Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 January 2020

Off hours: Classifieds Middle East chief advises start-ups to ‘embrace the constant change’

Former Groupon Middle East chief executive Alexander Kappes, who now heads up Classifieds Middle East, says merging his startup Foodora with Talabat was the lowest point of his career.
Alexander Kappes of digital marketplace Classifieds Middle East says competition is aggressive at a start-up. Pawan Singh / The National
Alexander Kappes of digital marketplace Classifieds Middle East says competition is aggressive at a start-up. Pawan Singh / The National

Alexander Kappes is the chief executive of the digital marketplace Classifieds Middle East, which operates in the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Mr Kappes began his career in the e-commerce industry after co-founding the Netherlands start-up Fold’n Joy, a bespoke furniture design company that created chairs out of cardboard. He has also worked for corporates such as Daimler and the strategy consultancy FMC, then joined Groupon in 2012 and eventually headed its Middle East operation. In 2015, he launched the UAE delivery service Foodora, which later merged with the regional food-delivery platform Talabat.com. The German-Palestinian lives in Dubai and also spent part of his childhood in Abu Dhabi.

How do you spend your weekend?

I like going out and finding inspiration. I spend the time catching up with friends and my parents who work in tourism and hospitality and have lived in the UAE for 20 years. I don’t like routines and every weekend I try to do at least one thing I haven’t done before. Dubai is an easy place to do that and one of the main reasons I love living here is the constant change. So this weekend I’m going to Autodrome to drive a Lotus on the racetrack and later heading to the Sikka Art Fair in the old town.

How did you become an executive director?

I joined Groupon as a junior manager in the phase before the company went public. The environment at Groupon, which was the fastest growing company ever at the time, was very challenging but I was able to impress the executive management team with my performance and was rewarded with a promotion after three months. I kept working my way up the ranks until I was put in charge as a vice president for emerging markets. Almost exactly a year after I had joined Groupon, I was then asked to lead Groupon’s operation in the Middle East as the CEO.

What is your go-to gadget?

My MacBook Pro. Because I’m available all the time – I work on the weekends and spend a lot of time on social media – it’s with me wherever I go so that I can quickly answer emails. I’ll also watch series or movies on it in bed.

What was the lowest point of your career?

Eight months after launching Foodora, Dubai’s first premium food-delivery business, the investors were determined that investing our budget into European markets would yield higher results and we were asked to merge the operation with our sister company Talabat. Having built Foodora from scratch, this decision was very difficult for my team and I.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

Working for, or launching a tech start-up, is a completely different game. The pace is much higher, the competition is more aggressive and flexible and the playing field changes constantly. Despite this, and maybe because of this, it is also an incredibly rewarding experience. My advice would be to embrace the constant change, surround yourself with a team that complements you, and wow your customers and partners at every point.

What is your most indulgent habit?

I like starting my mornings by having a cup of coffee, listening to some music and enjoying a bit of peace before the day kicks off.

What do you have on your desk at work?

I don’t have anything to distract me, apart from chewing gum because it helps me concentrate.

What book are you currently reading?

The Startup Playbook by David Kidder, which features inspiring interviews and background information on start-ups in various industries.

What car do you drive?

A Porsche 911 Carrera S.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

By making sure I get the most important things done during the week, or on Friday and Saturday mornings, so I can focus on my personal life for the rest of the weekend.

If you could swap jobs with anyone who would it be and why?

I’d love to work alongside leaders such as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, but if I’d have to pick something not related to leadership and management, I’d love to switch jobs with Formula One pilot Sebastian Vettel.


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Updated: March 16, 2017 04:00 AM