Karolina is a Communications Manager at XSolve, looking after media relations as well as content marketing.
The email arrived, confirming the date of the funding pitch for the first week of April. On that date Takamol, a state-owned company connecting the public and private sectors in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, would be presenting a fully functional MVP of a custom e-commerce platform to investors, with the goal of securing funding for the full-scale version of the product.
However, there was just one small problem. Development hadn’t started yet and it was already February. What’s more, Takamol didn’t have an in-house software development team to build the product nor time to hire them. The clock was ticking.
Tojjar, transforming e-commerce in Saudi Arabia and MENA
As part of the Saudi 2030 vision, the government has ambitious plans to develop the country’s business ecosystem and position the Kingdom at the heart of the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is a country famed for its oil and other natural resources such as gold, phosphate, and uranium. However, for the past few years, policy has shifted from building the economy on these precious resources and focused more on fostering entrepreneurship among Saudi citizens, with a special focus on stimulating the digital economy. Takamol envisioned a very special product, Tojjar, an e-commerce platform that would fit right into the 2030 vision.
As a public company, tasked with stimulating entrepreneurship, improving business infrastructure and the labour market in the region, Takamol developed a programme called the 9/10ths. The aim is to equip employees, employers, job seekers, SMBs and the government with a suite of digital products to support ongoing development.
Tojjar was to be the latest addition to this digital suite. The platform would function similarly to eBay or Etsy and offer small businesses and individuals an opportunity to set up online stores to showcase and sell their products. However, unlike other online marketplaces, Tojjar would be completely free of charge. Users would be able to set up a store, upload images and product information, sell and arrange delivery via the platform. Moreover, Tojjar would resolve issues around payment, a major obstacle in a country where cash on delivery is still the most popular payment method. Finally, the platform would seek to alleviate problems with delivery. In Saudi Arabia many places still don’t have an official postal address, creating a problem for standard courier services.
In order to get the funding for the full-scale platform, Takamol would have to pitch their product to investors similar to the way a startup pitches to venture capitalists. Takamol was required to present clear KPIs, a product roadmap and most importantly, a fully functional MVP to secure resources from the backers. While they had a strong business plan for Tojjar, the one piece missing in the puzzle was the development team to deliver the MVP.
In search of a needle in a haystack
Time wasn’t on Takamol’s side. Faced with the pressure of the fixed date for the funding pitch, they had no chance of recruiting, training and forming a new in-house development team to deliver the MVP. Their only solution was outsourcing.
The management team called a meeting to brainstorm and decide on a solution. After long discussions, everyone in the boardroom agreed to go ahead with the suggestion of Takamol’s Solutions Architect. They would hire a software outsourcing company from Poland. Why Poland? Takamol had had a poor experience with software development outsourcing in the past so they decided to look for countries with a reputation for quality engineers at reasonable prices. Poland immediately popped up on their radar. The management team also established that they had roughly six weeks from the start of the development to deliver the MVP in time for the pitch. Consequently, they decided to look for companies that could provide a fully self-organizing development team within days in order to deliver the working prototype on time.
With little time to investigate options, Takamol turned to Clutch.co, a Washington-based B2B research company, to identify the top Polish web developers specializing in PHP. They compiled a list of over 30 vendors, including XSolve, and sent initial specifications to the whole list. Following the first conference calls, they invited a number of companies to Dubai at less than a week’s notice to pitch for the project.
Not a minute to waste
When the Takamol email dropped into XSolve’s inbox, the urgency was clear. If the product was to be ready for the pitch there was no room for delays. The aggressive timeline would be difficult to meet but not impossible. The XSolve team was on a plane heading for Dubai within days of receiving that first contact. The plan was simple – rather than sell a technological solution, the team would run a Product Workshop with the Takamol team and trim down the list of requirements for the MVP, focusing on most important features. Six weeks was not sufficient to develop the full list but it was sufficient to build a fully functional, barebones MVP. Takamol liked this approach. Both sides of the table also agreed that quick delivery also meant refactoring would be needed if the product was to be developed into a full, scalable app at a later stage. XSolve’s second goal was to convince the client to work in Scrum. This would allow incremental delivery in weekly sprints and ensure flexibility for the development team – both of which would be absolutely necessary to have the product ready in time for the pitch. Although Takamol had never worked before with an agile methodology, they understood that the waterfall approach might not be the best solution and were open to trying something new. With the new requirements agreed during the workshop, the team in Dubai sent an urgent request to XSolve HQ to review the project proposal. With no time to waste, the final estimate was delivered to Takamol while the XSolve team were still at the airport waiting for the flight home.
