Working as a consultant across several countries, Youssef Sekkat moved home 8 times in 10 years, never staying in a single apartment or house for more than 24 months. Every single one of those relocations came with the same issue: the hassle of buying furniture and eventually offloading it following a move.
He recalled one particular move that cost him a small fortune. When he first moved from Singapore to France, he had to spend two months and $15,000 to furnish his new home. A year later, having to move again and needing to sell his furniture, he barely made $2000 back on his original investment.
This, compounded with previous sour experiences, pushed Youssef and his co-founder and fellow consultant Othmane Saifaoui to come up with a solution: MAKAN.
MAKAN is a UAE-based startup founded in mid-2021, operating under an innovative Furniture-as-a-Service business model, making the process of furnishing a home simple, seamless and flexible. The flexibility on offer, in particular, is in high demand by professionals like Youssef, but also in general by a consumer base composed of millennials and Gen Zers, who Youssef highlighted in a conversation with the Abu Dhabi SME Hub are “owning less and renting more.”
He explained that the three core pillars of MAKAN are flexibility, convenience, and an attractive design.
“We don’t want our customers to compromise on any of these,” he explained.
MAKAN co-founders Othmane Saifaoui (left) and Youssef Sekkat (right)
How it works
Essentially, customers browse the MAKAN website, and either pick individual furniture items or bundles they like (such as a living room or bedroom set, curated by in-house designers), and choose the leasing duration, which starts at a minimum of three months and is paid monthly. These items, sourced from local manufacturers that furnish 5-star hotels, are then delivered and assembled in less than seven days, with the customer able to swap them at any time for a fee.
At the end of the lease duration, often 12 months, customers can return the furniture, opt for another option, or continue to rent it.
Once an item or bundle has been leased for 24 months, the customer would have effectively paid its retail price, and the furniture becomes theirs. MAKAN’s prices are set in a way to ensure that after this 24-month period, customers will have incurred the full retail price they would have paid had they purchased the furniture from a retailer two years ago, essentially giving the customer the option to opt for ownership in case they’re satisfied with the product - a best of both worlds situation.
“What’s core for us and super important is that the customer never pays more than retail price,” Youssef said, continuing, “At the end of the day, the customer is always winning.”
Youssef explained that their main customers today are comprised of young professionals aged between 25-40, who, like himself in the past, move a lot and require a degree of flexibility in home furnishing, while also being averse to large upfront payments.
A portion of this younger customer base opts for MAKAN’s services in order to update their living spaces regularly, as they have a passion for interior decoration.
Finally, investors also make up a significant part of this startup’s client base. MAKAN’s as-a-Service model is ideal for investors who buy properties and need to furnish them to increase their value and be able to rent them. They also like being able to outsource the furnishing of their properties to a third party, especially one that allows them to pay on a monthly basis.
Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Youssef said the two words he would use to describe it are “exciting” and “challenging.”
From day one, Youssef and co-founder Othmane were aligned on the company’s mission and vision, and the reasons for taking this journey given their furnishing ordeals.
As for the three biggest self-discoveries they’ve made so far, Youssef noted: “We love to build things, we love to test things, and we love to learn.
“There is no better way to build and achieve great things than to test as many things as you can and see what works and what doesn’t. That, for us, has been a beautiful lesson since we started MAKAN, and it’s what has allowed us to reach the level that we have reached today.”
Growth and future
So far, MAKAN has raised a Pre-Seed round of an undisclosed amount earlier this year, secured from angel investors and Flat6Labs Ignite, an Abu-Dhabi-based accelerator that selected MAKAN among its third cohort of startups. Flat6Labs bestowed MAKAN with many benefits besides funding, such as mentorship and networking opportunities within the UAE ecosystem, Youssef noted.
In the coming months, the startup will be focusing its efforts on expanding its catalogue in order to become a one-stop shop for customers, adding accessories, curtains, some electronics, and more, to give customers the option to fully furnish their living spaces with MAKAN.
“We think there is still a lot to do in the UAE. It’s a super exciting place to be at the moment,” Youssef said.
In 2023, the company will focus on expanding its presence in the UAE, strengthening its brand, and solidifying its network of partnerships with real estate companies that have come to use its services. Afterwards, the founding team will explore expansion opportunities to other MENA countries.
“We want, ultimately, to become the [leading] furnishing player in the MENA region,” he stated.