Qatar’s homegrown Evently app hopes to go from the incubation centre to every smartphone in town
How many times have you found out about an event only after it has gone by? A common complaint people in Qatar have is about finding out about events much after they are over.
Four individuals in Qatar recognised this gap in the market and decided to do something about it. They wanted to help people discover the events that were taking place around the country. Hence, Evently came into existence.
Within 30 days of launch, Qatar’s first event listing mobile application, has had over 800 downloads across platforms.
Mufeed Ahmed, Nasser Al Naama and his sister, Aisha Al Naama, and Fawaz Mohamed work on Qubicle, their technology startup company. Mufeed is the tech-savvy member, the early adopter who loves to experiment with the latest technology and gadgetry; Nasser (also a JustHere columnist) is a self-confessed connector who loves to meet people and create connections; Aisha handles the communication and public outreach for the company; and Fawaz takes care of the business modelling and financial side of the business.
The team’s journey into entrepreneurship began in 2011 with their participation in QITCOM’s Innovation Theatre and Sahem, a competition that invited young creative people in the MENA region to submit their ideas for the Doha 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid portal. After dedicating several hours of their time to their submission, they were declared runners-up in the competition. “Even though we did not win the first prize, the competition at least helped us get a foot in,” says Nasser.
They received a monetary prize as runners-up in Sahem, which they pooled into the investment fund for their entrepreneurial venture. “It was right after this that we prepared a business plan and approached the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT). It took a while before we were in,” comments Aisha.
In December last year, MICT finally offered them a place in their Incubation Center and provided them a space at the ministry’s office in West Bay. Within three months of their launch as Qubicle at MICT, they launched Evently on the Android platform. This currently has had over 800 downloads. Following this, they launched the application for Blackberry 10 OS as well. Now, they are awaiting the launch of the app on the iOS platform. “Since Qatar has one of the highest internet and smartphone penetration rates, we thought a mobile application of this sort would be a good idea,” says Nasser.
However, the real test began once they were incubated at MICT and were required to register their business.
Incubation only cushions businesses to a certain extent, they say, but starting a business is never easy, especially in Qatar. After incubation, a startup business must go through the process of registering as a legal company, which includes obtaining a commercial registration, a commercial permit, an establishment card, a tax card and proof that we have QR200,000 deposited in our bank account. “The only exception is the rental agreement for the office space, which we didn’t need to submit as we have a space at the incubation centre,” Nasser adds.
These processes are not always easy and can be quite challenging for entrepreneurs.
“For entrepreneurs going through these challenges, it can be extremely time-consuming and expensive if they do not have any help from a business service agency that takes care of everything from preparing the documents to obtaining all the materials for the registration. Of course, using the services of these companies means an added fee too,” Mufeed adds.
Prior to being incubated, the team had also approached other companies for financial support, however many of them declined as this was a mobile application. It wasn’t something they could see or touch. “Most investors did not understand what we were trying to do as this – mobile apps and technology – is still fairly new territory for them. People prefer to see something tangible when you’re starting a business. Their concept of business is still old-fashioned. So since they couldn’t understand what we were doing, they couldn’t facilitate the process for us,” explains Nasser.
As a technology startup, there are some unique challenges that they encountered. Payment gateway systems such as PayPal which are required to receive online payments from app users did not allow businesses in Qatar to create merchant accounts, until very recently. Alternate options were to use the payment gateway systems of banks and in Qatar, banks charge a very high annual fee and per transaction, which are not very feasible for startups. Tech Startups also face difficulties in availing bank loans since they seldom have collateral.
Their team has now grown to include two more individuals – a full-time content researcher and developer and a mobile application developer for the applications the company designs.
“Having support from an incubation centre is very helpful. Many things, especially rent for an office space can add upto a lot, especially since signing a commercial lease for an office requires signing for at least one year for at least QR7000 per month,” comments Mufeed. It also helps to be part of the centre, when it comes to dealing with legal issues. Other advantages of being part of MICT’s Incubation Centre, he says, include free access to all the Adobe software programs and market intelligence reports about the business; workshops and training from prominent people and companies from other places (such as the recent visit from the ex-Vice President of Rovio and angel investors from Silicon Valley who visited them recently); free internet, telephone and printing facilities.
While incubation has its perks, it comes at a price too – hard work. “The best thing about being incubated is that the centre reimburses all the costs that we incur during the process of registration. However, getting accepted into incubation was a tough job. For our business, we were required to submit a detailed business plan of all our month-by-month targets and we are required to consistently meet these. If that doesn’t, it could mean the end of the road for us at the centre,” Mufeed says.