The secrets of scaling your startup
Ziyad Alhomaid and Asim Alrajhi, CEO and COO of Homoola
Ziyad Alhomaid and Asim Alrajhi are old university friends who, now in their mid-thirties, are turning trucking on its head across the Middle East. As CEO and COO of Homoola, they run the trucking enterprise solution solving the “empty mile” problem and accelerating change in the logistics sector.
Homoola is an Arabic word meaning “cargo” or “load” – and the company aims to take the load off shippers. Homoola’s digital platform is bringing new efficiency to road freight in Saudi Arabia and beyond by using load-matching technology to pair shippers and trucking companies. It gives shippers access to capacity at times of peak demand and allows them to optimize the efficiency of their shipments at others, while preventing carriers from driving empty miles or sitting idle waiting for cargo.
Since Homoola launched in 2016, the business has scaled up rapidly, carrying more than 7,000 loads in the first year and seeing average monthly growth of 35%. Agility became a key investor in 2017, recognizing the startup’s impressive potential, and Homoola has an exciting blueprint for future expansion.
We asked Ziyad and Asim to tell us more about Homoola’s secrets for startup success, and to share their top tips for new entrepreneurs.
How did the idea for Homoola come about?
Ziyad: We planted the first seeds back in 2004, before we went to university. We were transporting trucks from Dubai to Saudi Arabia, learning how the industry worked. Then we both went to learn more at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business. When we graduated and moved back to Saudi, I began working in manufacturing and Asim had a job in logistics. In 2016, he got in touch because he was so struck that 40% of trucks return completely empty, costing the economy $5 billion every year. Knowing how big the inefficiencies were in the traditional way of doing things, we could see the enormous potential of a digital solution that made load-carrying more efficient.
So how did Homoola make the leap from idea to business?
Asim: We started talking seriously about all the other problems in shipping goods, and how to solve them. It’s a fragmented market; things are done on the phone rather than digitally, and often there’s no quality assurance. It’s hard to know when loads are going to arrive, who is going to deliver, or even if they’ll arrive in one piece. Homoola was our solution to those problems, and it’s been evolving ever since. Agility invested in 2017, and things have taken off even more as a result. Not only did the investment allow us to work full time at Homoola, but we’ve benefited enormously from Agility’s help with our strategy. Our monthly meeting with senior leaders from Agility – sometimes including the CEO and COO – is invaluable, as is their knowledge of transport all around the world, their access to technology, connections to international figures in the industry, and experience of digitizing their operations in Europe.
What makes the Homoola solution stand out?
Ziyad: Our idea for a digital platform is a crucial part of the customer appeal of our business model – but Homoola is more than just an online marketplace. We set out to provide a complete solution which gives shippers unrivalled availability and quality of service. We look after every part of the cargo’s journey from insurance, quality assurance, rating and payments to tracking and monitoring the load – all backed up with 24/7 customer care. With that support, customers love using the platform because it’s a quick and easy way of sending a shipment. They fill in a few details online, choose which kind of truck they need, and get a quick quote. Once they’ve placed the order, they have real-time tracking on their mobile, so they always know where their goods are.
Asim: This is even more important for shippers who need to transport a high volume of goods all at once. Normally, they can’t move everything through one carrier because the carrier simply doesn’t have enough trucks. But because Homoola has such a huge volume of trucks available, we solve this pain point. Rather than having to chase up multiple companies over the phone, we handle the entire volume of cargo, and the customer can track it all easily on our mobile app. It’s so effective that many of our customers have grown from using us for a small number of their loads to trusting us to look after 100% of their shipments.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to turn an idea into reality?
Ziyad: Firstly, know your goals. What do you want to achieve? What are you passionate about? Create a project you really want to commit to. Secondly, find strategic partners. You need to know exactly what you’re looking for in your co-founders and your investors. There’s going to be ups and downs, so you need a strong team around you. Co-founders should have a complementary skill set to yours so you have all bases covered. Finally, be ready for the journey! It will be tough at times, so fasten your seatbelt and prepare for the long haul.
What was the goal or passion that led to Homoola?
Ziyad: We saw the opportunity to bring the digital age to logistics and make a huge efficiency and sustainability impact. Our platform connects a network of shippers and carriers together to use trucking space as efficiently as possible and stop them driving empty. There can be a lot of waste in traditional logistics – shipments often come with a lot of paper. We’re reducing this on the carrier side as well as for shippers, and working towards a paper-free solution. So it saves time, money, energy – and the environment.
Asim: We also wanted to empower local people to build careers in the logistics industry. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a lucrative industry so we’re focused on building an ecosystem around road freight. This is in line with supporting Saudi Vision 2030, which is the government’s plan to diversify the economy by developing different service sectors. We’ve created 30+ jobs for local talent in our in-house team of developers, accountants and administrators. Having that positive social impact is a big motivator for us.
What are some of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs can expect to face?
Ziyad: Startups are usually challenging traditional ways of working, and bringing new ideas to the market. So you are likely to meet some resistance and a lack of understanding about what you offer. Be patient with clients, and don’t expect them to understand the first time – it’s taken four or five months to onboard some of our clients. The only certainty is that there will be setbacks. Learn everything you can from your mistakes, and from the mistakes of others. Then move on.
Asim: Absolutely, you need to expect failures. They’re inevitable, and what’s important is that you pick yourself up and learn from them. You have to view them as a step in your journey to success.
How is Homoola going to keep scaling up in future?
Ziyad: Well, we’ve got the “first-mover advantage” because we’re the only solution like this that’s operating in Saudi Arabia at the moment. So our network of truckers and customers is still growing on a monthly basis, and in the short term we want to keep expanding within the Kingdom. But there are other ways we are planning to expand too in the slightly longer term.
Asim: We’re already shipping goods around the GCC and Jordan, as well as within Saudi Arabia. But we’re looking at creating new bases in neighboring countries soon, starting with the UAE and Jordan. And then we want to look beyond just trucking and integrate with big shippers in the region. There’s a lot more to do!