Q&A Archives - Flat6Labs


Meet Joona — The Flat6Labs Startup Forging Its Own Path In the Beauty Industry

We sat down with Mounira El Halabi, Co-Founder & CEO of Joona, one of Flat6Labs Beirut’s Cycle 4 startup alumni, to get a better insight about their newly launched organic skin care products, the market size for them in the MENA region, challenges they face, and what’s in the pipeline for them.

Can you tell us how you started developing Joona along with your co-founder Farah Khaled, and the inspiration behind the brand?

I’ve had psoriasis since a young age. There was always a love-hate relationship between my skin and I. On one hand, I needed to take care of it and maintain it in good health, and on the other, I was very insecure about myself. I never considered myself fit to the ‘beauty scene’. So one day I had an idea. I wanted to make beauty fun, stress-free and all-inclusive.

It was never intentional to create Joona. I wanted to create a fun beauty lab where everyone can come and mix products together and have a good time. I applied this idea to Tripoli Entrepreneurs Club (TEC), a local pre-seed accelerator in Tripoli, and we fine-tuned it to become a beauty brand in a box — “Khan Beauty Box”. A year later we changed the name, rebranded and took off with a new mission in mind: to build a platform for women to feel beautiful and celebrate themselves.

How has your experience been so far with Flat6Labs Beirut?

Joona went from being a small business started by two women who had no idea what they were doing into a brand with a global view. Flat6labs were very patient and supportive. We were very lost at the beginning due to the difficulty of creating a product-focused company in a country like Lebanon. We flipped through many ideas and our team at Flat6labs Beirut were always there to listen. We’re very proud of what Joona is now and we believe it was a collective effort.

What is Joona currently offering product-wise that differentiates it from its competitors (local and regional)?

So here’s the thing, I was never a big fan of the beauty industry but at the same time I loved to take care of myself and look good. So I asked myself, what is the beauty industry missing that is making people such as myself unenthusiastic about purchasing beauty products? Was it the unsustainability, the dangerous chemical use, or even the branding that seemed to feature only certain types of women and exclude the rest of us? Maybe all of these reasons and more.

We want to take care of our women by focusing on skincare that ultimately enhances the skin’s radiance and glow — making them not only look good but more importantly feel good from the inside out. Our products are playful, natural and infused with stories from our culture. Our rose water face mist is collected from rural women and infused with organic aloe vera and glycerin for an extra boost than the typical rose water that’s available in the market. Our best-seller, the Liquid Moon face cream is formulated with rose water based on an ancient recipe discovered in Tripoli that the apesathcarists used to make. We also added some avant-garde ingredients like the plumping hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and vitamin E. We’re also currently working on a anti-stress aromatherapy oil combination made by a heritage perfumery in Tripoli. A lot of love, stories, and art goes into every product we make and we’re very proud of that.

What is the current market size of the natural cosmetic beauty industry in the MENA region?

The beauty industry in the MENA region is booming — it’s estimated to top $45 billion in the next five years. It’s one of the hottest topics on social media; most particularly, on YouTube, with a record of more than 88 billion beauty-related video views.

In the MENA region, women are becoming increasingly aware about the unfavorable effects of toxic cosmetic ingredients like parabens that are found in both drugstore and luxury products. As a result, they have shifted towards healthy and all-natural ingredients for their everyday beauty and skincare regimen.

How was your experience with the mentors that you’ve met throughout the program?

The best mentor, and our north star, is always our customers. Our community of early adopters were really able to provide us with genuine and instructive feedback and advice that we valued, since it gave us a deeper understanding of what our customers’ look for in skincare products.

We also enjoyed being at Flat6Labs Beirut, and met a lot of great key people in the startup ecosystem who constantly provided us with informative insights about how we can expand and scale our business in the MENA region.

Did you face any challenges (such as gender discrimination, age-wise, etc.) as a team of two young women who are forging their own path?

To be honest, we did. Our parents were very skeptical of what we do and so is society. We didn’t start off as beauty bloggers, but ever since conceptualizing Joona, we have been learning substantially about all-natural ingredients that we can incorporate into our products and believe that with the right team and qualified mentors, we are able to prove that we’re capable of succeeding with growing business. The hardest part is talking to male investors because most of them have no knowledge of beauty products, why they’re important, and that they do sell. We recently decided to take a step back and build traction rather than just pitch the idea so that investors can have a better understanding of our business and how it has the potential to grow.

What advice would you give aspiring women entrepreneurs who are interested in starting their own business, but are lacking initiative or are discouraged due to a generally low presence of women-led startups?

So what if there’s a low presence of women in the startup world? That’s an even bigger reason to start. Today, it’s easier than ever to start your own business. Just open an instagram shop and start selling! Create a landing page for your app, and see how many people sign up for it. Participate in local and regional competitions since there’s an abundance of them and they can put your startup on the map and give it visibility. The real challenge is not in starting, but rather in scaling and maintaining the growth of your business.

