For our latest Startup Spotlight Series interview, we spoke to Safarudheen Farook, the Co-Founder & CEO of Spendwisor. After learning that almost 70% of the SME shops don’t have a credit card acceptance machine in Qatar, they rely entirely on cash. He decided to take the lead to solve this problem and bring all SMEs to digital inclusion. Thus Spendwisor was born.
An Innovative, Entrepreneur, FinTech enthusiastic, recognized for E-Commerce & FinTech thought leadership, a seasoned professional with 15 + Years of ICT and Fintech market expertise.
In the recent past, he was closely associated with Skip Cash, Qatar (Fintech mobile payments) as its ex-Co-Founder & CEO; Godeira.com, Dubai (E-commerce, wholesale market) and Hanger Project, Dubai (Business to Consumer direct marketing)
Currently, he is on a mission to re-engineer the shopping experience and revamp the retail value chain in MENA Region.
Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you better. So, can you tell us a bit of your “backstory” and how you got started?
It all evoked during the coldest winter vacation with my family in Qatar. I was with my family in the historical and oldest market in Qatar, called “Souq Waqif”, also the most visited tourist destination in Qatar. Suddenly, my youngest daughter spotted her favourite traditional camel toy and started grumpily.
I took my purse and walked to the cashier to buy it. And to my surprise, they said they would only accept cash for the toy. I enquired why they don’t accept credit cards. They said they didn’t have the credit card acceptance machine, and the bank refused to give them one.
It shocked me that almost 70% of SME shops don’t have a credit card acceptance machine in Qatar and rely entirely on cash. As an entrepreneur, I decided to take the lead to solve this problem and bring all SMEs to digital inclusion. Thus Spendwisor was born.
What was the most exciting story that happened to you since you launched your startup?
I was elevated by the news that we were selected for second place out of a hundred in the idea camp competition held by the Digital incubation centre of the Qatar Government in a short period.
Still, I didn’t know there was a greater extent through this journey of Spendwisor when there was an unexpected acceptance of our concept by Apple Middle East. That elated the movement with a ray of light, and we soft-launched the Spendwisor App with Apple Middle east.
No startup founder is immune from making mistakes, and it’s part of the “growing pains” they go through. Can you share one mistake you’ve made with us and the valuable lesson it taught you?
Yes, like every startup, we had our peaks and valleys. One of the major mistakes we made was not controlling the expenses before the product launch into the market, which depleted our runway earlier than we anticipated.
Another mistake was hiring people with industry expertise providing high salaries rather than from the startup eco-system and experience. When the ride got tough, the employees with no previous experience in startup life trembled, couldn’t cope and left the company. These mistakes were costly, but we rectified them and returned to track within no time.
There has been much talk about supporting diversity and inclusion among startup investors. This may be obvious to you, but can you share with our readers why it’s so important for investors to support startups with a diverse and inclusive executive team?
Only a diverse and inclusive executive team can bring innovation successfully into the market. People from diverse backgrounds tend to have different experiences, and there have unique perspectives. For instance, brainstorming for marketing and communication campaigns will be more creative and innovative, with many additional insights. Inclusion in the startup culture helps attract talents and spot the blind spot that otherwise cannot be spotted.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring a positive change within your community, what would that be and why?
Digital inclusion for all. To eliminate the digital divide, we need to make digital inclusion cheaper and more accessible. And this is the mission of Spendwisor. Many innovative CSR activities for bringing positive social changes to society are embedded in our DNA.
We introduced many campaigns to educate consumers about the newer technology, financial inclusion, and digital inclusion. We always strive to educate the community about digital innovations and inspire society to take these ideas forward.
If you had a chance to spend a day with someone and have the liberty to ask anything, who would that person be? What three questions would you ask?
I would like to spend a day with Elon Musk.
My first question: what was the inspiration behind starting-up companies like SpaceX and Tesla?
The second one: how did he convince investors to keep investing even though he met many failures in the early stage?
Last question: What advice can you give budding entrepreneurs like us?
Can you share your favourite life quote with us and why this is so relevant to you?
My favourite life quote is “Always trust your inner voice”.
It has given me a lot of positive results and helped me to be confident in what I do. Even though I take suggestions from others, I always go with my inner instincts.
Great! Thanks for that. Now, let’s go to the main focus of this interview. Can you share with us the story behind that “A-ha Moment” you had that led to the idea of creating and launching your startup?
I was shocked to learn that almost 70% of SME shops don’t have a credit card acceptance machine in Qatar and entirely rely on cash. As an entrepreneur, I decided to take the lead to solve this problem and bring all SMEs to digital inclusion. Thus Spendwisor was born.
So, it was the “A-ha Moment “- why are SME shops not accepting card payments? Since I had a technology background in the ICT and FinTech consulting industry, the light bulb went on! Why don’t I provide an application to accept card payments for the SMEs, so it’s easy for the merchants to start accepting them without hassle? So immediately, the idea blinked, and that is when the concept of Spendwisor was seeded.
What do you think makes your startup stand out? Can you share with us examples to show this?
My startup stands out in two aspects – the first is that we have designed the User Interface (UI) and user interaction in a beautiful way that can connect with customers’ emotions.
The second aspect is that we are FinTech and AdTech company. Our multi-stack platform will let the merchants run a marketing campaign to reach the right audience and have a 100% conversion rate for the money spent on marketing.
What are some “myths” or misconceptions people have when launching a startup that you’ve debunked throughout your journey?
One of the misconceptions people have is that you need to be an expert in the field of the startup you are working on, but it’s not true.
You can have an idea and then work on that idea even if you are not an expert.
My expertise was in ICT, but I could build a marketing tech stack without much experience in the marketing field.
If there’s one significant difference between launching a startup and a small business, what would that be and why?
Startups are bringing innovative ideas into life, something new, and there will be a lot of struggles to gain recognition for the product.
On the other hand, small businesses can replicate an existing product, and resources can be easily found to start this small business.
What are the top three traits that entrepreneurs must possess to launch a startup successfully? Can you expound on why you chose these three traits?
One of the essential traits that an entrepreneur must have is the ability to take risks.
The next is the ability to forget past mistakes and move forward, which we call ‘amnesia’.
The third trait is that an entrepreneur must have a consultative mindset when making decisions by listening to the investors and understanding their customer’s needs.
Let’s flip things around: What do you believe are the three things that can cause a startup founder not to become successful, and why?
Over celebrating the media exposure in the early stages and a lack of focus on the real problems.
As a parting gift to our readers, what are the top three pieces of advice that you can give to them about launching a startup and why? Please share a story for each.
The advice that comes into my mind is bootstrapping.
Instead of approaching investors with high stake requirements, try to collect small funding from family and friends in the initial stage, only spend on marketing after the product reaches the market and recognize product market fit.
The last piece of advice is to try not to add so many features to attract consumers. Instead, add two or three excellent features that can tempt consumers. I would rather call it MLP (Minimum Likable Product). This will help save a lot of money in the early stages.
Thank you for these fantastic insights and for your time. We truly appreciate it and wish you all the best on your journey.
SPENDWISOR is Raising!
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