“The vision of Tradeling is to bring international trade flows back to the heart of Dubai, aligned to the UAE’s reputation as a global trade hub, to build a sustainable future,” states Muhammad Chbib, CEO, Tradeling.
Tradeling focuses on unlocking the value of the digital economy by creating a vibrant online marketplace for businesses in the region. The venture facilitates business-to-business (B2B) transactions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and beyond.
“With Tradeling, we are delivering on the vision of our leadership to accelerate non-oil trade through a future-oriented, technology-driven e-marketplace,” Chbib explains. “We connect global suppliers with demand from the MENA region. Through Tradeling, SMEs and procurement managers in the region now have seamless access to the global marketplace, ensuring that they achieve the highest levels of cost, operational and logistical efficiency.”
Tradeling was part of the government-led Dubai 10X initiative, conceptualised with the intention to serve as an innovative B2B smart commerce platform. Initially managed by Dubai Blink, which was announced last year by the Dubai Airport Freezone Authority (DAFZA), Tradeling has also been endorsed by the Dubai Free Zones Council. “DAFZA is the main and silent investor in Tradeling,” Chbib confirms.
Do you see investor structure cause problems for start-ups?
“The structure of the shareholders and investors is crucial for the success of a company. A couple of important factors driving the success of a technology start-up include the founding team and availability of cash to scale and survive,” Chbib responds. “Currently, the investor structure at Tradeling is one government entity that has taken a strategic long-term decision that will transform the MENA region’s B2B space within a 10-15-year horizon. It’s because of our investor that we managed to survive the COVID storm without any layoff, while undertaking reasonable cost-cutting measures. We have a very strong strategic investor, which has worked in our favour.”
Having that said, under normal circumstances and as a start-up veteran, Chbib believes in the strength of having multiple, high-calibre and strategic investors to balance the risks and have more knowledge on the board.
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Launched officially at Gulfood 2020, Tradeling focuses on the online trade of food & beverages (F&B) as the core vertical – including large and independent food outlets as well as companies into food distribution. “Within a few weeks of Gulfood, the market was challenged and our launch scope vanished,” Chbib admits. “Our second vertical, office supplies, began suffering too as the lockdown was announced and people started working from home. We had to quickly pivot by adding a new vertical health & wellness – offering protective gears, face masks, sanitisers – literally within two weeks. This resulted in Tradeling getting extreme visibility, while we recorded an increase in transactions.”
“As of now, we have begun refocusing on the F&B category; even though May was still very slow, June brought us 25X growth, predominantly led by the F&B category,” he shares.
Facilitating cross-border trade
As a platform, Tradeling has been built to offer ease for suppliers and buyers, with a rich product upload and management. It also assures a safe digital marketplace, where sellers are offered support for onboarding as well as high standards of customer service. All suppliers on Tradeling are verified ensuring trust in operations. Further, by facilitating communication between buyers and sellers, Tradeling operates to the highest standards of transparency. With several exclusive products, Tradeling also brings in-depth industry knowledge to support its customers.
What kind of challenges do you face in facilitating cross-border trade?
“Generally speaking, cross-border trade is much simpler in the B2B space,” Chbib points out. “It is still a disaster in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space in the MENA region, owing to lack of proper alignment between the countries, causing challenges in payments, customs, logistics and financing. This disturbs the entire online experience.”
Quantum leap in e-commerce
That there has been a quantum leap in e-commerce is beyond established. As the e-commerce landscape has evolved significantly since the beginning of 2020, what will the segment look like in the near future?
“From an e-commerce company’s perspective, attracting customers has a couple of hurdles, such as the first-time conversion hurdle. The pandemic has made this conversion cheaper and easier, and hereon there will be a constant increase in the number of e-commerce users. At the same time, a few online retailers, particularly those with a weak value system and lack of visibility to scale, will vanish. Consolidation will happen resulting in two-three big e-commerce players and five-ten niche players around the world,” Chbib opines.
Augmenting the MENA region
Going forward, Tradeling plans to expand its footprint to Saudi Arabia and other regional markets and will also look at strengthening its operations in other core markets. The venture has also gained strong interest from venture capitalists, financial institutions and large investors, notably from Saudi Arabia and the region, to expand its operations.
Commenting on growth plans, Chbib elaborates, “Our growth will come from expanding the industry verticals. We are looking at categories such as construction, industry materials, machinery, automotive supplies as well as apparel and fashion, beauty, electronics & accessories and more. As of now, Tradeling has launched in the UAE for buyers and globally for suppliers. We will continue to increase our global suppliers’ footprint; for instance, we’ve had meetings with the trade associations in South America, which is a great source market for halal food products. On the buyer’s side, we will launch in Saudi Arabia by end of 2020, followed by the other GCC countries and then in Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan and more. We will also evaluate undertaking other strategic projects, particularly to support SMEs.”
Tradeling has the potential to augment the quality of the MENA region through simplified and affordable sourcing globally, Chbib emphasises. “This will go beyond profitability for Tradeling, as we will also amplify the entrepreneurial ecosystem – especially supporting the mom-and-pop concepts and individual entrepreneurs.”