Proptech Stella Stays to expand Saudi footprint with its innovative business model

Exclusive Proptech Stella Stays to expand Saudi footprint with its innovative business model
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Unlike a lot of startups that are struggling because they focused on growing without caring about profitability, Zikra was always clear about building a profitable business from the very outset. (Supplied)
Exclusive Proptech Stella Stays to expand Saudi footprint with its innovative business model
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Unlike a lot of startups that are struggling because they focused on growing without caring about profitability, Zikra was always clear about building a profitable business from the very outset. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 February 2023

Proptech Stella Stays to expand Saudi footprint with its innovative business model

Proptech Stella Stays to expand Saudi footprint with its innovative business model
  • Stella Stays planning to become the biggest residential hospitality player in the region, says CEO

RIYADH: Aiming to reimagine the global living experience through its portfolio of tech-enabled branded residences Stella Stays is planning to become the biggest residential hospitality player in the region, said its co-founder and CEO.

Speaking to Arab News in an exclusive interview, Mohannad Zikra said that the Dubai-based proptech startup that is disrupting the global residential real estate sector with its innovative business model will be adding about 2,500 apartments regionally this year of which 50 percent is going to be in Saudi Arabia.

“We’re adding just over 1,200 apartments mainly focused on Riyadh but we’re also planning to launch soon in Jeddah,” he said. “We’re also looking at Dammam and Alkhobar.”

Zikra went on to add that he is eyeing opportunities in projects in the Kingdom where they are creating new cities. The Saudi Downtown Co., a master and lead developer owned by the Public Investment Fund, with 12 projects located in 11 regions across the Kingdom, for instance, is witnessing a lot of growth and Zikra is keen to tap opportunities in such projects.

 Having started in 2019 by creating an offering where people can find and rent and move into a place within a few minutes, Stella Stays has rapidly grown its portfolio. It is keen to continue its expansion across major cities in the Middle East and North Africa region, Europe and North America.

Zikra wants to continue to focus on the region over the next 18 months. “We will obviously continue our growth in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey but we’re also looking at Morocco as a huge market for us,” he said. “Then we’re looking at Qatar as a potential market as well after what happened in the World Cup.”

Moving forward, he explained, Stella Stays will be looking at some of the emerging markets that have huge growth opportunities. Particularly countries like India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

“You have Portugal as well that’s introduced the freelance visas,” he informed. “So in the next 24 months, we’ll go to markets like Asia that have huge growth potential and are among the top contenders in gross domestic product growth.”

Staying focused

When Stella Stays started it had some private investors in the UAE but today a lot of what the company is doing is partnering up directly with real estate developers. “When we partner with real estate developers, we’re able to take the buildings and we’re able to rebuild technology that allows us to reach 100-percent occupancy in our buildings within eight weeks,” Zikra informed.

“Hence, we’re able to generate cash flow very quickly from these buildings. And that’s been helping us fund a lot of our growth. So we took a different approach than some of these other startups that are just raising money to raise money.”

Unlike a lot of startups that are struggling because they focused on growing without caring about profitability, Zikra was always clear about building a profitable business from the very outset.

Not surprisingly, Stella Stays is not only profitable but also cash flow positive.

“We’re growing increasingly fast,” said Zikra. “Our average growth rate is about 250 to 300 percent per year since we started in 2019 until 2022.”

Having been successful in utilizing its funds, Zikra is now working with banks as well to help build a strong foundation and grow the team.

Stella Stays is also looking at partnering up with real estate investment trust funds because, according to Zikra, they have often faced difficulties in finding the right real estate investments. His company could be a good match for these funds as it has a successful business model with around 80 percent of its furnished apartments at full capacity at any one time.

We’re growing increasingly fast. Our average growth rate is about 250 to 300 percent per year since we started in 2019 until 2022.

Mohannad Zikra

By all accounts, there is a lot of demand for such apartments and people are also willing to pay a premium for them.

He added: “By 2024 we are looking at adding around 5,100 units. And for that, we’re starting to look at strategic partners and investors in the region, especially investors that are backed by sovereign investment funds because we’re seeing that there’s a very close relationship between what we’re doing and what we can contribute toward a lot of the government initiatives from a housing perspective.

“You look at Saudi Arabia and Vision 2030, there is a huge plan to grow the population,” Zikra continued. “And with that, they have needs to add over 100,000 homes over the next three years. And this means that these homes are going to have to be rented out. And they’re looking for partners where they can simplify that process.”

