial track record, consistent management and willing to dilute the control can go for IPO [internet public offering," Mr Gianchandani says.
Mr Abdulkareim, who estimates the current valuation of the On Time group at Dh100 million, certainly has big plans. By the first quarter of next year, he hopes to open branches in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman.
The company will also open its first round-the-clock office in Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai in a few weeks.
"I am not worried about who's going to buy shares, we have to focus on how to develop e-solutions," he says, referring to his company's push to bag more outsourced government document processes.
"It's about trust between you and the Government, how they can trust you and disclose information to you."
He is also eyeing international markets too, starting in the Arabian Gulf.
"We will hire their nationals and create jobs, and I don't think they would object. This part of the world needs more investment."