The Saudis liked the speed and hands-on, practical approach presented by XSolve and they were the only contractor able to field a team and deliver within the 6-week timeframe. There wasn’t a minute to waste and XSolve assembled a development team and started work on the product.
The development team comprised two backend and two frontend developers, a designer, a Business Analyst and a Scrum Master. They all knew each other well and the core members had worked together in the past, which allowed the team to reach the high-performance stage quickly. Takamol appointed a Product Owner who knew the project inside out. He had a clear vision and a well-defined backlog. More importantly, he was always available to the team, responding quickly to their questions and ready to provide prompt feedback. The team met for daily scrums and at other times communicated via Slack, Basecamp, Jira and conf calls. The Product Owner left all the technological decisions and solutions to the team which speeded up the process significantly. Takamol also provided the development team with initial designs which made development quicker.
The scrum framework turned out to be a great choice for the project. Thanks to the weekly retrospective meetings, the team was more efficient and communicated better. After each weekly sprint, the team also met online with the Product Owner via Google Meet for a review of delivered increments and for weekly planning. The incremental delivery also meant that Takamol was able to control the deadline and the scope of development. With every sprint, they could see another element of the MVP falling into place. Weekly reports provided by XSolve’s Scrum Master were distributed to Takamol’s management team and helped all stakeholders to stay in the loop. Additionally, the transparency provided by tools such as Jira allowed them to monitor the development progress daily.
The big day and two years after
After six weeks, Tojjar was ready for its big day in front of the investors. The MVP showcased the entire seller and buyer journeys as well as a fully functional admin panel. The backers were genuinely awed by the product, and by Takamol’s clear vision for the platform, and decided to invest. Shortly afterwards, Tojjar was successfully launched to the public. But that was just the beginning. With refactoring work and new features added with subsequent sprints, the XSolve team continued to work on the product and has done so ever since. Tojjar is now available as a web and mobile app – both developed in collaboration with XSolve.
In August of 2017, Tojjar had over 1300 businesses registered on the platform. Whether you’re in the market for children’s toys, handcrafts, art, food, home decor, fashion, health or beauty products Tojjar is your place to be. With vendors ranging from entrepreneurial individuals who have ventured into the world of e-commerce for the first time, to tech-savvy small businesses, Tojjar continues to fulfill its mission and Takamol is constantly looking for new ways to support its users. Among its latest features, the platform now offers vendors an opportunity to arrange a physical showcase of their products in organizations, public buildings and company HQs around the country. Takamol is also actively marketing the platform with country-wide advertising efforts and an ambitious programme of showcases, conferences and events every year to spread the word. With a constant stream of new vendors registering every day, Tojjar is bound to succeed.
So why did it work?
Takamol took a big gamble working with a new outsourcing partner on a completely new product with a strict timeframe. Their project could have easily gone south, but it didn’t. So what did they do to prevent that? Here are the key factors:
They acted quickly – they turned to a trusted source (Clutch.co) to quickly define potential partners, carried out initial conference calls and saw the most promising companies in person within days of the first contact.
They knew who they were looking for – a software development company with experience in PHP and e-commerce, who could provide a self-organizing team with all the skills necessary to complete the project on time. The partner needed to be open to discussion and ready to take up the challenge.
They had a clear vision and goals – from the start they knew what the product was and what needed to be achieved within the deadline.
They were flexible with scope – they understood the need for trimming down the MVP features to get the product done on time, and the necessity refactoring at the later stage.
They were open – both to new technological solutions and the agile approach to development.
They had a dedicated Product Owner – who was communicative and responsive but also had a clear vision and a well-defined backlog
These factors all played in favour of the project and allowed Takamol to achieve its goal on time. As Tojjar continues to grow, Takamol still cherishes speed and agility in software development as well as an openness to change.
If your company is facing the challenge of delivering an MVP or other product in an impossible timeframe we are here to help. Get in touch with us and find out how XSolve can assist.