In-between classes, college friends Ahmad Alzaini and Mosab Al Othmani often met at coffee shops around Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to discuss ideas for a startup. “So much of who we were then and our growing friendship revolved around food,” says Alzaini. “When we talked about creating tech solutions for restaurants, we wanted the technology to help the relationship between a restaurant and its customers become stronger.” He and Al Othmani founded Foodics in 2014 in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. It offers a cloud-based restaurant payment system on an iPad in English and Arabic. But, it’s much more than a modern cash register.
Clients can choose from eight iOS app add-ons to manage and analyze a restaurant’s sales and inventory, organize employee schedules and predict customer behavior based on past orders. Alzaini, CEO, says they have contracts with nearly 1,000 restaurants, including fast-food chains Hamburgini and Burgerizzr in Saudi Arabia, and Holland House Mini Pancakes in Dubai. “Foodics processes more than five million transactions every minute,” says CTO, Al Othmani.
Having seen revenues reach $10.6 million in 2016, the startup has witnessed month-on-month growth of up to 24% this year, with another office in Dubai opening in February 2017. In September 2017, the cofounders raised $4 million in their first external funding round led by strategic investor Raed Ventures, the venture arm of Almajdouie Holding, a Saudi conglomerate with interests in food distribution, with Aryaf Bakeries and restaurants such as Café Liwan, a popular coffee shop chain. Saudi-based Riyad TAQNIA Fund and Naseel Holding, and San Francisco-based 500 Startups were also part of the round. Raed Ventures founding partner, Omar Almajdouie, began mentoring the two founders in December 2015 after meeting them through the BADIR Program for Technology Incubators in Riyadh, and helped prepare them for the funding round and their expansion into the U.A.E.
“The Foodics founders are tapping into a huge market that has welcomed their product. Their synergy as partners led us to believe in them and prepare them for a fast growth track,” explains Almajdouie. Alzaini and Al Othmani plan to use the funds to perfect their apps and to move headquarters early next year to Dubai, which represents a more lucrative market. “Dubai is more accessible for international business owners, which grows our client base and allows us to get into enterprise sales,” says Alzaini. One Jeddah-based breakfast joint, F6tor Faris, has used Foodics for almost three years. CEO Faris Al Turki says it helps him track sales at his three branches on an Apple device from any location. It also gave him insight into how much time kitchen staff spend preparing meals. “Pancakes were taking longer to make in some branches, so this probed us to investigate the reasons,” he says. Customers can also place orders and customize them by adding or taking away ingredients from a dish, all from an iPad. As a result, there’s less chance of hand-written mistakes, food waste and order delays. The order data is also recorded in intelligence reports for restaurant staff, helping them know the history of past orders. “We know what some of our customers are about to order the moment they walk in,” says Al Turki. Alzaini and Al Othmani, who are both 30, have certainly made good on their food and tech idea.
They met in 2008 at King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, where Alzaini was studying electrical engineering and Al Othmani computer engineering. After graduating in 2012, they returned to their hometown of Khobar, where they teamed up to launch ALWANS, which created mobile apps for entrepreneurs, sometimes investing in the startups. Four are still running today: 3lml3b, which provides reservations for 34 private soccer fields across Saudi; Fixaat, a home maintenance services company; Sabooona, a soap and toiletries brand with 300,000 downloads; and Bouquet, a gift service. Alzaini scouted around for promising app ideas, and Al Othmani built the apps. To get clients, they placed an ad for ALWANS in 2013 in a Khobar newspaper, advertising prices as low as $100. A coffee shop owner called. He wanted a basic electronic menu app to enable customers to order from an iPad. Alzaini and Al Othmani delivered it in three months. The job sparked an idea: they could develop their own apps for managing restaurants. They started with building another menu app, but this time it would have additional customizable features for staff and patrons, such as managing changes to a dish, and be tailored to suit any restaurant model any size, not just a small coffee shop. “We had helped others reach tech fame so it made sense to do the same for ourselves,” says Alzaini. Simple, fast and cost effective, Alzaini and Al Othmani took their idea to the market. After only three months, they had seven paying clients, ranging from coffee shops to fast-food restaurants, and they were asking for more.