Interview with Muhammad Chbib of Desado.com

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Desado is the Middle East’s first online destination for home décor items. Launched in December 2012, Desado offers the largest platform for people to share their inspirations and connect with the regional and international design community.

Desado.com allows visitors to browse, buy and share exciting, high-quality design innovations and all-time classics in home décor, home textiles, furniture, kitchen supplies, lighting, fashion & accessories, gadgets and quirky items, sourced from fresh talents and established designers from across the region, Europe and the USA. Desado simultaneously offers designers a unique platform to showcase their creativity to a broad audience.

Muhammad Chbib, Founder & CEO of Desado.com
Muhammad Chbib, Founder & CEO of Desado.com

An internationally experienced manager with a strong entrepreneurial and consultancy background in the online medium, Muhammad Chbib is the Founder & CEO of Desado.com, the Middle East’s first online design destination.

As the former CEO of Sukar.com, the first online private fashion shopping club in the Middle East, Muhammad has first-hand experience in e-commerce operations in the region as he successfully turned around, grew, and subsequently sold Sukar.com to Souq.com in 2011-2012. Muhammad decided to leave Sukar.com and use the invaluable experience to create a new venture in the sector of home décor and home design.

Bringing both a wealth of international experience gained through working in Europe and the Middle East with world-class companies such as SAP and McKinsey Consulting, and a solid grasp of business fundamentals, Muhammad is focused on developing and growing Desado.com in the key areas of customer experience and overall operational excellence.

In this interview, Muhammad Chbib shares his views on on how Desado.com differentiates with its competitors in the MENA region, which is one of the world’s fastest growing e-commerce region in the world, and how the MENA region compares with other developed markets like Europe and the US, challenges faced by e-ecommerce businesses in the MENA region, as well as the recent funding in his company by iMENA investments.

What is the Desado.com mantra for success?

At a point when we were about to launch, we had one single goal that still stands true today:

Meet and exceed our customer expectation as consistently as we can.

In a very short span of time, we have done our best to understand our members and potential customers quickly and thoroughly. We continue to believe that this will be the sole reason for existence. We strive towards making our customers happy and further enabling them to spread the vibe on to everyone about desado.

While many people still prefer to go out there and shop, how does Desado.com create an engaging and enjoyable shopping experience?

Desado.com does not regard the traditional offline shopping experience as something competing with online. We do believe that both channels have the right to exist and both channels will continue to grow in the future, especially in the Middle East. However, we also do believe that both online and offline retailers need to make sure that the shopping experience becomes, and remains, a joyful journey from A to Z.

This starts with the discovery phase, continues with the selection phase, the purchase process, as well as the after-sale service. At desado, we try to improve each of these process steps along the way. When our customers are still in their discovery mode, we try to show them things they haven’t thought of, things they sometimes don’t need, but because it holds a certain aesthetic value to it and it is different, they seem to want to experience it. This very aspect thrills us because at the end we can see what a customer has come for and what he or she ends up purchasing on the platform. This keeps our international sourcing team going, it keeps us continuing to search for products and designs that are not widely available in the standard online and offline shopping environment.

Post-purchase, we try to be as hassle-free as possible. If you dislike what you have purchased, or if we could not deliver on our promise which happens in rare cases, we make it extremely simple for customers to return the product, get reimbursements, replacements, fixes, etc. This is how we truly maintain customer relationship.

You have recently launched the Arabic website version. What other initiatives are in the pipeline for the strategic expansion of your business?

Desado has a whole new dimension of updates on our platform. We do not want to disclose too much at this stage, as this would be taking the thrill out of the launches we are planning. But we can say that our focus is concentrated in areas of social engagement, crowd-designing, mobile commerce as well as making the overall desado experience the most positive and emotional shopping experience in the Middle East,

EOS NY watch
EOS NY watch that’s available on Desado.com.  From street culture to the city’s breaking trends and fashions, this collection represents a melting pot of colors, shapes and sizes. EOS designs are inspired by the diversity of New York City -Micky Lalchandani, Lead Designer, EOS New York

The population in Middle East is extremely diverse, with expats from all over the world living here. How difficult is it for Desado to match their expectations, taste and style?

