Since its 2016 launch, Finalrentals has expanded to 9 new countries beyond the UAE and is effectively operating in over 160 locations, all while remaining a bootstrapped business - a personal challenge set by its founder.
UAE-founded car rental platform and marketplace Finalrentals’ journey has been quite interesting.
Starting as the brainchild of then-software architect Ammar Akhtar, who launched the venture with AED 32,000 of his own savings in 2016, it has since survived the pandemic’s crushing impact on the transportation sector, while also managing to expand from simply being an aggregator to renting out cars via a new franchising business model. In 2021 alone, the company witnessed fivefold growth, expanding to 9 new countries beyond the UAE and effectively operating in over 160 locations.
The catch? The company remains bootstrapped today - a purposeful decision, Akhtar told the Abu Dhabi SME Hub.
“[When I first launched the company,] it was not intentional to not raise funds at the time. I was coming from a software architect background having worked as a leader to engineering and design teams and I knew very little about startups and funding. It was not intentional then, but today it is and we are a very stable tech startup as Finalrentals is 100 per cent bootstrapped to date and growing!”
From tech lead to startup founder
Finalrentals founder Ammar Akhtar
So, how did a software expert find himself the business owner of a car rental aggregator?
This journey starts in 2006 when Akhtar first moved to the UAE from Pakistan, pursuing a software architect career. As fate would have it, his first project was to build a website and online car rental booking system for a company called Budget Rent a Car.
“I didn’t choose the industry, but the industry chose me, and I realized that this could be my niche,” he reminisced.
His tech career took him on a journey designing similar booking platforms for local and global car rental companies, including Thrifty, Dollar, Payless and many others.
After more than 10 years of extensive experience as a software architect in this industry, Akhtar understood the ins and outs of the sector and noticed a glaring issue: despite the countless resources and capital at their disposal, car rental companies could not deliver a satisfactory digital experience, even when other industries like travel and hospitality were witnessing a major tech revolution.
“When I started Finalrentals, there were two very big problems that customers were facing every single day,” Akhtar noted.
The first challenge revolved around transparency and the ease of booking online, as conditions were not very clear and often entailed hidden costs and clauses. The second challenge was the availability of reliable monthly car rental subscriptions online, which could save customers 40% in costs since they were renting a car for a longer period.
Navigating a global catastrophe
With Finalrentals, Akhtar addressed both industry problems at once, and the company exhibited steady growth. However, in 2020, it faced a hurdle with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic that no one could have possibly foreseen.
To survive the severe impact of this global crisis, Akhtar pivoted his company’s business model to become more than just an aggregator.
“As a pivot to the pandemic, which hit our aggregator model badly, we came up with the idea to build a [car rental] ecosystem,” Akhtar revealed, which culminated in the creation of a “Finalrentals franchise model.”
This made it possible for car rental companies around the world to become Finalrentals franchisees to benefit from the startup’s tech infrastructure and platform to offer a high-quality digital experience to their customers that they might have not been able to provide on their own.
“[This] makes us a uniquely positioned company in the car rental space,” Akthar noted.
Moving forward, his startup is planning to capitalise on growing global trends. One recent example that Akhtar had foreseen for a while is the streamlining of the car rental experience, where riders are able to pick up and drop off rented cars within any location that a rental company operates in. He highlighted that this service has been popular within the car-sharing industry, but remains lacking or non-existent within the traditional car rental sector.
Another trend is the heavy shift to subscription-based models, as we’ve seen with countless industries before given the improved revenue volumes they produce. Monthly car rental subscriptions, in particular, will benefit from this new surge, Akhtar noted, thanks to the socio-economic factors brought upon by the pandemic.
“You will see that many car rental companies will start offering [this service] very soon, and the best part is that Finalrentals has been ready for [this shift] since almost 2 years ago,” he said.
Akhtar’s team is working on a corresponding technology that will power their own version of this new service, dubbed ‘Finalrentals Air.’ It will permit customers to collect rental cars from nearly any location and unlock it via an app without needing a key. Finalrentals Air will be available during Fall this year.
Advice for the entrepreneurial journey
Akhtar has gleaned many insights from his journey so far. He boiled it down to the following:
“I would like to urge all the aspiring entrepreneurs to understand one thing: running a startup or taking the jump into the entrepreneurial world is difficult. It is a full-time job and you have to do it wholeheartedly. It is not a hobby, nor a red-carpet event. It is a marathon - not a 100-meter sprint.
“So when you are about to start, ask yourself:
“And once you answer all the questions above, you will understand where you stand and what you must do.”
As for dealing with crises, he urged entrepreneurs to remain calm and collected.
“Crises like COVID-19 are historical events, unprecedented and possibly happen once in a century. We are going through times that in the future people will refer to as ‘history,’ just like how we do with the Great Depression and World War 2.”
“To handle this as an entrepreneur, you first need to be calm and composed. Imagine the worse has happened: now what? You need to cut down on all unnecessary expenses and focus on the revenue-generating arms of your business and stop or pause all experimental and ambitious non-revenue-generating activities.
“This will help you draw a clear picture [of where you stand and what you can do], and you can improve it from there.”
As for Akhtar’s own plans as an entrepreneur, he intends to further increase Finalrentals’ global presence, onboarding more brands to the company’s franchise network and expanding their brand to over 50 countries in the upcoming years.