Like-minded entrepreneurs from India and Pakistan join forces to launch glam-tech startup Mazkara.com in Dubai
The #startup world sometimes seems to create a magical effect in eradicating differences caused by mindset, race and religion which have piled up over the years. The conflict between India and Pakistan did not stop Indian Prasanjeet Deb Gupta Roy and Pakistani Mohammed Ali Akmal from becoming close friends. It also eventually led them to start glam-tech startup Mazkara.com together in Dubai in March 2015.
Mazkara enables customers to discover salons and spas in their vicinity, find the best offers and deals based on needs, budget and locationand book appointments online and make mobile payments at the venue.
Both Prasanjeet and Ali met through a common friend who owned a chain of restaurants in Dubai. Ali was building an online booking and table reservation engine for them while Prasanjeet was helping his friend optimise the functionality.
Prasanjeet says, “Ali’s qualifications and experience was tremendous and the ease with which he built such a complicated product single-handedly took me by surprise. We then continued to stay in touch and I am glad we did, as when the idea for Mazkara struck me, it was with him I that discussed it first with.”
Thirst for entrepreneurship
An MBA from Symbiosis International University, Pune, Prasanjeet has always been an entrepreneur at heart. He started his entrepreneurial journey in his second year at B-school when he launched his first venture Sensatech, which created desktop-based customised POS applications for various small-scale businesses like restaurants, grocery stores etc.
Soon after completing his education, his penchant for travel, especially across rural areas in India, led him to start another venture called ‘Indian Joint Family’, where he worked within the rural handicraft clusters of West Bengal. With a sense of accomplishment apparent in his voice, Prasanjeet explains how backed by its own manufacturing unit, with contemporary designers from NIFT and NID and local craftsmen, Indian Joint Family created leather fashion accessories which were sold through high-end boutiques in Mumbai, Delhi and Pune.
After a triumphant spell of entrepreneurship, Prasanjeet worked for many startups ventures and became a veteran in business development and operations. He was also a part of Zomato&8217;s core international team. He played a pivotal role in the launch of the company&8217;s UAE operations in 2012, and headed sales for Old Dubai and Northern Emirates as Area Sales Manager.
It was during the stint with Zomato that made Prasanjeet realise that if eating out could be simplified, so could finding the best salons and spas. When it comes to the beauty and wellness industry, customers continue to struggle for an authentic source of detailed information on offers, prices, packages etc.
He also discovered that in spite of an 88 per cent Internet penetration in UAE, the online presence of the beauty and wellness industry was almost negligible. Over 90 per cent of salon and spa customers depended heavily on word-of-mouth advertising to decide which business to patronise.
Prasanjeet then discussed the idea of starting Mazkara.com with Ali who was from Lahore and was living and working in Dubai for the past 25 years. He is a Bsc (Hons) graduate in Computing from Staffordshire University as well as a Zend Certified Php5 developer. He holds a decade of technical experience in developing high-end applications.
The duo spent a couple of months validating the idea and things started to shape up when they shared it with salon and spa owners in Dubai who were quite impressed with the prototype.
Off to a good start
On May 1, the startup launched Mazkara Web, a hyperlocal salon and spa guide for Dubai. With a feet-on-the-street model for data collection, Mazkara quickly became the richest and the most comprehensive database for the industry. According to Prasanjeet, the startup already has over 50,000 unique monthly users and facilitates about 500 appointments a day.
Considering how deal-driven this industry is, the company launched the exclusive Mazkara Offers section through which businesses are able to publish their offers and deals on the platform without any charge or commission. “Through this section, Mazkara is on its way to becoming the largest aggregator of offers and deals in the beauty and wellness space,” says Prasanjeet.
It&8217;s time to raise funds!
Based on the initial prototype of the product built in February 2015, Mazkara raised an angel round of funding to the tune of $ 5,00,000 from Dubai-based angel investors. The funds are being used to set up the initial team for technology and product and for launching services in the target markets of UAE and India.
Currently, the Mazkara business model is based on selling subscription-based, premium monthly listings on the website. The venture has recently started sales efforts in Dubai and already has over 30 paid clients. As the market and product evolve, Mazkara plans to introduce other mature market revenue models centred on transactions between businesses and customers.
The startup now has spread its wings in the Indian market with an office in Pune. Currently, Mazkara has offices in Dubai and Pune with total team strength of 25. Its key focus geographies for 2015 and 2016 are Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and in India it will be looking at marking its presence in Pune, Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata.
Beating the odds
When Prasanjit and Ali were working out of a coffee shop during the initial days, the duo had gone through hard times in convincing engineers to join them in their vision with little or no money. Finally the tough search came to an end when when Apoorv Chopra (who was working with Prasajeet in Zomato, and heading Content in UAE) came on board to head Mazkara’s launch and expansion.
The next challenge was to launch the company&8217;s operations in Pune. Penetrating the Indian market was not all a bed of roses as the salons and spa owners in Pune refused to get listed on Mazkara.com.
Prasanjit says, “We weren&8217;t even selling them anything and they still did not want to have anything to do with us &8216;online companies&8217;. They were afraid of us. It took a whole lot of convincing before they were ready to share details and be listed with us.”
Why did you to choose to enter in India market?
India is one of the largest consumer markets in the world and the size of beauty and wellness industry is over $4.8 billion, with over 2.5 million addressable users per day. Prasanjeet believes that with a rise in disposable income over the years, people will end up spending more on themselves.
However, he also expressed concern in terms of revenue as it will be a slower and longer process in India. What they achieved in three months in Dubai, will take six in an Indian city, considering competition and the typical mindset of the business owners in India.
Prasanjeet says, “In India, most of the current players, big or small, within the beauty and wellness space are doing &8216;online booking&8217; or are focussing on &8216;on-demand home service&8217;. However, our focus is on helping customers decide in the first place which beauty/wellness service they would like or need to avail based on user recommendation. Most of these decisions are based on multiple factors like budget, stylist recommendation and community recommendation.”
The company is all set to roll out its mobile app for Android and iOS platforms. With GPS capabilities, the app will help users identify the right salon or spa close to their current location. It has also released a dashboard for the management of salons and spas to keep listing updated, respond to user reviews, view page analytics etc.
Additionally, Mazkara is building a cloud-based business application through which spa and salon owners can reach out to their customers more effectively. The management can create and edit their listings on Mazkara, publish real time offers and deals, integrate their listing with their social media pages, accept online appointments, maintain an online booking calendar, accept cashless payments from customers and more.
With its Android app launch, the startup is looking at a 50 per cent increase in traction over the next 45 days. Currently, it is growing at 15 per cent per month with repeated visitors of 40 per cent.
“We are still at an early revenue stage. It&8217;s only been three months since we started focussing on generating revenue. We just crossed $10,000 monthly revenue and are targeting a 30 per cent growth month-on-month. If everything goes well, we are looking at a $1,00,000 monthly revenue by December 2016,” adds Prasanjeet.