Supercharging the supply chain: An interview with Talha Ansari, Co-Founder of Retailo

Retailo, a B2B marketplace that aims to technologically supercharge the retail supply chain in the region, raised a $2.3M Pre-Seed funding round in October, from several prominent investors.

MAGNiTT took the opportunity to speak with the startup's Co-Founder Talha Ansari to discover how they were able to successfully launch during a pandemic, if this decision affected the platform's usage, how they are increasing the efficiency of the supply chain, expansion plans for the future, and more.

How does the Retailo platform work?

Retailo is an online B2B e-commerce platform that connects manufacturers to SMEs. The platform works as a marketplace connecting the two ends of the consumer goods supply chain which has been digitized for maximum convenience of manufacturers and SME retailers.

Can you share the steps you are taking to reorganize the retail sector and increase the efficiency of the supply chain?

The supply chain was always operational but without the use of technology and real-time information. With high internet and smartphone penetration, there was a big opportunity to introduce a new way of doing business. Since data is available in real-time, it allows ordering patterns to become more meaningful and allows better supply chain and production planning.

The information asymmetry we are dealing with is so dense and dynamic that manual systems cause delays and inefficiencies. There are thousands of products and price points in the market and until recently no one had used technology to make this process transparent and efficient. Using technology simplifies and improves the entire supply chain in terms of real-time and accurate data that ultimately benefits the manufacturers and SMEs.

Retailo was founded only a few months ago, did the pandemic affect your launch or the platform usage, and how did you overcome this if so?

COVID was a shock for everyone. The industries we are operating in were struggling. People around us were losing their jobs and there was a lot of uncertainty. However, I and the other Co-Founders have always believed that a crisis can lead to opportunity as there is always a problem to be solved. There was also a personal element; 6-7 people around us had lost their jobs and we wanted to help them and decided the best way was to build our own business and hire them which formed the core team.

The pandemic provided a problem we wanted to solve. The traditional supply chain broke and this sector was struggling. So, we saw it as an opportunity and a chance to help people. We pooled in our funds for a basic application and got going. Of course, with the lockdown things were hard, air travel was not possible, markets were closed and even road movement was tough but we were addressing a need and our product yielded good numbers. We knew we were on the right track and our purpose was aligned with our belief in the system and the size of the opportunity. Pretty soon we were talking to investors who saw the growth we had achieved and that’s when things really took off.

Did the current climate affect your fundraising efforts in any way?

Generally speaking, the business environment was quite bad. Everyone was stunned by COVID and no one knew what the future held. However, we had a product and started talking to people. Investors were surprised by our growth. They heard our story, saw that we were passionate about the model, and realized that there was a huge opportunity. We were able to get the investment we wanted and things have been scaling since then.

Aside from capital, what else were you looking for from your investors?

We were looking for investors with vision. They had to be people looking to solving core problems and creating real value and long-term impact as well as being aligned with the vision of the company. COVID built momentum for our business, but we wanted to partner with people who were looking well beyond that. There are punters and then there are serious players who share the founders’ vision, realize the overall size of the opportunity, and are in it for the long haul.

While they should be bullish and hungry for returns, they should also be farsighted, have a global focus, and looking for a far-reaching impact on the lives of people. They should understand the complexity of the business and look for long term value. Above all, they should believe in us and the business model and then back us not only with finance but also their learnings and experience. We were fortunate to find investors who had all that and are happy that things got underway with the right partners.

Can you share some of Retailo’s short-term plans for expansion with us?

We are focusing on building a great team and acquiring the talent that can help us scale. This is a huge, untapped market and we want to make sure we have the tools in place to help our partners and customers in the best way possible.

What do you foresee as the largest challenges to scaling Retailo in MENA and beyond?

We operate in huge cash economies which can slow things. The challenge is to make people comfortable with a digital system that takes cash out of the equation. We are aggressively trying to overcome this with payment solutions. This will make things fast and also document the economy of the region we are in. Another big challenge is digitizing the information in our supply chain such as stock information, inventory numbers, etc.

After a successful Pre-Seed round closure, what are your hopes for the future of Retailo?

We are focused on expansion and going deep into the business model. The tech side is being explored to get the right mix of tech and on-ground operations. It’s a huge sector and as Deng said, we are crossing the river by feeling the stones. Our singular goal is that Retailo should be the main distribution channel for manufacturers and the main buying channel for SMEs. We are laying the foundations of that and building on current momentum.

What advice would you give to yourself five years ago?

I would advise myself to solve big problems and go for maximum impact. There is so many things technology can solve for and I am very glad I was able to get a foot in the door early in my career.

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