Foodtech to Fintech: An interview with FOODICS Founder, Ahmad Al-Zaini
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia-based FOODICS raised a $20M Series B funding round, led by Sanabil Investments and co-led by STV. Other investors in the round were Endeavor Catalyst, Elm, and Derayah.
We took the opportunity to catch up with the F&B tech startup to find out more about how the platform works. Founder and CEO, Ahmad Al-Zaini discusses what being recognised by SAMA as a Fintech company means, what opportunities 2020 brought the startup, why they're looking towards the Egyptian market, their wider plans for the future, and more.
How does the FOODICS platform work?
Foodics offers an all-in-one SaaS and POS management platform helping restaurant owners run their business. It is a true ecosystem enabler, allowing restaurants to integrate with all ecosystem partners instantly in order to gain access capital, payments, food delivery, accounting services as well bookings, to name a few.
In essence, we allow restaurateurs to focus on growing their business, while we develop tools as well as access to data and insights to help them make the right decisions. As such, our products cater to every segment of the F&B sector from traditional dine-in restaurants, cafés, fast food outlets, bakeries, food trucks to cloud kitchens.
What unexpected opportunities did 2020 bring for FOODICS and how did you take advantage of them, if any?
The F&B industry is indeed witnessing a huge shift in the way it functions, especially with regards to digitization of traditional restaurants and the rise of cloud kitchens due to the hefty weight of rentals in high-demand areas and the impact of the pandemic. During these unprecedented times, the team proactively fast-tracked the product development of “Foodics PAY” in order to best support the ecosystem through the crisis.
This new platform allowed restaurant owners to access a payment solution integrated with their POS, enabling them to accept cards and digital payments securely, while syncing to their bank account within the same day. We also helped integrate them into the online delivery aggregators in order to secure an increase in their order volumes.
At that time, we also wanted to enable faster and more flexible lending than most of the lending facilities in the region. To that effect, we successfully set up Foodics Capital, in partnership with the KSA-based Maalem Finance, a provider in Shariah-compliant consumer and SME financing.
Why is the Egyptian market a focus point for you?
With an F&B Market estimated to be worth around $15B and growing at a 15-20% rate over the next 5 years, Foodics’ expansion into Egypt was always an integral part of our business plan. Given the market potential, and by replicating the tremendous growth and success achieved in our existing markets, we have been able to fast-track our commercial ambitions in Egypt.
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You were recently recognised by SAMA as a Fintech company. What does this mean FOODICS and can we expect to see any changes in how you operate in the near future?
A finance offering was also always part of our vision in order to offer a true one-stop platform for owners to manage their business. We were recently one of 3 companies that were officially recognized as a Fintech company in Saudi by SAMA, which opened the door for huge opportunities and innovation.
This allowed us to achieve our goal to revolutionize SME lending. We wanted to enable faster and more flexible lending than most of the lending facilities in the region. To that effect, we successfully set up Foodics Capital, as mentioned.
Having also launched Foodics PAY, we enabled restaurant owners to access a unique payment solution integrated with their POS, enabling them to accept debit cards, credit cards, and digital wallet payments, all in a secure environment.
Can you share some other expansion plans with us?
We are delighted to already be able to export our services beyond KSA, to the MENA region as well as internationally. Having successfully expanded to Egypt last year, we are well placed to grow further and are focusing on penetrating the Kuwait and Oman markets.
By 2022, our goal is to have 500 employees, and we are actively seeking extraordinary talents to join our team and grow together.
What were you looking for from your investors, besides capital?
Besides capital, we look for our investors to
Our investors indeed play a key role in our expansion, not only financially, but strategically, and we are very thankful to all who have joined us on this journey so far.
What do you believe are some of the most exciting things happening in the Foodtech world right now?
In 2020, Fintech startups were able to fill the FoodTech gap with solutions that required minimal human contact, thus complying with social distancing regulations while maintaining or even increasing the convenience level for their customers. As a result, the spike in E-commerce transactions has been drastic. People used digital payment services to pay for more things that they would ordinarily have used cash or bank transfers for.
We indeed witnessed this significant acceleration in the digitization of operations in both the retail and F&B sectors. Businesses have had to create/augment their online presence due to the pandemic, in order to follow their customers' footprints and provide them with an optimal customer experience.
The consequences are that there is a huge market opportunity in the Fintech/Foodtech sectors combined.
What are your hopes and vision for the future of FOODICS?
Foodics’ hope is to make an impact on the F&B industry and help business owners overcome foreseen and unforeseen challenges through digital technologies.
Our vision is to be a true one stop shop for a restaurant owner, from ordering their supplies, to managing the relationship with their customers, to accepting and making payments. We aspire to be the No. 1 solution provider for the ecosystem.
We will also to continue to grow the ecosystem as a whole, under our mantra “growing together”.
If you could go back to 2014 when you first launched FOODICS, what advice would you give to yourself?
The first advice I would give myself would be to focus on attracting and retaining the right talent from the offset. Human capital is always a strategic competitive advantage any business can depend on.
My second piece of advice would be to
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