Islamic Finance 

PROFILE: Mian Ali, the Pakistani entrepreneur-turned-investor and new owner of UK’s HalalEat

| 12 July, 2018 | Interview
 Emmy Abdul Alim
PROFILE: Mian Ali, the Pakistani entrepreneur-turned-investor and new owner of UK’s HalalEat

Entrepreneurs in the Islamic economy depend on a range of funding sources to help them grow their ideas and businesses. Institutional investors and funding competitions tend to be well-publicised but we don’t often hear about individual investors.

In 2006, a Pakistani entrepreneur passed on investing in UK online food ordering platform HungryHouse that went on to be sold to rival Just Eat for 240 million British pounds ($316.9 million) in 2017. This year, that same entrepreneur wasn’t about to miss a similar opportunity.

“[B]ack in 2006, I was focused on outsourcing services that we were providing and it wasn’t a growth that we were actually seeing in that [HungryHouse] business, so I missed that deal,” entrepreneur-turned-investor Mian Ali told Salaam Gateway.

Ali’s outsourcing company, Lahore-based TransData International, provided support services to HungryHouse from the beginning of the start-up’s life in 2006 until Germany’s Delivery Hero acquired a controlling stake in it in 2011. At the time, TransData was also a new business, having opened only in late 2003. After HungryHouse, It went on to also provide support services to HalalEat, another UK online food ordering business. When HalalEat started looking for investors late last year, Ali jumped at the opportunity.

“The first thing which made me confident investing in HalalEat is obviously it’s not something new I’m getting into. We had the business knowledge, we knew what could be done in a proper way in order to see the growth down the road,” said Ali.

So confident was he in the business that six months after coming on board as a seed investor Ali ended up acquiring the three-year-old HalalEat in June.

He bought the start-up for an undisclosed amount and the business is currently undergoing an internal review before re-launching a new strategy in Autumn this year. Co-founder and CEO Abul Rob told Salaam Gateway in June that HalalEat’s next move will include expanding and scaling up of its core business of food delivery, its own-brand ready-to-eat meals, and a consumer blog focused on halal food eateries.

“There have been several online delivery platforms not only in the UK but also worldwide, but the idea behind HalalEat that it focuses on the Muslim community was a very interesting thing and I would say that was one of the interest points for me,” said Ali.

“I like the idea that HalalEat focuses on the Muslim community. The Muslim community is growing and the choices for it are increasing and diversified but it’s still in a very limited scope compared to other options.

“I am very optimistic, from the HalalEat perspective.”

PORTFOLIO

For the last six years, Ali has been an early-stage investor primarily in tech start-ups, although he also puts money into brick-and-mortar businesses.

He typically invests anything from $25,000 to $200,000 but his biggest investment was the $250,000 he put into TransCure, a medical billing company he founded in 2011.

In all, he said he has invested over $500,000 in businesses.

Having been an entrepreneur and business owner himself, Ali has been on both sides of deals, which, he said, is helpful.

“Being an entrepreneur you get to know the investment criteria a lot because you deal with investors from the time that you are an entrepreneur yourself. So exposure [to investors] has always been there since the time of TransData from 2004.”

His portfolio is not limited to a specific geography.

“Right now if you look into my portfolio, it starts from the U.S., UK, Finland, Pakistan, Kenya and Jamaica.”

From his investments, he seeks dividends-based returns, especially cashflow positive services companies and growth-oriented gains.

He is currently putting in a lot of hours building Pakistan-based Hayaat.pk, an on-demand healthcare services platform he co-founded and invested in.

“South Asia and the Southeast Asian regions are, I believe, a great opportunity in terms of basic healthcare needs.

“Basic healthcare services, like visiting a doctor or getting a small surgery done, these things are very complicated in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. You have to spend a lot of time researching, first of all the doctor you should get the services from, the facilities, and where you want to go, and then do the comparisons.”

Hayaat.pk is working towards a single platform that will provide on-demand healthcare services over as much of a user’s lifecycle as possible.

CONNECTING WITH START-UPS, ENTREPRENEURS

Ali continues to be on the lookout for start-ups and entrepreneurs to invest in.

“I get almost five to ten [investment] requests every day,” he said.

He is active on social platforms, especially LinkedIn, and also connects with potential investment opportunities through referrals from close contacts. He also uses sites such as Founders Club and AngelList, as well as crowdfunding platforms such as Seedrs.

“If I see any opportunity which I am really interested in on any of these platforms I don’t mind reaching out and asking them what they would need.”

HOW CAN START-UPS AND ENTREPRENEURS ATTRACT MIAN ALI, THE INVESTOR?

Ali looks out for three things when assessing start-ups or entrepreneurs for investment.

“For me, there are three important things and if team members, entrepreneurs, founders can actually show me these three elements in their way of doing things, I am 60 percent sold.”

1 - VISION

“The first thing is – they should be visionary about what they’re doing. What I see as a failure in most entrepreneurs, although they have a good idea and a lot of times they have also created a good product, but they don’t have a long-term vision with it, how they can grow it exponentially, become a worldwide brand or a brand that encompasses into multiple regions.”

2 – PLAN

As an investor, Ali would then want to know how the start-up or entrepreneur will deliver on their vision. As an early stage investor, he looks out for two-year and five-year plans.

3 – PASSION, COMMITMENT

“If there’s the vision you live with, you automatically get into the passion. So the passion is important, and then the commitment.

“The rest of the 40 percent, it’s the product, the team they have, the co-founders, then it comes to the other elements which are more hard-core numbers about the business itself.”

(Reporting by Emmy Abdul Alim; Editing by Michael Fahy michael.fahy@thomsonreuters.com)

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