Building a Non-Stop Machine: How Melltoo, The No-Meetup Classifieds, Built A Location-Independent Business

At Melltoo, we work as a distributed team. It was not the plan, but we started out this way and kept growing from a team of 2 to 25. And in this time, we have not felt like we are disadvantaged, in fact, we have executed and grown much more rapidly then our peers.

We are not a team by virtue of sharing office space, but rather by a strong belief in our mission and by working toward common goals. For many of us, Melltoo is a unique opportunity to work within a rapidly growing market while not physically being in Dubai. It is also a great way to make an impact from wherever we are in the world, by contributing to the sharing economy and helping make resale and resuse part of the product lifecycle and in turn build a more sustainable future. Every single of one us finds meaning in our work.

Most people don’t fully understand what working remotely is about. Great ideas don’t always happen in closed spaces. We live in a world with excellent communication technologies (slack, hangouts, appear.in, jit.si Meet, etc.). Idea generation takes place when there is communication, it really doesn’t matter if it’s spoken, written, in person or asynchronous.

Achieving work-life balance in the 21st century

After all, working from the same place every day can be really depressing. With Melltoo, I have had the opportunity to travel to several destinations around the globe while launching major feature updates, such Melltoo Pay&Ship in October 2015. I still remember this experience as one of the most fulfilling work-personal experiences in the past three years. Perhaps, it is the change of routine that helps me schedule both work and “me” time evenly. One thing for certain, I did not feel overwhelmed by either work or travel, as compared to other times where I woke up every day and did the same exact thing over and over. Being able to work-travel also opened my eyes to new things and experiences that I’ve been able to import into my work.

When given the chance, many office employees welcome the option to work remotely. There is even a new “workation” trend, where you are able to fulfill your passions outside of work, while still successfully fulfill your job duties without being limited by physical space. These trends along with digital nomadism is responsible for a new work philosophy among Millennial workers and Gen X-ers. Southeast Asia and cheaper European and Latin American cities are filled with transient digital nomads who hop from city to city looking to feed both their soul and portfolios.

Parents also prefer working at home when available to them. Santosh Binwal, Melltoo’s quality assurance manager, works from home due to family reasons.

“I needed to work from home due to some family conditions. Melltoo gives me this chance. There is no hard timing and pressure. All members in our team are like family. Everybody helps one another. Top management are transparent with all team members and everyone knows what is going on. No hidden things,” Santosh wrote me when asked to contribute to this article.

For the uninitiated, here are three myths about the nature of distributed teams that need debunking.

Myth #3: Working remotely is freelancing

Working remotely is not akin to freelancing. We’re bound by KPI’s, tasks and objectives. Our commitment to the company is very real. In fact, everyone on our team, except several new hires, have been with us for at least a year. It’s all about organization and setting clear, achievable goals. Working remotely does not negate the development of company culture. In fact, I would argue that working remotely has shaped our company culture into one that emphasizes results and execution over office politics.

Many of our customer service agents have been working remotely with Melltoo for over a year. In fact, many are polyvalent and perform several tasks within our broad CS-Operations team. They have witnessed many changes to our processes from the way we verify and book orders to how we treat claims and cancellations.

Timing is especially crucial for a company like ours which prides itself for great customer experience we offer to our users. We schedule our working hours within peak hours of customer interactions. Typically these peak hours fall within people’s resting schedules. Our team is experienced enough to anticipate peak days and hours before they occur in synch with our marketing campaigns schedule.

Our CS team has been through different growth stages. They helped shape CS processes and performances in the past year resulting in a decrease in our CS reply time from hours to 10 minute per query. Everyone continues to learn on the job while also supporting themselves in a handful of small cities in Egypt plagued with a higher-than-average unemployment rate. Fortunately, our team’s professionalism and fondness for team work has kept them in their jobs year after year.

Myth #2: Working remotely is isolating

While this may be true at times, it is still preferable to working in an open office which tends to be awfully distracting with chatty coworkers, background noise, and office politics. According to a Harvard Business Review Research on work satisfaction in open-floor work spaces, the results are not great. The main complaints are noise, lack of cleanliness and constant interruption. In fact, the study reports a loss of 86 minutes per workday due to distractions.

From my own experience, as customer experience manager and content writer, I am able to focus better with a silent background while being the only person in the room. I do my work first and then I schedule calls and meetings around it. Hours of optimal productivity also differ from person to person. Allowing people to work asynchronously improves productivity while increasing job satisfaction. So, while working remotely can sometimes be lonely, it actually helps getting the job done, especially in creative tasks that require a lot of concentration, like coding or writing.

At Melltoo, we recognize the need for social interaction. It is something we constantly work towards.

Rahul Choudhary, our technical manager, recently moved to Melbourne, Australia. Just like the rest of the members of our team, he is not restricted by location to do his job. He fashioned his own communication style with his team of 10 people.

“One of my most important roles is to communicate with the tech team and get things done. I usually talk with the team on phone or skype. Text chat is only used to keep records. So, if there is something that needs to be present as reference, then I put it on Slack or email. Voice call makes it easier for everyone to explain & to understand,” he wrote to me on Slack.

Slack is our favorite channel of communication.

Myth #3: Working remotely decreases productivity

Wrong. As I mentioned above, working alone has the benefit of reducing distractions and boosting productivity.

