Melltoo Wins First Prize For Best Female-Led Startup @ GITEX2017

We would like to celebrate with you our win at the GITEX 2017 Supernova Competition in the category of “Best Female-Led Startup”. Watch our COO, Sharene Lee’s, pitch.

Sharene credits the Melltoo team for her win: “I may be the one on-stage, but it’s the team that deserves all the credit. I’m just the conduit.”

Read also: Melltoo Pioneer Social Classifieds Towards A More Sustainable Economy in the UAE

Culture contributes to team synergy and is a key factor to our success as a company. We have blogged previously about our culture of collaboration, team spirit and the unique remote work format that we have developed over the years. that all have allowed Melltoo to thrive as a technology resources and allocate resources to technology to develop Pay&Ship or completely revamp or post flow and our search flow.

We’re packing a new technology within the new release of the app that will even unlock the monetary value of secondhand items in the local economy. As a mission-driven company, we take pride in not only providing bug-free technology for our users, but also empower them through this technology to use their newly earned money for social good.

2017 CACSC Dubai Final!

We’re also glad to announce our participation to the Create @ Alibaba Cloud competition in Shanghai this October 2017!

More details about the competition.

Melltoo Remote Work Culture Help Its Women Employees Thrive in Their Jobs

Work experiences differ between different employees even as they execute the same tasks sometimes. I have worked at Melltoo for the past three years where I have seen the exponential expansion of our team from 3 people to 25 employees working in several departments: delivery operations, customer success, marketing, product development and quality assurance.

I often have conversations with my university friends in Tunisia about how work means different things to different people. All of us, males and females, do agree that work experiences are influenced by gender and sometimes class at least in Tunisia. I have seen many young job seekers in Tunisia, often females, be constrained by distance and poor transportation infrastructure when accepting a job or trying to perform well at a job. This is not unheard of in th region. Remote work allows me to be productive anywhere as long I’m dead focused on deliverables that matter.

I have been interested in everyone’s experience at Melltoo for some time. We first published a piece about working remotely and then another piece about collaboration while working around a remote work business models. Now, I want to explore the experiences of our female employees in our own unique “workplace.”

Four women in our team hold central roles chiefly our co-founder and COO, Sharene Lee, who manages the team. Asiya Shakirova, a startup veteran who worked with several UAE incubators, manages our brand online and our partners programme. Yesmin Choutri, Melltoo’s illustrator, is the skilled artist behind Melltoo’s visual branding (on the app, blog and YouTube). Heba is a customer service agent who had been with the team for over a year. Without them, we can’t do our work properly; and just like everyone, Sharene, Asiya and Yesmin, and Heba benefit from working remotely.

I spoke to them privately about their remote experience at Melltoo and what it means to them in their own words as professionals, parents and humans.

Sharene, Asiya, Yesmin and Heba represent different demographic segments that are now the new normal for innovative tech companies. Sharene and Asiya are both momprenreurs who manage both a dynamic career and a growing family. Yesmin and Heba are at the start of their careers, managing different operations. Yesmin executes her tasks skillfully while enjoying a fulfilling work-life balance. Heba speaks to our customers on a regular basis and is in charge of the regular user education cycle about our brand and our operations.

It is not often easy to lead a career in tech as female. Even Sheryl Sandberg, former COO at Facebook, still can’t make up her mind whether it is just enough to “lean in” or if the odds are just stacked against women. According to Pew Research Center, as many as 51% of working mothers in the US say they find it hard to advance their careers. This is the result of archaic work environments that require lengthy hours of work and physical presence in an office to get things done. Nearly half of working mothers would have to interrupt their careers at some point for family reasons.

When Sharene started Melltoo, she did not envision remote work as a possibility but as more people joined and proved able to work effectively by themselves, the choice has become more and more obvious. It was rather economically smarter for the young team to continue to work remotely, spend less on overhead and more on acquisition and user experience.

I asked Sharene about her relationship with work and her family whom I often hear on the other end of every other call. Family is important to me as work is.

“Being close to home and able to respond to my children’s needs allows me to focus better on my work. I know I’m not missing anything and I don’t feel a need to overcompensate after work,” she tells me.

“I think the most positive thing about working from home is being able to share what I do with my kids. Growing up, I don’t think I had a clue what my parents’ jobs were like. However, my kids do look over my shoulder, they overhear me in meetings, they are sounding boards for new ideas, they are beta testers and they are able to participate in my work life in ways that wouldn’t be possible if I were working from an office, she adds.

Because of societal expectations, women have to stop their careers when they become mothers to take care of their newborns. This interruption often puts a lid on women’s career advancement and pay expectations compared to men. It’s referred to as the “glass ceiling” – an invisible barrier that hold women back compared to men. This is also one of the strong reasons some countries are considering allowing working fathers to take some time off to take care of their families.

Asiya Shakirova is also a Melltoo mom. She joined the Melltoo team shortly after the birth of her second child. I asked her the same question about managing work and managing a family.

