This week’s edition of Startup Spotlight sees CEO Karim Korshed discuss the challenges of growing a business abroad.
Omnichannel communication platform Cequens is transforming business communication in Egypt and across the globe. Since 2011, it has been leveraging SMS, voice, push notifications, email and chat apps to streamline business communication for some of the biggest companies globally including Google, Alibaba, Microsoft and Meta, amongst others.
Serial tech entrepreneurs Karim Korshed and Ahmed Shabrawy first came up with the idea of Cequens when they noticed a gap in the market. At the time, there were limited innovative solutions for businesses to communicate effectively with their customers. “There was a clear need for a reliable and effective communication platform, so we decided to launch Cequens to fill this gap and to provide businesses with comprehensive communication solutions that would help them connect with their customers and grow their business,” Karim Korshed, CEO and Co-Founder of Cequens, tells StartupScene.
According to Korshed, Cequens has grown CAGR 40% consistently YoY since its launch, and has surpassed $100 million in revenue last year. Today, the company has operations in Egypt, UAE, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the UK, and plans to expand to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
While Cequens has seen a lot of success, its early life came with historic challenges - particularly since it launched in January 2011, during a tumultuous and unpredictable period in Egypt and the MENA region. “There was no local market to target,” Korshed explains. “Our thought was that things will not work out in Egypt for quite some time, so we focused our efforts externally on global markets.”
Korshed and the team participated in numerous international events across the globe to build the company brand and attract customers. Sponsoring over 15 events annually in countries like Spain, the UK, the US and even Macau, Cequens was able to grow its customer base and build a strong presence internationally. “Today, Cequens is very well recognized on an international level,” says Korshed. “We have been able to attract international customers first, and then attract clients in the Middle East. When things settled down across the region, we started to penetrate Egypt and the rest of the region.”
Funding was also hard to come by. To get the company off the ground, the founders bootstrapped the startup and relied on generating profit early on to grow the business.Although they were able to find angel investors and receive seed funding in 2011, developing the right communication solutions and partnering with the right clients is ultimately what led them to become profitable soon after launching.
“Having a great product goes without saying, but we have really made a concentrated effort to establish partnership with influential entities in our industry, enabling us to broaden our scope and enhance our customer base,” Korshed says.
AI has been making headlines since the emergence of ChatGPT in November 2022. Some of the world’s leading companies are now using AI to elevate their products and services, and Cequens is no exception.
“Before the launch of OpenAI and ChatGPT, the success of chatbots was very limited and people didn’t like to interact with them,” Korshed says. “But we are witnessing a revolution when it comes to understanding the context of the conversation, and how chatbots can transform and evolve to engage in human-like conversation.”
Korshed believes that chatbots can help make communication more efficient by reducing wait times, answering queries efficiently and overall increasing customer satisfaction. “Today, when you are contacting a call center, you have to wait at least 10 to 15 minutes to get somebody on the line to solve a problem you have, or follow up on your order,” he says. “But now everything can be automated, and you can definitely provide a much better user experience.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
With plans to expand into Europe and Asia Pacific, Cequens is now looking to attract investments.
“It's not just about money, it’s about somebody who can really help in expanding our footprint into new markets,” says Korshed. “The timing today may not be ideal for fundraising, but what is different at Cequens is that we have been profitable since inception, and investors are increasingly appreciating companies who are growing steadily and at the same, making an economic impact.”
With the global communication platform as a service (CPaaS) market valued at $8.9 billion in 2021, and expected to expand to a CAGR 31.1% from 2022 to 2030, according to data by Grand View Research, Korshed is optimistic about the future. The key, however, is to continue providing unique and tailored solutions to each market to ensure the successful growth of Cequens.
“Working in multiple markets, there is no one solution that fits all,” says Korshed. “It doesn’t exist. Each market and each type of customer segment has their own unique requirements, so solutions have to be adaptable. This is what we have been mastering since the beginning, being able to customize our solutions and meet our customers’ needs very fast, and we plan to continue doing so as we get ready for further expansion.”
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