In addition, work productivity is measured by motivation, not location. Remote workers are by default a motivated bunch of self-starters; you won’t survive very long in the remote work environment if you aren’t. There is no one to tell you when to start work and no one to prevent you from stopping. Without self-motivation, you won’t get anything done, which is a one-way ticket out of the job.

In my opinion , there is nothing more exhilarating than taking the lead and achieving the goals you set out for yourself.

Santosh has worked on multiple app iterations including major feature updates and changes. He relishes increased responsibility.

“I am motivated by taking responsibility. In Melltoo, there is a high responsibility on me that the application should be Bug Free and Users can use it without any hassle. One more thing, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and I am proud to say ‘I am working for Melltoo,'” he wrote me when asked about routine and execution in the job.

We, at Melltoo, have worked remotely since day 1 and we’ve been thriving and growing for the last three years. We don’t clock in, we don’t clock out, we travel, we work. In this time, we’ve served hundreds of thousands of buyers and sellers, raised several rounds of funding and continue to grow the business while working cohesively as a team from many places around the world. We haven’t missed a beat.

It has been a routine of mine to experiment with new automation processes along with our operations QA manager, Hesham Mustafa, often at the wee hours of the morning. We’re both night owls and I prefer test sending messages to users outside of rush hours to see what works best. We never found the need to sit together at one place at one time, we just communicated constantly as we worked together on developing a rationale and method of automation.

Hesham, who is a chemistry graduate, took a liking and commitment to learning and customizing codes and API’s from our tech team to fit the needs of our operations team.

No one on the team is really second-guessing their experience at Melltoo. He wrote:

“Everything I do now I have learned on the job, which was made possible because I could choose where and when to work and didn’t have to waste my time and energy going to and back from a certain work place. In addition to that, I was given the space to innovate and apply my ideas which was a huge motivation to do even more. I’ve thought of it as a hobby that I enjoy more than a job that I would have to do just to get paid,” he writes.

In just a few months, we managed to automate a large chunk of our operations at Melltoo. We have about 10+ people who collaborate daily on operations, from the product development team, CS team, Operations and QA. We’re not bound by strict schedule but rather the simple logic to serve our customers in the ways and in the hours they need us the most.

Melltoo Commits to Sustainability As Driving Force Behind Its Business

Not so long ago, we published our manifesto to our users, readers and the startup community. It has taken us three years to figure out how to communicate the vision and passion that have been the driving force behind our business and work culture.

Aa a peer2peer classifieds business, we have empowered thousands of individuals in the UAE to sell among one another, reuse, resell, make some money, save some money and conserve our planet’s resources.

Mellsters love a good deal and love to make some money off their old stuff. However, that’s not the only reason they buy and sell secondhand, they do it because they want to conserve our only planet. Every effort in extending the life cycle of a product contributes to extending the life cycle of our planet.

The unheard story of cotton

Sustainability is often an abstract notion for many people, but what is really? It is the notion that we ought to preserve the resources on earth and in our words “strike a balance” between the need or the urge to consume and its consequences on the planet.

Let’s take cotton, a major component in clothing and apparel. Fast fashion trends in recent years have accelerated the consumption of clothing as people continuously add to their wardrobes in an effort to keep up. While consumption is good for the economy, it comes at a cost.

Cotton products exhaust our water resources. Water is long thought of as a renewable resource, but with decades of droughts in different parts of the world, this no longer seems to be true. Add to this the effect of industrial polution and it’s no longer clear how renewable our water really is. Additionally, many security organizations now say that water has become a major security concern. Therefore, water (or lack of thereof) are potential sources of conflicts in the near future (think of the Nile dam tension in Eastern Africa).

Twenty thousand liters are spent to produce 1kg of cotton ergo one t-shirt. If 20,000 displaced refugees had a liter of water every time we produce a new t-shirt, the world would be a better place today. We would be able to save lives instead of producing more t-shirts that will eventually end in garbage bins and landfills.

Questionable labor conditions

Market forces ensure that basic cotton t-shirts do not sell for more than 5 dollars a piece. A major department store would typically pay between 1 to 2 dollars to a factory in Bangladesh for a T-shirt. The 2 dollars would be spread between overhead and labor costs. The Bangladeshi factory worker typically receive cents for their labor.

Mass production and the economics of  t-shirts encourage wage stagnation in manufacturing countries. These laws and regulations are often proctored and protected by the government in many countries. We do not want to be part of the problem.

Waste management

Waste management is a significant financial and environmental problem in many countries. UAE is not an exception. While the UAE recycles only 25% of its waste, we should aim higher.

eWaste

Electronics have become a major source of waste with new editions of different devices released every year. Technology changes rapidly and things become obsolete in a matter of months. In the age of the new normal, people prefer to pay up the price difference for a new device rather than get stuck with an old design. TV’s, mobile devices, PC’s all need to be recycled.

eWaste is an ever-growing problem because electronic products consist many non-renewable resources, the most important being metals. Once extracted from the earth, metal doesn’t grow back. In addition, if not properly handled, eWaste is toxic and pollutes, affecting communities in developing nations such as India and China where waste from developed nations are often exported.

What’s being done?

The UAE is making it easier to recycle e-waste. Thanks to an assisted UN project and an investment of about US$200 million, the UAE plans to install 8 recycling centers for e-waste across the nation. E-waste management is not just a tedious duty to save the environment but rather a profitable economic opportunity since metals can be extracted from discarded electronics, then reused and resold instead of newly mined.