Desado’s product range is extremely diverse. We do actually believe that the diversity of the Middle East and especially within the GCC is helpful in the growth of our business. We are able to tailor our offerings in a way that (a) we cater to the known needs of each customer segment and (b) we offer new things to each segment that are usually never seen or experienced before. From this perspective, desado turns to be an integrative shopping experience in the region.

iMENA Holdings has recently invested in your company. What focus areas will you be targeting with this investment?

We regard iMENA as more than just an investor. We actually observe a really strong partnership here. They have been very supportive since we met them, making introductions to really interesting business partners. The investment will mostly be used to further build-out our technology platform, regional operations and activities as well as developing our customer base. Our already large product range will benefit even further from this partnership.

iMENA has reposed its confidence in the leadership of Desado. Do you feel that growing up in Germany as a child, has helped to bring something special to the table?

I do believe that there is an enormous talent pool in the Middle East. I personally benefit from having the combination of Arabic blood and temperment, as well as the German/European respect for the business environment. There is a lot I benefit from today in my day-to day work. I am grateful and humbled by the privilege of knowing both worlds.

If you are asking me for the two of most important factors that I think has helped me, then it is (a) the international network that has enabled to start and build desado and (b) fact-based and data driven way to recognize and analyse issues and most importantly, develop compelling and long-lasting solutions to such issues, rather than having an over-emotional approach to them.

How would you draw a comparison between the e-commerce boom in the Middle East vs. Europe/U.S.?

The Middle East is still at the beginning of it’s boom. We have a tradition and legacy of entrepreneurs in the ME, slightly different from Europe/US though as the Middle Eastern entrepreneurship traditionally comes from international and regional trade activities. Europe and the U.S. are already very mature markets with very few big opportunities in the e-commerce sphere left to capture or tap into.

The Middle East still offers larger avenues, space and innovation to take on. There still is no dominant player and there still is no dominated vertical. One thing that definitely needs to develop further vis-a-vis Europe and the U.S. in particular, is the financial investors scene. Growth capital will be essential to further grow the market and the Middle Eastern community needs to quickly understand the potential, move from real estate and foreign assets and focus on an entrepreneurship supporting approach, as this will benefit the region substantially, going forward.

Do new players in the industry like Desado need to carve a niche, or there is still ample room for growth in the ME e-commerce market?

Desado is not a niche player. We are personalized and emotional player, but not a niche player, as we serve various verticals that address the entire consumer base in the Middle East. We also do believe that there is enough room to grow multiple players in the regional e-commerce market. The important differentiator will be the customer experience that each player offers.

Personally, you have great professional experience in the e-commerce field. Do you think there is enough talent in MENA to help support the growth of online businesses?

I do believe there is talent. I do actually believe there is tremendous talent. However, there is not enough experience.

If we manage to combine international experience with local talent then we will all benefit from the future. Looking at desado’s team for example, I can tell you that we have an enormously talented team of executives and leaders. I personally have learned more from the people I worked with at sukar.com and desado.com in the past 2.5 years than in the years in Europe before. The diversity of our talent pool is just amazing. We need to channel this properly, inject a sense of humbleness and eagerness to learn, in these young talents, and we need to take on the responsibility to actively coach and develop them as well. This focus on raising the bar for people in the region is what keeps me personally going, besides the thrill to please our customer base.

What are some of the most notable threats facing e-commerce businesses in MENA?

In my view, there are two major issues:

(a) it is the availability to seed, early, and the growth phase venture funding in the region. If a young regional entrepreneur with a great idea, passion and drive faces big issues getting his/her idea funded, then we risk jeopardizing the enthusiasm and momentum in this fairly new industry. A lot of regionally active investors yet have to appreciate the fact that it is the personalities of the founding team members that drive the success of a new business. Hence, these young entrepreneurs need to be motivated. The best motivation for true entrepreneurs is equity in their “own baby”… It is absolutely counterproductive to play the “low valuation” game as in the long run it will harm the investment. This is a lesson, players in Europe have learned from their U.S. colleagues (the hard way) in the past 10-15 years.

(b) it is the lack of humbleness and the risk of thinking you are successful when you still haven’t achieved anything. For me, success is defined over the longer term.

So-called entrepreneurs that set up businesses quickly to seek a quick exit to make some money without having built a sustainable long-term model, are a threat to a successful e-commerce sector in the region. It will scare off both talents and investors. Hence, we need to be careful when we discuss incentive schemes while supporting young entrepreneurs and e-commerce businesses

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