Every week, the Soukie Speaks’ Club Courage series celebrates a brave entrepreneur in the Arab startup ecosystem, by sharing their story and the impact that their startup is having on the community. This week we interviewed Nida Sumar Founder of the Keza app.
1) Tell us a little about yourself, your educational background and how you got into entrepreneurship.
Well, I am the eldest of 4 children. My parents hail from Karachi, Pakistan and we come from very humble beginnings. I was born and raised here in Dubai and thus I am known to be more Emirati than Pakistani any day! I love this country and what it has given me and am very, very patriotic. I completed my high school here in Dubai ay St Mary’s Catholic
High School and was always very interested in learning all I could and thus did quite well in class. Since I was a child, I have always loved challenges, so I was quite the carpenter, mechanic and electrician at home too.
My affair with cooking started at 11 when I made my first roti for my dad and continued rolling them out until I achieved the perfect round fluffy wonder. I was also very good with numbers, they intrigued me, and I think the entrepreneurial bug set in quite early. I was 12 when I first started trading US markets, on behalf of my father of course, via an online trading platform called E*Trade. That’s where my passion for finance came from, I could read charts & financial statements, do pretty complex analysis, read up on market watch and follow tens of stocks and keep up with commodity prices and be very happy doing it all day.
Education & Career
My father had promised me an education in the US if and only if I scored all As in my O levels and A levels, which I did. I was pretty young though and so my mother didn’t want me to fly off just yet and I decided to start working. My first job was an internship at a local audit firm called Sajjad Haider & Co. in Deira, but I was 15 at the time and so the management wouldn’t allow me to visit clients since I was under the legal working age. So, I quit the job out of boredom and after one semester in American University of Sharjah, I flew off to Minnesota to complete my undergrad in accounting, business administration and business law.
During my undergrad, I worked both part-time and full-time jobs at a career development firm and KPMG. However, the plan was always to return home and contribute in whatever way I could to my beloved country. Upon returning, I worked for a while in external auditing for Ernst & Young and as the Regional Accounting Manager for a logistics company. I then became a financial consultant on a freelance basis and later joined my father’s growing company as the Head of Finance and Legal. During my time at the family business, I pursued and completed my CFA Charter and qualified as a trained chef and cake artist. I also catered from home for a few years on the side.
The idea of KEZA sprouted 3 years ago, that’s when I first started talking to friends about it but never really paid much attention, because at the time mobile technology wasn’t as popular as it is today and the execution of the KEZA idea without an app would have cost millions in just asset acquisition and development. It was last year, after my first meeting with Mudassir, co-founder of Careem, Dubai-based car ride startup, that I was inspired to re-think my idea and really start designing an action plan to bring it to life.
Entrepreneurship has always ran in my blood. So, after working for others for 11 years [an experience that was extremely valuable and I would highly recommend] I decided to leave the conventional workforce 11 months ago to focus all of my energy into KEZA. I know my numbers really well and I love food, and I mean… I LOVE FOOD and KEZA brings all of my favorite things together and so here I am. In the very short time since I have started working on my business full-time, I have been blessed to find awesome partners and teammates to work with, meet incredibly talented people and gain lot of support from the community.
The Keza app has participated in various industry events this year including the Taste of Dubai and the 2016 STEP conference. We have also recently been featured in Entrepreneur ME magazine and been chosen as one of the top 25 finalists for the Women-able program powered by Grow Me. We have already done a soft launch for the app and we are working closely with the Alpha team to get the app out ASAP, which we are planning to launch in two major cities- Dubai and Karachi. All the progress that my team and I have been able to achieve in just 11 months has been extremely humbling and rewarding.
2) What is the Keza app and who is your target audience?
KEZA means innovation in Kinyarwanda, a language spoken by people in Rwanda, and that is the perfect description of the spirit of KEZA and it’s team. We want to bring innovation to the food and beverage industry by streamlining the process of dining out for all diners and restaurateurs. Our target audience consists of diners between the age of 13 and 55 with a smartphone and internet connectivity and restaurants that are medium to high end and are tech ready with a minimum of 8 tables. There are other segments of the industry that the KEZA app will serve, but we will announce them as we role the features out!
3) The Keza app has a whole host of impressive features, which will most likely require a significant amount of onboarding for restaurant/cafe managers and staff. How do you plan to carry out the onboarding process?
Initially, I will be heavily involved with the deployment of the app. My plan is to build a strong relationship with our early adopters, so we can get their feedback and assess how we can effectively deploy the Keza system. It will be a very, very steep learning curve for me as well, but I hope our early partners will be kind and patient! In the future, we will slowly and surely move to deploying the entire system with the help of online tutorials and telephone support. We might also assign each client an “onboarding specialist” from the team to help them when required.