This is where a company like Stella Stays comes in. “We want to come in as a professional furnished apartment operator where we can come in and provide that consistency that you get in a hotel and provide that service,” said Zikra.

Branded, tech-enabled experience

“We don’t just take single apartments but we actually work with real estate developers and we take over buildings,” Zikra said.

“When you book a furnished apartment at Stella Stays, you are coming into a fully managed, branded tech-enabled operator, where from the moment you walk into the building, it’s our brand,” he added.

“In all of the apartments that are managed by us we provide that same consistency where you know you’re going to get a clean place and you know there’s going to be 24/7 support for your stay, whether it’s for one night, one week or one month or more.”

To its credit, Stella Stays has digitized the whole guest journey. It has done much the same thing with home rentals that Uber did with ride-hailing. A lot of its guests and residents come to its app or website, see all the different apartments that they have across the different cities, and choose the one they want.

“They can then choose their dates and pay by credit cards or pay by crypto,” explained Zikra.

“Then after that, they receive information for them to check-in. We have smart door locks across all of our units and access. They find the place, they pay for it, they move in, they can request services and all this without having to ever deal with a person.”

He added: “There’s no need to deal with real estate agents, no need to pick up the phone and make calls. Instead, we have completely digitized the experience.”

Way forward

Asked who his competitors were, and pat came Zikra’s reply: “Our competitors today are nothing other than just traditional landlords who own properties and rent them out on Property Finder and all these different marketplaces or these building owners who want to rent out their apartment on their own. That’s what we want to take over.”

“And that’s why more than anything, we’re partnering up with them and saying, listen, we can take over your assets,” he explained. “Just like Amazon’s done with shopping goods, we can do that with furnished apartments.”

He added that they have entered a brand new space that they have termed “residential hospitality.” According to Zikra residential hospitality is the ability to rent a residential apartment in a branded way.

“We want to take over and become the biggest landlord globally with our concept of allowing people to just show up and start living,” he concluded.


Trust key to safe expansion of use of AI solutions, says PwC Middle East’s AI lead

Trust key to safe expansion of use of AI solutions, says PwC Middle East’s AI lead
Updated 07 February 2023

Trust key to safe expansion of use of AI solutions, says PwC Middle East’s AI lead

Trust key to safe expansion of use of AI solutions, says PwC Middle East’s AI lead
  • Dr. Scott Nowson discussed evolving relationship between humans and tech on the sidelines of LEAP in Riyadh
  • “We’re many generations away from when AI becomes greater than human capabilities,” he told Arab News

RIYADH: Trust is key to the safe expansion of the use of AI solutions around the world, Dr. Scott Nowson, PwC Middle East’s artificial intelligence lead, has told Arab News.

As the debate ensues over human capabilities compared to artificial intelligence solutions, Nowson said that while there are “some skills and some tasks that are better suited to automation with technology” the use of AI is “still contingent upon human intelligence and awareness.”

Through his work in AI over the past 27 years, Nowson has examined the evolving relationship between AI and humans.

“There’s as much optimism as there is pessimism over AI,” he told Arab News during the second edition of the LEAP technology conference.

“People believe AI will completely replace us when I really don’t think it will. I think we’re many generations away from when AI becomes greater than human capabilities,” he added.

Dr. Scott Nowson, Artificial Intelligence Lead at PwC Middle East discusses the growing capabilities of AI in the MENA region. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

However, we must acknowledge that AI can perform some tasks better than humans, Nowson said, using the evolution of AI-assisted unmanned aerial vehicles as an example.

Recent research has also shown that self-driving cars can employ a more accurate view of roads than humans, making them safer and more functional than traditional vehicles.

According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, human error accounts for 94 percent of all road accidents.

Nowson began studying AI 27 years ago at the University of Edinburgh, which opened one of the first dedicated undergraduate programs for AI in the world.

After studying cognitive science and completing a Ph.D. in natural language processing, Nowson has spent the past 16 years exploring the constantly evolving relationship between humans and technology across four continents. He has worked at PwC since 2019.

AI and its development, said Nowson, is not as new as most people think. “AI has been around for 60-80 years now,” says Nowson. “But it is only now that the rise of technology is pushing it into the published consciousness with ChatGPT and DALL-E.”

The latter is a model developed by OpenAI to generate digital images from natural language descriptions, called “prompts.”

Nowson added: “People are now thinking about AI and its implications on daily life more. We already witnessed technological change with the industrial revolution through robotic process automation. AI is just the next step in that.”

FASTFACTS

  • AI the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems.
  • Specific applications of AI include expert systems, natural language processing, speech recognition and machine vision.

