Belal Zahran On How Foodics is Driving Growth in Egypt’s F&B Sector
Saudi-based fintech and foodtech platform Foodics’ successful expansion in Egypt was led by its country manager, Belal Zahran.
Belal Zahran has played a key role in Saudi-based fintech and foodtech platform Foodics’ successful expansion in Egypt. Since leading Foodics in 2021 as Country General Manager, Zahran has increased the company’s recurring revenues and customer base tenfold, making it one of the leading foodtech companies in the country.
Since entering the local market, Foodics has managed to work with some of Egypt’s leading restaurants in Cairo and beyond. It plans to further expand across all of Egypt’s governorates by providing innovative technologies and solutions to empower food businesses to fast track their growth in the market.
StartupScene sits down with the Country General Manager to learn how Foodics has been aggressively growing in Egypt, and how it is digitally transforming the F&B space to become more efficient, resilient and overall stronger.
Tell me a little bit about your background and the journey that led you to Foodics.
I started my career in the banking industry in Egypt. I worked for HSBC and CIB for a total of five years before shifting gears and entering the startup world. In 2012, I joined Bayt.com, which at the time was new to the Egyptian market. Startups weren’t as prevalent as they are today, but I was ready for a change. I was excited about being part of a startup that provides technology, because I knew then that this is where the future was heading.
It was there at Bayt that I learned everything about startups, business models, growth strategies, profitably and SaaS (software as a service). Spending eight years at the startup, I took on all sorts of roles, from sales executive all the way to country manager. After spending five years as country manager, I felt I was ready to move on to the next chapter of my life.
In 2021, I joined Foodics as Country General Manager to further grow the company in Egypt. It’s been an exciting journey so far, especially because the F&B industry is one of the most important sectors in Egypt. It is not only a fast-growing industry with significant market potential, but it also creates a lot of jobs and is a reliable source of FDIs in the country.
Why has Foodics decided to expand to Egypt?
Foodics entered the Egyptian market at the end of 2019, after it was already established globally with its head office in Saudi Arabia. In hindsight, the timing was less than ideal ;soon after it entered the market, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, leading businesses across the globe to shut down as part of their respective nations’ lockdown rules.
At the same time, however, it demonstrated the resilience of the F&B industry. Not only has it overcome this difficult period, but today the sector is thriving and showing strong growth rates in Egypt. For Foodics, it was an opportunity to enter such a strong sector in one of the most important industries in the country. People here associate going out with eating. The other thing is that many Egyptians dream of having their own restaurant or food business, and it is achievable for most. You can start a food truck business for only LE50K for example, and open an upscale restaurant for millions of Egyptian pounds. We’re also a population of over a 100 million people, representing growing demand for F&B in the country. So, the expansion to Egypt made sense economically from this perspective.
What were some of the challenges Foodics experienced entering the Egyptian market and how did you address them?
One of the main challenges for us was awareness of SaaS in Egypt. Despite SaaS being available in the local market, most F&B businesses didn’t use this technology. And those who did use it, didn’t know how to optimise it fully. Some were still relying on pen and paper to keep track of inventory, sales and overall transactions. We addressed this by understanding their business needs and the tools they use to address those needs. We also provided food businesses with all-inclusive solutions to better optimise their operations.
To help the F&B sector transition to using FOODICS, we would ask them: what are the reasons for wanting to stick to their old way of doing business? What is it that they like about their current system? What is missing that, if provided, would be ideal for them? By asking such questions, it triggers the idea that they could better optimise their operations in their minds. We then link that with our value proposition, which is that we can do what your old system does and much more. We can have a direct positive impact on businesses’ ROI and deliver services easier, faster and safer than others in the market. And that’s exactly what clients want.
Today, I’m happy to say that we have very strong brand awareness and growth not only in Cairo, but across many governorates across Egypt. We have also worked with thousands of businesses since we first launched in Egypt in 2019, increasing our customer base ten times from last year. I believe that the main reason we’ve been so successful in such a short amount of time is because we have a great team. We have young, ambitious and smart people on the ground who understand the market and industry very well. It’s all about people at the end of the day.
What does your role entail? What does your day to day look like?
