Q1. Tell us more about both of you? How did you connect and form Shugah?
Farhan: Abhishek and myself are school-fellows and have been together ever since our school days. As childhood friends, we have many common interests and that is why we decided to work together and found Shugah.
Abhishek: After leaving school, Farhan moved to Canada, while my journey led me to Mexico and the UK. When we both returned to Dubai, we reunited. When the opportunity for Shugah arose, both of us went all in and jumped at the opportunity together. We always knew we’d be business partners one day. It basically comes from a growing up together sort of relationship.
Q2. Where did this idea come from? What was your inspiration?
Abhishek: We had a mutual friend in the bakery business who always complained about how food delivery platforms were great for restaurants but not for his business. Did you know only 20% of a baker’s menu can be listed on food delivery apps? The rest of them can’t be listed; mainly because they have longer preparation times, customizable components, or are simply too sensitive to be transported on bikes. Hence, we believed we could provide a fair solution to local bakers and facilitate their business through Shugah.
Farhan: That’s true, and to add to that, I’ve had terrible experiences whenever I was trying to throw a party for my children. Questions such as where do I get the best designed Spiderman chocolate cake from? What would be the perfect gift to get? How do I run around to various places to arrange for balloons, cake, flowers and everything else within my budget?!
From planning the party to execution, it’s unnecessarily a very stressful process. A solution in this space was much needed and we strongly believe tech has most of the answers. Therefore, we began working on the idea of launching an app where multiple vendors present their offerings for buyers to order.
Shugah is a one-stop celebration shop for all celebration needs, from getting a gift to throwing a party. The platform allows users to order cakes, gifts, flowers, party stuff, event services, or a combination of the above from their favourite bakeries, party shops, and event planners. All delivered conveniently to their doorstep, hassle-free. We call it Celebration Tech.
Abhishek: We believe that every moment in life is special and deserves to be celebrated with our loved ones. Celebrating occasions brings us together, strengthens our relationships, and enhances the quality of our life! People should celebrate life together.
Q3. Do either of you have prior experience as an entrepreneur?
Abhishek: Both Farhan and I have had our fair share of experience working in various industries, from real estate and banking, to insurance. While this is our first venture together, both of us have experience in running our own respective real estate and insurance brokerage firms.
Farhan: Absolutely, we went from being middlemen in properties and insurance to cakes and parties! We have always been a fan of tech-based start-ups from the beginning and have both invested in a few together in the past. Launching Shugah was easy because we each had our unique insights and knew the KPIs to look out for.
Q4. What makes Shugah unique? What does Shugah bring as an app to users?
Farhan: Shugah is all about the occasion, whether a whole party or just a gift. We are the first Celebration-tech platform that brings users and vendors together through a curated marketplace. The experience is easy, personal, and fun. The app streamlines the process to cater to a user’s requirement, whether it be choice, customizations, or convenience.
Our technology includes three interlinked platforms. A reactive native app/website for customers, a back-end portal for vendors, and a route management app for drivers. Once you pick the products and services you like from providers, they can use their portal to accept or reject the order. The system then automatically assigns the delivery to allocated drivers who update the status on their driver app as they complete the routes. The user gets to track the order status from the pickup to the drop-off point and receives constant live updates.
We have ensured that our end-to-end delivery model is suitable for transporting cakes, flowers, balloons of all sizes, & temperature requirements. The model also allows us to tackle high/low seasons and to cater to popular hours without needing to increase the fleet or reject orders.
But what makes us more wholesome, is that we are not just a typical e-commerce based delivery platform. Rather, we offer various intelligent features that give us an edge in the market. Once such example is your very own personalized calendar to record events manually or via integration along with reminders, free party planning tools such as e-cards and e-invites, discovery features to find products and services to your unique gifting, and party planning requirements, and gift reward points every time you order. These features have helped in encouraging customer loyalty.
Abhishek: We now have the largest combined collection of celebration based listings in the region, but even if you can’t find something in particular on the app that you’re looking for, we can cater to customized cake and party related requests as well. All the user needs to do is provide us with insight into what they require and the platform automatically obtains quotations from various partners who are capable of providing a solution. The customers get to compare the quotes from various vendors and pick what suits them best.
We have selectively handpicked and signed up with the top bakeries, florists, party stores and party planners in the country to ensure that customers receive the benefit of both choice & quality. It is beneficial for the vendors as well, since we address key requirements which were not being catered to through other market-places such as listing products that cannot appear on food delivery apps due to preparation time or customizable features, or due to products being too sensitive to deliver via bikes. But more importantly we provide them access to an audience for gifting and parties.
Q5. Growth is integral to the life of any business; with tough competition in technology, especially mobile applications, what growth do you estimate for Shugah over the next three years?
