SME profile: An appetite for apps tailored to the Emirates
One of the world’s most popular messaging apps, WhatsApp, gave Tarek Al Zubair an idea.
The Emirati noticed in 2009 just how popular mobile apps were becoming, and he wanted to help the UAE get on board. He reached out to his friend, Ali Khawaja, and the two began to create their first app, which has now turned into a growing business called Synergistics.
Mr Al Zubair’s market research showed that in the UAE, there were no app creation services between the multimillion-dollar conglomerate internet technology (IT) companies charging incredible fees and the freelancers that were unreliable.
“The best of ideas are driven by innovation, and innovation is driven by existing problems,” the 25-year-old says. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
And one of Synergistics’ ideas stemmed from just that.
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Sayarti, in its current form, is a petrol station locator. Mr Al Zubair noticed that despite the country’s petrol distributors having their own apps, none of the information was aggregated. For instance, if a user was looking for the nearest petrol station using the Enoc app, only Enoc stations would appear. If the user is in Abu Dhabi, they would need to use the Adnoc app instead.
However, Sayarti, which means “my car” in Arabic, combines data on Adnoc, Enoc and Emarat petrol stations for all seven emirates.
The team includes updates on petrol prices, showing any change, once the energy ministry announces prices for the upcoming month. Unlike the other two apps that the company has developed, this one has space for a small ad banner to gain some financial support from vendors.
The burgeoning market for mobile app development services is forecast to grow at least five times faster than a company’s internal IT can typically deliver, requiring outside resource capacity, according to Australian-based IT research firm Gartner.
Globally, mobile phone sales reached 2.1 billion units in just three years. Last week, WhatsApp said it now had 1 billion users a month having reached that milestone in a shorter time frame than even its parent Facebook.
Nearly one year ago, after being turned down for a small business loan from a local bank, Mr Al Zubair decided to invest his savings of more than Dh800,000 to start his business. Synergistics now has 20 employees, most based in Lahore, Pakistan.
The location was chosen for its IT prowess, but also because of lower costs.
“In the UAE, the same setup would have been eight times more expensive because start-ups always face challenges of liquidity despite raising large amounts of capital,” Mr Al Zubair says. Once an office is established, the next hurdle is human resources, and Mr Al Zubair said that the UAE was a challenging place to obtain visas. “It was more cost-efficient to set up in Pakistan and also with a huge amount of IT specialists.”
Since opening Synergistics in March, the company has created three mobile apps, beginning with Gold Tracker, which is also used internally as a base for tests for potential employees. It offers the real-time price of gold in over 150 currencies with the user able to access different forms of measurement.
Another app came from Mr Al Zubair’s desire to reach the younger, tech-savvy generation. Wajibati, which means “my duty” in Arabic, includes prayer times and daily hadiths and has been downloaded more than 30,000 times since it was released in September.
The company plans to add a mosque locator, the Quran (available in multiple languages) and a halal food finder mostly geared toward the European market. However, the biggest download area for the completely ad-free app is the United States.
Synergistics aims to create the Beta version, including concept designing and building the framework, of each app in under 30 days.
The next app on the agenda is to create a rental app, called Ajaar (Arabic for “rental”), geared toward Dubai residents.
“Building an app isn’t for the sake of building it – it’s to help reduce operational expenses,” Mr Al Zubair said.
Synergistics is currently looking for investors to grab an equity stake in the app, which the company believes will be the biggest portion of the business. The development will take a page from the book of making a process easier by offering a way to handle rental agreements as well as security deposits and payments through a mobile device. In addition, Ajaar will have free legal advice readily available for both tenants and owners.
“In the first year, I could easily walk away with millions [of dirhams],” says Mr Al Zubair.
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