The region is also coming together with a colossal investment in Masdar city and waste management companies such as Ecyclex. Masdar City’s annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week bring world leaders and businesses around sustainability. Splash, one of the region’s major department stores, is leading the initiative and collecting used items for reuse at their stores.

What can you do?

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. These are the 3 R’s of the environment. Let’s add one more, Resell.

Reduce consumption where possible and don’t buy things you don’t need. This will help your pocket as well. Another way to reduce consumption is to buy used or secondhand. If you have to buy something, make the responsible choice and buy secondhand where possible. Certain products like furniture are often discarded before their time. A family that is leaving Dubai generally doesn’t have the luxury of taking their furniture with them and storage is too costly.

Resell and reuse. Reusing something extends a product’s lifecycle and reduces the need to produce a replacement unit, thereby preserving the earth’s resources. Reselling stuff also aids the class of economic participants who cannot to afford to buy certain products new. Giving them access to high quality products at lower prices reduces the production of cheaper alternatives that get trashed far more quickly due to poor quality.

Finally, recycle. Many of the resources we need are trapped in products that are simply buried in landfills because they weren’t recycled. There are recycling bins all over the UAE, do your part.

Join the movement. Anything you do helps. A small group of environmentalists doing everything is not going to make a difference. We need everyone to do just one small thing and THAT will make a huge difference. Going green is not about doing everything, it’s about doing something. Help us make our planet and our economy more durable and more sustainable. Resell and reuse and make an impact on the planet today.

How We Built A Live Product and A Community While Maintaining Our Remote Work Culture

I work for Melltoo, a startup based in Dubai. I live in Tunis. I work with people who live all around the world, UAE, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Ukraine, France, UK, from so many nationalities, Singaporean, Algerian, French, Pakistani, Indian, Ukrainian, Russian, Egyptian, Spanish, Moroccan and American. We represent a diverse group of people working toward a common goal of building the biggest peer2peer marketplace in the Middle East. We dubbed it the no-meetup classifieds.

At Melltoo, we work as a distributed team. It was not the plan, but we started out this way and kept growing from a team of 2 to 25. And in this time, we have not felt like we are disadvantaged, in fact, we have executed and grown much more rapidly than our peers.

Most people don’t fully understand what working remotely is about. Great ideas don’t always happen in closed spaces. We live in a world with excellent communication technologies (slack, hangouts, appear.in jit.si Meet, etc.). Idea generation takes place when there is communication, it really doesn’t matter if it’s spoken, written, in-person or asynchronous.

How to successfully execute ideas when working remotely

Yes, we probably have too many google docs we jam ideas into, but we shelve each one as soon as we’re done with it. As a team, we’re task-oriented and we rally behind the ideas of any team member and accompany them to execution. Our workflow is managed with objectives and deadlines.

At Melltoo, we have iterated on our product, operations, and processes unceasingly over the past 3 years. We’ve also launched scores of different marketing campaigns. Typically, someone comes up with a new idea, perhaps from something they read or heard about that makes sense in our context. The idea is pitched on slack generating a lot of discussion and feedback, then the DRP (direct responsible person) drafts an extended pitch on a Google Doc and asks for contributions as a follow up. Objectives, a timeline, and a to-do list are key components to any pitch. Finally, a team call takes place and doubts are clarified and voilà: From idea to plan to execution.

This process allows us to distribute tasks across various teams within Melltoo, from tech to marketing to operations. To date, this has been very successful, evidenced by the weekly flash sale campaigns last year that we revamped into seller-focused campaigns (rather than category-focused); or the “guess and win” campaign during the Dubai Shopping Festival this past January.

Good communication is key

My daily routine includes checking slack every other hour to read conversations across various topics. I chime in if I have a question or something to add, otherwise let people speak uninterrupted when they need to. This is different from the office spaces which I have some modest experience with where other team members will need to constantly interrupt my work and concentration to tell me something (relevant and irrelevant).

Communication is different between different team members and departments. To each their own.

Rahul Choudhary, our technical team lead, relies on direct communication to get things done which includes fixing bugs and launching new features on time.

“One of my most important roles is to communicate with the team and get things done. I usually talk with the team on phone or skype. Text chat is only used to keep records. So, if there is something that needs to be present as reference, then I put it on Slack or email. Voice calls makes it easier for everyone to explain and to understand,” he told me in our conversation.

Personally, I prefer texting which may be is due to my generational obsessions with looking into screens, but I will admit that text often distorts the message and takes more time than necessary.

In a private conversation about this very post, the head of our operations also told me that he calls people outside of work to check on them. It’s a recurrent theme.

“I use phone calls and whatsapp for social communication outside of work with my team members. We share jokes of the day and have a good laugh among each other. We are not missing out [on social interaction].”

Mostafa Mohammed, our head of operations, joined our team in Jan 2016 and has gone through different stages of growth, hyper-growth and the slower growth of the summer. Like many of our team members, including myself, who enjoy working from multiple different locations, he is attached to his job at Melltoo not only because of the learning potential and missions he is tasked to execute but also because of the “remote” part.

“I like my job and am self motivated since I can travel anywhere anytime and work in new places from time to time,” he also added.

In essence, our daily work at Melltoo has as much shaped our experience with work in the 21st century as we have shaped the company culture. Like Hesham Mustafa (our Operations QA Manager from the previous piece) puts it, our team does not have to worry about benign problems such as commuting to and from a job and the waste of time and energy that comes with or figuring out food options and other related costs while away, enclosed in a space at work. This very nature of our work has sustained our business and our growth for the past three years. We invite you to try it too, perhaps for few days at a time!

