“Gifting is something that has been around for ages in the region, and it will always be part of our culture,” said Nizar Wannous enthusiastically. “[But] we’re trying to make it better.”
Wannous is one of the founders of Dizly, an iOS and Android gifting app that matches buyers with merchants.
The cofounder and CEO explains that Dizly, which means ‘give me’ in the Kuwaiti dialect, partners with 36 merchants to provide a variety of gifting options for gift-givers who have a “birthday, wedding, engagement, or any sort of occasion to attend”, according to Wannous.
Nizar Wannous (in the middle) mentoring a session on client and user acquisition during Mix N’ Mentor Nuwait event
The startup operates like a wedding registry, where users can create a wish list and share it with friends on social media.
Does Dizly have a market?
“We have 70,000 annual newborns every year [in Kuwait], so that’s 70,000 opportunities right there,” said the CEO optimistically. “We have 3.2 million birthdays a year, that’s around 10,000 birthdays a month.” Other occasions, like engagements or a new job, are additional reasons to give gifts and celebrate.
Launched in May 2015, the app, based solely in Kuwait, had close to 800 users – mainly in Kuwait – in the first month, and has so far passed the 12,000 users mark. The team hopes to break-even by the end of the year.
Dizly charges vendors and partner brands an annual subscription rate, and takes a commission on every item purchased through the app. The service, however, remains free of charge for end users.
While the numbers signal a smooth start, with 40 percent return users, things certainly were shaky at the beginning. It was difficult to convince merchants and users to get on board.
“The most challenging thing for us was for brands to take us seriously,” Wannous said of his partner merchants. This was even harder because Dizly targeted big clients, like Ted Baker and IKEA.
‘I have this idea where you can make gifting take a few minutes instead of three hours.
Users, on the other hand, were hesitant to opt for a service with online payment, as most users are in MENA.
“At first, there wasn’t much traffic on the app […] It was difficult to convince people to use the app and we relied on friends and family to market the message.”
Through social media marketing and the support of friends, Dizly slowly grew to its current state, with 30-40 percent return user, 60 percent of which are female.
This is why we rely on beauty as the highest [product] category,” Wannous said.
Finding talent in Kuwait was another challenge
Though based in Kuwait, Dizly does not have Kuwaiti employees. Its eight employees are American, Egyptian and Lebanese in nationality.
“It was very difficult to find Kuwaiti talent because all the talents [we talked to] would like to do their own thing instead of just joining another startup,” Wannous said.
Legal technicalities presented obstacles as well.
“Legalities and businesses for expats are quite a hassle,” Wannous said. “It took us three months to get legalized, and we have to have a Kuwaiti partner…They gave us a slot for only three expats including myself. Later on we go through another legal loop to ask for more vacancies in our company and accommodate more talent.”
As for retaining their employees, Wannous and his partner, who chose to be anonymous, were careful to only choose employees who “believe that they’re part of something growing. […] You can’t pay that much, but you have to convince them that you’re working on something exciting and something growing.” Equity shares were also promised.
What about competition?
With ecommerce platforms growing quickly in MENA, and with platforms like the e-card gifting site yougotagift, competition is expected. Wannous, however, seems unfazed by the competition.
“There will always be competition,” he said, “but the challenge [for us] is that brands were sitting on money – which is the gift card – and they didn’t how to market it or push it, so we came in and we digitized that, and we took actually this whole store and put it on Dizly.”
Having raised a six figure investment from four angel investors this January, who happen to all be personal connections, Dizly is now preparing for another round of investment, in the hopes of expanding to GCC and Lebanon. Wannous has the numbers ready to convince new merchants to get on board.
When Maysaa first started writing for the AUB magazine as a student, she was searching for ways to make journalism more fun and interesting than the usual old-school narrative. After writing for several magazines, she became fascinated by the word “entrepreneurship” and decided to focus all of her energy on researching and writing about it. You can reach her at email@example.com and on Twitter @MaysaaAjjan.