Ronaldo Mouchawar launched the e-commerce site Souq.com in 2005 and quickly built the startup into one of the Middle East’s most recognized online retailers. Last week, in a deal the Financial Times said “will shake up the region’s small but fast-growing e-commerce sector,” Amazon agreed to acquire Mouchawar’s company for at least $650 million.
Mouchawar, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northeastern, spent the early part of his career working in the U.S. in technology, business management, and engineering positions. But the Syrian native felt a pull back to the Middle East—not just for the business opportunities he saw there, but for the prospect of improving life in the region.
“[The Arab world] is full of young people and small- and medium-sized businesses, but there was no e-commerce platform to connect those businesses,” Mouchawar, E’88, ME’90, told Northeastern Magazine this past fall. “We knew that building one would be a huge challenge, but that it could improve the lives of people in the region.”
Innovating in ‘the last mile’ of logistics
For Mouchawar’s startup to achieve success, it had to overcome obstacles unique to the region in key areas, such as payment and delivery.
“Being an entrepreneur is not just about managing success, but how you confront the next challenge,” Mouchawar said.
To address those challenges, Souq offered alternative payment options to accommodate customers in areas where credit card use is scarce. The company created prepaid cards that could be sold in physical stores and then used to make purchases on the site. It also developed logistical strategies to deliver goods to customers in communities with no postal addresses.
Giving hope to a region
Today, Souq is the largest e-commerce platform in the Arab world, attracting more than 45 million unique visits per month. Valued at more than $1 billion, the site has localized operations in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt, and ships products to Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar.
Beyond its own success, Mouchawar’s company has helped create an entrepreneurial ecosystem across the Middle East by investing in other startups and by creating a platform by which startups can develop and distribute products.
Says Mouchawar, “The success of Souq.com has given hope to many people who live in our region.”