Building a product through iterations

Vitali is a UX designer. He is from Ukraine. Vitali joined Melltoo to revamp our design and help us communicate better with our users. The role of a UX designer is to figure out the best flows and processes while minimizing user interfaces, the best UI is no UI.

Among Vitali’s first projects, was a revamp of the Melltoo referral program, a strong engine of growth for us. Vitali implemented two new flows to the process that did not exist before. User can now check if their referees had indeed accomplished all the necessary steps to receive their reward or remind them to go through these steps.

These two simple actions in-app have helped lower the inquiries about referral tech bugs and referral programs and consecutively freed our CS time to focus on operational inquiries which are more complicated in nature.

“We need to be aware of the limitations that we have. Limitations of time, limitations of people, and limitations of technology. And, one of the most important work we do is to prioritize what we need to do,” says Vitali.

 

Vitali works directly with the technical team. He prioritizes direct conversations and calls to clear out detailed plans before the UI team starts to draw new screens. We regularly prepare multiple versions of any given flow, get user feedback, before we decide on which one to implement.

 

Raghvendra Pandey is a backend engineer at Melltoo. He is also the hero of our user support team. When I was part of the CX team, we often communicated through a project planning tool in writing on a user case basis. Raghvendra works on the server team and specializes in database optimization. He has been with Melltoo since the early days. He interacts with all members of the Melltoo team (leadership, user support, operations, UX and frontend development).

 

“Communication among the team is very nice. The team is highly co-operative and collaborative. Management’s communication with the team members is also very good, it helps us understand our role in the greater organization. Melltoo is a great place to work and I have enhanced my professional development a lot since joining.”

 

In the end, becoming a location-independent business requires underlying commitment between staff and leadership. It is neither easily attainable nor too hard to pursue. It has become a trend in a new work culture dominated by millennials, who account for nearly 50% of the workforce today. The recipe for success begins with clearly communicating to every member of the team the company’s vision, mission and strategy. Distributed teams require a high level of independent decision making and good decisions cannot be made if the big picture is not well understood. Processes and workflows are also important since they will reduce  communication errors.

 

We are proud of being a part of this new work culture. We encourage you to get in touch if you and your business decide to give distributed work a try!

No-Meetup Classifieds, an $8 Billion Market Opportunity in the Middle East and Growing

This is a condensed conversation with the co-founder of Melltoo, Morrad Irsane.

We’re discussing Melltoo’s beginning and ongoing strategy to become the largest “no-meetup classifieds” in the Middle East.

Ahmed Medien is a Marketing Aid and Customer Experience Manager at Melltoo.

The answers have been shortened for flow.

AM: Why mobile-first instead of building a mobile-responsive website?

MI: When we first started working on Melltoo in 2013, mobile-first was the only way to go. People were eager to download any new app and try it out. Today, in 2017, it is a bit tricky. People don’t want to download an app just to try a product. They prefer to try it on the web first and if it makes sense, they move on to the mobile app. If you are just launching a new product today, go with mobile-responsive web first, then launch an app if your product takes off.

Mobile-first, however, has a better user experience. The native mobile app experience is superior to the mobile-responsive web when it comes to realtime geolocation and push notifications which are very important in consumer-facing products. A mobile app keeps the product front-of-mind and allows a product to become part of a user’s daily routine, making habitual use much more attainable. A good mobile experience should make things easier for the user, hence the importance of both UI and UX for our business. Today’s users are pressed for time and impatient. We work hard to make Melltoo intuitive without a steep learning curve. We know people just want to buy and sell without complex signups, payment methods and other UI friction.

Why “social” classifieds?

A product will become a part of a person’s life only if it’s social. Let’s not talk psychology, but social interaction is a fundamental human need. My dream is to contribute to building a more sustainable world by making it easy for people to resell and reuse. To do that, we have to not only make it easy, but to make it fun, rewarding, and engaging as well. And nothing is more fun than interacting with people in a safe environment.

Classifieds is an inherently social experience. However, the traditional classifieds experience is fraught with risk and as much anti-social behavior as there is social behavior. At Melltoo, we set out to facilitate positive social interactions in buying and selling by being the referee and go-to if things break down. In some ways, we are creating a safe social arena where people build relationships on the basis of their roles as buyer and sellers; for lack of a better term, a social network for buying and selling.

There are practical reasons for keeping things social as well, establishing trust. Part of the experience in Melltoo revolves around building an identity and reputation in the community. Knowing who you’re dealing with builds trust, which is important for successful transactions to take place. Ratings and reviews for previous transactions further solidifies credibility, especially in this day and age where fakes and counterfeits have become a global problem.

We want our users to be engaged in our community and to build relationships with one another. Features like comments and chats not only allow users to discuss and exchange product information, it’s also allows them to build relationships, creating stickiness in the marketplace. When you’re using Melltoo, you’re not just an individual behind a screen dealing with another individual behind a screen, you are part of a community. We are often asked whether the private chat is a leak for us, a way for buyers and sellers to take the transaction off-app to avoid paying selling fees. It probably does happen at times, but we believe that the service we are providing is valuable enough that people will prefer to keep things in-app. Not to mention the fact that transacting off-app does not help users build their reputations in the Melltoo community, which is a key element to successful transactions.

