First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Jareer Oweimrin: The only positive part about this period was to be closer to family. Running a startup is a gruesome task with little time for family or anything else. So staying home and around our young kids allowed us to get closer to them again. That was a blessing.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Fluidmeet.
Jareer Oweimrin: Once upon a time, the 2 co-founders were management consultants in a reputable firm working across the GCC Region. As seniors in our firm, part of our responsibility was to meet clients for different reasons, deliver workshops, and train juniors in our organization. All 3 required work and meeting spaces. And every time we needed a workspace, we had to go through similar challenges. First, identify the area we needed to be in, then research what sort of venues offered workspaces in the area, then call these venues and enquire about their workspaces (size, capacity, layout, etc.) and amenities offered (Wi-Fi, projector, flipchart, etc.) and then wait on a proposal, that included pricing, detailing our requirements. After receiving all these proposals – this took hours to days sometimes – we would compare all proposals and make decisions. Finally, we would have to pass by the venue to view the workspace and make the payment due before using the workspace. We felt this process was unnecessarily time consuming and tiresome. We thought to ourselves: there must be a better way! Fluidmeet was born…
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jareer Oweimrin: Fluidmeet had been built as a marketplace for workspaces. That meant we helped seekers find work, meeting, and event spaces. So when they said people couldn’t physically interact with others, that meant a significant impact on our business. We started to feel that effect in early March. Many of our participating hotels had started to receive cancellation requests from their bookings. Major events that had been booked through Fluidmeet were being suspended if not indefinitely canceled. Business centers that hosted office space and coworking spaces also started to feel the pain when tenants stopped paying rent, cancelled tenancy contracts, or unilaterally suspending the terms of their agreements.
We acted wisely. We reached out to our venue partners and told them that during the COVID crisis, these months of your subscription will not be counted. The leadership team’s compensation went to zero. Our customer service staff were furloughed. Sales and marketing were still required but at a much-reduced scope. But we also realized that as expatriates, our staff needed income. They wouldn’t be able to survive without any form of income. That bothered us and challenged our moral compass. We know that leadership requires tough decisions with heavy input from financial figures, but we also needed to think about our employees, the Fluidmeet family, and their financial requirements. We spent quite a bit of time reconciling these perspectives to arrive at a situation that would hopefully benefit all who depended on us.
We doubled down. We launched new geographies markets, extended existing product lines, and launched new services. These were thoughts in our minds for execution, but COVID-19 accelerated the onset of work.
We told our staff that we would use this downtime to add space listings in new territories. Business centers and hotels in Riyadh, Jeddah, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc. as well as other cities, were contacted. Space listings were provided. Our staff was offered an incentivization package. We questioned whether it would work. After a day or so of motivation and a thoughtful explanation of the new realities on the ground, they started contacting different venues across the world. They have been more than thankful that we supplemented their income during this stressful period. While we know that we haven’t reached pre-crisis levels, they appreciated that we got close. As of today, we have tripled our listings and formed a new set of partnerships that we can be nurtured into the long term.
We gathered our technology team to strategically extend existing product lines. Besides hitting a major roadblock where key members of our tech team were infected with COVID-19, we thankfully overcame that calamity through a quick response from the health authorities and the Fluidmeet family support. The first product line to go through this extension was serviced offices. We knew that the term “serviced office” was limiting in nature. We knew that offices don’t only exist in business centers and don’t have to be 200/300 sq. ft. We knew that conventional office space is still in demand and would probably continue that way due to social/physical distancing requirements. By expanding this term, meant we would better serve asset owners and brokers who needed an effective partner who tried and tested to promote their shell and core, fitted and furnished offices. After a few weeks of pivoting, Fluidmeet is now ready to promote office spaces across its platform.
We also dug deeper into our ecosystem, one that’s sophisticated and complex. Fluidmeet directly works with hotels, business centers, and other venues that offer workspaces, but it also plays a valuable role for travel agencies, destination management companies, brokers, business formation companies, event management companies, among others. We ran through a simple evaluative process to understand which segment would benefit most from our services during this period and beyond and how long it would take to implement this additional pivot. We honed in on business setup companies. Their role in an entrepreneur’s dream is unparalleled in importance. They are typically the first people a business professional speaks with to understand the steps in their quest towards “being their own boss.” They have made it their life’s work to know the ins and outs of different country regulatory processes, licensing zones, jurisdictions, visa services, taxation schemes, legalities, etc. They are one of the first critical steps for an entrepreneur before an office space is sought. Therefore, Fluidmeet has invested in enabling their business practices, promoting their services, and marketing their brands. Fluidmeet is weeks away from launching a fully-fledged product for business setup companies to manage their customer relationships, promote their brands, and capture additional customers.
All these changes had surfaced in the midst of the worst pandemic in our lifetime. However, we couldn’t watch and wait on the sidelines while the situation deteriorated to the point of no return. Our ecosystem partners needed our support, so we stepped up our game. Fluidmeet was in the middle of Pre-Series A raise as this crisis officially became a pandemic. We decided to continue to raise funds, but we knew it would continue to be difficult, even more so as the industries we served were experiencing more of a challenge. As is the case with many startups striving to survive this period, we carefully and meticulously formed a sound direction of horizontal and vertical integration and a series of actions to ensure survival. We hope that our survival skills have enabled us to make the right decisions. Time will tell…