Whenever an order would come through on eyewa’s platform in the early days in 2017, co-founders Mehdi Oudghiri and Anass Boumediene would pop downstairs to the opticians in their building and buy the glasses in order to post it to their customers.
Today, eyewa is the Middle East’s largest online eyewear retailer, working directly with suppliers to offer sunglasses, optical frames and the ever popular coloured contact lenses. The company recently opened an office in Saudi Arabia as part of its expansion efforts.
Both Oudghiri and Boumediene worked together at US-based consultancy firm Bain and Company before launching Foodpanda in the Middle East for Rocket Internet. Once Foodpanda was sold to Delivery Hero in 2016, the pair decided to venture into business together, settling on launching an online eyewear store in the region.
We spoke to Oudghiri about his entrepreneurial journey.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I’ve been a consultant for most of my adult life. It was great coming up with a strategy and setting the roadmap, but I was not part of the execution and I was curious about that. I wanted to get my hands dirty and be more operational. I got accepted onto the Stanford MBA and that’s where everything changed. I was in the heart of Silicon Valley, the birthplace of tech entrepreneurship. I decided to come back and do it here in the Middle East because I truly believe in the potential of the region and wanted to be part of the development of the startup ecosystem.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in becoming an entrepreneur?
It requires a lot of sacrifices. It is not only an emotional rollercoaster, but it also comes with significant financial and time constraints. While I try to spend as much time as possible with my family, being an entrepreneur does not allow me to have as much free time as I had as an employee. I am very lucky to have the support and love of my wife, as well as the energy coming from being a young father, as it allows me and pushes me to continue pursuing my dream.
What’s your dynamic like with your co-founder?
We’ve been working together for over five years now and we complement each other well. We’re both Moroccans, we’re both ex-consultants so we’re analytical but our personalities are very different. I’m more of an introvert, Anass is extroverted and I think that’s a great combination. We often have different opinions on topics which leads to constructive arguments that ultimately allow us to make better decisions for eyewa.
When did you realise this was a viable business?
We were confident on the eyewear e-commerce model from the get-go because it is a proven business model outside of the region, but we really started believing in eyewa and believing that we’ll be able to scale when we started seeing our customer’s behaviour and seeing them retuning time and time again. I can build a website and pay money for marketing and if there is demand I can sell to customers, but for your business to be viable, you need customers to come back and be loyal. A lot of our existing customers come back frequently because they enjoyed the first experience and this was proof that we could build a viable business.
What will your industry look like in the next decade?
The eyewear industry needs to be disrupted. It’s been a very consolidated industry worldwide, and here in the region. Overall I believe that the share of online sales will increase significantly in the future an this means that the offline experience needs to be completely redefined to adapt to the reality of the new economy. Online is becoming the first channel for purchases for the next generation, while offline is a way for them to have an experience with the brand. People will go to the physical stores to be entertained and connect with the brands and make their purchases mostly online.