Why do you limit yourself to making money off transactions rather than other more available revenue streams such as selling media banners or premium listings to users?

Our model is purely transactional, we take a percentage off successful sales. Melltoo is not interested in selling mellsters’ data and personal information to advertisers for money. Nor are we willing to compromise the user experience with ads in our app. We have different aspirations. We value our privacy and want the same for our users. Paid listings is not something we do either, we want users to pay us only after they have derived value from the service, not before.

On Melltoo, users only pay us if their item is sold through the app. We believe this is the best way to make money for now. In future, we plan on introducing other paid services that bring value to users.

Why the insistence on remaining peer-to-peer?

Peer-to-Peer is the most difficult business model to build and sustain, yet the most rewarding when you succeed. Think any classifieds, airbnb, Uber, eBay (in the early days), etc. There is no peer-to-peer transactional platform in the UAE and the region. We are tackling secondhand items with fulfillment for the first time in the region. What is amazing about the peer-to-peer business model is interchanging user roles: buyers become sellers and sellers become buyers. This is maximally engaging since users can participate on both sides of the marketplace seamlessly. It also means that peer-to-peer businesses are high-impact businesses since participation is afforded to large segments of any given population.

From a strategic perspective, there are many other businesses doing B2C marketplaces, Amazon/Souq.com, eBay (today) and others. We follow Peter Thiel’s school of thought that prefers to avoid competitive industries and instead focus on achieving monopoly status in our space. In terms of user acquisition, a peer-to-peer marketplace is a notch more difficult to establish than B2C or ecommerce. For this reason, competitors are few. And the good news is that once we establish network effects, Melltoo will be highly defensible and enjoy monopoly profits in the region.

From a personal standpoint, my goal is to be an enabler, to enable people to help make the world a more sustainable place through resale and reuse. In this, power lies with the masses and hence the only way to do this is peer-to-peer.

What is the growth potential in the UAE and the region?

The average UAE household has about USD $2000 of unused consumer goods (e.g. an old iPhone, TV, furniture, toys and clothing) in storage in their homes at any given time. These can be resold and will inevitably get replenished as households continue to purchase. The population in the GCC and Levant is about 160 million or about 40 million households. Assuming about 10% of those households sell their stuff, that’s an $8 billion a year opportunity. If we succeed in our mission of making buying/selling second nature, we can increase the participation rate and the market opportunity will grow.

As you know, Amazon recently announced that they will be acquiring Souq.com. While this deal is great for the region in many ways, it is particularly important in validating the market demographics. We’ve had more than one outside VC questioning our market size. Compared to India, China, Brazil, etc, 160 million souls scattered across multiple countries seems small. However, about 40 million of these people are already online consumers and smartphone penetration is among the highest in the world. Currently, ecommerce represents 2% of total retail spend and the region boasts the youngest populations in the world, which means growth potential is huge. Anecdotally, I’ve spoken to founders of large Indian startups who find the region more lucrative than India in certain categories (restaurant, travel etc). While there may be many more Indians, online consumption among Indian consumers is still low. In addition, per capita income in the GCC countries are among the highest in the world.

I have lived in the region for over 12 years. This is my home and I have no plans on leaving. I’m committed to the region and I’m bullish about it’s growth potential. When I first moved to the UAE, the population was 3 million, today, it’s 9 million (tripled in 12 years). Where there were 30 skyscrapers on Sheikh Zayed road when I first arrived, today I’ve lost count, including some of the world’s tallest buildings and 25-star hotels. All signs point to growth.

How have you managed to grow and develop your product, your company and your team over the past 3 years while so many other startups die after barely launching?

Baraka (roughly translate to blessings), hard work and a low burn rate. In this game (startup) the only thing that is not forgivable is to run out of money :). Having said that , we have a great team that works with passion and determination. We all know that we are building something fantastic, something that will make a difference in our world, and that our time will come … We have the right product, in the right place, at the right time. These things are starting to align and we are seeing progress everyday.

It is also incredibly important to be aware of your surroundings and the context we are in. Knowing the users, the socioeconomic context, the funding environment, investor sentiment, other products making waves…these things are important in the decision-making process. A lot of founders just focus on internal data and metrics, that’s really not going to give you enough information to make good decisions. For example, we have the ability to grow very fast. However, considering the current economic and funding environment, growing too fast will mean that we shorten our runway at a time when fundraising is difficult. So these external considerations need to be accounted for when making internal decisions.

What is most important to you right now?

Our users have been and continue to be the most important thing to us. We are continually working to improve the user experience, be it via technology or operations or customer service. To this end, we need to execute fast and to keep ourselves on top of the game. It is all about pleasing the user by building the right features and improve operations to increase new users while retaining old ones.

As the CEO, I don’t do the actual work and all credit goes to my team. However, my job is to build an organization where everyone can achieve their objectives and goals unimpeded. I focus my attention on supporting and building the organization and creating a work environment where talented people can do their thing. Borrowing a page from one of today’s most successful CEOs, Jack Ma, if we take care of the customer and the team, everything else follows.

Why We Built A No-Meetup Classifieds In the Dubizzle Era

When we first launched Melltoo in 2014, we saw ourselves as classifieds on mobile. Everything was moving to mobile, except classifieds. Online classifieds were still just electronic notice boards. We saw the opportunity to bring classifieds into the post-smartphone era and to take advantage of hardware capabilities like geolocalization, instant messaging, and push notifications. The rise of social networks also brought about a paradigm-shift, every product became social, so why not social classifieds?

