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Mobile internet device for illustrative purposes

As life in Doha gets busier, with more cars on the roads and fewer parking spaces, doing everyday chores like grocery shopping and laundry can be a headache.

A growing crop of Qatar-based entrepreneurs are trying to ease some of that pain, rolling out new mobile apps to tackle ordering groceries and sending out the dry cleaning.

Among them is eGrab, a new grocery-shopping app nurtured at the Qatar Business Incubation Center and soft-launched on Android and iOS this summer.

The firm has so far signed agreements with two supermarket chains – Quality Hypermarket and Family Food Center – but expects more stores to join in the coming months.

Food shopping

Customers order food by scrolling through the menus and clicking on the items to put them into their shopping basket. Teams of “pickers” at the chosen supermarkets fulfill the orders and send them out. Drivers then use GPS and the municipality’s blue plaque address system to get food to your door.

eGrab mobile shopping app

eGrab

eGrab mobile shopping app

Currently, the system operates via cash-on-delivery, but eGrab said it hopes to enable online payment through debit and credit cards in the future.

And while customers can’t yet choose a delivery time slot, the app should advise of the estimated delivery time, according to how busy the service is and the level of traffic on the roads.

Delivery to some areas is free, while for others the charge is highlighted before the customer starts shopping. If a minimum order is required, the value of that is also flagged up on the app in advance.

eGrab founder Rahid Kader

Supplied

eGrab founder Rahid Kader

Online grocery shopping is a more familiar concept in Europe and North America, but hasn’t fully taken off in the Gulf yet.

Lulu Hypermarket does plan to start the service in Abu Dhabi this month, and Geant Hypermarket launched internet food shopping in Dubai several years ago.

In Qatar, the website FreshQatar.com serves the greater Doha area, offering a number of daily staples and electronics, with a minimum purchase amount of QR100 and delivering orders every evening.

After eight months in development, eGrab has been trialing its service in a few areas of Qatar, including Al Azizya and Al Waab. It’s only served around 250 customers so far, but is preparing to launch more widely next week.

For now, it’s a small team of five people, but founder Rahid Kader told Doha News he is already interviewing people with a view to expand.

The Bahrain-born, former physical therapist has lived in Qatar for five years and said he was inspired to set up the service as a way of helping to make residents’ lives easier:

“I understand customers’ pain – driving through the traffic, trying to find parking, queuing at the tills then lugging all the shopping home. By the time you’ve finished the shopping, half of Friday has already gone.

I just thought, if I could set up an ordering and delivery service then it would save people so much time.”

Laundry service

Meanwhile, the mundane nature of laundry has inspired two different sets of entrepreneurs to set up their own, competing apps for the pick-up and delivery of laundry.

The first, WASHNOW, launched earlier this month with its Android app, with the iOS version due on Sept. 7.

WashNow

Describing the business model as “Uber for laundry,” Ameer KV established it with four other Qatari and expat entrepreneurs who all have experience in technology and/or laundry.

Customers are charged on a standard per-piece-of-clothing rate, while delivery charges start from QR5. Customers select a pick-up time, and are advised of the time their laundry will be returned to them.

WASHNOW founder Ameer KV

Supplied

WASHNOW founder Ameer KV

The team provides a 48-hour turnaround service for all washing, ironing and dry cleaning in Doha. A same-day service is expected to start operating in some Doha districts by the end of September and to be rolled out across the city by October, Ameer told Doha News.

Plans to expand the service include offering collection and delivery to Al Wakrah, Al Khor and even other Gulf states.

While WASHNOW is formally linked to one laundry service for now, it is in talks with four other companies located across Doha. Other developments in the works include offering an online payment system in addition to cash-on-delivery.

Describing why the team set up the service, Ameer said:

“If an average laundry has 100 customers a day, that’s 100 people driving to and for, to deliver and pick up their clothes. That’s a problem for the traffic.”

