Yalla Pickup founder Elie El Tom at the Yalla Pickup office in Al Quoz. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News


If you’ve ever felt frustrated hiring a pickup truck for a delivery, you’re in Elie El Tom’s sights as a potential customer.

Yalla Pickup, El Tom’s firm, aims to do for small commercial vehicles what Careem has done for cars.

El Tom said he got the idea for the firm after quitting his job as a corporate project manager in order to start his own business — though he had no clear idea of what he wanted to do.

“I jumped, and I built things in the air,” he said. “I’m still building things in the air.”

His own frustrating experiences with hiring small trucks clicked into inspiration when he saw some pickups parked up near his home.

“It was really such a waste of my time. Time is precious. You know, you have to go to Karama for pickup trucks, and you have to negotiate, then you have to drive slowly behind the truck to the pickup location, then to the drop-off location. It’s such a waste of time.”

The idea was appealing enough that Yalla Pickup was one of 10 start-ups picked for the first round of Sharjah’s Sheraa accelerator programme.

While he initially thought of Yalla Pickup as a convenience for consumers, much of the first year of operation has focused on refining its prototype and learning client needs through limited business-to-business services, culminating in a strategic partnership with self-storage firm The Box. In addition to funding, The Box is supplying office space and use of staff.

“We haven’t focused on acquiring customers,” he said. “We’ve focused on two or three businesses from different industries — we’re offering last mile delivery, but I want to offer total digital transformation.”

The next 12 months would see the company expand rapidly, he said. “This year is the year of acceleration, the flying year ... What we foresee this year is generating much more revenue and expanding our business profile to all industries. Our aim is 200 companies and almost 5,000 users by the end of this year.”

El Tom said the primary challenge so far was in educating drivers, and persuading them to take part in the digital transformation. “In 10, 15 years you won’t see pickup trucks on the side of road like [today]. It’s all going to be mobile apps — he’s sitting in his house rather than under the sun, 50 degrees. Whenever he receives a request, he goes. That’s the way it’s going to go.”

Because of the focus on B2B work, much of Yalla Pickup’s current workload is scheduled transportation, which accounts for around 80 per cent of jobs.

However, the firm has discovered an unexpected demand for express delivery in certain industries. “Look at companies who work in events — they’re working at Dubai World Trade Centre or wherever, the stand isn’t ready, and this small thing is missing — we discovered this year that not only will people pay a high premium, but they really call us like ‘Pickup to the Rescue’.”

El Tom predicts a growth in express delivery services to 50 per cent within the next year — not only events firms, but furniture and household goods deliveries for retail shops and their customers, who may not want to wait days for delivery.

His second area of growth is in last-mile delivery. Yalla’s app and web portal already allow firms to track their deliveries and access historical data through a dashboard.

The third area of planned expansion is to use Yalla’s tech know-how to create a delivery management system, which would complete the last-mile delivery service by allowing companies to track deliveries with full visibility, showing where deliveries are, and allowing them to select particular drivers. “It’s a full-fledged service for companies that have a lot of trips to do per day, and need full control and full visibility,” El Tom said.

El Tom is clear in his ambition. “If you want to search for something you go to Google. You want a limousine, you go to Careem. You want a pickup truck, you go to Yalla Pickup, as simple as that.

“Whoever wants a truck, we’re going to be aggregators for all trucks across ... wherever it is that we’re going to expand to.”

Ultimately, El Tom has his sights set on becoming a unicorn — a start-up with a $1 billion valuation — like Careem.

Yalla Pickup

Sector: Tech and logistics

Year Founded: 2016 (became active 2017)

Founder: Elie El Tom

Funding: Seed, plus Dh1.3 million (investors: The Box, DSO)

Employees: 10 (part-time)