Messaging social network firm IRL to soon become talking point in MENA

Messaging social network firm IRL to soon become talking point in MENA
Abraham Shafi said IRL is in talks with Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s tourism and culture ministries and multiple fintech companies to boost expansion. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 October 2022

Messaging social network firm IRL to soon become talking point in MENA

Messaging social network firm IRL to soon become talking point in MENA
  • Company valued at $1.17 billion is keen on establishing regional partnerships

CAIRO: IRL, or In Real Life, the US-based messaging social network company, is expanding its footprint in the Middle East and North African region in a few weeks, following its partnership with global mixed martial arts promotion company UFC.

Valued at $1.17 billion, IRL is a leading group messaging social network unicorn that brings people together through groups, events and community engagement.

In finance, a unicorn is a privately held startup company with a current valuation of $1 billion or more.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Egyptian entrepreneur and founder of IRL Abraham Shafi said his platform will be working with UFC to promote an upcoming event in Abu Dhabi through its messaging platform as part of its foray into the region. 

“We are targeting the whole region, starting with a few cities to get our playbook right and making sure we support everything, including one of the activations happening in Abu Dhabi,” Shafi told Arab News.

He added that IRL is also expanding into Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and is keen on establishing regional partnerships.

“I’m deeply interested in the region. We’re actively working in Qatar for the World Cup. I think there’s a ton of opportunity in Saudi Arabia, and I’m pumped up about the overall region,” he said.

The company is in talks with Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s tourism and culture ministries and multiple fintech companies to boost expansion.

“I’m hoping to get as many incredible opportunities as possible. There are so many great partnerships, and people are so open and excited to deepen consumer tech with their culture and communities,” he added.

Shafi also added that the company is planning to open an office in Abu Dhabi before the end of the year to help strengthen its presence in the region. However, it was later confirmed by the company that this is no longer the plan, and the firm is looking at other parts of the region for its office. 

Born in Egypt and raised in the US, Shafi harbored dreams of becoming an entrepreneur by watching his father and brothers set up a successful technology company in America.

“The big thing here is that I wanted to work on something that helps me keep a healthy relationship with friends and family and the world around me. I realized social media was just all about media and wasn’t about real human social interaction,” he said.

The company currently has over 20 million active users on its platform. In 2021, IRL managed to secure $170 million in a series C funding round led by Softbank’s Vision Fund 2.


UAE In-Focus — UAE, Japan to set up joint business council; Dubai Future Labs signs 3 deals 

UAE In-Focus — UAE, Japan to set up joint business council; Dubai Future Labs signs 3 deals 
Updated 14 sec ago

UAE In-Focus — UAE, Japan to set up joint business council; Dubai Future Labs signs 3 deals 

UAE In-Focus — UAE, Japan to set up joint business council; Dubai Future Labs signs 3 deals 

RIYADH: In an effort to increase trade ties, the UAE and Japan agreed to set up a joint business council that will promote cooperation and facilitate greater movement of business communities between both countries.   

The Federation of UAE Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and Japan External Trade Organization in Dubai, also known as JETRO Dubai, signed an agreement to set up the proposed bilateral business council by the first quarter of 2023, the Emirates News Agency reported.

The council will work toward developing joint projects and exchanging the expertise of the two sides. 

This came during a meeting that brought together Humaid Mohammed bin Salem, secretary general of FCCI, and Masami Ando, managing director of JETRO Dubai, in the presence of officials from both sides. 

Bin Salem urged Japanese companies to invest in the UAE and take advantage of government incentives, as well as the favorable investment climate and legislation. He called on Emirati and Japanese businesses to explore business opportunities in the two countries and develop active partnerships to boost trade exchange. 

Dubai Future Labs signs 3 deals  

Dubai Future Labs, a part of Dubai Future Foundation, signed three agreements with Emirates, DP World, and dnata to deploy advanced future technologies across aviation and logistics – two vital non-oil sectors for Dubai and the UAE. 

These national partnerships aim to activate the Dubai Robotics and Automation Program that was launched last September to boost the development, testing and adoption of robotics and automation and accelerate its deployment in key economic sectors, WAM reported. 

Dubai Future Labs’ deal with DP World will include developing smart, autonomous electric vehicles for terminal operations that can serve as a more sustainable, reliable, efficient and safer alternative. 

Its agreement with Emirates work will facilitate various innovative pilot projects including a robot check-in agent that leverages facial recognition and interacts with passengers as well as a robot waiter serving in airport lounges.  

Whereas the deal between Dubai Future Labs and dnata will promote research, development and trial innovations to further improve safety, efficiency and sustainability across the company’s ground handling and cargo operations at Dubai International and Dubai World Central airports. 

Integrated platform for investment 

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum approved the establishment of an integrated national platform that highlights opportunities for investors in various sectors, such as financial technology, tourism, manufacturing, and renewable energy.  

The platform will be supervised by the Ministry of Economy. 

He also approved the national building regulations and standards, which includes sustainability standards for roads, buildings, and housing, to decrease the consumption of natural resources and reduce the carbon footprint of the UAE. 