MyLaundryQatar will be another mobile laundry service that is currently in development but is set to launch in the fall.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Ashley/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Co-founder Waqas Ajaz told Doha News it will offer a similar pick-up and drop-off service across Doha, with customers able to schedule when they want their items collected.

Payment will be arranged on a pre-paid credit system, with points deducted for items laundered and should be able to take debit and credit card payments.

With experience in app developing and marketing, Qatar-born Ajaz said his vision is to make life simpler for people living here.

“I never had any time to go to the laundry. It would take half-an-hour to get there, then the same to get home. It was always crowded, the traffic was terrible.

“I wanted to create something which would be a convenience, something to save people time and hassle and allow them to have more time with their families,” Ajaz said.

1ClickLaundry, meanwhile, is a web-based service that launched this summer offering similar promises through your browser. Qatar-based users have a choice of standard, express or premium services, and can pay online through PayPal or Credit Card.

Have you used any of these services yet? Thoughts?

All images courtesy of Watermelon Ink

For Alleine Khalifa and her husband Omar, old bottle caps, discarded buttons and rusty rakes are not garbage – they’re the perfect raw material to make something beautiful.

The duo, who have lived in Qatar for the last nine years, are the co-founders of Watermelon Ink, a small business based on the concept of upcycling, where they sell reused and repurposed objects with a twist.

Speaking to Doha News recently about their new venture, Alleine Khalifa said:

“Take it old. Make it new – that’s our slogan. We like to rummage around for cheap or discarded things, and re-love them to give them a new lease of life. Tables, chairs, shelves, hangers, tins, clothes…and even a bathroom sink once.

We upcycle, chalk paint, decoupage, mosaic, build and stick things together for the love of making inspired and colorfully beautiful things.”

Khalifa, who is from the Philippines, said her affinity for all things old and repurposed stems from her childhood, during which she dabbled with cutting and pasting things together.

Decoupaged globe

Watermelon Ink

Decoupaged globe

The technique, called decoupage, involves decorating objects with layers of glued-on paper cutouts, gold leaf and other 2D items until the final product looks like a painted-on work of art.

Khalifa added that years later, after a bout of what she called “post-partum-art-repression,” she and her husband decided to revisit the technique.

The company

With an eye for creativity and a knack for upcycling, the duo decided to turn their hobby into a business, selling decoupaged globes, milk cans, wooden pallet benches and other furniture, oud burners and clothing.

With full-time jobs at Al Jazeera and the Film House, respectively, Alleine and Omar see repurposing old stuff into new treasures to be a form of relaxation, she said.

“We’ve found that a lot of products on offer to us here lack a bit of soul and charm, so…we just started to make things out of nothing as therapy. Our first sale wasn’t a sale at all. We like to give! Watermelon is still a hobby, and there’s a therapy to indulging in creative crafts when your day job is hyper-technical…like ours often are,” she said.

Their first project was turning several boxes of old fabric that Khalifa had purchased for a project in the Philippines into printed “Qimonos” (a take on the traditional Japanese Kimono) with pom-pom details.

"Qimonos" for sale

Watermelon Ink/Facebook

“Qimonos” for sale

To find materials, she and Omar, who is from the UK, look at their own trash, and scour bins, roadsides and Souq Haraj, Khalifa said.

“Ideas usually come in the form of dreams at 3am in the morning after we’ve had too much cheese the night before! That, and browsing Pinterest, websites and magazines we love from the UK and Philippines,” she added.

Sink repurposed into a birdbath

Watermelon Ink

Sink repurposed into a birdbath

Some of their favorite projects include a worn-down set of drawers purchased for QR30 from Souq Haraj and repurposed into a white cabinet with quirky knobs; a rustic trike that they turned into a plant stand; a salvaged rusted rake found in an abandoned school that they turned into a house number plate with chalk-painted mason jars; and a second- hand sink that they refashioned into a bird bath.

To market their unique products, the duo use Instagram, a popular favorite among small enterprises in Qatar, as well as Facebook.

But Khalifa added that their ultimate goal isn’t to make profits, but instead foster collaboration and give back to the community.

