Startups in Oman

T-Mag Saturday 05/March/2016 15:02 PM
By: Times News Service
Startups in Oman

How many of you have received an email from I don’t know about you, but my email box is flooded with various discount offer emails from them, and I don’t think the Alatool brand would be alien to anybody who has lived in Oman for a considerable amount of time as it is almost inconceivable that someone wouldn’t have come across pamphlets, advertisements, vouchers, or emails from them at one point or another. It was the near omnipresence of this start-up company that made me stop and wonder what other burgeoning businesses are in the works here in the Sultanate, and what challenges and opportunities are present for young entrepreneurs.

Startup has been defined by different people in different ways. It is a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm especially since the dot-com industry boomed, and it has continued even after that bubble burst. According to Merriam-Webster, “start-up” means “the act or an instance of setting in operation or motion” or “a fledgling business enterprise.”

The American Heritage Dictionary suggests it is “a business or an undertaking that has recently begun operation.” And then there are renowned CEO’s and company founders who have their own interesting ways of defining a startup based on their experiences and expertise. But all these definitions were a little too western for my understanding, which is why I decided to get in touch with someone in Oman who could give me a more local perspective.

I began with Startup Oman, a website I accidentally came across while researching kickstarters in the country, tooling through the highly interactive website (which I noticed gets updated on a regular basis) and getting in touch with Sherry Colbourne, the managing partner.

According to Sherry, a startup is a company that is experimenting with a new business model and being disruptive to a business environment that they are trying to get into. The startup scene in Oman is in its infancy compared to many countries like UAE.

“When we say ‘Dubai’ you can talk about a business community. We obviously can’t replicate Dubai because of the drastic differences in the ecosystem, but we certainly can try to create an active business environment. In fact there is no startup ‘scene’ per se in the country right now because there is no community as all the startups in Oman are currently scattered around. And that exactly is the mission of Startup Oman; to bring the various startups and SMEs together under one umbrella,” she explained.

Startup Oman is a platform founded and run by Ali Kamal Daud, and Sherry Colbourne as a platform for entrepreneurs and stakeholders to come together to form a community where they can exchange ideas through an online forum. “It is the only platform in Oman by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs,” she added.

To understand the Omani startup situation better, I decided to get in touch with Jessica Asher, the founder of, a first-of-its-kind, award-winning e-commerce site that offers discounts on everything from local products to services.

Alatool means quick / fast – right now. And that’s what the deal depicts —buy now as time ticks away. When asked about her inspiration behind starting she simply said that it was new media. So interestingly, it wasn’t the product but the medium that resulted in the revolutionary business model of

Jessica, who has been a marketing professional all through her career has worked in all roles starting from events to advertising to public relations and even media, but she says that digital marketing is what she got hooked on. Jessica started in 2012, at which time it was the first ecommerce platform offering value for money deals, and offers on various products and services only using digital platforms.

The site created bridges between buyers and sellers, multiplying the businesses’ sales almost immediately, but because it was not a traditional brick and motor model, initially consumer acceptance was slow. The company stuck to their model and continued to build a reputation for themselves. Now has around 89,000 unique organic subscribers.

Since was a digital startup, and the customers don’t get to see a physical store, I was curious to know all about how they function. I visited the humble company office, Socioholics in Wattayah, and met the seven-person team. The company has an operations and admin team that take care of customer satisfaction from the marketing level to purchase; a deal and content team that work with marketing to actually write and launch deals; and a digital marketing team who are responsible for The fresh young bunch of passionate, hardworking individuals seem to have a lot of fun at work, and have a proven track record as a team.

Jessica says that each day offers new surprises, excitement, and challenges for them. For instance, once they launched a deal wherein a meal and drink at a reputed seaside restaurant were offered for less than OMR10 and the deal resulted in 500 new customers in a week for the restaurant.

“That’s when we realised how pleasantly unpredictable the market can sometimes be,” Jessica laughed. They have also had incidents where consumers try to buy the deals for fun — assuming that they are “too good to be true” and aren’t real offers and the customers are pleasantly surprised when the deal goes through and is accepted at the participating business.

Though the term startup is not officially used in Oman, the community of young entrepreneurs, like Jessica, is certainly growing. With interesting ideas, unwavering willfulness, and undying passion, a lively generation of business men and women in Oman have been nurturing their startups and transforming into full-fledged businesses slowly but steadily.

Jessica Asher strongly feels that the startup scene in Oman is rapidly growing. She feels that a lot of entrepreneurs are getting the right support from various organisations both strategy and monetary wise which has resulted in creating an aspirational drive among the youth in Oman.

Startup Oman is at the forefront of fostering this community. Basically, the idea was to create a space for entrepreneurs to come together, share challenges, and relate to one another, because, according to Sherry, experience has taught her that there is always a tremendous potential for peer to peer learning in this field.

Since she was an expat with an idea, she had to go looking for an Omani partner, which is how she met Ali Daud, who showed an equal amount of interest and keenness and also had the right kind of knowledge about the market and resources. Thus their journey started. Now they have regular meetups and chats over Caribou coffee where they invite young, aspiring entrepreneurs and the ones who have already made a mark for themselves in the business world, and give them a common platform to interact with and learn from each other.

I asked Sherry if Startup Oman is a startup itself. She said that it most certainly is. Sherry came to Oman with her husband from a very strong business ecosystem in Toronto. A few months in Oman and she started volunteering with people who were helping other entrepreneurs and realised that the entrepreneurs here are seeking to find like minded people and trying to get connected. That’s when she thought it would be nice to have an online platform where people could come and check in what’s going on and the events happening and make a place of knowledge.

The Omani market has come a long way in the last decade when it comes to entrepreneurism. The universities are promoting entrepreneurship courses and many private companies are sponsoring incubators, programmes, and startups. Mahmood Zayed, managing director of Startup Oman says that there are currently about 20,000 startups and small and medium enterprises in Oman and those numbers keep growing. Meeting the vibrant founders of these next generation startups gave me a sense of inspiration and an eagerness to see what will be next for Oman’s young, dynamic entrepreneurs who are ready to experiment, pioneer, and create something truly unique.
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