It is easy to ascertain that the Gulf's construction sector is far from being in full operational mode. A quick glance around confirms this is indeed the case.
Yet there have been sounding outs from government and contracting industry sources of an "imminent" improvement in the project pipeline. But how soon will this be?
In such an environment, how are the many stakeholders in the industry faring? Monaqasat.com is a B2B online tendering portal that is vertically aligned with the ebbs and flows of the region's construction industry. Karim Helal, general manager, gave a status report on the company.
GULF NEWS: Two years into operations, has the portal turned profitable on a month-on-month basis? How does the portal secure its income by placing the actual tenders or through commissions generated from deal struck?
Karim Helal: Monaqasat.com is not a portal, but rather a full-blown tender as a service solution that caters, for now, exclusively to the needs of the construction industry, from banks and developers all the way to the contractors and sub-contractors.
Regarding our financials, we have remained profitable since inception because of a business model that combines company subscription fees and transaction fees based on the tender value.
Other B2B portals within the construction sector provide the delivery of goods and services. A case in point is Alibaba.com. From that perspective, isn't what you offer kind of one-dimensional?
Alibaba.com, Tejari.com and similar e-commerce websites are great for e-procurement as they allow buyers and sellers to collaborate to buy individual or group of products.
We differ by being exclusively focused on the construction industry. It was created out of a real need to change how tendering is done in the construction industry and our success is proof that there was, and still is, a dire need for such a service.
We are focused on being an e-tendering platform. As such, our one-dimensional approach means we don't sacrifice the quality of our main application in order to do it all.
As part of that effort, we are currently working on introducing new features over the next few months.
Have you secured additional rounds of financing in recent months? If not, do you intend to?
We recently announced the opening up of our Series A round of investment at ArabNet in Lebanon where we won second place at the start-up competition. Immediately thereafter, we also won the MENA ICT award in Syria and the UN-sponsored WSA Summit Awards.
As a result, interest in Monaqasat.com from investors has been increasing.
We are actively talking to various local, regional and international venture capitalists who realise the tremendous potential that such a system can have.
The money raised will allow us to further increase our presence in the region.
Your corporate literature says there are plans to open offices in key regional cities. Why do you need that?
One of the main reasons is to remain in proximity with our customers and offer them instant support. It is extremely important for us to have local presence in key countries. The regional offices will be sales and support centres. Development will however remain centralised at our headquarters to ensure that all our operations and communications are streamlined.
In terms of the IT infrastructure that you operate, where is it located? And is it actually owned by the company?
Monaqasat.com runs on the Amazon AWS cloud platform which powers some of the largest web applications in the world such as Netflix. Our infrastructure uses the latest processes to ensure security and privacy of data.
The major advantage of the cloud over owning our own systems is that we can very quickly provision new servers and services to grow as per the demand, making sure we never need to compromise on the speed of the application as our customer base grows.
The space that you operate also has lots of competitors. At some point, do you see your revenue flow levelling off?
As with every business, there's always the chance of saturating a market. Many have feared Google would go down that path with their focus on Online Ads.
However, creating new products and services manifest in new revenue streams. Our product roadmap includes the staggered release of value-added services.
Luckily, our target market is massive and mostly untapped, so that will be a good scenario to be in.
Your industry is witnessing a phase of consolidation. At some point, will you cash in to an outside bid?
Consolidation goes both ways. It can be acquired or it can acquire. Every investment and exit opportunity will be considered, but the guiding strategy is to maintain the quality of service to customers whatever the path chosen.
From / Gulf News