Twenty students from Higher College of Technology have set a record of sorts when they launched a full-fledged start-up business venture from their college campus. As the company, Masaar for Marketing Solutions, gears up to roll out its first product, Easy Electronic Shopping System, the delighted team members share their journey.
They are in their early 20s, pursuing higher education in Engineering, Technology or Business Studies. They love to spend leisure time with friends, share personal thoughts with them, crack a joke or two and enjoy the fun-filled college environment. But what sets apart the 20 students – 10 boys and 10 girls – of Higher College of Technology (HCT) from their peers is their ability to think out of the box and work hard to fulfill their dreams.
Five months ago, they got an opportunity to sit together for the first time. They spent hours mulling about unique ideas that would change the lives of their fellow beings and explored ways to implement them. Being keen observers of their surroundings, they discussed about developing new technology that could transform their neighbourhoods. The sessions continued for many more hours and days. At the end of it, they decided to launch an all-student business enterprise from their college campus.
No one, not even their parents, took them seriously when they floated the start-up venture with a meager budget of RO 1200 and later registered it with the Ministry of Commerce and Industries. They sold shares to raise the capital. Each student contributed RO 24 to make 40 per cent of the amount, while the remaining 60 per cent was collected from external sources. The enthusiastic bunch of students had the will, so they found the way to make their dream come true!
They charted out a professional organisational plan before beginning their activities. Sulaiman Al Mahrooqi, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student, has been anointed as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The youngest CEO in Oman began working closely with the team to ensure high quality deliverables and offer fast and reliable marketing solutions.
Everyday he meets with the Vice-President Mohsin Al-Zadjali and managers of all the six departments. He discusses new plans with project manager Suleiman Al Shaqsi, a fourth year Information System student in the morning before arriving at Production Manager and fourth year Software Engineering student Assim Al-Marhuby's class to check the different stages of product development.
Later, he shares his innovative ideas with Research and Development manager Saeed Al Shaqsi, a second year Information System student. Discussions with marketing manager Ghadeer Al Hajry, a fourth year Information Technology student, Public Relations manager Ahlam Al Alawi, a fourth year Information System student, Human Resources manager Hamad Al-Mahrooqi, Information Technology Higher Diploma student, and Finance Manager Hesham Al-Khanjary, a student in Certified Accounting Technician, follow whenever he gets time after the class hours. And he makes it a point to meet the entire team once in a week somewhere inside the campus for an open discussion. Besides, the team members are well connected through Masaar WhatsApp group, where discussions and knowledge sharing happen day in and day out. Little wonder, then, that MMS has been functioning like a well-oiled professional organisation, though they operate from within the college campus. Now, all of them eagerly wait for their first product to hit the market before setting up a permanent office outside the college premises.
They claim the Easy Electronic Shopping System (EESS), the first product from the MMS stable, is here to save the time of busy shoppers. "EESS comes in the form of a kiosk. It is designed and programmed by our production department. It is an innovative product that will help save the time of those who do not want to spend their precious time in shopping malls or supermarkets," reveals Sulaiman Al Mahrooqi.
If the shoppers prefer to do better things than spending their precious time in selecting the grocery items from the malls, they can seek EESS help. And the machine will do all the shopping for them. All that customers need to do is to select their preferred items from the touch screen interface, print the bill and pay the cash. The moment they pay the bill, the EESS will send an automatic message to the employee at the shop who will do the purchase for the customers.
"EESS is at the testing stage now. We will soon install it in major shopping malls," Al Mahrooqi informs. For the time being, MMS volunteers will attend the kiosk to collect money. The system will not accept credit/debit cards in the initial stage. Al Mahrooqi says the decision is based on a market study. "We found out that majority of the Omani customers prefer not to shop with debit/credit cards. That is why we didn't add the payment option through cards for the time being. We will definitely include the feature later on," he ensures.
Production manager Assim Al-Marhuby delves further into the advantages of the using EESS. "Apart from the web application, we will offer mobile application for Windows phones, iPhones and Android phones. It has the capacity to change the lives of many people. For example, travellers who wish to do some quick shopping can order the items through their mobile phones. They can pick the stuff immediately after they reach the supermarket. It saves great deal of time and energy."
"The service will be a huge help for senior citizens. They don't have to stand in long queues anymore. We also have features for physically challenged and visually impaired customers. Moreover, one kiosk at a mall can serve the entire shops in it," he informs.
A little more than five months ago, 20 members of the team did not know each other. "True we are studying in the same college, but we never met until we came to register for the Injaz Oman Student Business Competition, which aims to encourage youth to set up and manage business firms" says Sarah Al Harthy, a fourth year Information System student and Communications Co-ordinator of the group.
Those who registered for the event turned up at the conference hall, and the organisers asked the participants to form four teams with 10 members each. When the team MMS was formed, all of them just looked at each other's faces. Once they broke the ice through games, they began sharing ideas. "We got help from experienced Injaz Oman volunteers in forming the group. We played lots of games which helped us discover our abilities," reveals Thuraya Al Balushi, Events Co-ordinator.
Later, the team got into their act. Ideas began to pour in. They got around 50 ideas, which were then scrutinised by the Research and Development department. "Each member contributed at least two ideas. We picked EESS as it was an innovative concept in Oman. Later, we conducted a survey, both offline and online, to get feedback from the public. The results were encouraging. Apart from Muscat, we got responses even from the United Kingdom and some African countries,too," says Saeed Al Shaqsi, Research & Development Manager.
The students were fortunate to get training from the officials of telecom major Nawras on team building, and Muscat Securities Market (MSM) on finance. "It was a great learning experience," says Hamad Al Mahrooqi, Human Resources Manager.
Though MMS is just five-months old, the stakeholders want to see it as a blooming business even after they pass out from college. "We want to see MMS scaling greater heights. After all, it is our baby. We want to nurture it," Sulaiman Al Mahrooqi asserts.
Minding our own business
|Sulaiman Al Mahrooqi, Chief Executive Officer, Masaar for Marketing Solutions|
We are still students of Higher College of Technology. Over a period of time, we gained knowledge on how to form a company and register it with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Now that we have launched a business venture on our own, we would like to see it growing at a faster pace. We are happy to launch our first product Easy Electronic Shopping System (EESS) and I am sure it will make the lives of many people easy.
|Ghadeer Al Hajry, Marketing Manager, Masaar for Marketing Solutions|
Since Easy Electronic Shopping System (EESS) is a new product in the market, we found it difficult to convince our clients. Most of them were reluctant to try out a new things. However, we are lucky to get support from some of the major retail chains in the Sultanate. They have shown great interest in our product and we hope to install it in their premises after the final testing.
|Ahlam Al Alawi, Public Relations Manager, Masaar for Marketing Solutions|
We know the importance of Public Relations as it is the channel between the company and public. It is a challenging job. We managed to meet the top bosses of big business houses in the Sultanate and brief them about Masaar for Marketing Solutions and our new product Easy Electronic Shopping System. We did plenty of team building activities. Overall, I am happy with my team's performance.