The app already has 2 years worth of improvements and updates scheduled, so training and development will be a big part of the KEZA brand in general. We believe that this will not only make the transition feel seamless for our partners, but it will also add a lot of value when we share industry best practices and insights with them. We are confident that the Keza app will be very beneficial for our partners’ businesses and the industry in general
4) What are the main criteria for being a Keza restaurant/cafe? Is there an application process?
We actually have very few criteria, we believe in building solutions for all categories of restaurants and cafes. However, a basic requirement is the willingness to adopt change, be proactive, and be fairly tech ready. Currently, we don’t support restaurants and cafes that operate completely offline, though we do plan on developing technology that will serve that sector in the future. Restaurants who are interested in being on the KEZA app will be able to sign-up directly from our upcoming website or they can shoot us an e-mail at Sales@keza.it to speak to someone about getting a customized package.
5) Can customers and foodies recommend restaurants/cafes to add to the Keza app? If so, what is the procedure for recommending one?
Absolutely! In fact, we encourage a lot of communication and we want to be connected to our users and the food scene in the cities that we operate in, because it allows us to adapt and improve in real time. The procedure of recommending a restaurant will be simple. Once we launch the app, diners will be able to submit recommendations for a restaurant on the homepage of our new website, which is currently being developed.
Alternatively, diners can choose to send us a request if a restaurant listed on the app is inactive and they would like to see it operational on KEZA. Once we receive a request, we will take it to the relevant restaurant and set them up on the app. If you’re too excited to wait for our official launch, we encourage you to write to us at email@example.com and connect with us on our social media accounts, so you can send us your recommendations, ideas, opinions or what have you!
6) Many Dubai-based customers are familiar with the Zomato app, which offers similar functions, so why should customers choose to download the Keza app?
KEZA is actually quite different from Zomato. I’m actually a huge fan of Zomato and have deep respect for the kind of change that the app has brought to the foodie scene here in Dubai. It has made customers very savvy and increased acceptance for apps targeted at streamlining and refining the dining-out experience, which is great for us!
While Zomato focuses heavily on delivery and reviews, we are here trying to solve the problems diners face when going to a restaurant and the logistical issues that restaurants face when managing their daily operation. So, although a few features overlap, and they have to in order for us to function, our business models are very different. We have almost no written reviews on our app and only ask for a one line review when someone has rated their experience as 2 stars.
7) How do you think the Keza app will contribute to the growth of the food and beverage industry in Dubai?
I think KEZA is great news for the F&B market in the UAE. In fact, we have already made plans to launch in the UAE and Karachi, because of the great response we have had from Karachi restaurateurs as well. We have also had the great honor of being approached by a very popular restaurant in Bangkok! However, I think it will be some time before we can expand to another country.
Given that the UAE F&B market is already valued at over USD 13 Billion, with a projected 4% year on year growth, we believe that the upcoming launch of our app comes at a crucial time. Especially considering that Dubai will be hosting the Expo 2020. Ultimately, we aim to help our restaurant partners increase their mobile integration, so they can cater to this growing customer base and increase their revenues and efficiency in the future. But also in terms of foodies and the F&B industry, we hope to create a stronger community and promote a food movement that encourages more healthy, sustainable and eco-friendly “consumption habits.”
8) Is there a way for the UAE’s passionate foodies to get involved with the Keza app?
We are open to all kinds of content collaborations from passionate home cooks, food bloggers, critics, chefs, food educators, F&B suppliers, talented techies etc. At this point, we’re at a pretty early stage in our development, however we welcome passion and innovation and encourage the community to find ways that we can find help and offer our help.
So if you are passionate, driven, and want to be a part of an innovative, fun, growing company or contribute in the development of the app, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will take it from there! If you are someone who wants to intern with us, you can also send your resume to HR@keza.it We always need more heads and hands around here! The invitation is open to all passionate foodies and people from all over the MENA and South East Asia.
An invitation also goes out to social workers, volunteers and contributors who are interested in supporting our initiative of educating women and girls who do not have the means to do so and providing rehabilitation to women, who have been victims of rape or domestic abuse or violence. We pledge a share of our profits towards the cause and I would personally like to see it grow far and wide InshAllah.
9) When will the app be launching and how would you like to see it grow?
The app launches in September 2016 InshAllah and it will be available in the App Store for all to download and use. We will also be launching in Karachi in October. We already have very exciting growth plans lined up and a lot of it has to do with creating synergies and connections with other very popular local startups to propel our growth.
I would personally like to see the Keza app grow to be a pretty substantial player in the F&B industry, but I don’t mind us growing slowly and steadily, so we can keep our values intact. Our ultimate goal is to grow into the community and do it as organically as possible, while also giving back whenever we can.
10) How can people learn more about you and your project(s)
To connect with me, you can e-mail me anytime at email@example.com or find me on Twitter. To keep up to date with the project, go to www.keza.it and sign-up there, you can
e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com and connect with us via our social media pages:
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