New Startup ‘The Ambassador’ Set To Score The Best Corporate Deals For Entrepreneurs
It’s the way of the world – the small folk pay the most exorbitant rates and the big guys get the best deals. Of course, it makes sense. The bigger the transaction and transaction volume, the more important you are to a supplier.
But really, it’s the smaller, newer folks who most need the bigger break.
That’s the problem The Ambassador wants to solve. The online B2B privilege programme serves as an envoy of sorts, using the collective purchasing power of SMEs through its platform to negotiate the best corporate rates on essential business products and services.
Suppliers include the likes of health insurance provider Bayzat, Aramex for domestic and international shipping, discounts on flights and hotels through tajawal, exclusive ride discounts with Careem, and joi for corporate gifts. Most significantly, the supplier network has Etisalat on board as a partner to offer exclusive mobile plans through the telecom provider’s Hello Business Hub.
“The reason SMEs don’t get the best service or prices is because they don’t have scale,” Sherif Zaki says. The 31-year-old co-founder and CEO explains that The Ambassador’s business model, built on a commission structure, creates that scale through combining the buying power of thousands of its members to deliver a win-win for both suppliers and SMEs.
“They can sign up and if they like an offer they can connect directly to the partner with prices already locked in,” he says.
In short, it saves SMEs money and the platform stays free to use.
“The Ambassador’s goal is to help your business save time and money, so you can focus your energy on growing your business instead of finding and negotiating with suppliers,” Zaki adds.
The idea wasn’t his though. He’s quick to credit his co-founder Mohammad Qaddura who was trying to build the concept in 2016 and approached the company Zaki worked at to signup as a potential partner.
Funnily enough, the company didn’t sign on to be a partner with The Ambassador – but instead Zaki quit his job and joined the company as CEO because he believed that the idea is “beautiful in it’s simplicity” and because he felt more “purpose driven” working with a startup, with freedom to create and test ideas.
Today, The Ambassador has more than 1,000 member companies and agreements in place with a diverse pool of leading supplier brands to offer the same prices as their biggest accounts. That means that SMEs pay the same per unit pricing levels as the biggest companies in the region.
The Ambassador has also recently signed a contract with Mastercard to roll-out a similar model across the GCC as Go Business+ for the credit card provider’s SME customers.
“We’ve started a soft launch in Kuwait, (and) will be in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and (the) UAE this month” Zaki says, adding that the company is also in the process of launching a mobile app and adding new partners over the next few months.
But getting people on board has its challenges still because subscribers are often skeptical, the CEO laughingly admits. “They are waiting for the scam or the catch,” he says. “Why is it free? How do you make your money? I mean I get it, but you realize that the trust and transparency levels in the market can be quite low and that is one of the problems we are really trying to solve by creating access for free.”
All he says to everyone – both potential partners and members – is to just try it out.
Humbly referring to himself as “a pretty bad negotiator” he says his way through with partners is to “generally just say yes to everything”.
“I’m happy to give any partner what they want to get them to make an offer,” he insists.
“We are working on the network effect. (The) easy way to explain it is the more people (we get) involved the more everyone benefits, including us. We need businesses to use our platform to get the deals and the more people we have the better deals we get.”
Of course as a startup themselves, Zaki says the biggest challenge they face internally is funding.
“Not having a lot of money to start is a very obvious and difficult things,” he says. “When you’re trying to scale as a independently-funded business you are constantly making tough choices and having to really work to get people to be flexible with you.”
But with its quick growth, The Ambassador has just started their first funding round.
“(It’s) exciting but time-consuming because fundraising is a full time job in itself,” Zaki says. “When you are trying to do both day-to-day operations and fundraising you can realize why some people make so much money just doing the latter.”
The eagerness to pitch and hustle has lead to some memorable learning moments.
“The funniest response to our pitch was probably one of the first times I went in to ask for funding,” he recalls. “I was so excited and talking so fast, and thought I nailed every talking point. At the end the guy looked at me and said I think you’re great but I still have no idea what you do.”
Zaki says he had to laugh of course. He then opened the app on the phone and had the potential investor use it. “He understood it pretty quick from there. I think the biggest lesson I learned from that pitch was ‘show, don’t tell’. When you do something everyday especially, you get so caught into the details you don’t always realize you go from step 1 to step 5 and skip 2, 3, and 4 along the way.”
The CEO says he believes one the biggest obstacles for startups in the UAE is how “expensive” it is in both time and money to test and fail. “You need to be able to recover from failure because that is how you learn,” he says.
“I also think it is very hard to start a business part-time. A lot of very successful businesses start on the side and because of a lot of requirements to operate and regulations, you get held back or intimidated. We need to find ways to make it easier to earn that extra $1,000 or $2,000 a month, without having to spend $5,000 or $10,000 upfront to operate because it will build more competition across industries and a bigger community in general.”
Zaki’s big tip for startups: To recognize you can’t do it on your own. And more importantly, to “do good”.
“Help people because those same people are going to be the one’s that you need help and support from as you grow.”