Having come to Latvia to study, Mohamed Ghaith, Egyptian by nationality, has stayed here much longer. Things have certainly panned out in the right direction for the gifted and entrepreneurial young man here. Having scooped up experiences of work at different firms, now he is excited with his own new but hot business – Zeew, a Riga-based delivery startup, which brands itself the “Uber for packages” – offering instant, on-demand shipping through a smartphone app. The Baltic Times sat down to speak to Mohamed Ghaith.
Tell me about yourself, please. How did you decide to leave your birth country and move to Latvia?
Yes, so I was born in Alexandria, Egypt. I’ve always been a very active and curious person that’s why I started my first business already at the age of 16.
I developed software for managing users’ time for internet cafes and started selling it door-to-door. I enjoyed being my boss, I’m always looking for more opportunities, so I decided to study abroad. Something related to technology as it has always built a certain excitement and curiosity in me. Thus I wanted to get that world view on how other people live and lead businesses and technologies outside Egypt.
Choosing a European country for me looked like a good start, as a student, I also saw the possibility to meet people from various backgrounds. So over 10 years ago, I came to Latvia to study avionics engineering at Riga Technical University because this program had great recognition at that time. Honestly, it was also the first time that I heard about Latvia.
Can you walk us through all the firms you worked for and in what capacities?
When I first came to Latvia as a student, I had to find a job parallel to my studies. I worked in an American travel agency for 2.5 years in sales, then joined FXOpen - a leading Forex brokerage firm where I worked from 2012 until 2016. There I started in the sales department and then took the corporate ladder to Regional Director, where I managed all MENA (the Middle East and North America) offices and more. Throughout my work in the Forex industry, I gained tremendous experience in FX trading, hedge funds, cryptocurrency, and more.
In 2016 I created my first startup - Drofie - a foldable selfie drone for the pocket. Drofie was recognized among the best gadgets by Entrepreneur magazine, Inc Arabia, and others at that time and has been mentioned in many tech websites around the world. Drofie is currently sold on such major Online retail platforms as Banggood, AliExpress among others.
Where did you scoop up the money needed to launch Zeew, your newest start-up?
I started Zeew in April 2017 with almost no money out of my kitchen table, I didn’t even know what to call it back then and decided to call it “James” until I come up with a better name. The idea arose from the fact that I saw a lack of accessible and affordable delivery services for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) like flower shops, cosmetics shops, book stores, etc. Those businesses mainly depend on walk-in customers, and they don’t have the luxury of hiring their own delivery person. This results in SMEs missing out on significant revenue streams that the delivery service gives. That’s when I decided to create Zeew.
In order to start building it, find a team, and attract some investments, I started participating in tech meetups, pitching in tech conferences and competitions (like the Digital Freedom Festival and others), which promised money prizes. By the way, we won the Digital Freedom Festival & LATBAN competition as the most promising startup that year. Also, I joined relevant Facebook groups.
In this process, I found Zeew’s co-founder, who had the technical background needed to build the MVP (minimum viable product).
As I am someone who rarely orders deliveries, what should get me interested in Zeew when I decide to get my lunch delivered straight to my hotel on my next trip to Riga?
Zeew is a SAAS white-label technology provider. So here I should talk about two auditoria - the customer who can get his/her goods/food delivered to any place and a business person ready to start operating a delivery business.
To clarify, we are not offering a network of couriers, nor do we operate only in Riga. Our solution is global and is already up and running in 14 countries worldwide.
Zeew provides platforms and apps for enterprises, startups, or individuals who would like to create an UberEats or Shopify like company for food, grocery, or pharmaceuticals delivery service. In the business world, this is called a clone app service where a business person comes with his/her brand design and name, and we provide tools that allow them to sell and deliver items under their chosen brand name. Zeew can be used for a single store or multiple shops/restaurants/pharmacy deliveries in different locations. And the beauty of Zeew is that it offers apps in all technology formats (desktop, Android, and iOS mobile) and is not limited to one country. But the main benefit is that enterprises don’t need months to develop a solution but can buy our service and get individually branded apps in 5 mins!
In the context of the initial question, the buyer would enjoy Zeew’s service, as we have a user-friendly app interface. You can pay directly through the app; it’s easy to navigate and order items from many stores and place it as one order. You can see where the courier is in real-time, and the delivery itself is fast and efficient.
From the business owners’ point of view, he/she sees how all the processes evolve, starting from a customer placing an order, a restaurant kitchen accepting it, and couriers delivering it. He can see the invoices, process, and customer flow, navigate exclusive deals, see how satisfied customers are with his partners (couriers, shops, restaurants), etc. information that helps manage the delivery business.
How far did Zeew go and where are you operating now?
Zeew had ups and downs throughout the 3 years of operations; we pivoted two times until we found the product-market fit. Currently, Zeew is a technology provider for many businesses worldwide. We have 5 white label products - food delivery, grocery delivery, pharmacy delivery, single store delivery, and all in one delivery.