In the startup world, it is difficult to have a set schedule in place. It varies from day to day, but regardless of how the day is going I always have a huddle in the morning with my direct team leaders reporting to me. It doesn’t need to happen face-to-face; we get on call to make sure that we’re on track for the day and address any pending issues or things that need to get done right away. Before I leave the office, I also always play a game or two of PlayStation with the team.
We also have weekly and monthly business reviews. These meetings reflect the quarterly goals to make sure we are progressing and meeting our targets on schedule. It usually takes a day or two to prepare for these meetings. For example, a day before the weekly meeting, I meet internally with a team directly reporting to me to get the latest updates on sales, marketing and partnerships as well as all functions under me. And for my team to provide these updates, they have to meet with their teams to gather all the necessary information. During the weekly meeting, all the global leads share knowledge, experience and information as well as discuss all necessary updates. We are very firm on our targets and deadlines, so these meetings definitely help keep us on track.
How is Foodics using its technology to help transform the F&B sector in Egypt?
Our main objective at Foodics is to provide our customers with an all-in-one solution to support them in growing their food business. We do that by bringing the latest technologies to help them run their operations more seamlessly and efficiently, which also fuels their business growth in the process. From facilitating payment transactions to providing a management platform for tracking purchases, orders, revenue streams, and deliveries, amongst other features, owners can manage all aspects of their food business from a single platform.
Our technologies are also continuously evolving. We’re soon going to be introducing our online ordering platform in Egypt, which enables restaurants to not only manage their business, but to also open a new virtual branch completely online. We know restaurant owners are always looking to boost their profit margins, so we created this new platform to bring customers and businesses closer together. Through the virtual branch, restaurants can have an additional revenue stream by creating an online channel for food ordering. This can easily be done online, either on the web or the mobile application.
Foodics has successfully raised $170m in a Series C round earlier this year, making it one of the most funded SaaS companies in the F&B space regionally.
Why do you think the startup was so successful in fundraising and how are you using these funds?
I believe we received these funds for two reasons: our track record and our growth strategy. Regarding our track record, we clearly demonstrated that we fulfilled our objectives, and successfully expanded with our available resources at the time.
As for our strategy, we have a solid plan in place to expand to key markets across the region, whether by entering the market like we did in Egypt and Kuwait, or by acquiring companies, like we did in Jordan with POSRocket, one of the largest restaurant Cloud technology providers in MENA. We do this at the same time as we introduce new products and services to the F&B space. So, we are not only a POS system; we also provide a wide range of products and services, like the online ordering platform, with the aim of becoming an all-in-one solutions platform to empower F&B business owners.
The new funds will go towards further expanding in the region, and offering new products and services for food businesses like diversified micro-lending products, amongst others.
What kind of impact has Foodics had on F&B businesses like restaurants, cafes, bakeries etc.?
I believe our biggest impact is that we have transitioned from merely being a software service provider to playing an advisory role to food businesses. By providing software services and industry insights, this enabled us to work with leading food experts across the region, giving us the expertise and knowledge to advise F&B businesses in Egypt to optimise their operations and grow in the market. So, in addition to selling software services, we also advise food businesses on what is best for them, providing them with tailor-made solutions that are unique to them.
Our solutions are based on years of regional and local experience in operating in the industry, so we’re well positioned to be able to determine their problem areas and provide them with innovative ways of addressing it. By doing that, we play a key role in growing their business and supporting them in their journey.
I’m happy to say that we are working with over thousands of food businesses in Egypt so far. Although we have been operating in the market for about three years, we have already built an impressive portfolio of clients in the F&B industry.
What is Foodics’ growth plan in Egypt?
We want to grow in several areas. We would like to increase the number of businesses we work with, expand our reach across Egypt, and launch new innovative products in the market. We are now getting ready to launch new products in Egypt as soon as next month. We already finished the pilot phase for one of our products and sold it. Without saying too much, our new product involves working with strategic partners to empower restaurants and café owners, providing them with a wide range of payment methods. We also have more products in the pipeline coming soon.
Our goal is to give customers a full ecosystem. This means that we provide customers with all-in-one solutions, bring in the latest technologies, and educate the industry in adopting best practices. All of these initiatives help accelerate the development and digitization of F&B in Egypt to become more efficient and competitive in the market.