Abhishek: We do have competition in industry segments like gifting and party goods and also from traditional local e-commerce gift platforms and brick and mortar shops. We don’t really have any competition as a complete celebration marketplace at the moment.
I truly believe that any marketplace should be judged by who has the highest delivery convenience and product variety, and here at Shugah, we cater to both. It’s also important to note that no large global player dominates the market share in the celebrations industry. Our goal is to prepare to scale to achieve growth in other Middle Eastern and Asian regions after succeeding in the UAE.
Moreover, we take feedback from our customers and vendors seriously. Farhan and I personally attend to matters to constantly improve our model from our user interface to our delivery mechanism.
Farhan: I think the consumer trend is in our favor too. After the global pandemic, the majority of people have started to use online shopping as a medium of their day-to-day habit. Currently 73% People in the UAE use online platforms for shopping.
We expect to capitalize on the same for Gifting and Celebrations which have seen the major surge in the market. There has been a 350% Increase in the number of gifts purchased online since 2020 and the market size is anticipated to be $84 billion worldwide. There is also an 80% increase in global online searches for “online gift” in 2020 versus 2019 and a 50% Increase in last-minute shopping for gifts across gender segments.
Now that the gift and events market is growing rapidly and more so from online mediums, our objective is to become market leaders through our curated marketplace approach.
Being tech-based I think it’s critical that we utilise technology to find solutions and even new markets. We have already started to research use cases for AI to cater to user-based customizability and are already looking into gifting NFTs and other forms of digital assets, as we see these become a gradual norm in society, especially with the metaverse in the picture.
Q6. What have you learnt and achieved since founding Sugah, both on a professional and personal level?
Farhan: I’d say we started the business to solve a problem and work towards creating stressless celebrations, but we stayed because we saw the tremendous potential especially after all the positive feedback. Currently, we have a growing number of loyal customers who use the platform for all their celebrations, big or small. This is a great sign for us, mainly since we deliver what we have promised. Pair that with the expected market growth and we truly believe we can take Shugah to an international level.
So far, we have achieved over 120K visitors and 50K downloads, multiplying monthly paired with a growth in sales of 200% in the last 12 months. We have over 30K products and services listed from over 50 vendors within 100 categories and have expanded from Dubai to all over UAE in less than 2 years. We are very hopeful of what the future holds for us.
Abhishek: Personally, I feel that this venture has taught us a lot, from finding solutions for tough problems to finding the right balance to both technology as well as delivery, it’s truly been experience and learning on steroids.
Other than market validity, we have also received funding and scaling support from in5 Tech who are our incubators, Abu Dhabi based company X-Seed who provided our first pre-seed round of investment and now Eureeca which is crowdfunding platform we are currently listed on for raising our next round of investment.
Q7. What is one piece of advice that you would give to tech entrepreneurs?
Abhishek: The best advice I can give is, stick it out. It’s a rollercoaster ride where the highs are real high, and lows are real low, but if you truly believe in what you are after and do it the right way, you will get through it. It is quite an experience of a lifetime.
Farhan: It is important to start with a MVP, let the research and results guide you. No one can create the final product in their first attempt and that shouldn’t be your goal. Business is science now, and it’s about having a hypothesis and then learning from the results. Your startup will most likely pivot, and that’s OK because it is shaping out to be what it should be, only if you let it.
Q8. Can you each share one story that has sparked and inspired you?
Abhishek: It has to be our first successful delivery. We made sure we did the delivery ourselves. Farhan and I hopped into the car and personally did the first few deliveries ourselves to ensure we know all the problems and find the optimum way of delivering experiences. You should have seen how ecstatic we were.
Farhan: There are plenty of stories to tell, from how we met our investors and vendors to our interactions with our employees and customers. But if I had to pick one, my most memorable would be a customer who spent the time to find me on LinkedIn and tell me how we should change a feature on our interface… She had used our services several times before, and she made it a point to go to lengths and find a way to reach out to me, and personally tell me how we can do better. I think that’s the moment I realized we serve people who care about us.
Q9. What factor do you believe matters the most in the success of an entrepreneur?
Farhan: Grit is the most critical and consistent trait that I believe any successful person has. As Abhi mentioned earlier, it gets you through the tough times and keeps you motivated towards your greater vision.
Abhishek: Be open-minded, you never know where you will find the next solution, your customers, your employees or a conversation with a random stranger on the metro. Your job is to solve problems, so learn to be an expert at it, the rest will follow.
Q10. How can readers connect with you?
Farhan: Connect with us via Linkedin, we are open to grow together with the community. Our objective is to make this venture successful with your help. We genuinely believe that start-up entrepreneurs should support one another; we are all in to return the favor and help the community in UAE grow.
Author: Ayesha Zulfiqar
Edited by Bizpreneur Middle East.