The UAE Cabinet meeting also approved the foreign investor compass project, which represents one of the transformative projects of the Ministry of Economy, WAM reported. 

The new project includes an electronic platform, guides and promotional tools that highlight various opportunities for foreign investors in the sectors of financial technology, agricultural technology, healthcare, education among others. 


Egypt’s output falls sharply amid inflationary pressure as PMI drops to 45.4: S&P Global

Egypt’s output falls sharply amid inflationary pressure as PMI drops to 45.4: S&P Global
Updated 05 December 2022

Egypt’s output falls sharply amid inflationary pressure as PMI drops to 45.4: S&P Global

Egypt’s output falls sharply amid inflationary pressure as PMI drops to 45.4: S&P Global

RIYADH: Egypt’s non-oil businesses witnessed a marked contraction in operating conditions in November, resulting in output falling at the sharpest rate since the early pandemic as the country continues to face inflationary pressure amid the weakening Egyptian pound, according to S&P Global. 

The impact of this was visible in Egypt’s Purchasing Managers’ Index which fell from 47.7 in October to 45.4 in November — the second lowest since June 2020, the report noted.

The rating agency said that the new low extends the current sub-50.0 sequence to two years.

The key reason for this downturn was a rapid decrease in business activity, with S&P research revealing that companies were forced to cut output as they faced accelerated cost rises. 

“Egyptian firms faced an immediate hit to demand from a rapid depreciation of the pound since late October, with the November PMI results signaling the worst drops in output and new orders since May 2020,” said David Owen, an economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence.  

He said the pound's depreciation against the US dollar led to a marked increase in prices paid for raw materials, which have already been exacerbated by import restrictions since early 2022.  

According to S&P Global, Egypt’s purchase price inflation hit a 52-month high, leading 42 percent of surveyed firms to report a rise in total input costs over the month. 

While new orders continued to fall rapidly for firms, Egypt saw employment levels still expanding for the fourth time in five months as business confidence recovered slightly from October's series low. 

But S&P said the rate of decline in new orders deepened in November, amid reports of spending cuts at customers due to rapid inflation and elevated interest rates. 

"The latest downturn also came in the midst of an emergency 2 percent hike in interest rates, amid continued efforts to bring inflation down from its current four-year high of 16.2 percent,” said Owen.  

While the latest FX move signals a further rise in inflation in November, he said it is hoped that slowing demand and falling commodity prices will start to alleviate price pressures in the medium- to long-term. 

Looking ahead, the report noted that Egyptian firms were slightly more optimistic about future output in November, albeit following a series record low in October. However, it added that concerns about high inflation, rising interest rates, currency weakness and a global economic slowdown remained dampeners on sentiment. 


Crown Prince announces Sindalah, NEOM’s first luxury island development

Crown Prince announces Sindalah, NEOM’s first luxury island development
Updated 05 December 2022

Crown Prince announces Sindalah, NEOM’s first luxury island development

Crown Prince announces Sindalah, NEOM’s first luxury island development
  • Sindalah is one of a group of islands that will be developed in the giga-project

RIYADH: NEOM’s first luxury island destination Sindalah will play host to superyachts and top-end apartments, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman revealed as he announced the latest project set to boost Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry.

Extending over an area of approximately 840,000sq. m., Sindalah is one of a group of islands that will be developed in the giga-project, and is expected to create 3,500 jobs for the tourism sector and hospitality and leisure services.

The island will act as a main gateway to the Red Sea, offering bespoke nautical experiences and is expected to start welcoming guests from early 2024, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The Crown Prince said: “This is another significant moment for NEOM and a major step in the Kingdom realizing its tourism ambitions under Vision 2030. 

“Sindalah will be NEOM’s first luxury island and yacht club destination in the Red Sea, providing a scenic gateway to the Red Sea that will become the region’s most exciting and attractive tourism location. 

“It will be a destination where travelers can experience the true beauty of NEOM and Saudi Arabia, above and below the water, making Sindalah the future of luxury travel.”

 

 

Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the chairman of NEOM’s Board of Directors, said the launch of Sindalah is a major step in realizing the Kingdom’s tourism ambitions, in line with the goals outlined in Vision 2030.

Sindalah will have an 86-berth marina, as well as hosting 413 ultra-premium hotel rooms, in addition to 333 top-end serviced apartments. 

Other attractions in Sindalah include a luxe beach club, yacht club and 38 unique culinary offerings that will provide an incomparable experience in the Red Sea.

Sindalah is also expected to become a popular golfing destination by offering enthusiasts the opportunity to experience a world-class 6,474-yard (5,920 meters) par 70 course. With its 18 tees, the Sindalah golf course will deliver two unique nine-hole experiences.

NEOM, the $500 billion smart city, is one of the most important projects supporting Saudi Arabia’s national tourism strategy, as the Kingdom steadily diversifies its economy which was heavily dependent on oil for decades. 

In November, speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit, Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO of NEOM said that the hanging stadiums in the smart city will make tourists reimagine and visualize the future. 

“In The Line, we want people to come and see how sports stadiums are built, and where they are built. The sports stadiums in NEOM are 300 meter high, loose and hanging in the air,” said Al-Nasr.