To be clear, we didn’t pick classifieds from a long list of industries needing disruption after, classifieds has always been in the blood of the founders. Morrad Irsane, co-founder and CEO of Melltoo grew up around buying and selling second-hand. While raising a family of 13 children in France, Morrad’s mother regularly re-used clothes and hand-me-downs were standard. During their annual summer break in Algeria, she had a thriving side business reselling clothing she collected from France.When Morrad invested his savings to launch Melltoo in 2014, he was reviving an old family tradition. Morrad envisioned a mobile app he could take with him anywhere, with a built-in chat so he would never miss a deal.

Finding ourselves

As with all first-time founders, we thought that we would build it and they would come. Launch an app and everyone would use it. We were wrong.

While we grew in our first year, it was a struggle. We had to get creative. We experimented with many different user acquisition models, content marketing, social media, app store optimization, SEO, spamming, even offline events. Name it, we’ve probably done it. In fact, our downloads were healthy with over 500 new users daily with almost no marketing spend.

But, there was no WOW moment. Users came, they tried, they left. Meh. “The app is cool, but…”

While our first iteration was not a huge success, it gave us plenty of opportunity to talk to our users and this is what we discovered.

User Objection 1: “I would like to use your app, but I don’t have anything to sell.”

When someone says this, it isn’t because he doesn’t have something to sell, it’s because he doesn’t want to sell his stuff. Search a bit more and you’ll discover that what he’s really saying is: “I don’t need the money so I don’t want the hassle of selling my stuff.” Yes, selling via traditional classifieds is a hassle. In some cases, it’s downright torture. The main problem is meetups. List something for sale, get a bunch of phone calls from strangers at all times of the day and night, get lowball offers and then take time out to meet with multiple buyers before one finally buys (or not). If you don’t need to, why would you?

User Objection 2: “I don’t trust buying second hand, there are too many scammers.”

Web classifieds are no-man’s land. Anything goes. List something for sale and get an offer from the wife of the ex-president of some unknown country on a continent halfway around the world. People ask you to ship them stuff cash on delivery. You get spammed. Who do you trust, who can you trust?

User Objection 3: “Your app is cool, but nobody is talking to me to buy my stuff.”

Lesson 1: Peruse the startup literature and it is littered with the idea that founders must be “obsessed with the product.” There is no doubt that a great product is important, but a great product that nobody uses is still a flop. It is much more useful to be obsessed with the customer.

Lesson 2: 2-sided marketplaces are among the most difficult businesses to build. You need buyers and sellers, but buyers don’t go where there are no sellers and sellers won’t go where there are no buyers. What do you do?

Armed with this knowledge, we began to realize that classifieds didn’t simply need to be moved from web to mobile and the problem wasn’t one of technology and UI/UX. The problem was that classifieds was broken. People have stopped trusting classifieds and hate the hassle involved. They use it only when necessary, which meant when selling a used car or home and large items that needed to be disposed of, such as furniture. Anything less was simply not worth it. And just like that, we saw an opportunity to re-imagine classifieds, no-meetup classifieds.

Ex-COO of OLX-Dubizzle MEA, joins Melltoo

2017-03-05 | Dubai, UAE

Ex-COO of OLX-Dubizzle MEA, Anvita Varshney, joins Melltoo’s board of advisors.

Morrad Irsame, co-founder and CEO, launched Melltoo, the no-meetup classifieds, in March 2014 in Dubai. According to Mr. Irsane, “Anvita brings us a vast amount of experience in classifieds, marketplaces, and ecommerce, having previously worked in the C-suite at Lazada and OLX-Dubizzle. We are thrilled to have her on board and look forward to working closely with her.”

Ms. Varshney, who also spends time advising leading corporates and VC’s in the region on digital business models, is currently a founding member at the Dubai Angel Investors group. She joined Melltoo because of the disruption Melltoo is bringing to the traditional classifieds model. “Melltoo is reinventing the classifieds space by bringing convenience and trust to customers with ease of shipping and payments, and enabling C2C cross-border trade which has a huge potential in the region”

Also joining the board are Loic Falletta and Sanjiv Purushotham. Mr. Falletta started hacking at the age of 13 and became a white hat hacker at the age of 20. He founded Yinkozi Ltd, an international cyber-security consultancy and a recognized security professional. In this capacity, he has worked on digital payments security for the top 30 largest banks in Canada, Europe and South Africa. Mr. Purushotham is a payments and lending expert with nearly three decades of senior level experience with American Express and MasterCard across AsiaPac, Middle East and Africa.

“Melltoo will be launching an exciting digital payments product that builds upon our existing marketplace. Loic and Sanjiv are digital payments experts and having them on board is critical to the success of Melltoo Pay,” says Mr. Irsane.

Mr. Falletta: “I believe that ensuring trust in digital payment will pave the route towards a cashless society. Melltoo has the potential to be its flag bearer in the Middle East and I’m excited to work with them on making it happen.”

Mr. Purushotham shares Mr. Falletta’s enthusiasm, explaining: “”Electronic peer2peer (P2P) payments have seen significant take-up across geographies as diverse as Kenya and Sweden. Melltoo Pay has an interesting model that engages customers in P2P transactions by providing them with a reason to do so.”