Undeniably, the development of AI technology is moving fast. For many people, there are psychological hurdles to overcome in order to grasp the influence of AI on daily life.

Nowson said: “We need governments and leaders to be able to understand the capabilities of AI and understand the economic, political and societal implications, and handle them with good governance and responsibility.”

Building trust is the most important factor in expanding AI, he said, adding: “Trust is paramount among clients of PwC.”

Nowson said that PwC internally tests AI before taking new solutions to clients.

“This way, we have confidence in any solution, any approach, any strategy that we use because we’ve done it internally first,” he added.

“To that end, we have upskilled hundreds, if not thousands, across the Middle East region from our teams on the different AI technologies. This broadens the conversation to enable finding the best solutions through AI for problem solving.”

 


India’s Adani crisis spills over into street protests as losses top $110bn

India’s Adani crisis spills over into street protests as losses top $110bn
Updated 07 February 2023

India’s Adani crisis spills over into street protests as losses top $110bn

India’s Adani crisis spills over into street protests as losses top $110bn
  • The billionaire and Modi are from the same state and Adani has repeatedly denied allegations by Modi’s opponents that he had benefited from their close ties. Modi’s government too has denied allegations of favoring Adani

NEW DELHI: The crisis engulfing the Adani Group intensified on Monday as hundreds of members of India’s opposition parties took to the streets to press for a probe into allegations by a US short-seller against the conglomerate which triggered its market rout.
Shares in billionaire Gautam Adani’s companies have been in free-fall since a Jan. 24 critical report by Hindenberg Research, with group cumulative market losses now topping $110 billion, sparking fears of wider financial contagion.
Opposition parties, who last week called for a parliamentary panel to investigate the saga and disrupted proceedings, have questioned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closeness with Adani.
Protesters on Monday also expressed anger about investments made by state-backed Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and State Bank of India (SBI) in the Adani Group.
Adani has rejected in detailed rebuttals the Hindenberg report’s allegations of stock manipulation, use of tax havens and criticism that it had unsustainable debt.
The billionaire and Modi are from the same state and Adani has repeatedly denied allegations by Modi’s opponents that he had benefited from their close ties. Modi’s government too has denied allegations of favoring Adani.
At New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, a Mughal-era observatory that doubles up as a protest site for all causes, protesters held up banners and shouted slogans against Adani. Some broke through barricades, forcing the police to detain them.
“Common man has invested his money in a businessman’s (Gautam Adani) company and the government is trying to save him. The government is supporting the businessman (Adani) and not the common man,” Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee General Secretary Shiv Panday was quoted as saying by ANI news agency.
Hundreds of members of the Congress party protested across the country, including outside several offices of state-owned insurer Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and State Bank of India (SBI), both of which have exposure to Adani group companies.
At Jantar Mantar some burnt a suitcase with an SBI logo on it. In Mumbai, a protester held a placard with Adani’s photo and the LIC logo, explaining with a bar chart “How much has LIC invested in Adani Group.”
LIC holds a 4.23 percent stake in the flagship Adani firm, while its other exposures include a 9.14 percent stake in Adani Ports and 5.96 percent in Adani Total Gas. SBI said last week its total exposure to Adani Group was 0.9 percent of its total loan book, or around 270 billion rupees ($3.30 billion).
LIC and SBI did not respond to a request for comment.
Separately, a move by Adani Group on Monday to calm investor nerves failed to stem the market rout. It said it would pre-pay loans of around $1.1 billion taken against pledged stocks in Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone, Adani Transmission and Adani Green Energy, allowing it to get back the shares.
Shares of Adani Enterprises closed down 0.9 percent on Monday after sinking as much as 9.6 percent in early trade. Adani Transmission dropped lost 10 percent, while Adani Green, Adani Total Gas Ltd. , Adani Power, and Adani Wilmar fell 5 percent each.
Adani Ports rose 9.3 percent, the only stock to buck the trend.
WORSENING CRISIS
The crisis has snowballed into the biggest business and reputational challenge for 60-year-old Adani, whose fortunes had rapidly risen in recent years as he expanded his conglomerate’s business interests that stretch from ports to mining.
Both houses of India’s parliament were adjourned on Monday, the third consecutive day, amid sloganeering and demands to launch an inquiry.
In the brutal fallout of Hindenburg’s report, Adani group flagship company Adani Enterprises Ltd. was forced to abandon a $2.5 billion share sale last week, and Adani lost his crown as Asia’s richest person and slipped down the global rankings of the wealthy.
Adani had planned to issue a credit report by Friday to address concerns raised by Hindenburg about its liquidity, Reuters reported. The report is expected to be released this week, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
The stock market rout triggered a series of credit ratings warnings on Friday with Moody’s saying the group may struggle to raise capital, and S&P cutting its outlook on two group companies.
India’s banking and markets regulators, as well as the government, have initiated inquiries to calm spooked investors. The latter has written to various custodian banks asking for details on beneficial owners of offshore funds and foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), Reuters reported.

