RIYADH: Technology is at the heart of any business in this era, and managing technical teams can be a terrible headache for managers who want to focus on building market share and generating revenue.
Squadio, a Riyadh-based startup founded in July 2018, addressed this issue with its cloud offering called team as a service, or TaaS, offering. It means that managers can draw technical talent from anywhere they are located.
“It’s much better for any founder or entrepreneur to have a pluggable team to get rid of the hassle of hiring, payroll and retention,” Khaled Senawy, CEO of Squadio, told Arab News.
“Pluggable means you can increase or downsize your team anytime you want, befitting your plans and business needs,” he added.
“We enable clients to choose from a large pool of talent distributed over eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
“We have over 800 vetted engineers, designers, testers, quality controllers, product managers and data specialists.
"They speak different languages and are middle-level managers, seniors, leaders, or even chief technology officers, who can help founders and entrepreneurs build their products, whatever domain they are in.”
The aim is to increase this figure to 10,000 by the end of 2022.
Reversing brain drain
Senawy, a Yemeni national who has lived most of his life in Saudi Arabia, understands the challenge of tech management, having been a serial entrepreneur in the tech space.
While still a telecom engineering student at Alexandria University in Egypt, Senawy co-founded Etika Technology Services, which pioneered the development of mobile apps in the Kingdom. He later created iBaloot, an online card-playing platform that had over four million users, followed by Ole.zone, a social media app for football fans.
Senawy conceived Squadio when, as Etika CEO, he noticed that “many startups struggled with enhancing their product features, managing their backlog business, and initiating sub-products. They needed a long-term partnership to focus more on building their businesses and passing on the headache of hiring and managing tech to another entity.”
Three years after Squadio’s inception, the concept has borne fruit with over 145 clients, primarily based in the Kingdom, the UAE and Kuwait, benefiting from the company’s services.
Squadio now has a full-time staff of 45 spread across the Middle East and North Africa who manage operations, marketing and recruitment of the talent.
Senawy stresses that “TaaS is distinct from traditional staffing services.”
“We prefer to call it talent cloud,” he said. “It’s actually about creating dynamic and flexible online teams to support companies to build their digital products.”
He added: “It’s all project-based contracts. And when a contract ends, we either relocate the talent to another squad or return them to our talent pool.”
But online outsourcing of talent is not new. Moreover, many jobs can be done remotely and often at a lower cost in India and the Philippines. So, what gives Squadio an advantage over the direct competition?
“Three factors differentiate us,” Senawy said. “First is our portal, which makes the team-building experience as easy and smart as possible for the talent and the clients.
“Number two is the continuous improvement of our vetting process, where potential talent goes through various tech and psychometric assessments.
“And the third thing is our flexibility and our competitive rates.”
Squadio’s business model has attracted $800,000 in seed funding from Riyadh-based Seedra Ventures, announced in January 2022.
Seedra founding partner and CEO Haitham Al-Foraih said in a press release: “We see growing demand for remote engineering teams, and we’re confident that Squadio is well-positioned to provide startups with access to the best software engineers working on building great platforms.”
Squadio will soon be raising a second funding round.
Senawy intends to deploy these funds to develop its client base within and outside the Gulf Cooperation Council. He wants to penetrate the US and European markets based on the rationale that companies scouting for talent can be found anywhere, just like tech talent.
Senawy is coy about Squadio’s revenues to date at this early stage.
“We were on six figures in US dollars, and now we will be seven figures,” he said. “We’re currently doing four times revenue growth on a year-on-year basis. And based on our projections and market research, we aim to be a TaaS unicorn in four years.”
Senawy credits this opportunity for expansion partly to the ongoing economic and social reforms witnessed by the Kingdom in recent years.
He said: “I see Saudi Arabia as the next Silicon Valley. The government has been nurturing the ambition of founders in building the next unicorn through its accelerator programs, venture capital movement and extent of the talent here.
“And by talent, I mean entrepreneurs, product specialists, marketers who went abroad, came back and reflected what they learned to leverage the ecosystem in their country.”
Squadio itself is an outcome of this almost limitless ambition.
“What we’ve built today is linked with our vision, which is to be the first choice for any company to build a tech team,” Senawy said.