Interview: Mohammed Aldossary, Co-Founder and CEO of Sary
Disrupting B2B wholesale in MENA
We sit down with Mohammed Aldossary, Co-Founder and CEO of KSA-based Sary, to reflect on his journey and how the team has navigated the pandemic to solidify its leadership in the B2B wholesale space in MENA. Sary recently raised a $30.5 million Series B led by VentureSouq.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your journey leading up to building Sary?
My name is Mohammed Aldossary, a father of two: Faisal & Joury, and the co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sary Technologies. 32 years ago, I was born and raised in Dammam, Saudi Arabia where I lived in a tribal population that was influenced by the Pearling industry and Maritime trade with South Asia throughout generations, and then found themselves sitting on top of the biggest oil reserve globally after discovering Well No. 7 in 1935. Since that discovery, the default journey for any growing kid in Dammam is to work in the Oil & Gas industry where my siblings and father spent their careers, but I felt that I had to challenge the status quo. Fortunately, I graduated high school in the “Saudi Renaissance” when the country was deciding to diversify its revenue streams and become a knowledge-based economy, and I was in the first batch of scholarship recipients to North America, specifically Toronto, Canada where I spent 8 years.
During my time in Canada, I earned a BA in organizational studies with a thesis focused around 1099 contractor’s “gig economy” impact on welfare sectors: education, transportation, and health. Between 2013-15, I launched an edtech startup that failed fast because the market was small; then, I started an Instacart-like for ethnic grocery to connect minorities with their speciality markets, and it was exited. I decided to continue my education in the field of Operations Management, and during my graduate school studies, I worked in the wealth management industry and was exposed to UHNWI’s portfolio investment, especially in agriculture projects for countries with low groundwater like Saudi Arabia that started SALIC activities in Canada and South America to achieve food security. In 2016, I felt that I gained enough theoretical knowledge and macro understanding of supply chain management, but I lacked micro level know-how and real-life execution with blitzscaling. Here I joined Careem as a market launcher experiencing the life cycle of every startup in accelerated mode with different geo-lenses, and I grew in the hierarchy to be KSA GM for Delivery, leading both B2B and B2C applications.
In 2017, I visited the wholesale market a couple times with my family to replicate the Costco experience that I enjoyed in Canada, but the shopping journey was horrible because the market was purely industrial and highly fragmented. I thought there must be a better way to shop wholesale. Sary was born out of a personal desire to save on essential errands, but soon after our role became bigger than organizing the wholesale market, and more towards fixing the broken supply chain. Apparently, the pain of visiting the wholesale market was not just a personal issue, but a hurdle that was hindering millions of small businesses in the region to be efficient. Therefore, we decided in 2019 to unlock wholesale, focusing on B2B trade — and since then we’ve catered to 30,000+ MSMEs and facilitated more than 1+ billion SAR value of goods.
It’s been a year since the world went into a global lockdown, how are you coping with the current situation personally?
It was tough on every parent, especially when the kids get frustrated with online learning. My wife, Hanan, was very supportive and created that equilibrium in our home. This unprecedented time taught us the value of family, work-life balance, the importance of meditation, and how to stay productive while working from home. As an entrepreneur, you always move things fast and break walls, but during the pandemic you learn to have composure and discipline.
How did you recalibrate your operations amidst the pandemic breakout?
The main focus was the safety of our employees, clients, and the prosperity of wholesale partners that found the traditional way of distribution is collapsing. After ensuring safety, we worked with legislators and authorities to find a framework that does operate in the curfew without disturbance. Due to the limitation of transportation permits, the first shift was utilizing heavy vehicles instead of vans because of higher capacity, but it comes with tradeoffs of lower driver utilization and speed. The customer SLA changed during the pandemic and were fine with slower ETA but ensuring fulfillment. The demand of direct consumers spiked, so there was a shortage of supply that pushed us to do daily demand planning and buy in advance to secure minimum stock. The wholesale neighbourhoods were highly dense and subject to repeated lockdowns due to increase in cases, so we had to create mobile sorting facilities in stable setups. Honestly, it was a phase that tested the agility of our operating model and innovation in tackling rapidly changing events.
What did you need to adapt or change in your business model?
Our asset-light business model was perfectly positioned for Covid-19 because it gave us the agility to adjust and repurpose synchronized infrastructure for the maximum utilization to our customers and wholesale partners. However, Sary’s role started to grow, covering a larger scope of the supply chain, so we had to invest in missing infrastructure and consolidate fragmented nodes in the process.
Has this changed the way you're thinking about your business, if so how?
The pandemic has not changed the way we think about our business, but it accelerated the technology adoption and we started realizing futuristic milestones sooner. A few years ago, wholesalers were skeptical about the merit of wholesale going online, and today we partner with global leading brands like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Unilever and others to reinvent wholesale.
What happens for the business after the pandemic?
Sary recently closed a Series B round that will solidify its leading position in the B2B e-commerce space in the MENA. The pandemic taught us that our mandate is bigger than transactional level and goes beyond to become the bedrock for all B2B services, starting with lending.
What is something that has surprised you during this time?
I would say the immense belief by our partners and customers that wanted us to win. Crisis creates panic and you’d expect people to lose trust on new ideas, but in contrast the appetite was higher for taking risks. We saw wholesalers expanding their facilities to cater to Sary's network, customers opening more branches because they have a scalable procurement model, and brands expanding their portfolio on the platform.
Any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with the community?
Empathy is the keyword. In these distressing times, you need to walk in the customer’s shoes and understand the ramifications of any failure even if it was caused by external forces with little to no control. The same goes for investors, emotional intelligence is the most value-add an entrepreneur looks for in a crisis, besides learnings from portfolio companies. The undesirable pressure will cascade through the hierarchy and create rolling friction noticeable in the long-term, and this is an opportunity to remind my fellow entrepreneurs and the wider community: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”