 


UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company plan joint venture in Kingdom

UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company plan joint venture in Kingdom
Updated 07 February 2023

UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company plan joint venture in Kingdom

UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company plan joint venture in Kingdom
  • They intend to develop a network of more than 60 physiotherapy, rehabilitation and wellness centers across the country

ABU DHABI: Burjeel Holdings, an Emirati healthcare company, and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company, owner of the Fitness Time chain of gyms, has signed a memorandum of understanding for a joint venture, Emirates News Agency reported.

Under the terms of the agreement, signed on Monday at the headquarters of the Ministry of Investment in Riyadh, the companies will develop a network of more than 60 physiotherapy, rehabilitation and wellness centers in Leejam facilities across the Kingdom. Initially, six centers will open in Riyadh and expand across the Leejam network over the next year.

“Our collaboration with Leejam to provide high-quality services in rehabilitation and sports medicine is significant as we commence operations in (Saudi Arabia, which is) renowned for its love of sports, and especially football,” said Shamsheer Vayalil, the founder of Burjeel Holdings.

“Professional and recreational athletes of all levels, and passionate youngsters, stand to benefit from comprehensive care, ranging from prevention to rehabilitation, which will be tailored to their specific needs.

“These offerings will create a world-class support system enabling sportspersons to elevate their performance. We are also committed to supporting the transformative (Saudi) Vision 2030, which acknowledges the importance of partnerships with the private sector to promote sports for well-being.”

Ali Al-Sagri, the chairman of Leejam Sports, said: “The MoU confirms the company's commitment to harnessing the full extent of its capabilities to raise the level of healthcare and physical fitness, and to achieve a healthier life for body and mind.

“Our partnership with Burjeel Holdings, a leader in the field of healthcare services, ensures integrated sports medicine services of the best international standards.”


Hong Kong says it would support Aramco to list in the city

Hong Kong says it would support Aramco to list in the city
Updated 06 February 2023

Hong Kong says it would support Aramco to list in the city

Hong Kong says it would support Aramco to list in the city
  • Hong Kong leader John Lee posted on Facebook said the city would be able to assist the Saudi oil firm

HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader John Lee said on Monday the financial hub would support Saudi oil giant Aramco if it chose to list in the city.

Hong Kong will be able to handle any of Aramco's future funding arrangements and investment opportunities, John Lee said in a post on his official Facebook account after meeting the group's chief executive.

On Monday, Aramco also announced a strategic partnership with Zoom and an increase in funding for Wa’ed Ventures during the second edition of LEAP, being held in Saudi Arabia.


PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company signs MoU with MCIT to build digital infrastructure

PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company signs MoU with MCIT to build digital infrastructure
Updated 06 February 2023

PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company signs MoU with MCIT to build digital infrastructure

PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company signs MoU with MCIT to build digital infrastructure

RIYADH: The PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to develop digital infrastructure and communication technologies.

The MoU was signed at the second edition of LEAP, a major international technology conference held annually in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Downtown Company aims to build and develop downtown areas and mixed-use destinations in 12 Saudi cities.

The 12 cities include Madinah, Alkhobar, Al-Ahsa, Buraidah, Najran, Jazan, Hail, Al-Baha, Arar, Taif, Dumat Al-Jandal, and Tabuk. The company will develop over 10 million sq. m of land across all projects, creating modern destinations drawn from Saudi Arabia’s diverse local culture and traditional architectural motifs, while using cutting-edge technology in every project.

The agreement was signed between Nayef bin Saleh Al-Hamdan, a member of the board of directors and acting CEO of Saudi Downtown Company, and Bassam bin Abdullah Al-Bassam, undersecretary of the Ministry of Communications and IT for communications and infrastructure.

Al-Hamdan said the deal aims to encourage investment in the digital infrastructure of the company’s projects.

With more than 700 speakers from 50 counties and 900 local and international companies in attendance at the Riyadh Front Center for Exhibitions and Conventions, this year’s edition of LEAP represents a huge economic advance in the Kingdom through many partnerships, deals, and investment tours.