Melltoo, the no-meetup classifieds

Melltoo, a no-meetup classifieds, is a peer2peer marketplace for secondhand things. Users buy and sell preloved electronics, fashion, home and kids items through the app without meetups. Melltoo handles payment and delivery and provides a money-back guarantee on every item purchased through the app. The marketplace has over 100K+ registered users with over 25K+ completed transactions to date. Melltoo Pay is a peer2peer payments product that builds upon the existing marketplace infrastructure. Melltoo Pay is currently in beta and will launch to the public in Q2.                              

Press contact: Sharene Lee, sharene@melltoo.me, +971-50-237-4957.

Keeping in touch with the Melltoo Team

We need your feedback and advice to build the best experience for buyers and sellers.

We need your help!

If you want to share your positive experience with other users, go to the Apple store or Google play to leave us a few words there.

Click here to rate us on Google Play Store

or

Click here to rate us on Apple Store

If you have some feedback, don’t hesitate to send us a feedback message on the customer chat window or an email to hello@melltoo.me.

Help us by completing a customer success survey to improve customer success on Melltoo!

To be the first informed about Melltoo news and campaigns, please subscribe to our blog (see left panel) or follow us on social media. We count on your support.

My post isn’t appearing in the feed?

Introducing moderation.

Since January 2017, Melltoo has introduced a new moderation process before any new sale listings appear in the categories feed.

The moderation team checks item posts for:

  • Image policy
  • Description
  • Price accuracy
  • Prohibited listings
  • Duplicate items
  • Items sold for by business sellers for profit

Image policy

Since 2016, Melltoo team introduced a new set of rules about image policy in order to protect buyers who buy on Melltoo based on trust in our community and our brand, but also who base their purchase decision on images displayed in the item posts. Thus, the displayed images on item posts must absolutely be authentic images of the actual item being sold. Generic photos copied/pasted from the internet are prohibited.

Please take time to learn more about Melltoo image policy.

Description

Sellers must include accurate and detailed description of the items they are selling on the Melltoo app. Description must include details (but not limited to) such as state of the item (new, old, ripped, slightly damaged, etc.) or details about its functionality. Occasionally, the description may include violation of Melltoo Pay&Ship SECURE system such as refusal to sell via Melltoo shipping and payment system or fraudulent request of cash transfers. Melltoo team blocks these types of posts.

Price accuracy 

While sellers are free to select their prices for their items, they must be reasonable and not surpass market ranges. Melltoo buyers trust our application and brand to find a bargain as well as buy from trusted sellers. We request from all sellers they list accurate prices of their items on the app. Melltoo moderation team may also block an item post only temporarily to adjust for shipping fee if it does not match the size/weight category of the sold item.

Prohibited listings 

Melltoo prohibits the listing of all types of services on the app as well as “items” that cannot be shipped via Melltoo shipping system. Melltoo also prohibits the sale of certain items such as:

  • Living animals
  • Food and beverage
  • Medication and tablets
  • Flammables
  • Fake skincare and cosmetics
  • Fire arms and ammunition
  • Gold coins and nuggets
  • Cigarettes and smoking equipments
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Pornographic materials

Occasionally, the Melltoo moderation team will block other type of listings that are flagged by our community (e.g. refurbished phones).

Duplicate items

Melltoo moderation team automatically blocks all items with the same title. All duplicates are removed. We encourage Melltoo sellers to sell unique items on the application. We discourage volume sales of the same items even with slight variations such as size or color. In order to give sellers equal chances The moderation team will also block similar items and may block a seller account from adding any more listings on the app.

Items sold for by business sellers for profit

Melltoo is a marketplace for second hand items. We welcome sellers selling their personal belongings. Items purchased for resale by business sellers are prohibited on Melltoo. We reserve the right to block sellers for business selling. In general, if you have an inventory (more than 1) of NEW items for sale from which you make a PROFIT, you are considered a business seller and your account will be suspended permanently.

The Melltoo moderation team will not alert sellers when blocking their listings on the app, however, all sellers can chat with the customer service team and request reasons for removal. We promise to provide an answer in less than 24 hours!

The Comprehensive Mellster Checklist

melltoo Pay n ShipSeller Section

Congratulations, you have just accepted an order on the Melltoo Marketplace app!

We will now proceed to process your product(s) for collection and delivery to the buyer.

1) Packaging

Prepare your item for packaging accordingly. If it’s fragile (glass, electronics), please wrap it plastic bubbles and mention to the courier companies your item is fragile.

Unfortunately, Melltoo Marketplace and shipping partners are only limited to transporting parcels. If an order breaks during transportation due to improper packaging, it remains the responsibility of the seller. We’re unable to refund you for damages.

When returning an item to the seller, the buyer is responsible to properly re-package the item if they had opened it.

More information at How do I prepare my item for shipping?

2) Shipping

The collection procedure does only take place when we receive comprehensive delivery information from the buyer (detailed location + functioning phone number).

Please energize your buyers to speak to us and message us their addresses quickly after their purchase.

Your products may be collected separately by different companies according to schedule and daily pick-up capacity.

Current shipping partners are:

  • Skynet
  • TFM
  • Airborne
  • Posta Plus

This list may change any time. We will continue to update our operations policies accordingly.

What if I’m not available?

We understand you may not be available during particular times or dates. Please speak with the courier people and us directly about your earliest date of collection.

