StartupScene sits with the General Manager of talabat Mart to get his insights on what it takes to drive growth in one of the most competitive sectors in one of the region's most challenging markets.
Mohamed Sekkina, a software engineer with experience in business operations turned entrepreneurial executive, is the key driver behind talabat Mart’s growth in Egypt and previously the UAE and Oman. Appointed in 2020 to helm the online grocery delivery service, he’s succeeded in growing their footprint in Egypt by 200%, increasing profitability by 50% during the last six months. This makes talabat Mart the number one online supermarket in Egypt in terms of number of daily transactions.
To date, talabat Mart has 36 dark stores across nine cities in Egypt, powered by cutting-edge technology to deliver groceries, fresh food, detergents, fresh meats and more in less than 20 minutes.
#StartupScene sits down with the ambitious young executive to get his insights on what it takes to drive growth in one of the most competitive sectors in one of the most challenging markets in the region…
At #StartupScene we’re always fascinated by the formative experiences that shape leaders. Tell us a little bit about your earlier years and the journey that led you to talabat Mart..
I’m originally a software engineer, and I did my bachelor thesis in artificial intelligence. Before graduating in 2013, however, I knew that I wanted to work in business. So, I started my career in P&G and worked there for five years before shifting gears and joining the tech industry. In 2019, I joined a tech startup in Dubai, BulkWhiz - an e-commerce platform for bulk grocery - as a founding team member. It was there that I learned about online groceries, startups, and the overall startup ecosystem in the region. Soon afterwards, I heard about talabat Mart, a q-commerce business delivering groceries in 20 minutes or less. Back then, groceries were being delivered in one or two days, so 20 minutes was mind blowing for me. Thankfully, I got the opportunity to join talabat Mart Dubai in 2020, and it’s been a fun ride ever since.
What triggered the launch of Talabat Mart in Egypt?
Building a q-commerce business and doing ultra-fast delivery is an evolution of customers’ needs. Before online delivery existed, you had to get into your car, drive to the supermarket, buy your groceries and go back home. Then came e-commerce, where you could order your groceries online and receive it in one or two days. Now, we have q-commerce, where delivery is made in less than 20 minutes.
Q-commerce started with food, but we soon realized that there was a lot of traction and customer appetite for ultra-fast delivery for all sorts of products. We thought, why not build on that and not just deliver food, but groceries, fresh produce, and other products in 20 minutes as well? The evolution in the Middle East will be that everything will be delivered in 20 minutes.
What were some challenges specific to the Egyptian market?
There were a few challenges in the Egyptian market, starting with earning the customers’ trust. Educating customers on how to shop online and pivoting their mindset towards online grocery shopping proved difficult.
Regarding supplies, we had to make sure that there were enough supplies available 24/7 in our dark stores across Egypt. Managing the supply chain was one of our biggest challenges from an operations standpoint. This was also exacerbated by the fact that Egypt’s supply chain is mainly designed to cater for traditional trade, which accounts for around 90% of total trade.
Also, when dealing with several stakeholders like licensing authorities and other entities, we had to explain what a dark store was - if it’s a commercial unit or a warehouse - and what kind of license we needed to issue to operate in Egypt. Nowadays, q-commerce has become an established business in the country and the concept is very well known among different government entities.
What does your typical day look like?
I have two different day-to-days. On Sundays, I block my calendar and don’t take any meetings. I use this day to think about how to solve bigger problems. I think about the growth plan for talabat Mart in three to five years and solving larger problems to further scale the business.
My other type of day, which is equally important, is to make sure that the business is running properly. We serve tens of thousands of customers per day, and we deliver hundreds of thousands of items per day. We need to make sure that things are running smoothly. To do that, the leadership team and I have what we call a ‘daily direction setting,’ where each function, along with their function heads, do their daily check-ins and measure their progress. Our daily decisions are pillared in data-driven insights, enabling us to make an informed course of action. This then gets cascaded up until I review it with my team, and whatever direction the leadership team and I take, this then gets communicated to the function and function heads. We have a very coherent way of working, it is like a Swiss watch.
A big chunk of my day is also dedicated to making sure that people are happy and engaged, and that organizational elements are being tackled as well. I take care of the team, and they take care of the business.
The tech ecosystem in MENA is booming, particularly when it comes to delivery and logistics. How has talabat Mart been able to leverage its tech to ensure it hits the marks it needs to in q-commerce?
Our whole model is based on tech, starting from the dark stores all the way to how consumers interact with the platform. If you walk into a dark store, you will see the team with handheld devices barcoding and scanning products as they get ordered. This is reflected immediately in the system. Then, when an order comes through, it gets assigned to a driver. The tech-based operations guarantee a very convenient and sustainable customer experience.
Q-commerce solves multiple pain points presented by traditional retail, for example, our real-time inventory management systems allow customers to browse and shop from products that are actually in stock. We also rely heavily on data analytics to understand our customer journey and analyze how well our inventory is performing, more importantly, to customize each customer experience. Our tech-enabled accuracy helped tmart’s order modification rate reach less than 0.1%, while in other online models (e.g. Marketplace) the modification rate is as high as 30%.
What are the challenges of scaling a product like talabat Mart, particularly in Egypt, where both the delivery and supply chain spaces are lacking?
I believe the main challenge is sustaining customer experience. It’s very easy to have a pleasant customer experience if you deliver 50 orders a day. It becomes a little more challenging if you deliver 100 orders a day, and exponentially more challenging if you deliver 1,000 or 10,000 orders a day and so forth.
To sustain our customer experience, we rely on our talabat network, where we have more than 12,000 drivers, and this allows us to scale faster than anybody else. We also have to rely on our supply chain to cope with consistent growth increase every month. We therefore continuously work with our suppliers on their supply chain, to make sure hat they’re able to cope with our aggressive growth plans while maintaining quality standards.
What kind of impact has talabat Mart had on local suppliers and businesses?
In Egypt, there is a new player coming to the market every day with a new product. I’ve managed markets in Oman and the UAE, but Egypt by far has the biggest pipeline of brands to be listed.
talabat Mart is very committed to supporting local players. We help them list their products on our app and provide them with the right guidance to grow their business, such as examining their cost structure and teaching them how to grow competitively. Many of the brands that now exist in the offline trade and q-commerce business first started working with us at talabat Mart.
We also worked with fresh food suppliers on packaging their products. Most food suppliers deliver food that is not packaged, whether it is fresh foods or meats. However, to be able to deliver groceries in 20 minutes, all products must be packaged. This also helps ensure safety, freshness and hygiene. This was a huge challenge at first, because suppliers didn’t understand the need for packaging or how to package food, like vacuum sealing fresh meat cuts. But now, it is becoming the norm in any supermarket, both online and offline, to see packaged food available everywhere.
What is next for talabat Mart?
Today, we have 36 dark stores with 5,000+ products and are located in nine cities across Egypt, including Cairo, Giza, Mansoura, Alexandria, Tanta, Ismailia, Zagazig, Port Said, and Assiut. By the end of the year, we plan to reach 45 dark stores and 100 within three years, and to be present in all cities across the country.
Over the past six months, we grew the business over 200%, and improved profitability by 50%. talabat Mart is now the number one online supermarket in Egypt in terms of number of transactions per day.
Our goal is to continuously provide our customers with a seamless experience, diversifying our assortment to reach 10,000 products by early next year, reaching underserved areas and delivering more value to our customers by becoming more affordable.. We are also committed to supporting local suppliers by contributing to their business growth, in addition to guiding other quick commerce players in the market to realize their full potential.