We’ve seen a digital transformation wave sweep across the MENA region in recent years, with new entrepreneurs showing dissatisfaction with the way things are done. Be it logistics, HR, or real estate, many entrepreneurs have decided that the time for change is now.
While the F&B industry has already seen its fair share of innovation and digitalisation, there is always room for improvement. For businessman Khaled Al Shanqiti, the opportunity for change lay in the procurement side of the industry.
Khaled’s experience in, and deep knowledge of, the F&B industry helped him identify gaps in the B2B supply chain. Passionate about making wholesale buying convenient, secure and transparent, Khaled co-founded SAFQAT, an online B2B marketplace company catering specifically to the F&B and hospitality industries.
His experience stems from his major roles as Managing Partner and CEO of Global Corp (GC) Group, where Khaled is responsible for a portfolio that includes restaurants, cloud kitchens and several F&B-related concepts. The various businesses employ over 1,000 people, operate through over 50 outlets and have a footprint across the MENA region.
With this calibre of experience behind him, Khaled set out to disrupt the procurement side of the F&B sector.
He spoke with the Abu Dhabi SME Hub to share insights about SAFQAT and his entrepreneurial journey so far.
Khaled Al Shanqiti, Co-Founder of SAFQAT (right)
Can you tell us about your professional background and what led you to create SAFQAT?
I have an engineering degree, and one of the things you learn as an engineer is analytical thinking. I have learned to look at the numbers, what’s behind them, what the opportunities are and what the things we need to be careful about are.
During my work in the F&B industry, I noticed that the industry still depended on traditional models for sourcing. Negotiations were time-consuming, getting a quotation could take days and there was no guarantee that the buyer or seller was getting the best possible deal.
Technology has transformed procurement in many industries, but in the F&B industry, we were still operating in the traditional way. That’s when I thought of SAFQAT, a single platform that connects suppliers and buyers, facilitating trade in a transparent and efficient manner.
How would you describe your business model, and what are the overall products/services you are offering today?
The F&B Industry is complex and diverse. We buy an astonishingly large number of products from multiple suppliers. However, suppliers are limited by physical walls. They need more brand visibility to increase sales, offload excess stock and improve profitability. They need a marketplace where they can meet potential buyers. Buyers need reliable suppliers, quality products, and competitive prices. This way we can all save time, money and improve profitability.
SAFQAT makes it easier for both buyers and suppliers to connect seamlessly.
From the perspective of a supplier, they can easily find potential buyers on one single platform where they can promote their products. The traditional way was to have feet on the ground, where salespeople would go out in the field and meet potential clients. On an online platform like SAFQAT, the process of locating and meeting a buyer takes a few clicks.
From the point of view of the buyer, they can find everything they need in one place: quality products from trusted and reliable suppliers. Buyers can log into SAFQAT, find the most suitable product for their needs, check different prices, and get the best deal. They can also place an order, track it, and get market intelligence, which gives them a better understanding of the business.
What year did you launch the company, and is the company bootstrapped or have you received any funding from investors?
SAFQAT was founded in the last quarter of 2021, and the MVP was launched in the second quarter of 2022. The platform went live in September 2022.
Yes, the company has been bootstrapped. We believe in a lean and efficient methodology, and we have deployed our own resources to build a sustainable business model.
Prior to launching SAFQAT, how did you go about building connections and onboarding suppliers?
All our team members have an F&B business background, and they understand the trade. Initial onboarding was done through direct contact and after a while, word-of-mouth started complementing direct contact with new customers. The platform is gaining traction rapidly and we are happy with where we are as a business.
We have created many successful F&B concepts including fast food chains, cloud kitchens, and catering units here in the UAE and across the region. In any business, a measure of patience and commitment to one’s business values are essential. Even with a good concept such as SAFQAT, it takes time.
As an entrepreneur, what challenges have you faced so far, and were there any lessons you've learned?
The F&B industry in general is one of the most challenging fields. It is challenging because you are dealing with food and people have different tastes and expectations when it comes to food. It is a highly customer-orientated business, and you must ensure that the customer always gets great food in a pleasant ambience. The overall experience must be first-rate every time.
I recall the day I started my business in 2014, I had no previous experience in the F&B industry, and it was really very challenging initially. I would say that the single-biggest challenge in our industry, as in many other industries, is talent. Finding top talent and retaining it is not easy.
We believe there is no secret recipe for being successful. 99% of success depends on doing the nitty-gritty well.
The regional F&B B2B industry is very competitive. How does SAFQAT set itself apart from other similar firms?
We understand the F&B business. We have an intimate knowledge of the issues that buyers and sellers face on a regular basis. Being a specialised platform, we can add value in ways that generalised platforms cannot hope to match. The level of transparency in our operations is, we think, an industry benchmark. Our customers know what they are getting at every step of the buying and selling process.
Why was Abu Dhabi your destination of choice for launching SAFQAT, and did you receive any support from local entities?
As a resident of Abu Dhabi, I always prefer to start all my ventures in this great city. Abu Dhabi is a dynamic city, and thanks to the vision and guidance of our leaders, we have been growing in a way that has caught the imagination of the world. The environment in Abu Dhabi is supportive of innovative ideas and we have no doubt that when the time is right, we will not face any issues in attracting smart capital to grow our business.
What are your plans and/or objectives for the next 3 years for SAFQAT?
Our vision for SAFQAT is to be the trusted F&B hub in the region for all suppliers and buyers. We have aggressive expansion plans, but first, we want to fine-tune our platform locally and then take it to other countries in the region.
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