This Lebanese startup is carrying a piece of home around the world

Koullouna is catering to the Lebanese diaspora around the world (Image via Koullouna).

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According to the Lebanese International Business Council, the Lebanese diaspora is currently estimated between 11 to 13 million people, which is almost four times more than the current population of the country.

As diasporas can be an important source of trade, capital, technology, and knowledge for countries of origin and destination, the Lebanese expats have always been a core support and economy drivers to their home country. Remittance inflows are expected to reach around $8 billion this year, up three percent compared to 2016, according to the World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief. The remittance inflows for 2017 will account for almost 15 percent of the country’s GDP.

Last August, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, launched DiasporaID, an online platform designed with a grant from the USAID to connect the Lebanese diaspora to each other and to their country of origin. The project aims to strengthen the Lebanese economy, especially that it’s a portal to link Lebanese entrepreneurs worldwide. “Our aim is to make Lebanon a global innovation hub to attract our best talent to stay, build and export, rather than emigrate,” Hariri said during the launching ceremony.

Another linking channel is underway, differently

Koullouna is a subscription box that aims to keep Lebanese living abroad connected to home. Every month, the subscriber will have a box filled with various Lebanese items shipped to their addresses. “The idea came to my mind as I had to live abroad, but kept the nostalgia to my country. I thought that many Lebanese expats would have the same feelings. I gathered 20 friends living in France, we brainstormed, and  Koullouna was born. The ‘box’ would act as this connection to our country,” Marielle Khayat, founder of the concept told Wamda.

It’s also a way to contribute to the country’s development from afar: the box will feature a mix of local products and most importantly, every month, it will support a different initiative that has a positive impact on Lebanon.

The special thing about that box, is that every month it has a surprise theme, so the receiver would be kept wondering about the stuff he will be getting next. “Think of it as a gift to yourself,” said Khayat. The box can be also bought as a gift.

Last May, Khayat started a trial phase, and sent the first Koullouna boxes to 20 Lebanese expats, who won a Facebook contest the startup ran. “We had amazing feedback from everyone who received the box. There was so much excitement, we knew we needed to bring this to the world,” said Khayat.

The first box' theme was about traditional Lebanese coffee (Image via Koullouna).

The theme was all about traditional Lebanese coffee. The box had a pack of classic coffee from Café Najjar - along with a ‘How to prepare lebanese coffee’ guide, a bottle of orange blossom water by Mymouné, four ‘chaffé’ and a ‘rakwé’ (traditional coffee cups and coffee pot), and a specially designed ‘coffee’ postcard by designer Nina Abou Zeid.

Koullouna team (From left to right): Marielle Khayat,
Joseph Sayegh, and Pascale Comaty (Image via Koullouna)

Pascale Comaty and Joseph Sayegh joined the startup recently, Comaty is helping with social media and marketing, while Sayegh is taking care of the logistics.

Launching through crowdfunding

The Koullouna team will be running a crowdfunding campaign in November where people can pre-order their subscription boxes This campaign will help the team raise the funds needed to bring the project to life. “We are looking to crowdfund $15,000-$20,000 through Kickstarter and we are speculating around 300 subscribers, which is the number of clients we need to have to break even,” Khayat explained. She added that once the campaign ends, they will be more able to benchmark their market, and  officially kick-off in February. The team will be considering VC funding as a next step, and will be consulting with Lebanese ones. “We are looking to VCs and fundraising after the crowdfunding because it will help us prove our model and our clientele,” she explained.

Khayat is planning on selling the box at a price that does not exceed $35 per box, with discounts on the packages. Koullouna boxes will be available in four different subscription models: Monthly, where the subscribers receives the box once, trimestrial where the box is received during three months, semestrial, and a yearly subscription.

Logistics and delivery

Khayat explained that the box in its current shape costs her around $20, which is a high if she wants to be profitable. Thus, she is working on partnerships with suppliers and logistics companies in order to reduce that cost.

Koullouna’s plan is to make the box delivered everywhere around the globe, where there is a presence to Lebanese expats. However, the startup is taking baby steps. It will mainly and firstly debut in France and grow to other markets. “We are in discussions with logistics partners (delivery companies) to help us sell in different countries. Currently, we are planning to cover the French territories, and CMA CGM is our logistics partner,” she said.

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