In conversation with Ammar Waganah of Saudi Arabia's Dokkan Afkar
After working for several years in advertising, Ammar Waganah felt the need to create and build his own brand. He founded Dokkan Afkar with a former colleague in 2013 offering unique, design-oriented and trendy products and gadgets.
Since then, Dokkan Afkar has grown to become one of Saudi Arabia’s most successful e-commerce platforms, generating revenues of close to $3 million yearly.
In May 2017, the company closed a $2 million investment round led by Riyad Taqnia Fund and it is now looking to raise $5 million.
What was the intention behind Dokkan Afkar?
We wanted to create something different. We wanted to create a platform for local artists and the entrepreneur community to showcase authentic, local designs and products to the world. We found how hard it is for them to get into the larger sites – the contracts were tough on their bottom line and many simply didn’t know how to run an e-commerce site on their own. They needed a helping hand to grow and we make it easier for them to tell their stories and what they’re offering. This is at the heart of what we’re doing.
What has been your biggest sacrifice?
Firstly, the income I used to get from my [old] job. I thought it would be fun, that I would be free and I could leave the office any time. But it turned out to be crazy and hectic, especially in the first few years until I figured out how to deal with it because work never finishes.
The stress that entrepreneurs go through in their journey is something that is so hard, it affects their health, their relationships with family or friends. I have seen a lot of people isolating themselves with their projects. That’s the kind of sacrifice you need to make in the beginning. But it gets better.
How do you reward yourself?
I work for three weeks continuously, even at weekends and then I take one full weekend off. When I say I work it doesn’t mean I come into the office, I work on my laptop, I check things so I’m not disconnected. But there is one weekend every month when I’m completely disconnected. I am now a very frequent traveler. Every two months I have to do one quick travel, usually to Europe, but sometimes I like to go places that people never really think of.
What have been your challenges in starting an e-commerce platform in Saudi Arabia?
E-commerce was a very, very vague thing for people here in Saudi. People didn’t really have an idea of the future of e-commerce back then. We had the challenge of trying to explain to people and make them trust us. Also hiring people is the hardest part, especially in Saudi Arabia. Good people don’t want to join small companies, they’d rather join the Aramcos. So it’s hard to find people who are really, really good with what they do. It has been my number one challenge here.
What was the best business decision you made?
It was in 2017, expensive items became harder to sell, we noticed people wanted to buy cheaper items, the basket value went down so we decided to react to customer behavior and bring them items that fit the current economic situation. That decision had a positive impact on our growth. If we had insisted on going the way we wanted, it would have been a problem.
How do you market Dokkan Afkar?
Social media gives you impressions, the way you do your advertising also matters, the way you post your content. Social media is one of the main drivers for growth of e-commerce right now for everyone in the region. There is research that says Facebook is number one, but for me, it’s not. Instagram and Snapchat have much higher engagement among the youth here in Saudi Arabia, so I put more of my budget in Instagram and Snapchat.
What will your industry look like in the next five to 10 years?
E-commerce is the future, it’s going to boom in this region and everywhere across the world, and all we need for the boom is infrastructure and that is happening right now – payment gateways are happening, logistics are coming into the market, it’s getting better and better.