how UAE’s Ziina is working to build financial literacy in the Middle East

“A person disciplines his finances or his finances discipline him.”

The famous quote by American author Orrin Woodward fits well with the case of entrepreneur Faisal Toukan, who founded the FinTech start-up Ziina – the UAE’s peer-to-peer (P2P) payment application – with co -founders Sarah Toukan and Andrew Gold.

Founded in January 2020, the Dubai-based startup is on a mission to bring financial literacy and economic freedom to every person in the Middle East and eventually transform their lives.

“Money is a very difficult subject to talk about, both personally and in social circles…we aim to clarify both,” says Mr. Toukan, 28, managing director of Ziina..

“This is done by paying careful attention to users, understanding their relationship to money as individuals and the people around them.

“Over the past few months, we have proudly built products that are considered world-class and have even been patented. We do not intend to imitate existing solutions in other countries, but are currently pioneering solutions in Dubai globally.

Ziina offers friends and family a seamless way to split payments. Users can create an account and start getting paid in minutes. All they have to do is download the app, register with their phone number, provide their ID and proof of address, and they can start using the app to send and receive email. money instantly.

P2P payment technology allows customers to transfer funds from their bank account or credit card to others over the Internet and is booming globally.

The market is expected to reach $4.5 billion by 2027, up from $1.8 billion in 2019, growing nearly 12% annually, according to Statistics Market Research Consulting.

Ziina, which started by sending and receiving money for individuals, has expanded its services to businesses and is currently working on various pilot financial projects.

“We reduced the time it took to send and receive money, which initially took over 20 minutes and was quite a tricky process for both parties, to less than two seconds and made the process fun and quite seamless,” explains Mr. Toukan.

“We also incorporate this core philosophy into our commercial products.”

“There are 208,000 micro businesses and 113,000 small businesses in the UAE. These businesses are neglected and underserved. We tackle their pain points in financial transactions and carefully dedicate our products to them. »

Ziina’s products are also suitable for large companies. It offers solutions like quick response (QR) codes and customizable links that can be widely distributed.

These solutions are “perfect for traditional businesses looking to make a rapid transition to accepting online payments,” says Toukan.

The company also launched its digital wallet for consumers and businesses in February this year. Since then, Ziina has released new products and feature enhancements every two weeks, it says.

Ziina’s first investors were friends and family members of the founders, who contributed $200,000 to start the business. Since its creation, the start-up has raised nearly $9.4 million, but it has also had its share of ups and downs.

For example, for the first year, two of the co-founders didn’t take their salaries and one of the co-founders took a huge pay cut. But gradually, things accelerated by attracting the attention of many investors.

“We are extremely privileged to have a broad base of strategic investors,” says Mr. Toukan. “Everyone brings a different value to Ziina and has helped us tremendously to get us to where we are today.

“The first bucket [of investors] includes growth-oriented international investors who have the capital reserves to aggressively double down on Ziina. The second bucket is made up of local investors. They have helped us with various aspects of the business such as trade negotiations, regulations, banking and local talent. »

The company’s investors include Long Journey Ventures, Graph Ventures, Avenir Growth, Jabbar Internet Group, FJ Labs, Wamda Capital, Goodwater Capital and Jasoor Ventures, the venture capital arm of Oman Technology Fund, among others.

The company also qualified for the US start-up accelerator Y-Combinator’s winter 2021 batch.

Currently, Ziina’s services are available throughout the United Arab Emirates, the second largest economy in the Arab world. Its office is located in the Dubai International Financial Center and its operations are regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority.

The company aims to expand its operations to Jordan next year.

“It represents a kind of homecoming for me and one of the co-founders Sarah [Mr Toukan’s sister]. We are both Jordanians and grew up in Amman for much of our lives,” says Toukan.

We want to build a generational business that propels this region forward…Souq and Careem have paved the way, through their acquisitions, for a company like Ziina to be listed on the Nasdaq

Faisal Toukan, co-founder of FinTech start-up Ziina

While entering new markets, the company is committed to retaining top talent to strengthen its core technology and ensure rapid product development.

