Two Kuwaitis are on track for the 2020 launch of a disruptive garage services app that pairs consumers with towing services, car washes and rental companies.
KUWAIT CITY | Keith J Fernandez
Price gouging is an all-too-familiar story in many markets. When Mohammed Abdulmoula’s car broke down, and he needed to pay three times the normal price for a mechanic for lack of an alternative, he hit upon the idea of launching his own business. Winchat, the company he started with his friend Adeeb Tenawi, aims to connect drivers with car service providers across his home country of Kuwait and, eventually, across the Gulf.
“It is always a pain to deal with garages, winches, rental offices and car washes,” he says. “So, we want to bridge the gap between drivers and service providers by offering secure and trackable solutions that satisfy their needs.”
BRIDGING A MARKET GAP
Whinchat is due for a roll-out later this year. Abdulmoula says the mobile application addresses a large gap in the broader automotive services sector. Users will have access to several options offered by existing service providers to ensure all types of roadside assistance are available around the clock in the markets where the business operates.
“The platform will facilitate the process of dealing with dealerships, private garages, car rental offices and home car wash service providers,” Abdulmoula explains. “What we’ve done is present customers with a variety of options from different service providers, the freedom to choose the most appropriate offer, different online payment options and geo-tracking visibility to track the status and whereabouts of their vehicle.”
Once the service has been completed, the customer can review their experience on the app for the benefit of other users.
The mobile app goes beyond roadside assistance to address other pain points associated with owning a vehicle in the Middle East, including scheduling appointments at private garages and dealerships and arranging for cars to be picked up and dropped off. Perhaps the most disruptive element of the app will be car rentals: consumers will be able to compare prices from different operators, reserve and pay through Whinchat.
Signing on suppliers was not difficult, according to Abdulmoula. He notes:
“Whinchat operates a win-win model where all stakeholders involved are beneficiaries. Service providers are offered an enhanced operational process, security, a new segment of customers, several additional payment channels and an additional source of income, all accessible through a mobile application that is free of charge – so, why would they say no?”
THE ROAD SO FAR
The biggest challenge was developing the Whinchat app itself, which is multilingual and features five different web panels that interact with each other – four for service providers and one for administrative purposes.
“We spoke to a hundred different developers worldwide, revisited our flow many times while shortlisting and enhancing as we went along until we had to choose from 10 companies,” Abdulmoula says.
The Kuwaiti nationals bootstrapped the app themselves, but once up and running, they hope to operate on a mixed business model.
“We are charging some types of service providers commission fees, while for others it is a fixed membership fee. The app itself is completely free to download and use for customers and service providers,” the co-founder says.
Profit margins in the garage business are tiny, but the team hopes to generate enough volumes instead. For now, Winchat’s model is unique although there are other players in the market. Tech-driven car repair platform Wrench was established in Seattle, Washington, in 2016. The app has raised $40 million in funding as of 2019 and now operates across the continental United States. In the Middle East, ServiceMyCar.ae launched in Dubai in March 2018. It now boasts over 30 licensed service centres across the UAE and hopes to expand into Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait this year.
However, there is clearly room for more players. Globally, the garage equipment market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 7.4% from an estimated $6.1 billion in 2019 to $10.7 billion by 2027, according to MarketsandMarkets. Data for the Middle East is not publicly available.
For the time being, Whinchat wants to have a minimum viable product before scaling up across the region.
“We are aiming to build our name and reputation in Kuwait for starters, then expand to the rest of the GCC in the next five years,” Abdulmoula shares. “Our vision is to become a market leader in providing automotive smart solutions while earning both our partners’ and customers’ trust.”