2018 was a great year for startups in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) as it continued to see a rise in investments. In 2017, there were over 130 deals that raised around $475 million. In 2018, the top 10 deals itself surpassed this with more than $500 million raised.

UAE continues to be the most invested market in this region with 6 of the top 10 deals originating here, top 3 included. 2018 also saw top investments from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and Jordan.

Let’s take a look at each of the top 10 funding deals in 2018 –

1. Careem, UAE, $200 million

Founded in 2012, the Dubai-based ride-hailing company Careem has been on the list for three consecutive years.

In 2018, it raised $200 million as part of an ongoing series F round. Investors in this round include Saudi Arabia’s billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding, Al Tayyar Travel Group, STV, and Japanese ecommerce group Rakuten.

Careem’s valuation post this investment round is estimated to be over $2 billion, making it one of the most valued tech startups in the region.

With the new injected capital, Careem is looking to expand further and strengthen its position in the MENA region via mass transportation, delivery, and payments. Moving its efforts from purely ride-hailing, it now refers to itself as an internet platform for the greater Middle East.

Careem recently launched its bus service to diversify its business and give Uber strong competition

This year, Careem is on the lookout for new investors with the goal of expanding the current series round to $500 million. However, we predict that Uber and Careem will consolidate this year.

2. Property Finder, UAE, $120 million

Founded in 2007, Property Finder is a UAE-based real estate classifieds website which has operations across eight MENA countries. It raised $120 million in 2018 and is valued at about $500 million. This latest round of funding was led by US growth equity firm General Atlantic (GA).

Momentum Works recently analysed the strategy behind GA’s investment activities in various real estate platforms around the world here.

Property Finder’s latest round was 6 times the funding amount raised in the previous round

Property Finder is the hottest real estate startup in the Middle East. They claim to have a 65% market share in the region and with a profitable business for the past four years. Currently, the core market of Property Finder, Dubai, is experiencing a downturn in the housing market. However, it is seeing increasing growth prospects in markets such as Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even Iraq.

3. Emerging Markets Property Group (Bayut), UAE, $50 million

Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG) is the parent company of Bayut, a UAE-based real estate portal and one of the most well-funded tech startups in UAE.

Bayut of EMPG is one of the most well funded tech startups in UAE

EMPG received $50 million in a Series D funding round in 2018 but there was no information disclosed regarding the investors. Bayut’s CEO, Hyder Ali Khan, claimed that half of this round’s investment will be used to acquire other smaller platforms in UAE.

The remaining portion of the investments will be used to solidify its presence in other markets such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Spain and Romania where EMPG operates a portfolio of various property rental websites.

In a new development this year, EMPG raised another $50 million early February 2019, taking its Series D total to $100 million (and closer to competitor Property Finder’s $120 round). The round was led by KCK group, a US based investment fund and multiple other investors. Has US-based GA’s investment in Property Finder instilled an optimism and interest in the property market of the Middle East? Sure seems like it.

4. Boutiqaat, Kuwait, $45 million

Kuwait-based Boutiqaat is a beauty ecommerce startup founded in 2015. It raised $45 million in 2018 from Boubyan Petrochemical Company, a Kuwaiti firm that has invested in various sectors such as healthcare, petrochemicals, manufacturing, and education. This was the largest ever amount raised by a Kuwaiti startup. Post this round, Boutiqaat is valued between $250 million to $300 million.

Boutiqaat does a great job of mixing social and ecommerce which is what differentiates it from its competitors. The platform has various stores, each curated by social media influencers. This way, consumers can choose which products to buy depending on the recommendation by their favourite idols.

List of influencers on the homepage of the website

In our 2019 predictions for the Middle East, Momentum Works had pointed out that consumers in the Middle East are generally very passionate about social media, and influencer marketing strongly affects their purchase behavior. Statistics show that more than 70% of UAE customers refer to opinions of social media influencers before purchasing any product. This is what Boutiqaat uniquely uses to its advantage.

Their products are currently sold and delivered to various GCC countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. With the new capital they aim to expand to Asia, Europe, and the US. Since influencer ecommerce is a relatively easy model to replicate and depends on high localisation and cultural factors, Boutiqaat needs to move quick and smart to assert its presence outside this region

5. Wadi, UAE and Saudi Arabia, $30 million

Wadi, once regarded by many as Souq’s (soon to be rebranded as Amazon) biggest competitor in the ecommerce sector, had trouble raising investments early on. However that changed when it shifted focus to a particular vertical i.e. grocery, raising $30 million in funding from traditional retail giant Majid Al Futtaim.

Wadi’s team. They claimed to reach profitability in the first half of 2017

This investment deal makes Carrefour (Majid Al Futtaim is its regional franchisee) a strategic partner of Wadi. While Carrefour gets to diversify its business and expand customer reach, Wadi gets access to tens of thousands of products at a competitive price. This mix of synergies is a win-win for both.

In the past three years, Wadi has been deeply integrating into Saudi Arabia’s ecosystem. With a good execution team led by Rocket Internet, it has built a certain popularity and user base and even has its own logistics arm.

It is said that Wadi can process 10,000 orders a day at its peak. It’s just that as the competition between the bigger general marketplaces such as Souq and Noon heated up, Wadi was unable to keep up. So it makes sense that after this round of investment, the company will focus on groceries.

We expect to see more such online to offline consolidation as traditional retailers look to expand online and existing smaller ecommerce players focus on niche verticals to stay competitive.

