Office supplies platform launches in Dubai to beat brick-and-mortar stores

Read In, a new graduate of the i360 accelerator in Dubai, launched yesterday to provide stationery and office supplies to the UAE market via an online store.

The online retailer aims to serve what its founders say is a market worth a total of 1.6 billion AED; hopes to capture at least 10% of the local market, which is comprised of 800,000 school children, 100,000 university students, and 240,000 small businesses in the country, says cofounder and CEO Walied Albasheer.

By supplying core products like school and office stationery, printer paper, toner and cartridges, tech accessories, hard disks, flash memory, and mobile accessories, the company hopes to offer better prices than its brick-and-mortar competitors. Yet because the company sources from “top tier” suppliers, it’s able to sell for a 30-40% margin, Albasheer says.

Indeed, operating a brick-and-mortar office supply company has become difficult today thanks to the growth of online retail. Staples has seen its profits fall thanks to tough competition from lower cost online retailers like Amazon, especially as B2B service AmazonSupply grows, potentially undercutting Staples’ own B2B business, which comprises around 60% of its revenues. will also pursue B2B partnerships, aiming to generate around 20-25% of its revenue by working with small and medium-sized businesses and education institutions throughout the UAE, says Albasheer. Another segment that the business will expand into is books, beginning with educational books and games. Thus far, the company is in talks with publishers from the Sharjah Book Fair to offer titles that speak to readers' interests.

Yet rather than come into direct competition with companies like Jamalon and Qordoba Books, which both sell books and e-books online, may partner with those companies to either source through them or sell via their channels. “Books are value-added products, not core products,” Albasheer explains. Next, he plans to expand the company to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and North Africa.

Albasheer, who is 38, came up with the idea for the startup when he realized that his three daughters couldn’t find good supplies as they prepared to head back to school. He then brought Wifaq Ahmed, a 22-year-old university student, on board as the Chief User Experience Officer, and 36-year-old Abdulrahman Al Hashemi, an old friend who works in debt collection, on board as the Chief Commercial Officer.

After applying to and gaining acceptance at the i360 accelerator, the team won the inaugural Pitch for Investment competition at the SME Congree and Expo earlier this month, earning a US $5,000 management training course provided by IIR Middle East and two Business Class Flights from the event's Official Carrier, Etihad Airways. and other i360 graduates from the accelerator will next pitch for investment at an upcoming demo day coming on January 18th.  

Winning mentorship has been far more important to the founders than securing seed money alone, Albasheer says. “We've always suffered with finding the right mentorship. When we applied to i360, we realized the value of being involved in growing an entire ecosystem.” 

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