“Be your own worst customer”, and other tips from Dubai’s food delivery king

Kıvanç Arkaç, CEO of the Gulf’s search engine for food delivery, share some advice with Dubai’s budding startup scene

It may seem a strange claim for a business that deals in takeaway food, but what Foodonclick.com really does is psychology, according to the web portal’s CEO, Kıvanç Arkaç. Like all entrepreneurs, Arkaç scratches an itch –in this case, the need to satiate hunger in the most convenient way possible.

“If there is a problem you are fixing or something you are converting [into value], then you have a business idea,” said Arkaç. “Facebook is converting something, it is converting your need to engage with your friends… It provides a solution to your problems.”

Arkaç was passing on some e-commerce and online business pearls of wisdom to an assembled group of startups and would-be entrepreneurs at Startup Grind in Dubai, the local outlet of the California-founded network.

His key nuggets of advice were to work hard and avoid talking about activities rather than doing them; know when to let go; and focus on finding out your own business’ flaws – to fix them and constantly improve your product.

“We always put ourselves in the position of the most needy customers. We challenge our services and try to give the best service possible. There is always room to improve,” he said. Foodonclick – what Arkaç describes as a “search engine for delivery” – lets customers order takeaways online, from a variety of restaurants and cuisines, without ever having to pick up the phone. Customers pay the restaurant directly on delivery.

Launched in the UAE in 2010, Foodonclick now operates in 16 cities across five countries: the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Qatar and Oman. The firm spun out of Yemeksepeti.com, Turkey’s online food delivery service, when the business spotted a gap in the GCC market and brought Arkaç on board to grow the Gulf brand.

The biggest challenge is gaining the trust of the user – that if they pay for something [online] they will get it

James Trott, Partner, InVIP.ae

“It’s great advice in the e-commerce space,” said Hassan Siddiqi, business head of online car portal Yallamotor.com. “For startups that are looking to have online payment systems and looking to grow their online business in general, it’s great to get real world advice from a guy who’s been doing it.”

Dubai was a good place to start Foodonclick in the Gulf as the emirate has even more restaurants per head than the firm’s home turf of Istanbul, according to Arkaç. The portal has more than 100,000 users and lists more than 1,000 restaurants in the region. Foodonclick charges restaurants a commission for orders delivered.

Teamwork and recruiting the right talent was Arkaç’s final tip of the evening. He credits his early love of basketball as the lesson that taught him this crucial element: when to step up to the plate and when to fall back and appreciate others’ skills. “I’m the kind of guy who believes in collective intelligence,” he said. “You have to live with your team and go with them.”

Though there are challenges to setting up in the Gulf – a fairly large number of expatriate residents means there may be churn in the portal’s users – there is always a silver lining to the obstacles, said Arkaç. For example,  the relatively small population of the GCC puts off some investors looking for scalability, but allows those willing to take the plunge a clear opportunity, he added.

“It was interesting to hear from someone who brought a product into a competitive market, particularly the restaurant market,” said James Trott, partner at InVIP.ae, an online nightclub booking website. “From our perspective the biggest challenge is gaining the trust of the user – that if they pay for something [online] they will get it. I think the true future of online in the region is being paid online.”

The fireside chat event was hosted at Hult International Business School’s Dubai campus. With chapters in 150 cities around the world, local Startup Grinds hold monthly meet-ups and networking events for entrepreneurs and investors to share experiences. The global network is backed by Google for Entrepreneurs, the internet search giant’s arm that promotes entrepreneurship globally.

“I think [it has helped my business],” said Yallamotor.com’s Siddiqi. “You never know, you could pick up one piece of information that was the missing link that puts everything in perspective.”