SAUDI ARABIA - Finance
CEO, VoM (Value of Money)
Michael Aswad joined VôM as CEO in September 2020 to help build the startup and scale it in the region. Michael Aswad had previously worked with ArabNet for 8 years, helped grow the startup as Head of Business Development. With 12+ years of expertise in events and sales has been involved in over 25 major conferences and exhibitions across MENA and managed clients in various industries. Michael’s role included building strong relationships with clients and focused on understanding the tech and startup space in MENA. Michael studied Marketing and Supply Chain Management at the American University of Beirut and is passionate about technology and entrepreneurship seeing its rapid evolvement across the region.
TBY talks to Michael Aswad, CEO of VoM (Value of Money), about successes in the past year, improving customer experience, and goals for 2022.
Find out more at: https://getvom.com/en/home/
What main milestones and progresses has VoM achieved in the past 12 months?
VoM (Value of Money), is a cloud accounting platform based in Saudi Arabia, and launched in early 2021 when we were still developing the product. We launched when we were not ready to go to market, though that early push gave us an edge and made us stronger because we gained traction and were able to identify the needs of the market. We received over 200 feedback points from our early adopters regarding what we could improve or change and how it could affect or help their business. Many start-ups in the region tend to replicate the models of western businesses; in contrast, we focused on localization by staying close to the customer, understanding their business needs, and develop the product that fits the actual market. Now, we target and service micro, small and medium businesses and are continue learning from those customers to cater to them further.
What differentiates VoM, and how do you support businesses daily, particularly to improve their customer experience?
Many of our clients come from different industries; VoM is trying to differentiate itself from the competitors through a high level of customer service and ensuring that the customer journey is as seamless as possible. At VoM, customers can customize their own experience on the platform based on their needs, and this is a key differentiator. We are heavily investing in the customer experience as well as the technology. We investigate every single question that we receive, reflect on why the customer might have this question, and ensure the next person gets a better answer, or better yet not have that question arise in the first place.
What is VoM’s strategy to maintain growth and increase market share?
VoM operates like a start-up; we are agile and do not publicize or use giant billboards to promote ourselves. Every riyal spent returns into the company in terms of customer growth. We do not want to grow too quickly, facing the risk of our operations capsizing, or too slowly, losing investor traction and interest. What works in our favor is the government’s mandate to digitalize everything in terms of accounting and electronic inputs for tax purposes. The tax authority (ZATCA) in Saudi Arabia is tracking all these different transactions to ensure no one is evading taxes, and everyone is reporting in a proper and concise manner. This also helps us grow into this area. It is a competitive market, and our competitors’ eyes are on us. Still, there are plenty of opportunities for growth; millions of businesses are now moving from non-traditional accounting software or local-based software to cloud-based software, and international players have not developed their systems to fit the region’s specific needs. We are compliant with phase one of the Tax authority rules and mandates, and in 2023 ZATCA will launch phase two which we will be ready for.
What are the main challenges and opportunities facing start-ups at the moment in the Kingdom?
First, finding the right talent is a huge challenge for us, being a startup, you have to get creative on incentivizing your team as well as ensuring the team members believe in the future vision of what VoM can possibly be. The other challenges are that we are operating in an extremely competitive and expensive market. Acquiring a customer is expensive at different levels, especially if you target a specific niche segment. Third, we would love to see a VC focused funds targeting SaaS startups to really support the growth of such startups in the region. It is a new space for everyone; 10 years ago, there were a handful of start-ups, and now there are hundreds in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia.
How can cloud services and software as well as VoM improve the Kingdom’s productivity on a daily basis?
Automation is key; such technologies improve processes and save time. We are not replacing people; the idea is to facilitate and provide the necessary tools to help our clients focus on their core business. Where you move from data entry to automation and then the accountant’s role becomes more analytical. You can then add more value as opposed to just ensuring all this information is going into the system. VoM aims to ensure real-time data, by also integrating with 3rd party software like ecommerce platforms or point of sales (POS) for retailers or restaurants by recording real-time sales and expenses on a daily and annual basis. The business owner can then evaluate the health of their business daily, as opposed to waiting for the end of the month when results are tabulated.
Do you have plans to expand nationally and internationally?
We do have plans for expansion, but each market in the region operates completely different. We offer companies from different countries the opportunity to register on our website, though we want to operate where we feel comfortable and confident, offering the product that fits each specific market. The most important markets in the region are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt. Saudi Arabia has a large purchasing power, the UAE is a mature and competitive market, and Egypt is a high-volume market. These three markets make up the most natural expansion plans for any start-up in the region. We want to focus on the Arab region for the time being until we feel comfortable that we have an innovative product that can compete at an international level. The other way we plan to expand is through our existing customer base by offering different complementary services.
What are VoM’s objectives and priorities looking ahead into 2022?
The largest challenge will be the next phase: the invoicing mandate expected in 2023. We need to meet all the requirements without any hiccups. Secondly we are looking at raising another investment round around the end of 2022. We will look for investment to ensure the continuity of our operations and grow in a sustainable manner. Lastly, we need to integrate with different key market players (3rd party vendors) to ensure our growth as well, because we have been using multiple channels for sales strategies, and we want to home in on specifics with key partners. This will accelerate growth and ensure the pace we seek to achieve.
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