Zeew systems are currently operating in 14 countries worldwide, and our apps are available in 6 languages. Currently, our team consists of 12 skilled and dedicated professionals.
In a nutshell, what sets Zeew apart from the other deliverers?
Zeew offers the opportunity for business owners to take power back into their own hands and avoid paying high commission fees for delivery platforms. We provide business owners with their website for orders, admin dashboard for administrative management, courier apps for delivery management, client apps for a pleasant few-click ordering experience for actual eaters/buyers, and more. Business owners can use their staff for delivery or outsource to a last-mile delivery company through an API (application programming interface).
Research studies prove that 90% of customers order from the same restaurant/store because they like their product. Also, they use delivery platforms as it’s the only medium between the restaurant/store and the client for a convenient way to get what they want without losing time by going to a store. By choosing Zeew, the business owners can purchase our SaaS (system as a service) and get their apps with all features of the big players like UberEats and Shopify as low as $99 per month. We give additional apps for $299 per month or $599 per month where we add new apps and features like voice recognition for placing orders.
Zeew already has helped many business owners worldwide to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and started offering delivery to their customers without physical contact. We even had clients from small islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I see that the world will only continue its manifest to becoming more mobile, convenient, and time-saving in regards to all kinds of services.
Speaking in general, how do you see the Latvian investment and the start-up environment?
The startup ecosystem is pretty alive and active in Latvia. However, the startup law is still underdeveloped, especially in its first phases, when it comes to foreign founders trying to establish a startup in Latvia. The purpose of a startup law, e.g., in Estonia, is to help founders develop a business, make it easier to hire people and have a coherent and fair tax system. The startups can’t pay such high taxes from the start as it is for different forms of establishments.
Unfortunately, Latvia’s startup law is underdeveloped in the sense that it has a tax regime that puts significant financial pressure on the startup owner. Currently, the startup owner has to pay 252,- euros monthly per employee, regardless of the salary paid, for minimal social benefits. At first, this looks great until a foreign founder applies to get his residence in Latvia based on the fact that he/she has a startup here. Then he/she has to comply with the minimum salary requirement for a foreign employee by the immigration department of over 900,- euros monthly. In numbers, it means that the startup is required to pay the same amount in taxes as the big corporations plus to be employed in his startup, he has to place a vacancy in the unemployment agency and wait one month to apply for it. It’s comical if you think about it - I need to justify why I am the best fit for the CEO position for a company I established.
What do you wish to be better?
I would be happy to see changes in startup law in a way that would include foreign entrepreneurs with more comfortable and logical requirements. Also, I would like to see a better alignment among different government institutions to unify the tax, visas, and residence permits processes for new entrepreneurs.
How have you sailed through the COVID-19 crisis?
COVID-19 has hit the business hard worldwide. Many have shut down their operations; others still struggle. As for us we were prepared - the demand for our product has increased dramatically and is still growing month after month. Covid-19 has removed the barriers between consumers and technologies, making products even more accessible and nurtured a significant demand to get what they want, no matter the location. Now everyone is used to the fact they can order anything online because it is more efficient, cheaper, faster, and generally saves time. I think consumers will still be ordering stuff online after the pandemic, and the demand may grow.
What was the most horrible and the most enlightening part of it?
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a worldwide tragedy that took hundreds of thousands of people, and still, in many countries, the spread has not stopped. It’s a tragedy. Also, it is causing enormous economic pressure on many countries that rely heavily on tourism; too many people lost jobs.
The most enlightening part was to get a deeper understanding of business needs due to changing demand, which actually can help enhance customer service. There are many features and processes we have added to our platform just by listening to business owners from different parts of the world. The adaptation helped us build an international platform that is scalable worldwide in a SaaS model.
What do you want to achieve in the short-term and long-term?
Our short term goal is to meet the current demand even faster than before and grow our customer base. We are getting 5-7 requests per day, and all our team members are currently working hard behind the scenes to build Zeew into an international startup that becomes a Unicorn. Our goal is to become the next Shopify for delivery, allowing any business owner to have his website and courier apps ready within 10 minutes from subscribing.
Do you miss your extended family? How often do you get a chance to get together?
I do miss my family. The last time I visited Egypt was in 2018. Afterward, I didn’t have a chance to revisit them due to work, then came the pandemic. I’m looking forward to seeing them as soon as I can.
Is Latvia tolerant? Did you ever note any kind of islamophobia here? Be honest please…
Generally, in every country, there are a few people who are not tolerant of different races, nationalities, languages, etc. I have not encountered many of those situations because I am mostly among the tech community or people I know.
How important is the availability of a mosque to you? Do you follow the script of the Quran?
To my knowledge, there are two mosques in Riga. I visited them a few times over the years. I try to become a better person every day; that’s what I can say about it.
Are you in Latvia for good?
Unfortunately, no, recently, I decided to move to Tallinn and open an Estonian company as their startup law is more supportive for business owners like myself. Over the coming months, we will be forming a parallel team in our office in Tallinn.