Ahmad Salamah is the Kuwaiti chief executive of Bilbayt.com, the first online multi-ordering platform for catering services in Kuwait and the UAE. After completing an MBA at London Business School in 2014, Mr Salamah, 32, moved back to Kuwait and spotted a new trend among his native population for home catering, co-founding Bilbayt.com with his wife Latifa Al Sultan and his friend Ali Al Awadi later that year. In 2015, they expanded their business to the UAE. The trio currently have more than 30 food brands in the Emirates signed up to their site.
My parents and siblings live next door, so I walk to their house for breakfast. My extended family are all there and it’s good to catch up with them. I go for feta or halloumi cheese, olive oil, cucumber and tea – nothing too heavy. Until a few weeks ago I spent two weeks out of every four in the UAE at our office in Dubai Silicon Oasis, but since we hired someone to oversee the UAE business, I’ve spent more time in Kuwait.
In the office, the first thing I do – and I hope the rest of our team do – is log into our customer service portal in case customers have pinged us, so we can reply to them. There are 10 in the team, including my wife Latifa, who is head of business development and content. I work on the building, designing and managing the development of our website, as well as marketing and advertising, and Ali manages the operational side.
We sit at a long communal desk in an open office, because there’s always something someone needs to talk about. We align on which caterers we’re going to add to the system this week. I log into Trello, a project management tool we use and create tasks for the development team, then I can see their progress.
I go through tasks for the mobile app we’ve been working on over the past 10 months and will be launching soon. Online catering is a natural fit with the current lifestyle of young people in the Gulf. Often both parents work and have less time to prepare for hosting, yet many locals like to entertain privately at home. My grandmother’s generation always cooked at home, but they didn’t really pass on those skills, so young people are also less comfortable cooking for a group. We feel this niche has opportunity to grow.
I open our digital marketing platforms and analytics to see how much we’re paying for ad clicks and how many conversions we’re getting. I’m designing a new way the customer can flow from the search page to the checkout page.
We usually get special deals from our caterers and eat lunch while we’re working. We started off being very unhealthy but we’re becoming healthier, so it’s usually a chicken sandwich and a salad. Whenever someone orders on our site they leave a review, and I enjoy reading the reviews while I’m eating. If it’s negative. I’ll have someone from the team follow up with them and try to offer them something back.
I dive deep into our web platform and app. You have to have the right mix of design, flow and information. It’s a challenge, we have different caterers and menu items. Our customers could be ordering for a special event and we need to provide all the necessary information.
I focus on the design aspect of the site. I’ve always found the tech world fascinating. Ever since I was an undergraduate, I knew this was the area I wanted to work in. You’ve got an unrestricted canvas to create anything when it comes to an online business; you’re really only limited by your imagination.
Before we head out, I open my personal notebook and tick off the tasks I’ve done that day, then add new tasks for the next day. In Kuwait, our customer base is pretty much all Kuwaiti, but in the UAE it’s a mix of Emiratis, western and Arab expats. It’s early days for our UAE business, but so far, the companies we work with include Jones the Grocer, Deli Bite, Bar Tropical, and Desert Chill ice-cream trucks.
Latifa and I head home and relax. My parents realise what our lifestyle is like, so whenever they’re cooking, they prepare something for us and we have that waiting at home. A lot of communication happens late at night, because one development team is based abroad and the other two are part-time and start working for us in the evenings. We use the messenger application Slack to communicate. By 12.30am, I’m sound asleep.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter