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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

An app for the ultra privileged is about to launch in the UAE

An invite-only digital membership club that costs Dh18,365 per year is making its UAE debut. Noor Nanji speaks to the founders of Velocity Black

The decision to choose Dubai as Velocity Black's next city was a “logical step”, its co-founders Zia Yusuf and Alex Macdonald said. Courtesy: Velocity
The decision to choose Dubai as Velocity Black's next city was a “logical step”, its co-founders Zia Yusuf and Alex Macdonald said. Courtesy: Velocity

An exclusive app that lets you swim with orcas, fly to the edge of space, heli-ski down volcanoes or hang out with celebrities is coming to the UAE.

Velocity Black, a UK-based online membership club that claims to have reimagined lifestyle concierge services for the digital age, is launching this week in Dubai.

The company was founded in 2014 by two ex-financiers, Zia Yusuf and Alex Macdonald, with Velocity Black launching in 2016 in the aim of delivering its members “a life without limits”.

Everything from the best restaurants, tickets to sold-out shows and incredible experiences in 55 countries around the world can be booked from the palm of your hand – perfect for cash-rich, time-poor millennials.

It has already proven a hit in London, New York, Miami and Los Angeles, with supermodel Gigi Hadid, American actor Vanessa Hudgens and pop star Joe Jonas among the names who have backed the concept and showcased its features to their millions of Instagram followers.

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid) on

The decision to choose Dubai as their next city was a “logical step”, according to the company's co-founders, both in their early 30s, who spoke exclusively to The National ahead of the launch.

“In the UAE, so many things are done because people simply ask themselves, ‘why not?’”, says Yusuf, a former Goldman Sachs director who quit his job to set up Velocity with his schoolmate and ex-private equity executive Macdonald.

“From the tallest building in the world, to the concept of a ski slope in the middle of the desert, Dubai is a city synonymous with making the seemingly impossible, possible.

"Our app embodies the exact same spirit.”

Zia Yusuf (L) and Alex Macdonald, two former schoolmates and ex-financiers, founded Velocity Black in 2016. Courtesy: Velocity
Zia Yusuf (L) and Alex Macdonald, two former schoolmates and ex-financiers, founded Velocity Black in 2016. Courtesy: Velocity

Velocity Black promises its members a response to any query on its chat feature within 60 seconds, 24/7, 365 days a year. From booking private flights to last minute dining reservations, everything has been designed to save and enrich members’ time – “because time is the most precious asset,” says Yusuf.

Members also get access to swanky members-only events, preferential rates at luxury resorts and free upgrades at the best hotels.

It’s a concept that has proven extremely successful. Backed by nearly $30 million in funding, Velocity Black’s revenues have grown 17 times in the last 12 months. Its investors include specialist bank and asset management firm Investec, whose co-head of emerging companies, Devin Kohli, told us that he could see the app doing "incredibly well" in the Middle East.

“The commercials of the business are growing explosively,” Yusuf says. “But for us, it’s really about doing things right, making sure our members are happy – because that begets growth.”

The team have specially curated experiences in the UAE around events such as the Dubai World Cup, the Dubai International Film Festival and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. There will also be more intimate events and dinners, where members will get to rub shoulders with political figures, tech industry leaders and A-list celebrities.

“Dubai has really emerged as a cultural centre, a centre for innovation, as well as being an established hub for business,” says Macdonald. “And obviously it has a very digitally savvy population, with a lot of disposable income. So for us, it scored high on all the key metrics.”

A dedicated local team in Dubai will be on hand to offer personalised service to members and to connect them with hard-to-access, remarkable events in and around the UAE. Members will also have access to a host of experiences around the world, including parties at the Grammys, the Oscars and Art Basel, and exclusive clubhouses at the Coachella festival and in Ibiza.

“One thing our members have in common is that they travel frequently,” Macdonald says. “So we will be offering a mix of local and international experiences to our members in the UAE.”

Globally, the app already has thousands of members, including many who are based in the UAE.

Membership costs $5,000 (Dh18,365) a year, with a one-time initiation fee of $5,000. But even if you can afford it, it’s not for everyone. In the tradition of all fine private members’ clubs, membership is exclusive and strictly capped. There will be 20 founding members in Dubai, who will in turn be responsible for inviting more members.

Velocity Black provides its members with incredible experiences, such as flying a fighter jet to space. Courtesy: Velocity
Velocity Black provides its members with incredible experiences, such as flying a fighter jet to the extremes of the earth's atmosphere. Courtesy: Velocity

Where next for the app? “We’re launching in Singapore and Hong Kong later this year, as well as in more US cities including San Francisco,” Yusuf says. “We are also looking at China towards the end of the year, and European cities like Berlin and Paris are on the radar as well.

“There’s this incredible world out there that we’re barely scratching the surface of,” he adds. “Our app is all about getting the most out of life, in the most convenient way possible.”

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