The Bootstrapping Startup That’s Scaling Without A VC Fund!

Omar Abouzeid, Karim Abouzeid and Mohamed Abou-Ferrekha are the geniuses behind VOO. What you may ask, is VOO? In short, it is “a mart in an app.” And what’s so special about this app? The answer is، a lot. This app will conveniently deliver anything from their shelves to your doorstep in no time. The variety of goods at VOO’s fingertips are truly amazing and they can deliver them at a speed that you simply won’t believe. eniGma’s Rawya Lamei sat down with the men behind VOO to learn more about this brilliant idea and how, unlike other startups, they have achieved so much success without any VC funding.

It all started back in 2019, when Mohamed Ferekha and Omar Abouzeid discussed the Q-commerce business model and Omar got his brother Karim to join the two of them in setting up this new startup. The two brothers had been working in advertising and showbiz for a very long time with Omar as a producer, and Karim as a director and producer. So, they had no past experience in the field they were about to take on; and while Mohamed has a tech background, this was also his first experience in the field. To understand their new business well, they spent a lot of time at supermarkets and hypermarkets learning how they operated, dealt with suppliers and handled their stock, and got busy designing their own last mile methodology. Finally, when the three partners felt they were ready to start, they went ahead and launched their app, which they named VOO, ‘a mart in an app’.

No sooner had they launched VOO at the end of 2019 than the pandemic hit Egypt along with the rest of the world. Fortunately for VOO, it was the only “mart” app around at that time. From day one, they were delivering all through the curfew. In hindsight, there could not have been a better time for VOO to take off. Through word of mouth, news of VOO’s services began to spread, and with the advent of Ramadan, sales skyrocketed.

VOO’s founders are proud of their focus on building a successful business, as opposed to simply maximising growth in the shortest time. That is why they treasure their independence and have stayed away from bringing in VCs. “We decided not to burn cash to balloon the business and create crazy growth. Instead we focused on slowly building the business with a clear break-even point in sight. As per our projections, we are turning cash flow positive by the end of 2022,” says Karim.

Omar adds that they want to make VOO a “real business”, and stresses that only then can they take off and become a truly great company. He insists that they would never agree to bring in an outside investor unless they were absolutely certain that they genuinely care about the company, its quality and customers, not just about its growth. Until then, says Omar, they intend to continue bootstrapping. “We want to keep VOO’s identity. And VOO’s identity is primarily linked to the convenience that it provides,” he adds.

To make sure that they would be providing users with exactly what they want from their VOO, from the start, Mohamed, Omar and Karim put themselves in their customers’ shoes as they made their business decisions. They quickly realised that what a customer appreciates most is the experience provided by the app. Thus, they focused on making sure that their app was user friendly and capable of delivering orders very quickly. They also insisted on having friendly customer service that was quick to respond and act. They are proud to call it “the VOO experience.”

Karim and Omar recall how, for the first year, they were themselves working as their company’s customer service. They gave themselves aliases as they answered their customers, and made sure their customers were getting the quality of service that they would want for themselves. To this day, without a doubt, the main thing that sets VOO apart from any similar app is their customer experience. However, it’s not just about the speed of delivery of the orders. It’s about everything around it, from the quality of its products to the quality of its customer service. VOO delivers on all fronts and provides an unparalleled customer experience. “Our response time is under 15 seconds,” says Karim.

VOO has also been very creative in its offerings. For instance, right before Ramadan of 2020, they partnered with Mandarine Koueider to include their products in their stock. Customers couldn’t believe that they could get fresh basbousa and balah el sham to their doorstep in 15 minutes! With this service their daily sales increased by about 700 percent on the first day of Ramadan. “The demand was so high we had to deliver some orders with our own cars,” Omar recalls with a smile. While some may say that it was a risky move, and question how they could guarantee sufficient availability of basbousa stock to meet an unexpected surge in demand, Omar confidently shrugs it off saying, “We expected and had this huge increase in sales calculated.” He adds that this was definitely one of the greatest milestones in the life of VOO.

Of course, VOO has had its fair share of challenges along the way. One of the greatest challenges had to do with cash flow. “You have to know how to lose,” says Omar. While they went through some extremely hard times with cash flow they didn’t give up and kept going. “We have a lot of employees, and these employees have families. We can’t simply let them down,” adds Karim. He notes that mistakes can be useful at the end as well, recalling the time they spent a lot of money on advertising billboards. While this seriously hurt their cash flow, it was a necessary strategic move to gain the respect of many of their suppliers.

Another main challenge was the app itself. “We suffered a lot with outsourcing to developers from around the globe and trying to get the UX right, so we eventually decided to rebuild the app from scratch using our team of in-house developers,” says Mohamed.

Maintaining the high standard of their front liners and delivery workers is an ongoing challenge as well. That is why they are very strict when it comes to the quality of their staff. The three founders agree that a big part of their success has to do with the high standard of their workers and their excellent customer support. They are the ones who deal with VOO’s customers. They are very proud that some of their front liners have been working with them since the early days of the business. These are the people they rely on in VOO’s operations, and they are the ones responsible for training newer employees, making sure that the quality of “the VOO experience” stays at its highest level, which is the key to VOO’s success.

In spite of all the inevitable stress that comes their way, Omar, Karim and Mohamed are very passionate about their company and their customers. And this has been paying off. VOO is currently doing better than other apps backed by some of the biggest VCs out there. They put their faith in their service and gave it all they had, and it really worked for them. They note with pride that 95% of VOO’s orders come from returning customers.

This summer, for the second year in a row, VOO is taking over Sahel, where their app was a favourite with vacationers last summer. After the summer season, the trio plan to expand their operations beyond their current operations in Greater Sheikh Zayed, New Cairo, Downtown, Zamalek, Mohandessin, Dokki, Agouza, and Manial, as well as their most recent expansion to Maadi and their upcoming seasonal Sahel pop-up. Omar concludes, “We like to expand slowly but surely. There is no rush.”