Tell us about life before Redbox?
I spent most of my childhood in Peshawar in Pakistan – it’s the capital of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has a vibrant cultural history. It was always drummed into me at an early age the importance of education and studying hard. Qualifications were vital in a competitive job market.
I started a Computer Systems Engineering Degree in my hometown of Peshawar and then transferred attained credits when I moved to Dubai in 2009 to University of Wollongong, one of the highest ranked Universities in the world.
How did you get into technology?
Having the practical experience in the field has always been more important to me than theoretical literacy.
During my time at University, I volunteered for WordPress in its support team. I gained technical knowledge of building websites for many small and medium sized businesses. It gave me exposure to the industry and what was initially a hobby, transpired into a career.
As an intern in Askari Commercial Bank, the best retail bank in Pakistan at the time, I understood corporate security policies and day-to-day digital banking. It provided me with good experience working with UNIX systems.
Later, and before finishing my Engineering Degree, I consulted to Dubai Government via a local agency implementing a document management system and relevant digital subscriptions online.
I was there for just over one year before being offered a job with Arab satellite TV channel, Al Aan TV. They were working on a range of digital products and content channels, which included a social networking video content site. I worked on these projects for four years.
In September 2014, I met with Redbox. At the time, the agency was looking to expand its presence in the MENA region. The role was to manage its clients locally, which at the time included Chalhoub Group – a major player in the beauty, fashion and gift sectors.
The retail industry had been taking steps towards digitisation, largely driven by a government vision to transform the region into a leading digital economy. Previously, there were only a handful of online stores including Souq.com, which was a successful auction-based website and JadoPado, an online market place. Souq.com was later acquired by Amazon and JadoPado was bought by Noon.com.
The future looked promising – government initiatives and consumer enthusiasm for digital pointed to a strong growth potential in the region. Redbox recognised this early on. There were other agencies doing good work but they didn’t have the scale or experience to support the bigger retailers and brands. Redbox had worked with large-scale retailers across Europe and this gave businesses the confidence that they were in safe hands. We now work with some of the top brands and groups including Nespresso, ASQ, Nahdi and Alshaya.
What are the opportunities and challenges for Redbox?
Today, ecommerce is booming in the Middle East and is seen as a viable and very important sales channel. UAE leads the Middle East in digital adoption although other countries such as Saudi Arabia have big ambitions and have made considerable progress. We are already working with some great brands in the Kingdom including Nahdi, a household pharmacy retail chain. The plan is to take our knowledge and learnings into other areas across MENA, including Israel.
The biggest challenge, as I see it, is that many retailers across the region are still in their early phases of digital transformation. Bricks and mortar stores are running on legacy systems that were commissioned in the early to mid 90s – often stuck together with duct tape. Moving from this can be a huge challenge and hinder any digital transformation efforts. I think when people are used to doing things a certain way, there’s a lot of resistance and it’s hard to change their mindset.
Those that have embarked on a digital journey early on and made it part of their company’s DNA are ultimately the ones that will succeed. Businesses need to have a sustainable sales channel so that when a crisis like COVID hits, they are prepared for it.
And the future?
As a company, we’ll be expanding our footprint across the region - into new areas and new technologies. With the acquisition by SQLI, we can draw on the expertise and resources of the wider Group to support our growth ambitions.
You never know what’s around the corner – it’s an ever-changing landscape, particularly in this region where demand for digital services and the latest technologies like AR, VR and Voice is growing.
Any work achievements you’re most proud of?
We launch many commerce sites – Sephora, Nespresso and Alshaya who have brands like Mothercare, Bodyshop and Gap in its fold - and every time a site goes live, it’s always a huge achievement. We are constantly moving to a certain goal and whatever work we do has a big impact for our customers. That’s really gratifying.
What are you passions outside of work?
I’m a passionate Wikipedia editor and have made the top 500 in terms of contributions to the site. I’m also a homelab enthusiast. Pretty much everything in my home is connected – security, lighting, cooling, etc. It’s something I really enjoy. If you asked any of my colleagues what I’m passionate about, they’d probably say burgers – cheeseburgers, hamburgers, vegeburgers – the bigger the better!
If you had your time again?
Honestly, it’s not something I think about. I’ve been lucky to have great mentors in my work and personal life. They have guided me and shaped the person I am today. I’m happy and content and that’s a good place to be.
Can you share an advice you’ve been given?
I think it’s important to remain humble – be self-aware and empathetic to others around you especially at times like these.
Another piece of advice that I was given was to “work smarter, not harder”. A cliché, I know, but an accurate one.