Do you have any collaborations in the pipeline, and what value will they be adding to Joona?

We’re currently working on some collaborations. There are several online shops and offline boutiques who already want to sell our products; however, we want to get acquainted with our customers first and learn more about them via our channels, such as our website, as well as expand our customer base. We’re also building a media platform that will feature intriguing women sharing their stories and experiences surrounding the beauty industry to further build our community. If anyone is interested, we’d love to hear from you.

Washmen: The Future of Laundry?

The Story Behind Amounting Millions of Investments From Laundry

Washmen’s Co-Founder Rami Shaar at our Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi Demo Day

Leaders are catalysts of change, they innovate after years of wear and tear to civilisations-old manuals. After graduating from Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi’s Spring 2015 cycle, the laundry startup, Washmen, was already on a path to becoming one of the leading laundry shops in the UAE. We sat with its CEO & Co-founder, Rami Shaar, to talk about how they are revolutionising the laundry industry, the backstory to their success, their plans for the future in regards to their services, and how they plan on allocating the most recent investments towards scaling and development.

Why did you decide to localise your service in a plant of your own instead of outsourcing to local laundry shops?

There isn’t a lot of good quality, or big players in the market who’d give us a price that makes sense for the business and the quality. Hence, we thought that it’d be a good idea for us to build our own facility, which would eventually give us a 5x scaling opportunity. It helped us — significantly — improve the quality. Also, we had gotten into a stage in the business where running a very large facility is equal to the cost of outsourcing. It just didn’t make sense to outsource anymore. Especially given that if we start scaling further past it, it will give us more gross profits; since we will have the ability to acquire new customers with more items for laundry. So the reasons are mainly financial and operational.

Do you think owning a plant brings with it more operational complexities?

There is a certain limit to how much we can force our suppliers to use our tech, and to integrate them deep into their operations because they are not willing to accept certain ways on how to do business.

We can say that the way we do things is more operationally efficient, and we collectively have decided that the best way to move forward and to manage our supply chain was by owning the facility. In addition, owning our own facility allows us to build tech that was very deep into the supply chain, and to be consistent with out quality.

Hence, with our dependence on our own factory, our services can be more customisable, especially given that we can build more tech within the operations to be able to follow up on specific instructions of our customers.

We are also working on developing a camera monitoring technology that will allow us to monitor, pinpoint and know where to put accountability when it comes to damages and lost goods. It goes towards monitoring employees and processes to see how efficiency can be improved.

Photo is courtesy of Arabian Business

What differentiates your services from similar ones in the market?

If something gets damaged or lost, in this industry, consumer rights dictate that companies are to pay 10 times the price of the service. For us, we are more confident that we won’t damage or lose any goods, so we offer 20 times the price of the service. Sometimes we even go above and beyond if we know that there is negligence on our part. That’s really the overall quality, the overall operations, and how it translates to lower risk towards the customer.

Moreover, in our app, we have a call centre and a live chat function; and we also have founders who are very involved with our customers. Having a direct channel of communication with our customers allows us to also improve our services through feedback, and to understand what is it exactly that our customers want in order for us to have a better product-market fit.

Logistically speaking, using the app is much easier than calling somebody. This can be attributed to having a pickup and drop off service, so the customer doesn’t really need to drive anywhere. We also have online payments, and not a lot of players in the market offer that, and we have a much higher quality that is non existent in the market at the moment.

Something that really stands out now at washmen, is that we have introduced commercial hand washing, and commercial hand drying. Basically, it is a process that mimics hand-wash, and hand dry, but we do it industrially in the facility. This is mainly done through very special machines. Also, we have plans for a shoe cleaning service because a lot of our customers have been asking for it, so that’s next in line.

Washmen’s Co-Founder Rami Shaar at our Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi Demo Day

Do you think that your service can be integrated into AIs like Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, etc…?

That’s actually coming out in the next two weeks. We’re working on being able to have a conversation with Siri to order your laundry. It is actually part of the iOS 13 launch; and we’ve partnered with Apple to become a part of their Siri Conversations. Later, we will be moving to Google Assistant and Alexa and all that. The idea here is not just to be cool, but the idea here is how we can make the process even more efficient to our customer through the use of AI. There are also a couple of interesting things out there like IBM Watson, and we could integrate it alongside our service agents, where IBM Watson learns from how our service agents work and he can take part in managing our customer complaints, feedback, and give them support, all using AI.

What is the biggest challenge that comes with over $6m worth of investments?

