Miswag.net, Baghdad’s first internet-based startup with real potential to grow, launched less than a month ago to help local merchants in Baghdad with low capital to start selling their products online.
Iraqi youth have started to believe in entrepreneurship, leaving behind the safety of governmental employment to accept risks and taking challenge in the untapped internet market. The country was active last year in organizing events encouraging youth to start their own businesses, like Startup Weekend and NITA (the National Information and Technology Association).
The startup is the brainchild of Miswag’s current COO Ammar Ameen, who worked for six months at Easy Bites, a food delivery startup based in north Iraq that launched at the end of 2012.
We did an interview with Ammar to talk about his startups:
Wamda: What is your background?
Ammar Ameen: I hold a B.Sc. in Computer Engineering (University of Baghdad 2006) and a Master of IT (University of Malaya 2009). I have worked as a lecturer at Cihan University in Erbil for four years, during which I taught: Database Systems, OOP (object oriented programming), and Web Development at the department of Computer Science.
I cofounded Easy Bites with Dr. Mohammed Al-Samarraie, Oliver Koch, and Omar Al Obaidi in Erbil, named the first Internet Start-Up in Iraq. I’ve also worked as a trainer for NITA, developed their eLearning platform and helped managing their events and training sessions.
Wamda: What is your project, and why is it unique? What is the problem you are solving?
Ameen: Miswag.net is basically a cross-platform online shopping hub that offers an easy-to-use interface for local merchants to upload and sell their goods. We offer a quick registration portal for customers who are willing to buy along with a shopping cart and order mechanism.
We offer free delivery and charge merchants per monthly sales.
We are trying to address two main problems:
- Physical Limitations. These days shoppers contend with crowded streets, distances, and security concerns in Baghdad.
- Helping youth with limited funds to start up their business by selling goods through Miswag.net without the need to open a physical store,
Wamda: When and how did you get started?
Ameen: The Iraqi entrepreneur Ahmed Munaf who is currently the CEO at HRiNS Ltd had the initial idea. We started in December 2013 as a team of four people: Munaf, Amin Salim, Wassan Mohammed, and myself working on different tasks including Design and Development, Market Analysis, Policies, and the design of our post-launch operations plan.
We launched a minimum viable product by the end of February 2014 into small test groups and gathered feedback. By the middle of March we launched a complete responsive site and a Facebook campaign through which we started receiving real orders in no time.
Wamda: What are the revenue streams?
Ameen: We are relying mainly on sales percentages that we charge merchants on a monthly basis. We have also created our own merchant that supplies women’s accessories to generate direct sales revenue.
In the long run, we will be deciding on whether to use advertising and paid promotion as a third revenue channel based on the traffic we can generate.
- Key suppliers/partners: Local Merchants
- Key activities: Daily posts to engage customers on social media
- Value proposition: Variety of goods in one place, free home delivery
- Key channels: Facebook, flyers
- Market segments: Mainly people living in Baghdad between the ages of 18 and 28
- Costs: Advertising, delivery
- Revenue streams: Direct sales, service charges, advertising
Wamda: How do you find the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Iraq, and what can you suggest to improve it?
Ameen: I am very proud of the current entrepreneurial activities in Iraq. I believe our youth have a very promising future despite the huge challenges. Being a part of events such as the Startup Weekend, especially makes me really proud. However I think we need to involve more investors in those events to get more support to our young entrepreneurs. We need to strongly encourage those young people to start their businesses and watch their ideas grow here in Iraq because they are a very important asset to the overall development of the country. We need to bring more attention to them and target more investors and government sectors.
Wamda: What have been some problems you've faced so far and how have you gone about solving them?
Ameen: I believe our main challenge is trust. As I can see from the reports we build at the back-end, people here don’t seem to trust such services easily. We are trying to publish as much as possible about the successful orders we have achieved hoping this might raise trust levels.
Another challenge is the absence of the look-and-feel factor, important in the decision of buying any item especially clothes and accessories. We are trying to mitigate that impact by encouraging our merchants to add more details and pictures.
At the early stages of our launch when we had launched our desktop version of the site to test groups, we came across a very urgent challenge: the high demand for a mobile version. Most of our users were accessing the service through mobile devices when we didn’t have a site built for small screens. That created a high bounce rate at the time, and took us a week of idleness until we were able to launch our mobile site.