“Hiring top talent continues to be our number one investment priority,” says Toukan.

“We strongly believe that people drive everything we do at Ziina. We will also invest significant capital in our expansion efforts as we strive to put Ziina in the hands of more people in the Middle East. East.

However, there are no plans to leave the company as the founders intend to establish it for the long term with a solid foundation.

“The FinTech industry is booming and offers a lot of potential for entrepreneurs if they do things the right way. Our goal is for Ziina to become as big as Apple,” says Toukan.

“We want to build a generational business that propels this region forward. Souq and Careem paved the way for their acquisitions to get a company like Ziina listed on the Nasdaq.

The global FinTech market is expected to reach $332.5 billion by 2028, up from $112.5 billion in 2021, according to the latest report from global payments company MasterCard.

There are more than 470 FinTech unicorns around the world, 40 of which were added in the first quarter of this year. The Middle East and North Africa region is expected to have 45 FinTech unicorns – or start-ups with a valuation of $1 billion and above – by 2030, a tenth of the global number, the report says .

Zinna, which is not yet profitable, is in no rush to become profitable as it focuses on growth and building a solid foundation.

“Profitability is tied to the degree of growth you want to pursue,” says Toukan.

“Startups are a series of experiments and every product we launch is an experiment. We validate the success of a product by its long-term ability to generate a profit. Once we complete this experiment, we let’s move on to the next one.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has upended many businesses and shaken the global economy over the past two years, has proven to be an opportunity for the founders of Ziina.

“We actually noticed an increase in Ziina users… people had fewer opportunities to meet in person, so they resorted to remote payment methods. They were also hesitant to handle cash to avoid possible germ contamination,” he says.

Mr. Toukan, left, and Mr. Gold.  Chris Whiteoak / The National

Q&A: Faisal Toukan, Co-Founder and CEO of Ziina

What is your mantra for success?

Great men oblige and are not constrained by others.

Are you in a hurry to make Ziina profitable?

Revolut took 5.5 years to become profitable, Facebook took 9 years and Amazon 14 years. It wasn’t because they were bad companies, it was because they continued to push their own limits and rigorously experiment. We invest in long-term growth and work rigorously to produce disruptive fintech.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

We want to put financial freedom in the hands of every person in the Middle East. We also want to redefine finance from a clumsy, friction-filled thing to a true, frictionless, emotional extension of yourself.

We were fortunate to have a lot of financial support from our investors. Support is gained by continually under-promising and over-delivering milestones.

Are you a risk taker or a cautious entrepreneur?

You can’t be a careful entrepreneur.

What do you think about when hiring a new employee?

We have an internal policy to raise the bar with every hire. The key question we ask ourselves is, “Can we learn from this person if we take them on board?” It has worked so far as we have hired talented people from diverse backgrounds – 14 nationalities, with work experiences at companies like Uber, Careem, Yandex, Netflix and Coinbase.

What successful start-ups do you wish you had started and why?

We take inspiration from Nike and Apple at Ziina. Because they took counter-intuitive concepts and combined them. Apple combined design and material, while Nike combined everyday wear (shoes) with inspiration. Our goal is to combine art with finance.

What new skills did you learn when launching Ziina?

Fault management. There is a famous quote that we follow:the job of management is not to prevent failure, it is to build an effective recovery process”.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Ziina

Started: January 2020

Founders: Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan and Andrew Gold

Based: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Industry: FinTech

Funds raised so far: $9.4 million

Investors: Long Journey Ventures, Graph Ventures, Avenir Growth, Jabbar Internet Group, FJ Labs, Wamda Capital, Goodwater Capital and Jasoor Ventures, the venture capital arm of Oman Technology Fund

Objective: Launch operations in Jordan in 2023

Updated: October 17, 2022, 5:30 a.m.

Louis R. Hancock