“When I first time heard about remote job, I really wanted it. When I left my last job because I was pregnant with second child, I realized, how much time and effort I was spending in office. I didn’t want to work like this anymore. So, when I received an offer from Morrad (our CEO), I thought this is the perfect job style for mom,” she wrote me.

Asiya had to hire other people to take care of her family when she had an office job back in Russia before, but she doesn’t see the need to today.

Yesmin Choutri, our illustrator from Germany, joined Melltoo not only as her first remote experience, but also as her first work experience. Yesmin is only going to university this year. Talent has no boundaries or age.

Yesmin and I now speak more frequently when creating illustrations that match our content and engagement campaign visuals.

“Melltoo team is like a family, everyone is kind, respectful, friendly and always there to help anyone. Sharene invited me to join Melltoo even though I knew nothing of graphic design but she believed in in my potential for art and I accepted the challenge. I taught myself and learned how to use Photoshop, illustrator, create graphics, GIFs and videos,” she wrote me on Slack.

The friendly environment around our virtual office often makes it easier when new members of the team join our operations. Melltoo has a very low employee turnover with 90-plus percent of employees having worked with us for at least a year. The level of friendly communication encourages more people to participate regardless of their personal character if they are introvert or extrovert. There are no physical meetings where some people may want to assert themselves physically in the room or shout more to fill an empty space to impose their opinions (me by fault of my height and deep voice). All voices that go through the microphone are equal, men and women. Yesmin, who is a shy millennial, has enough room to suggest edits and opinios of her own to her work freely without any friction.

Heba Mahmoud, our customer service agent, challenged her own expectations with regards to remote work. Living in El Minya in Egypt, a city in Upper Egypt dominated by the agriculture sector, Heba had her own preconceptions when asked to join the customer service team.

“I haven’t expected to love the remote work or that I’ll enjoy the work behind a screen and to sit for 8 hours without feeling bored,” she says.

It is best said that Heba surmounted these fears. She has been with the team for over a year. She is a valuable member of the transactions management team.

A remote job in Heba’s case does not only allow for time flexibility, but is also a gainful job opportunity that offers income stability and upward mobility to young professionals in the Middle East. The state of youth unemployment in Egypt and the vast Middle East region remains staggerly high (~30%) and jobs are scarce.

When given flexibility, our female employees have encountered fewer obstacles to give their 100% to their jobs. The magic formula is work autonomy, good communication and an explicit agreement that despite our geographical remoteness, we are still gathered together via online platforms to brainstorm among each other and get things done. Such is the female experience at Melltoo.

Without Sharene’s leadership, we wouldn’t have gotten ahead with $1.2 million in private funding so far. Yesmin is the creative genius behind many Melltoo characters “Melltoo Man” and the rest of the Melltoo family character.

Asiya has successfully run 3 major engagement campaigns since Spring, as well as our partners programme.  Heba continues to interact and answer our user queries on a daily basis and not surpass our 8-min average targeted reply time. Special shoutout to the former women of Melltoo, Soukaina Rachidi and Yusra Bagsheir.

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 Manifesto: Vision, Mission, Values

When we first started Melltoo, we started with scratching an itch, solving a pain point that we personally had, the terrible user experience of classifieds. Deep down, classifieds appealed to us on an emotional level because it encompasses several of our personal convictions.

  • We, as the human race, should not waste the precious resources we have been given by our creator. Classifieds is the key to resale and reuse.
  • We believe in community and the need to strengthen its bonds across social, economic, and cultural divides. Classifieds allows participation by all segments of the community.

Along the startup journey, as we busily grew the company from 2 to 25, we lost sight of some of the ideals that guided us in the first place. So over the last several weeks, we did some soul-searching in an effort to define our “raison d’etre” as a company. This is our we’ve come up with.

Our Vision

To change the way we consume things to enable society to strike a balance between consumerism and sustainability. To advocate for responsible consumerism through resale and reuse and to fight the disease of inaction. Great leaps forward begin with small steps.

Our Mission

The preservation of our only planet is the business of all and not the few. The only way to achieve this mission is to get the masses involved and the only way to get the masses involved is to make it easy for them to get involved. Hence, our mission is to make buying and selling preowned goods so easy it becomes an enjoyable and rewarding part of everyday life, enabling everyone to do their part in building a more sustainable society.

Our Values

  1. Individual responsibility = everyone is responsible for their own actions, be it our staff or consumers in general
  2. Social responsibility = It is our responsibility, as part of society, to give back to society
  3. People before technology = As technology becomes a mediator between people, we must not regard technological advancement as superior to human advancement. Technology exists to serve people.
  4. Customers are people just like us, they deserve to be treated the way we would want to be treated
  5. Always ask why = question the status quo, if there isn’t a good reason for something, then change something

Our Product Pillars

  1. Peer2peer = a marketplace for mass participation where buyers are sellers and sellers are buyers.
  2. Trust = the marketplace actively works to establish and protect trust within the community
  3. Innovation = innovate or die
  4. Service = beyond technology, our product is also about service and our responsibilities to our customers

As we look ahead in building the region’s foremost peer2peer marketplace, we will take our vision, mission, and values as guideposts along the way.