How Dubai’s latest tech star is taking payments offline.
Born and raised in Dubai and now wanted worldwide for his innovative smart payment solutions, Moussa Beidas – Co-Founder and CEO of fintech start-up Bridg – discusses why Dubai is the ideal incubator for kick-starting tech ideas.
Tell us about your app, Bridg.
Bridg is software that turns smartphones into a payment method without needing a connection to the internet to work. Bridg doesn't process or handle transactions directly – we partner with existing processors or payment solutions in each market. It can be used for any usual transaction, like paying a utility bill or for food delivery. A lot of the time, Bridg replaces cash-in-hand payments. We've had it on market for seven months, but had been working on it for two and a half years.
Bridg uses Bluetooth to connect payments. Why is this the right technology?
I used to be a consultant, working with banks and telcos in emerging markets, and I had first-hand experience speaking to board members about where they saw the future of their industries going and how to make payment systems user-friendly. I spent quite a bit of time on the ground in India and East Asia, Pakistan, and noticed smart phone penetration was very high – and growing rapidly – but very few people were using anything other than cash. There was a gap for technology to fill. So we focused on a democratic, widely available wireless technology that every smart phone already comes with. After cellular, Bluetooth is the most proliferated wireless protocol in the world, fitting into our need to build something that used a technology that most already had access to.
What is limiting about using mobile data to make payments?
A lot of people simply do not use data or have the means to go online regularly. People may not find it price-effective, so they use their phones offline or with wifi. The wifi may be hard to access or not reliable, and they run the risk of being cut off. In many emerging regions, being online-only cuts off a huge portion of your market.
Are there markets that are underserved when it comes to easier payment options?
Definitely – mostly due to banking institutions not understanding the accessibility of their clients. Take India as an example. They have almost half a billion active smart phones, but half of those don't actually have a data connection. This type of usage is replicated across a lot of emerging markets, and pricing models weren’t adapting to fit. Bridg uses existing infrastructure to extend the reach of institutions’ payment processing ability.
Why Dubai was just right for this fintech start-up
You were born & raised in the UAE – what do you think about the region makes it a good place to start a tech business like yours?
The great thing about the UAE is that you get a very diverse set of people. When you're looking to take a product global, you want to be able to hit every pain-point straight away so you know exactly how to handle it when you get bigger. The UAE, and Dubai, is one of the top three most multicultural countries in the world, even though size-wise it's not that big. It's the perfect location for testing new, innovative products – there's a lot of support for forward-thinkers.
What do you think of the local tech scene?
Things are moving in the right direction, and quite rapidly too. Tech is a challenging market and the UAE is well ahead of its peers. If you want the best shot of building something and making it a success, you can't do much better than establishing it in the UAE. But, remember, it is a trial by fire.
Do you think state support for the tech industry is helping to drive investors and tech professionals into the region?
For sure. When we started Bridg, there was no similar tech industry. If we had launched two years ago we would have been shot down by the central bank quite quickly, but now [it] holds us in high regard. People now understand that appreciating innovation will attract further innovation. Dubai is very good at identifying the new wave of creators and entrepreneurs that they want to support and bring into the region, and this tactic is making huge amounts of progress
What tips would you offer to someone looking to make a start in Dubai's technology sector?
There's an Arabic saying – “haraka baraka” [movement is a blessing] – by which we mean that not standing still will get you further than standing still. If you're not sure something will work, or is right for you, try saying yes and figuring out the details later. That's very much a Dubai thing: the way something ends up working isn't always via the same path you set out on – it's important to be flexible and open to a different way.
The business of Bridg
How are you enticing merchants to the app?
We have two verticals in our business model. One is a stand-alone product targeting SMEs. If we take the UAE as an example, SMEs here tend to deal mostly in cash – they take large blows dealing with card fees in their early days. Bridg skips the banking fees, as they can sign-up directly on our website and be processing card payments minutes later. We have a very competitive pricing structure and we can get merchants up and running quickly. There's great organic growth in this market – the merchants are actually coming to us.
The second vertical we're offering is a white-label system which can be adapted to the business's own processes, or they can build their own shell around our technology. This one targets larger enterprises, retail, real estate, airlines – any group that is after a customised experience for their clients.
What’s the next step for Bridg?
We want to disrupt the cash on delivery market. It's a big deal in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. It’s used by such a large segment of the market and there are huge opportunities to been found there. In the UAE alone, cash on delivery is worth US$5 billion – so you can imagine the market value outside of the UAE. This will lead us into adjacent markets like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Asia and eventually South America. We're also upgrading our systems and will have a new version up and running in coming months.
How will you adapt for each different market?
The experience offering will change depending on the different processor we will use in each market. So for example, while everyone in the UAE is used to debit or credit card, in India, that's not the case and it's all cash. How users can top up their account will be slightly altered, but the end goal is the same.
What do you think the future holds for smart payments?
I think it's going to be a while before these solutions make any kind of measurable dent against cash, globally. People still have the idea of a physical representation of value, but in the next few decades smart payments will become part of that default mindset. Then they will be unstoppable.