6. Swvl, Egypt, $25-$30 million

Mass transport startup Swvl was the biggest black horse in the Egyptian startup scene.

Established recently in 2017, it has had a fast paced investment run. It raised a seed round of $500K in 2017 led by Careem (one of Swvl’s founders was previously with Careem). In 2018 it raised $8 million in a Series A round in April quickly followed by a Series B round of $25 million to $30 million in November 2018. It was valued at close to $100 million post this round. New investors include Dubai-based BECO Capital, Africa-based investor DiGAME and global investor Silicon Badia among others.

Swvl may be a leading transport startup in Egypt but it can’t get too comfortable since Uber and Careem too are expanding their services there. Which is why Swvl is looking to expand to other regions such as Southeast Asia with Manila as the starting point.

Cairo is one of the fastest growing cities in the world with a high car density. It is plagued by traffic and its public transport is inadequate and expensive. Swvl was established to disrupt the transport scene by solving these pain points. The founders think that the Manila and Cairo are very similar in its traffic issues and it can transfer its expertise to that market. However, we think it will be difficult for them to survive there under well-funded Grab’s watch.

Traffic in Egypt is a huge infrastructure bottleneck

According to Swvl officials, they are in talks with Asian investors to raise over $100 million for their global expansion.

7. Unifonic, Saudi Arabia, $21 million

Founded in 2006, Unifonic is a B2B cloud communications platform that is often referred to as Twilio (listed on the NYSE) of emerging markets.

This is perhaps the largest series A round of funding in the history of Middle East startups. The leading investor was STV, a VC fund managed by the largest Saudi Telecom group, STC.

The funding round was an important indication that investors in this region are ready to put their money in B2B enterprises.

Unifonic currently has more than 100 employees across ten regions with. It has more than 5,000 B2B customers, including giants in the Middle East and North Africa region, such as Souq, Aramex, Al Jazeera, Uber, HSBC, Carrefour, Centerpoint and more.

8. Mumzworld, UAE, $20 million

Founded in 2011, Mumzworld is an ecommerce company that sells products for mothers and babies. Mumzworld’s co-founder, Mona Ataya, is a well-known female serial entrepreneur who is also one of the founders of the recruitment website bayt.com.

Mumzworld raised $20 million as part of its series B round in 2018 led by Gulf Islamic Investments LLC (GII), Swicorp, Wamda Capital. This was the largest round raised by a female-founded startup in the MENA region.

Mona Ataya, founder and CEO, Mumzworld

Mumzworld sells more than 200,000 products from 1,800 brands and has a customer base of  2.5 million across 20 countries. However, due to fierce competition among ecommerce players in the region, Mumzworld doesn’t have a high order volume, and ranks below 60 on app downloads in Saudi Arabia and UAE.

However, the ecommerce market in the Middle East is still in flux. After this round of funding, Mumzworld will expand in Saudi Arabia. There is still a lot of room for development in the Saudi market where vertical ecommerce just begun. It is also looking to double its sales over the next couple of years as it expands to more regions.

9. Holidayme, UAE, $16 million

Dubai-based startup Holidayme was founded in 2014 with the aim of making it easy for users to find Muslim-friendly hotels and holiday packages. The leading investor in this round was Gobi Partners. Gobi Partners is a major investment firm from China and this marks their first investment in this region. Gobi was one of the earliest VCs in China to focus on overseas opportunities, and it coined the concept of “TaqwaTech”, representing growth opportunities in the global Muslim economy. India’s Accel Partners, UAE’s Global Ventures, and Egypt’s largest VC Algebra Ventures were some of the other participating investors.

In 2016, Gobi Ventures invested in Tripfez, a Malaysian version of their platform. After the recent funding round, Gobi led the merger of Holidayme and Tripfez marking the expansion of  Holidayme’s business to Southeast Asia

10. Mawdoo3, Jordan, $13.5 million

Mawdoo3, officially launched in 2012, is known as the Wikipedia of the Arab world. In 2018, it received a $13.5 million series B investment, led by Kingsway Capital, and former investor Endure Capital. This is also the largest funding amount received by a startup from Jordan.

The Mawdoo3 website is extremely popular and reports a readership of more than 45 million unique users a month. They have about 150,000 articles that cover a wide variety of topics that range from health, food, education and lifestyle. It is said that the pace of the platform’s growth equals two novels published everyday.

With the new capital, Mawdoo3 plans on expanding its Arabic content as well as on launching Salma (think of an Arabic version of Siri and Alexa). They also have plans on using AI to serve B2B clients that want to target Arabic customers.

Mawdoo3 co-founders Mohammad Jaber and Rami Al-Qawasmi

Concluding thoughts

In contrast to Momentum Work’s assessment of India’s Top 10 fundings in 2018,  investments in Middle East and North Africa increased in 2018. We are also seeing more first time investments from major global VCs such as General Atlantic from the US and Gobi Partners from China.

On a final note, we see two kinds of opportunities in this market going forward: 

First, expansion within this region itself beyond Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to countries such as Egypt, Turkey, and other GCC countries. For example, Noon will soon have an Egyptian website; and Property Finder is looking at growth opportunities outside Dubai.

Second, with currently 1.8 billion muslims around the world who share common religious beliefs and similar living habits across different regions, we will see more opportunities related to the Muslim economy. Examples include Holidayme that was invested in by Gobi Partners, and HalalNode, a B2B ecommerce venture, incubated by Momentum Works.

This article was originally written by Yating in Chinese and adapted to English by Antarika.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].