He also added that OXAGON, the industrial city in NEOM also has all the potential to become a world-class tourist destination, where visitors can come and see how the future will be.

“It is in OXAGON where all industries will be, and it is the port of NEOM. Yet, we would like to see tourists spending a day or two in OXAGON. They will see the future of industries in OXAGON. Everything in NEOM is built for the future era. We want them to come and see how future sea ports will operate,” he added.


Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector growth highest since September 2021 as PMI hits 58.5

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector growth highest since September 2021 as PMI hits 58.5
Updated 05 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector growth highest since September 2021 as PMI hits 58.5

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector growth highest since September 2021 as PMI hits 58.5

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Purchasing Managers’ Index hit 58.5 in November — the strongest level since September 2021 — as the Kingdom’s non-oil private sector continues to expand amid rising inflationary pressure, according to a report.

The latest Riyad Bank Saudi Arabia PMI report noted that the Kingdom has maintained growth in the non-oil private sector for the 27th consecutive month.

In October, Saudi Arabia’s PMI was 57.2, while in September, it was 56.6.

According to the index, released by S&P Global, readings above the 50 mark show growth, while those below 50 signal contraction.

“The Saudi economy (continued) its expansion in the non-oil sector in November, business conditions have improved across the board in light of rising demand,” said Naif Al-Ghaith, chief economist at Riyad Bank.

Al-Ghaith added that output levels in the Kingdom’s non-oil sector have expanded at the fastest rate in seven years, driving cost pressures higher, and resulting in increased prices charged to customers.

He added: “Improved business expectations were also observed as a result of the ongoing execution of Vision 2030 initiatives, which provided confidence to the outlook of the future output of the non-oil activities.”

According to the report, the rate of sales growth of non-oil companies picked up by the sharpest level in over a year in November, as over 41 percent of surveyed businesses reported an increase from the prior month.

The report further noted that these companies saw the quickest rise in new export business since November 2015, due to strong domestic conditions.

The PMI report also hinted at the uptick in input cost inflation during November, with average input prices rising sharply and at the quickest pace since July.

“The faster pace of cost inflation led to a solid and quicker increase in output charges, as firms looked to pass through higher expenses to their customers,” the report added.

The report further pointed out that output prices rose in the manufacturing, wholesale & retail and services sectors, while it fell in the construction industry.

According to the report, job creation in the non-oil sector was very mild in November, as most of the firms kept staffing unchanged.


Egyptian startup SIDEUP raises $1.2m as it relocates HQ to Saudi Arabia  

Egyptian startup SIDEUP raises $1.2m as it relocates HQ to Saudi Arabia  
Updated 05 December 2022

Egyptian startup SIDEUP raises $1.2m as it relocates HQ to Saudi Arabia  

Egyptian startup SIDEUP raises $1.2m as it relocates HQ to Saudi Arabia  

CAIRO: Cairo-based e-commerce services provider SIDEUP secured $1.2 million in a seed funding round to launch operations in Saudi Arabia.  

Established in 2019, the company provides e-commerce businesses with various technological solutions to enable integrations, partnerships and payments to scale revenue.  

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Waleed Rashed, CEO and founder at SIDEUP, said that the company is relocating its headquarters to Saudi Arabia with plans to hire and expand its team. 

Waleed Rashed, CEO and founder at SIDEUP (Supplied)

“We have already opened up roles in the Kingdom, by next month we will have added 10 people to our on-ground team in Riyadh which will amount to almost 30 percent of our total employee base,” he told Arab News.  

Rashed added that the company will continue hiring in Saudi Arabia throughout 2023 as the new headquarters will be their biggest office.  

“The e-commerce sector in Saudi Arabia is going to grow exponentially. The Kingdom is also going to be our gateway to the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council as we plan our entry into new markets,” he stated.  

The company plans to support small businesses in the Kingdom by providing services like warehousing, payments, customer service and more.  

SIDEUP has also partnered with e-commerce platforms Zid, Zammit, and Wuilt as well as payment service providers Paytab, Cowpay, and Paymob in addition to logistics companies Aramec, J&T and iMile.  

Rashed explained that the company’s presence in Saudi Arabia will boost its growth exponentially, thanks to the Kingdom’s young population as well as the digital infrastructure in place.  

“There’s no place more exciting to build a Middle East business than in Saudi Arabia. We have made great strides in setting up the right partnerships. The government has also created an environment for founders to thrive, being here has a number of benefits,” he added.  

The founder stated that the Kingdom will be a stepping stone for the company to expand and explore other markets in the Middle East and Africa as it plans to enter two new countries within the next 12 months.  

“We have the backing of renowned investors such as Launch Africa VC, 500 Global, Riyadh Angels, Alex Angels, Al Tuwaijri Fund and also Saudi angel investor Faisal AlAbdulsalam. This allows us to plan ahead while benefiting from the expertise of these investors,” he said.  

The company has been seeing positive growth since its launch as it hit profitability with over $500,000 gross merchandise value per month and growing at 30 percent monthly.