Jisr Venture Partners like to look outside MENA [Know your VC]

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Jisr Venture Partners founder and chairman Waleed Albanawi is making another investment into the food and beverage (F&B) space by backing Singapore-based food ordering and payment application Waitrr.

Launched in August 2015 by German entrepreneur Tim Wekezer and Hungarian entrepreneur András Bokros, the Waitrr app allows diners to order their meal quickly instead of waiting for busy restaurant staff to take their order.

Jeddah natives Waleed Albanawi and Omar Albanawi have
teamed up at Jisr Ventures. (Image via Elias Jabbe)

This is Jisr Ventures’ second investment in the F&B sector. In May, they backed the Palestinian entrepreneur Khalil Shadid’s Dubai-based online restaurant reservation platform Reserveout.

Relatively new on the investor scene in Dubai, Jisr Venture Partners is run by Albanawi and son Omar. For them the investment in Waitrr aligns with their “strategic intent to improve automation and progress in the F&B sector with the help of inventive and useful application of technology,” Waleed told Wamda last week.

Waleed, a Saudi national, is the former director of the diversified manufacturing corporation Banawi Industrial Group.

While sharing his experience successfully managing logistics for a complex product launching in a new country and in a very short time span, Waleed said that his counsel and regional network in the corporate world is a huge X-factor. The network complements the money he gives to foreign startups hoping to strike gold in the Gulf.

This type of strategic investment where cash isn’t the sole factor in the interaction is commonly referred to in the startup community as ‘smart money’.

International investments

Jisr don’t usually invest in early stage startups. They’re looking for startups with some traction and for them that generally means looking outside the MENA region.  

According to Omar, Jisr chose to invest into Waitrr because they exhibited demonstrable traction at an early stage and already have a number of casual dining restaurants in Singapore already using the app.

They have stayed away from investing in regional startups because most are early-stage and he wants to see results that usually only more established startups provide.

“[Young founders in the region] tend to be giddy about entrepreneurial ventures but they don’t have a strong understanding beyond the technology: issues like how do you scale and how do you find talent,” Waleed explained.

Though Jisr is looking to invest in advanced startups outside the region, it won’t discount the idea of investing in a regional startup if it meets their criteria and the numbers are right.

In the case of his investment in Shadid’s Reserveout, launched four years before its $4 million round this year, Waleed said he trusted the entrepreneur after taking into account his experience working in the corporate world at a blue-chip IT firm in the US. For Waleed, Shadid’s profile was the opposite of many first-time entrepreneurs, who often launch startups soon after graduating from university.

Omar hinted at bringing a popular F&B chain that is excelling in California to the Dubai market and helping it navigate the Gulf business scene.

“We’re looking ideally at B Series or C Series. I like to see companies have delivered revenue topline for at least two to three years. We don’t care about the valuation,” said Waleed.

“Early stage investments come with their own risk,” he said. “I struggle with the amateurish entrepreneurs. I need someone who has understood past the stage of building and growing a company and is now addressing issues like marketplace and delivery.”

F&B on demand

The investors said that they’re keen on investing in the F&B space because they’ve noticed a trend: a stronger interest in the on-demand economy at a time when consumers can order what they want within seconds.

“We do really like the F&B space in the MENA region. I’d like to say that Kuwait is the leader. There are really cool concepts coming out of Kuwait,” said Omar, while namechecking the food order startup Talabat, eventually sold to Rocket Internet for $170 million. The acquisition was one of the MENA region’s largest startup successes in recent history.

Believing it to be important to the economy of Dubai, they said that they’ve noticed that just a small percentage of the market has been captured, and startups like Reserveout and Waitrr are scratching the surface in this era of digital transformation of traditional industries.

“We’re not just an investment firm: we don’t have clients knocking on our door asking for a profit. We’re actually looking to add values to companies and help them dominate the spaces they are in,” said Omar.

“We are investing our own personal money. We invest in companies we like and that we think are going to have a positive impact,” he added.


Feature image via Pexels.com


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