Dubai Billionaire’s Tech Startup Takes on Amazon

26 January, 2018 / Articles
startup

A Dubai billionaire is vowing to take on Amazon with his emerging e-commerce empire — and to get to the top he has some extreme working conditions for his staff.

Mohamed Alabbar, 60, a real-estate tycoon, wanted to create a viable competitor to US tech giant Amazon.com, so launched his $1 billion e-commerce firm Noon in September last year.

But to beat the best you’ve got to be the best, and for Mr Alabbar, that involves his staff working under ruthless rules.

“I want people who sleep in the office,” Mr Alabbar told The Wall Street Journal.

“Want to go walk your dog in the afternoon and all that? I’m not the guy you work for.”

Noon, which is based in the Middle East, offers millions of products ranging from fashion to electronics and is, for the time being, available only to Middle Eastern households.

The UAE is only now scratching the surface of an e-commerce boom as people in the region become increasingly tech-savvy and household incomes increase.

Earlier this year, Amazon acquired Dubai-based online retailer Souq.com for $579 million and has already expanded its products and is upgrading its technology systems.

But Mr Alabbar believes he has the local’s advantage.

“This is my region, and we want to have a part in it,” he said.

Six months before the Amazon takeover, Mr Alabbar had announced his plans to start Noon.

Half of the $1 billion seed money came from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the rest from a group of Gulf investors.

The deal made Noon one of the most expensive tech ventures in the region.

E-commerce currently contributes less than 0.5 per cent to the UAE economy, compared with 2 per cent to 3 per cent in more mature markets.

But A.T. Kearney consulting firm principal Adel Belcaid said it was only a matter of time before it exploded.

“The Middle East is an untapped opportunity for e-commerce, ripe for the taking,” he said.

Aside from Noon, Mr Alabbar runs his firm Emaar Properties, which built the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, as well as the glitzy landmark Dubai Mall and other famous buildings in the city.

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