“One of our main objectives is to collaborate, in particular, with other people and places in Qatar, and we’ve done that by supplying gifts, charms and products for both individuals and events. It really feels like a buzzing shared and local economy here when you build a great network through social media.

We hope one day to garner enough interest to set up (a shop) here in Doha. We have a business plan in the pipeline, and we want to give back to the community. (It’s) right at the heart of what we do. (We want to showcase the) backstories of the people who make Watermelon Ink products, and how purchases will contribute immensely to a number of different people’s lives.

With two small children and full-time jobs, expansion plans for the company remain far in the future, but the duo hopes to encourage other people to follow in their footsteps.

“Start by finding something in their house that could do with an injection of newness, and go to town on it,” Khalifa said.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

MOI/Facebook

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Dozens of small businesses will no longer need to wait for Civil Defense approval before applying for their commercial licenses, according to new rules announced by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC).

The new measures take effect today and apply to businesses in 55 categories, including beauty salons, car showrooms, cafes, mini-marts, clothing stores and cycle repair shops.

These companies no longer need to get pre-approval from Civil Defense before starting their paperwork to secure their Commercial Registration (CR), a document needed by all businesses before they can legally operate.

Announcing the decision in Arabic, the ministry said on Twitter: “MEC to start a class of 55 licensed businesses without a pre-condition to obtain a certificate from Civil Defense.”

According to the Ministry of Interior on Facebook, some businesses should also now be allowed to renew their CRs prior to obtaining Civil Defense approval.

Cutting red tape

The change is being billed by authorities as an “incentive” for entrepreneurs to set up small and medium sized operations, who can now be issued Civil Defense certificates up to 30 days after receiving the CR.

However, shops are still required to obtain the necessary safety approvals before beginning trading, the MEC said as it announced the joint initiative with the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Civil Defense.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Heather/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Previously, the requirements for start-ups applying for a CR included having a one-year lease for Civil Defense-approved office space as well as QR200,000 (US$54,921) in a bank account.

However, entrepreneurs have complained that the system produces caused unnecessary delays to the launch of their businesses, as waits particularly for Civil Defense sign-offs can be lengthy.

A businessman running a garage in the industrial area was quoted by The Peninsula last year as saying: “The unending wait to get fire and safety licenses is killing our businesses.”

He continued:

“There are instances where entrepreneurs had to wait 10 months to get a fire safety license. Waiting for such a long time to start a business means that the entrepreneur is losing big money against his establishment cost.”

Fire safety requirements in Qatar were tightened months after the 2012 Villaggio fire, in which 19 people – including 13 children – died.

New rules

The MEC said in a statement in Arabic that the new rules applied to businesses in premises of no more than 250 sq meters and aimed to “reduce the length of time to extract and renew business licenses.”

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Richard Messenger/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The categories of operations which the waiver applies to include: confectionary and flower stores, telecom services, calligraphers and painters, beauty salons, lawyers’ offices, travel agents, trade events, car showrooms, massage parlors, tailors, internet cafes, electricians, laundries, jewelers, cycle repair shops, supermarkets, grocery stores, tobacconists, clothing stores and opticians.

A full list is published in Arabic on the MEC’s website.

As businesses still need to get sign-off from Civil Defense before they are legally allowed to start trading, it is not clear how the new regulations would actually ease the burden on entrepreneurs.

Over the past few years, Qatar has been stepping up efforts to encourage more people to set up their own businesses and reduce the dependency on the public sector for providing jobs.

A survey conducted last year by Ooredoo found that youth in Qatar had some of the highest entrepreneurial ambitions among their GCC peers, but that regulatory requirements were stifling their enthusiasm.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Christian Schnettelker / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Previously, experts have called for fewer regulations to help more small businesses get off the ground.

Speaking at Global Entrepreneurship Week last year, Thomas Emerson, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University Qatar, said the country needs to “lower the barriers” to starting a new business.

He specifically suggested streamlining the business application process, which he described as one of the “barriers to business creation.”

Thoughts?