In 2005, Ronaldo Mouchawar saw a gap in the Middle Eastern market for a convenient one-stop online retail store. His efforts spawned Souq.com, which has become the largest e-commerce site in the Arab world. As a result, the company has been touted as a union in the Middle East.
Ronaldo Mouchawar was born in Aleppo, Syria, which before the civil war broke out, was known as a hive of trading activity. With his father being a trade merchant, Mouchawar believed entrepreneurship was in his DNA.
As a young man, he travelled to the United States where he first obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering and later a master´s degree in digital communications from Northeastern University in Boston. After graduating, he worked for a number of technology firms before deciding, in 2000, to relocate to the United Arab Emirates, to take advantage of the country´s business climate.
Not long after, Mouchawar set up his own consultancy company, before joining forces with the founders of the webmail service Maktoob, Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury. Together in 2006, they launched Souq.com. At this time, online trade was still a nascent field in the Middle East and Souq.com´s success was bolstered by the expansion of mobile phone technology across the Gulf.
With this new technology, more consumers could be reached and appreciate the benefits of having a regional version of Amazon. The site itself was developed as an auction site with a focus on electronics. It is now estimated that 50% of the population in the UAE use the website.
Today, anything can be purchased from books to baby accessories, and the site is available to consumers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt. The Gulf region is its main hub, however. Souq.com has become the largest shopping website in the MENA region. It is estimated that Souq.com receives 45 million visits and serves a market composed of 120 million customers. According to Bloomberg, the company is valued at $1 billion.
What makes Souq.com stand out from competitors such as Amazon or eBay, is how it caters to the needs of Arab consumers and the challenges that come from operating in the Middle East. For instance, it provides substantial Arabic content and in markets such as Egypt, where only 10% consumers use credit cards, pre-paid cards can be purchased and used online.
In a 2014 interview with NPR, he spoke about the important impact of the internet across MENA, “in a region where war, political turmoil and oil prices dominate the headlines, technology quietly is transforming the Middle East.” Small and medium sized firms in the Middle East have been some of the largest beneficiaries of Souq.com´s presence. 70,000 vendors operate and are supported through the website.
The development of Souq.com has been nothing short of breathtaking. In 2006, the company started with 5 people, yet today 3,000 people work for the company. Mouchawar has succeeded in showing that start-ups can flourish beyond the realm of Silicon Valley.
He regularly speaks on the subject of the applications of technology and how this can support job creation. He suggests that more needs to be done in order to improve the conditions for entrepreneurs. In recognition of his achievements, in March 2015, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE, awarded Mouchawar for Souq.com´s digital influence in the country. As the company´s CEO, Mouchawar regularly features in lists concerning the biggest tech stars in the Arab world.
The future of entrepreneurship
The Middle East is the fastest growing e-commerce market and with the success of Souq.com and ambitious entrepreneurs, such as Mouchawar, prove that despite obstacles, there is still ample reason to be optimistic about what MENA talent can achieve.
As the CEO, Mouchawar hopes that the company he founded can be one of the places where people can gain professional inspiration. “We want to become a place where people aspire to come and work, and for me that would be just as much a win as the number of transactions, or the value of the company”.
Mouchawar´s achievement can serve to engage young Arabs to invest in their own futures locally, who for years have been attracted to travel to the west.
GRI Power Brokers features high-level individuals having a positive impact on political risk environments. Through interviews, in-depth analysis and insider profiles, GRI explores how power brokers affect the distribution of political or economic power, offering unique insight into those individuals that are shaping market trends in all corners of the world.