RIYADH: Entrepreneur Awsim Asmi has started a business that sets out to ease the logistical headache of sending a product thousands of miles from a small online retailer to a customer’s doorstep.
The CEO of the Riyadh-based platform Nitros saw the firm spring out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw significant changes in shopping behavior from consumers stuck under lockdown restrictions.
Around 209 million extra customers in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Pakistan, — a region known as MENAP — have begun shopping online since the pandemic broke out in March 2020, according to a recent report by global payments company Checkout.com.
Asmi said his platform is a Gulf equivalent of online shipping business Shippo in the US, SendCloud in Europe and ShipRocket in India, which allows small merchants “to automate their shipping operations.”
Asmi founded the business last August, after spending five years as an avionics engineer on projects for Boeing and Airbus when he graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Central Michigan University.
But he said his work now is to streamline deliveries, rather than airplanes.
He told Arab News: “Our mission is to simplify shipping, while lowering shipping costs to the absolute minimum for e-commerce companies and individuals.
“During the pandemic, normal retailing was almost brought to a halt due to lockdown restrictions when everything had to be shipped. Some shipping firms couldn’t keep up with demand, and couriers could barely handle existing volumes, let alone take on more business.”
“I figured that online sellers were looking for a solution that would take care of the technical integration, from e-store through to customer delivery.”
“We offer a service that lets customers compare shipping rates, create labels, generate international customs documents, track shipments and make and receive money transfers. All for a small subscription fee, or pay as you go.”
Nitros is currently available in Saudi Arabia and the other five Gulf Cooperation Council nations, and plans to expand into Egypt by the end of this year.
Asmi said he launched the firm as a “bootstrap operation” with his own savings but received a major boost last December with a SR1.1 million ($300,000) pre-seed investment from US venture capital firm 500 Global and OQM Investments, a Saudi Arabian fund.
Asmi added Nitros is growing at 50 percent a month and forecasts 10,000 users by the end of the year, from an existing user base of 820. The business employs nine staff, all of whom have stock options.
But with such rapid expansion, why does Nitros require outside finance, which normally dilutes stock and comes with strings attached?
“Rather than organic growth, the goal for ambitious startups like us is to grow exponentially,” Asmi said.
“I see Nitros becoming the leading shipping aggregator in the MENA region and we plan an initial public offering within five years. In order to achieve that, we have to reinvest all of our revenue back into the company. And even that would not be enough. Venture capital investment propels a startup like us to the next stage.”
Asmi believes this is the right time to start a business in Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom moves to reduce its dependence on oil, in part by adopting a more entrepreneurial diversified economy.
He said: “This is becoming a very dynamic place for entrepreneurs. We chose to base ourselves in Riyadh because Saudi Arabia is a massive market with an influx of foreign investment and talent – and logistics is a pillar of that economy.”