After working in human resources in a big corporation in Saudi Arabia, then in the marketing field, Rayan Saleh noticed a lack of employees loyalty and productivity.
This has driven him to launch Walaplus in 2015, a platform that allows companies to provide incentives and rewards to their employees, in the form of discounts, coupons, or points added to the employee’s account on the platform.
The employee can then use these points to buy different items, including groceries and electronics among others, from merchants listed on Walaplus. The platforms also helps merchants to access a new customers’ segment.
The platform offers a special portal for companies where their logos are featured. Walaplus also provides an automated messaging system that notifies employees about new promotions.
The Riyadh-based startup has a team of nine, some of which work in servicing customers, including the employees, the partners and the merchants, while others work in marketing and website development.
Around 200,000 users from 25 local companies benefit from this Saudi platform’s services, getting offers from over 100 merchants who deal with Walaplus.
The startup’s revenue model is based on the subscriptions of companies willing to secure incentives to their employees. Saleh did not disclose the subscription fees. The revenue model also relies on commissions from merchants for each transaction made through the platform. Commissions vary from 10 to 30 percent depending on the merchant and the discount provided.
Saleh told Wamda that Walaplus recently managed to break even.
An old product with a new concept
The Saudi market has several companies working in coupons and offers, such as Cobone.com and The Entertainer. However, these companies do not solely focus on employees, the way Walaplus does. The startup allows companies to offer coupons or points to their employees whenever they want instead of waiting for yearly raises.
Saleh explained that employees need continuous motivation, to boost their productivity and innovation. He added that “giving out coupons to employees is a model that various companies adopt, but from one single merchant. Walaplus made this process easier via automation, and by allowing the employer to offer coupons from more than one merchant.”
In addition to that, “Walaplus enables merchants to promote their products to other companies, allowing them to increase their customer base and sales,” he said.
This startup’s first challenges were in choosing the right model to serve three markets: employees, companies, and merchants.
Saleh explained that reaching a high profit model is not easy, especially that entrepreneurs find themselves torn between different business models and cannot choose among them unless they test them with the assistance of experienced parties.
Several supporting organizations contributed to Walaplus’ business model. The startup took part in the incubation program Inspireu for six months in 2016. Badir has also been supporting Walaplus for more than a year.
“Participating in these programs helped us with mentorship and expertise from experienced entrepreneurs. It allowed us to get different points of views. It also helped us with practical matters such as pricing and getting commissions, and other matters such as registering the startup,” he said.
Saleh self-funded his company, and got a personal loan from the bank. Walaplus also got a financial support from Badir and Inspireu.
Similar to most startups in the region, Walaplus faced difficulties with finding talents when building the team. “We decided to give employees shares of the company to attract talents, as well as hiring fresh graduates to benefit from their passion and willingness to take low salaries,” Saleh said.
Walaplus benefitted from the change in the Saudi ecosystem, in technology infrastructure, and the drive to work with local entrepreneurs. Companies did not mind “signing with us, though we are a startup and our work entails possible risks,” he mentioned adding that “this was hard up until two years ago”, when the ecosystem started changing.
Merchants realized what it meant to have a digital marketing platform, “many of them contacted us to be featured in Walaplus, and put our posters in all their branches,” he explained.
Walaplus now works with companies such as Alsafi – Danone, the National Company for Mechanical Systems (NCMS), and government entities.
While most Walaplus customers are based in Riyadh, the startup plans on scaling to other Saudi cities by mid-2018.
Feature image via Startupstockphotos.