We were pretty confident after we have done our R&D that we will be capable of putting any amount of investment into good use. However, I think the biggest challenge is always growth and scaling demand. It is great to have a “kickass” facility, but at the same time you are building for scalability, so if you don’t achieve that growth and scalability then the story ends. It is very important to be operationally excellent and have scalability in hand. The major challenge going forward, is continuing to scale the demand side of the business, not just the operational. Regardless, we’re very data driven, and we have a lot of tech tools that aid our quest in scaling and growing.

Washmen’s Co-Founder Rami Shaar at our Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi Demo Day

What is your biggest achievement so far?

Besides the +$6m of investments and getting amazing partners like Henkel, I think that would be building the strongest know-how of laundry in the whole world, whether it is offline or online.

Laundry has always existed since the beginning of civilisation, we were always washing clothes and after all those decades, we as a company have done things better than all civilisations have ever done. We’ve innovated in four years, much more than any other civilisation has done.

If you look at the dry cleaning and laundry services in the last few years, they haven’t changed. They use the same machines, the same chemicals, and the same processes. We’re a global leader in our know-how of how to do laundry. Research and interviews have been conducted in everything related to laundry, and they concluded that what we’ve developed here is miles away from a lot of players out there.

So yes, we are a company based out of Dubai, but we are a global company in the know-how that we have.

Washmen’s Co-Founder Rami Shaar at our Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi Demo Day

How do you think this industry in the MENA will change in the upcoming years?

It is similar to how the food online delivery business were back in the day, it wasn’t that easy to order food from your phone. You needed to call someone, pay cash, etc.. People were cooking at home and bringing their lunches to work, but now as we become more consumed with work, having access to such apps saves us time and effort that we’d rather spend on work. That kind of convenience can be replicated in laundry, where in the future people might actually stop using and depending on home appliances or even buying them to wash their stuff, and instead outsource them to a company like us.

Do you have any plans of expansion inside the MENA or Dubai?

Currently, no. We’re actually looking for bigger markets outside Dubai and MENA, since most of our investors, are invested in laundry operations located inside: London, New York, and South Korea. These places have huge competition and opportunities for high growth, but none of them have the technologically efficient and standardised quality that we have.

Photo is courtesy of thenational.ae

Meet Lebanon’s Yayy, Startup Poised to Disrupt the Gaming Industry

The startup scene in the MENA region has been focused on all industries, but gaming; few gaming-focused entrepreneurs start-up, and even fewer make it and earn the recognition they deserve in this very challenging setting. We intend to highlight through this Q&A with the Founder of Yayy, Ziad Talge, one of the very promising gaming startups from Flat6Labs BeirutYayy: a gaming studio that is currently focusing on creating hyper-casual games.

  • Q: When did you start pursuing gaming, and how did you kick your startup off?

It was back in April 2016 that we decided to start a project where we can connect the real world to the parallel world. As a big fan of the Lord of the Rings book series, I have personally always sought as a kid to become a fantasy hero. And this is how it kicked off!

  • Q: Why did you take up the challenge to start it up?

We decided to start this studio because we believed that we are capable of creating content that would attract people from every part of the world. That was and still is our main motive.

  • Q: What are the games that Yayy has developed?

Until today, and since we joined Flat6Labs Beirut, we have developed 7 games: Conquerors of The Realm, Unicorn Slayer, Zombie Smash, Mess it Up!, Fun Hoop, Domino Hit and Domino Stacks. Currently we’re in the process of releasing an 8th title and many others in the pipeline.Q: How do you think your games can compete with prominent and international games in the market?

With the current games that we tested in the US, we are proud to say that we compare in our KPIs to top performing games. Our retention rates are close to those of hit games and so are our CPIs. We’re constantly improving those KPIs and aiming to release a hit game.

  • Q: What are you trying to change with Yayy — what’s your ultimate goal?

Our ultimate goal is to create an entertainment company that is able to create content from this region and ship it to the rest of the world. We believe that there is huge talent in the region that is focusing on local content. We would like to change that. We want the local talent to focus on global content. We want to become a Disney from the Middle East.

  • Q: Who is your role model in the gaming industry?

Well there are many key players in the industry, but what appeals to us the most are Supercell. They started small and they’ve pivoted multiple times — just like we did — until they found their business model in mobile strategy games. If you closely follow their work, you can see that they’ve killed more games than they’ve released games. This is the mentality we are lacking in the Arab world, and this is what we’re trying to change. It’s a matter of persistence before you make it. We’re on to it.

  • Q: How do you think the gaming industry in the MENA will change in the upcoming years?

