Presto: Building Libya’s first super app


Presto: Building Libya’s first super app
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Over the past decade, Libya has been mired in a civil war that has decimated its economy and put paid to foreign direct investment (FDI). On paper, the civil war ended in Libya a couple of years ago, yet the country is still grappling with stagnant economic prospects. Prior to the 2011 Libyan revolution, the oil-rich economy was already suffering from extreme challenges owing to a confluence of factors, notably the pariah status of its then leader Muammar Gaddafi and its longstanding reliance on its oil and gas exports. This led to the collapse of other industries, damaging overall economic growth and job creation. Libya’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita went from a relatively comfortable $12,000 in 2010 to $3700 in 2020 according to the World Bank, a drop of 70 per cent in just a decade.

Despite the troubles, Libya has an impressive rate of internet penetration standing at 75 per cent, ahead of neighbouring Arab countries in North Africa. This has given rise to a spurt of startups in the country, many of which were founded in the midst of the civil war. Due to the lack of venture capital presence and the unavailability of technical resources, many failed to survive. The culture of entrepreneurship is lacking in the country, with the vast majority of Libyans preferring to work for the public sector, in fact one in three Libyan people work at a state-led agency. For many Libyans, the idea of being an entrepreneur comes at odds with the security and benefits of working in the public sector.

“The fees of the internet are very low in Libya, and there's a high proliferation of smartphones. Yet, we can't do the very basic needs via the internet. We can't pay the bills, rent a car, or even book hotel reservations online. There’s indeed a big hunger for digital tech," says Ammar Hmid, founder and CEO of Tripoli-based Presto.

Founded in 2020 by Hmid and Habeb Nino, Presto attempts to utilise technology to cover the flanks in the underpenetrated logistics sector, with a vision to become Libya’s first super app, combining different services under its platform, from food and grocery delivery, e-commerce to last-mile delivery. 

Currently, Presto has 250,000 thousand registered users, and claims to have 98,000 active users in Tripoli.


In keeping with the rising demand for fast food delivery services spurred by the pandemic, Presto initially started off as a food delivery platform, connecting customers to 500 restaurants in Tripoli. Shortly after, Presto initiated a full-scale operation of grocery delivery services utlising 13 dark stores scattered around Tripoli with 3,000 stock-keeping units (SKUs). In 2021, Presto completed 600,000 orders, 100,000 of which were grocery deliveries.

Prior to founding Presto, Hmid worked as a marketing manager for several FMCG brands. This experience has enabled him to connect with local investors from the space and attract funding for Presto. To date, the startup was able to raise $2.5 million to fuel expansion in other cities in Libya.

"We [are] well aware that most startups working in this sector still struggle with profitability and are a bit reluctant to pivot to q-commerce. Investors were encouraging us to venture into the q-commerce space, as it turned out, there's a big need for such services in the market. Now, we are able to deliver 1,200 grocery orders per day," he adds.

For Presto, one major factor driving the growth of the on-demand grocery delivery segment is the consumer need to gain better access to a larger assortment of products. 

Unlike other countries in the Middle East, Libya lacks the presence of hypermarkets and large supermarket chains. The small number of shopping malls that exist are concentrated in metropolitan cities. Small grocery stores account for the bulk of FMCG sales, but given the limits on their physical space, they tend to be overcrowded and understocked most of the time, which is primarily down to the underserved infrastructure amid continuous supply disruptions and unstable security situation, particularly on the southern borders.


Given the high internet penetration rate and social media usage, most online sellers rely on social media platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp to both sell products and engage with customers. But, inefficiencies in last-mile logistics impacts retailers’ abilities to turn a profit while customer are left dissatisfied with the delivery experience.

For Nino, Presto was created to address the dire need for a tech-based, structured solution that could eliminate the last-mile constraints for small e-commerce stores and help them connect with their customers in a more efficient manner.

"Social selling is a huge market here,” he says. “There are around 7,000-10,000 orders being placed daily in Tripoli. But these retailers are seriously struggling due to inefficient logistics deliveries. Last-mile delivery companies have to travel vast distances to deliver shipments to customers outside Tripoli. As a result, they fall behind the schedule to deliver parcels, resulting in orders being cancelled and a product returns rate of about 30 per cent. The dominance of cash on delivery only adds to the challenging outlook.”

The company recently introduced Presto Line, a parcel delivery service aimed at e-commerce businesses selling via social media, with plans to launch a marketplace where retailers can connect customers with retailers online.

In a similar vein, last February, Momalat, a financial services provider and a subsidiary of the Libyan Central Bank, launched the country's first e-commerce platform for retailers in Libya. The move came in sync with its launch of a new initiative aimed at enabling users to pay for internet-based and e-commerce services via bank cards, a move that is expected to reduce the cash on delivery rates in the country.


Currently, Presto works with 3000 freelance riders. In its bid to become a super app, Presto has plans to introduce ride-hailing services utilising the network of drivers it relies on for food and grocery delivery.

In the wake of the 2011 revolution, restrictions on car imports were relaxed, making them more affordable for Libyans. A large portion of the population are car owners due to the absence of a mass transit system, but for those with no access to a private car, ride-hailing is a possible solution. The traditional ride-hailing business model which relies on paying drivers minimum wage per hour does not seem to work in Libya.

"We were operating via the model where riders get paid a fixed amount per delivery. But it did not pan out, and we were struggling with attracting and retaining riders. By setting minimum salaries for riders, we managed to turn that around. They realised that they are able to generate additional income by working with us through food and grocery delivery operations. A similar scenario will play out in ride-hailing," Nino concludes.


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