Jad Toubayly, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Idealz talks about his journey and the hard work that has gone behind creating the vibrant brand that Idealz is today.
Being a startup founder yourself, how do you see the startup landscape evolve in the region since the launch of Idealz?
The startup scene in the Middle East has evolved tremendously over the past decade. When I launched Idealz back in 2017, the UAE and the region as a whole was caught up in an entrepreneurship frenzy.
While VC funding, government initiatives, regional collaborations and the diversification of industries have played a significant role in maturing the startup ecosystem, one thing that remained constant is the need to be innovative. In a competitive market such as this, that is the only way to stay ahead of the curve. There has also been a visible shift in founder mindset about business viability and unit economics. Startups able to raise funding today can no longer rely on pipedreams and overambitions mission statements.
Innovation is at the core of everything we do at Idealz. From our business model to the customer journey to our CSR initiatives, everything customers experience with us is true innovation backed by workable unit economics.
How did you zero on the name Idealz?
It was the project-name I assigned when the business was conceptualized and after exploring multiple variations for a name, I decided to stick with ‘Idealz’. It combined ‘idea’, ‘deals’, ‘ideal’ and echoed ‘tech, good deals, and fun experiences. Looking back, I’m glad I stuck with it.
What sets you apart from other players in the market in the same space?
I am yet to identify a full apple-to-apple comparison in my space but for those that have slight resemblances, we offer a very unique proposition that combines online shopping with an incentive-based rewarding mechanism. Every purchase of a shopping card enters a customer into a raffle to win luxury prizes. The prizes are guaranteed, meaning that one of the participants will win the prize – it’s not a chance for a chance where that prize may or may not be won or may and may not be split by multiple winners. We also have the widest price and prize variety, globally. Entry into a campaign can vary from AED3 to AED950 and prizes vary from cash, gold, jewellery, luxury watches and electronics to cars, apartments and VIP lifestyle items like license plates, shopping packages, experiences, and more.
Shopping cards purchased can be used to buy items from our merchandise stores selling athleisure wear that is delivered globally.
How would you describe your journey and how has the company grown over the years?
When I set out to build Idealz, I wanted to create a profitable, scalable, and defensible business that I can be proud of. Over the years, all three have been realized and my job now is to ensure that remains to be the case.
Idealz is the unquestionable creator of the ‘shop-and-win’ space and has a definite first mover in the space. The company was founded in 2015 and was launched to the public in 2017, and we have been making winners ever since. Given the innovation of our business model, we have faced many challenges getting people to learn, trust, and adopt the concept. From end users to suppliers to prize vendors to government agencies and everyone in between, we had to go through the tedious process of progressing the learning curve. With time, and as we started generating winners, such obstacles have been minimized.
It is also important to note that Idealz is a fully self-funded business with no external investors, and the entire platform was built and launched by an in-house team. While this in and of itself was a major challenge, it allowed me to focus my full bandwidth on the product and ensuring we deliver our mission without making a single pivot. This is paying big dividends today.
What have been the key milestone moments for the company till now?
There have been many notable milestones over the years but the key ones that pop to mind would probably be; our exclusive partnership with Dubai Festivals & Retail Establishment, the retail arm of Dubai Economy & Tourism, our crossing of 5,000 winners, AED160 million in prizes distributed, and the building of 13 schools for underprivileged children as part of our CSR program.
Idealz has won several accoladed including the region’s Startup of the Year by Arabian Business in 2018 and E-business of the Year by Entrepreneur in 2023. Additionally, we have franchised the brand in four countries, with more franchises and white labels on the horizon.
How do you market your business and what has been the key element of your marketing strategy that has yielded desired results?
Idealz is marketed through a host of channels with our strategy involving various activities aimed at promoting our products and prizes in a way that is appealing to existing and potential customers. We are a private account managed by most of the big social networks and that has had a tremendous impact on our ‘Return on Digital Ad Spend’.
The key is to know who our target audience is and understand their ideal desires. We plan our marketing goals and achieve them by combining the power of social media, advertising, content marketing, OOH, email campaigns, PR initiatives, collaborations, and partnerships. We stay loyal to our brand identity and maintain a consistent presence across all marketing platforms.
Acquiring customers is a huge task, how did you build a successful customer base?
Acquiring a customer is extremely difficult and retaining that customer is even more challenging. It is an endless battle a company needs to engage in but we’ve managed to make significant progress by prioritizing our customers’ evolving preferences and refining our core proposition.
At the centre of our business, we have always put the customer first. We consistently listen to their feedback and incorporate their preferences into every proposition we launch. By paying close attention to what our customers want and need, we have been able to continuously elevate the experience to something that truly resonates with them.
Moreover, we have made it a priority to ensure that our offerings are inclusive and accessible to customers from all walks of life. By doing so, we have ensured that we target a very broad audience and attract a diverse customer base.
What is the percentage of repeat customers from the overall customer base?
We are quite above the benchmark in terms of customer retention. Given the nature of our business, it is extremely rare to find a customer that has only transacted once with us. We have customers that enter every single campaign, some who transact every day without fail, some who transact every week or every month and some who buy in clusters, disappear for a while and then come back. We’ve seen it all.
What are your expansion plans both in terms of geographical spread and product portfolio?
We are currently in different stages of setting up Idealz, or a white label of Idealz, in different geographies around the world. Four franchises have been signed and are currently underway with two more planned before the end of the year. The geographies have been selected based on a number of parameters but mainly rely on where our current international customers are based.
From a product perspective, we recently transitioned from selling products within campaigns to selling shopping cards of various denominations that can be redeemed at our merchandise store against any product(s) of your choice. We are also weeks away from launching our new merchandise store under a new brand that we are very excited about.
We are also working on several initiatives with Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment that should be publicly announced very shortly.
What advice would you give to people who wish to become entrepreneurs?
I typically shy away from offering advice as what has worked for me might not work for anyone else. Advise has become over-commoditized and has led to a lot of misguiding. What I can say though is, don’t look at what others are doing and try or think you can do it better. Instead, get creative and be innovative. Make sure it makes sense financially and generates or has a clear path to generating unit economics and then pursue it till you succeed. There is one proverb we go by in Idealz and it is: FOCUS; Follow One Course Until Successful.