Referring to the Supercell example, and following the Finnish gaming ecosystem, you can notice that at a certain point in time, it was still a developing market with few big hits around the world. The ecosystem was heavily funded by the government and private investors. However, following the growth of mobile app stores, we witnessed multiple success stories from Finnish companies such as Rovio Entertainment and Supercell. We believe that in the Arab world we have a chance to grow and become a central hub for games around the world, just like the Finns did. Arab talent and investors should be focusing more on this industry for us to be able to make it on a global level. After our experience in the ecosystem, we believe that the gaming industry in the MENA region will boom in the near future, particularly because we not only have talented gaming studios, but because we have the highest ARPU in the world and the highest retention rates in terms of user base.

  • Q: What are you trying to change in the mobile gaming market?

In terms of the mobile gaming market, it has become more crowded than it has ever been. However, if you follow the Top Charts, you notice that the top publishers in the mobile gaming market are scattered around the world. With French companies dominating the Top Charts, companies from Turkey, Belarus and China are providing a huge competition. We are trying to establish a studio in the region that is able to publish content from this region and to compete with such companies dominating the Top Charts. It’s about time a publisher from this region breaks the top charts. We’re positive that Yayy would be the one.

Yayy’s Founder, Ziad Talge, pitching at Flat6Labs Beirut’s 2nd Demo Day
  • Q: What does your startup need the most now?

We are always on the lookout for talents in the field. We’re aiming to grow our team of developers, 3D artists, animators, music producers, etc. We’re looking for skilled people to join us and make their own impact within the company. Of course, when we talk about talent and skills we cannot neglect that we’re looking for funding to be able to support the current team and to grow the team so that we would create more games in the shortest amount of time and iterate fast to increase our chances of success.

  • Q: Why did you join Flat6Labs Beirut and tell us more about your acceleration experience?

We worked for two years in our room to create the concept that we were visualizing. After launching on Kickstarter and attending different events around the world, we learned that there were too many things to acknowledge before we can make something big and make a huge impact. As you may know, and since Flat6Labs is the biggest accelerator program in the region with a presence in more than 6 countries, we found that it was intuitive to apply to the Beirut program. Flat6Labs’ most important value for us was mentorship and market access which was vital for our personal and the projects’ growth. I can safely say today that we made the right decision.

  • Q: What are the markets that Yayy targets?

Our target market is the US market before we ship our products globally. As a matter of fact, currently we have 4 of our games being tested in the US market: Mess it UpDomino HitDomino Hit, and Domino Stacks.

  • Q: What is your advice for startups in the gaming scene?

From our personal experience, and learning from our own mistakes, we learned that four factors are the most important. First of all, DON’T fall in love with your games. There is a big difference between loving what you do and falling in love with what you do — Keep that in mind. Second would be to start small. Yes, we can all get excited to make a huge impact, but we have to be realistic at the same time; we started one big project, and here we are now producing several smaller games per month and increasing our chances of success. The third point would be mostly to test with people around you. So keep the end user in mind. We might read this a lot, but eventually this is what we fail to do. As a game developer, you would be excited to create a new mechanic that no one ever did before, and you tend to fall in love with your creation. In reality no one wants it. Again, keep the end user in mind because the market is your boss. Finally, keep an open mind. You might need to pivot from your dream to make things work; however, keeping the initial vision in mind.

  • Q: What are the common struggles for people who want to enter this industry?

The biggest problems for people who would like to get into the industry are mainly due to limited market knowledge. Since in the gaming market itself, there are many “verticals”: some studios would focus on PC games, console or mobile games. Each vertical has its own market penetration strategy and marketing channels. The second problem is the result of the first one, new people getting into the market usually lack the marketing skills. Some games require user acquisition only, while others require a strong community following. It’s a matter of positioning yourself in the market. The last one would be something already mentioned: falling in love with your games before going to market. This would result in a long development cycle and end up with a big game — starting big is a great risk of failing. It’s also important to note that if you’re a gamer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know the market. You might have the game development skills, but you would be lacking the business skills.

  • Q: What can you tell startups about your post-acceleration period with Flat6Labs?

If we look back to Yayy before Flat6Labs and Yayy after Flat6Labs, we would require a whole new article to point out the benefits we’ve received and the things we’ve learned. But to mention the most important points in our opinion: the mentorship and guidance we’ve learned and keep on learning through the huge network of mentors that they provided. As a matter of fact, we are still until today, 8 months post-acceleration getting mentorship and guidance from experienced people in the industry and people that have been in our shoes. One important thing to mention as well is the access to offices. We’ve received a full year of office space to kick off our companies. You never value these things until you get to lose access to them. Thanks to Flat6Labs Beirut and the amazing supporting staff!

  • Q: Other than Yayy, what’s your favorite gaming startup?

We don’t know if they would still consider themselves a startup, but our choice would definitely be Voodoo. The French company has been leading the top charts with multiple games. They started not long ago, but their business model and amazing team is what got them there. They are data centric, they iterate fast and most importantly they share their knowledge with fellow people in the industry helping smaller studios grow and establish themselves in the industry.