We do not tolerate more than a 3 day delay and 2 attempts for pick-up. In the unfortunate case of no response, we will cancel your order(s).

3) Giving an item for collection

Melltoo Marketplace books items for collection according to order placement date and pick-up capacity. This means that even if your orders were purchased on the same date or close dates, they may be booked for collection by two or more different companies. (!)

Airway bill

An airway bill is a piece of paper a courier personnel will give the seller when they pick up their items. Every airway bill has a reference number. The bill contains the username of the buyer on Melltoo Marketplace + the order ID of the particular transaction.

Every order ID is usually booked separately.

Confirmation emails

Every time, we book an order for collection on our backend system, we send an automated email to both buyers and sellers that contains the name of the shipping company + order ID + Item name + airway (delivery) bill reference (number) + if possible a link to track the status of the delivery online.

If you don’t receive a confirmation email to your registered email address on Melltoo Marketplace in less than 3-4 days since order placement, this means the buyer’s info is missing (or yours!). Please speak with the buyer and speak to us.

Melltoo Marketplace customer service does not provide delivery status updates on behalf of the shipping companies. Please speak with the shipping companies (numbers below!) since they control their own shipping schedules.

Be careful !

Airway bills is your guarantee that you have given your items for collection by the shipping company. You have the right to refuse to give your item if the shipping courier comes without an airway bill that has your order ID.

Do not absolutely give out your item to the wrong shipping company. Always ask the courier personnel which company they work for or ask your intermediary (apartment building security, maid, friend, child, spouse, etc.)  to check with them.

We will try to retrieve your misplaced order if you do happen to give it up without an airway bill, but neither Melltoo Marketplace or the shipping company are responsible for your loss.

3) Delivery

Delivery takes 2-3 days on the best days. Typically, the shipping company will check your item at their station nearby the delivery address for one day and deliver your order on the next day.

Deliveries are often delayed because of nonattendance from the buyer. Buyers simply don’t pick-up their phones sometimes or delay a delivery. Please remain in constant contact with your buyer and ask them to not delay delivery of your orders.

Buyer section

Picking up items

Some sellers may delay collection of their items because of their own availability schedules. We cannot control this situation. If you’re in a hurry, please ask your seller personally to speed up the collection of items.

Confirmation emails

Every time, we book an order for collection on our backend system, we send an automated email to both buyers and sellers that contains the name of the shipping company + order ID + Item name + airway (delivery) bill reference (number) + if possible a link to track the status of the delivery online.

If you don’t receive a confirmation email to your registered email address on Melltoo Marketplace in less than 3-4 days since order placement, this means the seller’s info is missing (or yours!). Please speak with the seller and speak to us.

Melltoo Marketplace customer service does not provide delivery status updates on behalf of the shipping companies. Please speak with the shipping companies (numbers below!) since they control their own shipping schedules.

Delivery

Please be at available at the earliest. Shipping company can only call day of for delivery. If you can’t receive an order on a specific day, try not to delay order by no more than 3 days. If you’d like to request an address change, please speak to us first.

What if I’m not available?

We understand you may not be available during particular times or dates. Please speak with the courier people and us directly about your earliest date of collection.

We do not tolerate more than a 3 day delay and two attempts for pick-up. In the unfortunate case of no response, we will cancel your order.

Return

You may only request to return an order once if you’re using referral credit. You can return up to 3 times any orders that are paid for 100% with credit card or cash on delivery.

To be able to return an item, we have to initiate return procedures first. This mean that we have to contact you first to provide us with a reason, then, if agreed to, we will book your return request with TFM shipping company in the following days.

You receive your return when a seller receive back their order. Return fees are levied if you have used free credit. We will inform of the return fees each time.

If you return an item to the seller without going through above procedure, we will not count that as a return and we will not refund.

For more information, read our return policies at http://melltoo.me/faqs/policies

Customer service numbers

  • SkyNet Customer Service 04 282 5999. Celine is ext 3220
  • Airbone Customer service: 04 257 9900
  • Posta Plus Customer Service:  04 701 8600
  • TFM Customer 04 294 3944 Jessie  ext 6310

Customer service available from 9am to 5pm from Sunday-Thursday.

Other resources:

My item is sold. Now what?

How do I get paid?

How can I pay?

What is the “Referral Program”?

 

Melltoo Pay&Ship (Tutorial2): How to buy an item on the Melltoo application

Buying on the Melltoo application (Android, iOS) is now easier than ever. Browse our Pay&Ship categories (baby shop, fashion and m-boutique), select an item of your choice and tap on the red “Buy It Now” button. 

To purchase an item on Melltoo, you need a delivery address and a credit or prepaid card. Pre-paid cards are available everywhere in the UAE and are valid payment solutions for Melltoo. Read our PrePaid Cards Solutions to Shopping Online in the UAE.

If you’re also selling your stuff on the app, you can use your sales earnings on the app to purchase an item as well. To learn more about selling on the app, please see Melltoo Pay&Ship (tutorial1): How to post an item for sale on Melltoo

After purchase, payment will not be released to the seller until you receive the purchased item and approve of quality. If, for any reason, you decide to return the item, we will return it for you for a full refund.

 

1. Choose an item from the app

 

2. Add your delivery address

buyer-step-2

 

3. Add your credit card information

buyer-step-4

 

4. Check final purchase details 

buyer-step-5

 

5. Review your purchase request status on notifications feed

 

notification screen