Meet the Founder: Azhar Almadani

In this "Meet the Founder" post, we are introducing Azhar Almadani, the founder of Shiffer, a peer-to-peer logistics service platform for express shipping with minimal cost and faster transit time. Azhar participated in the Five One Labs Startup Bootcamp in Erbil in May.

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Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?

I was born and grew up in Syria. After my graduation from Civil Engineering college at Damascus University in 2012, I left it. After that, I visited many countries to start my new life (Malaysia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan), but Erbil was always the best. Because of this I have now lived in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq since 2013. Currently, I am studying a Supply Chain Management MicroMasters at MITx through the EDX platform. I am doing this on a scholarship from the Al Ghurair Foundation for Education. I am also interested in data analysis, therefore I have also started studying a Microsoft professional program in data science. So far, I have completed two out of nine courses.

In September 2017, I started thinking about the problems related to Syrian express shipping. This led me to my business “Shiffer”, a peer-to-peer logistics service platform for express shipping with minimal cost and faster transit time. It is an online platform on the internet, on Android and iOS. Senders apply online with their contact details, shipment weight and type and request delivery time and origin and delivery address.

Our algorithm that matches the sender and the passenger generates the recommended cost of shipping depending on the global express shipping. After the approval, Shiffer manages the transaction between the two sides from picking up the shipment to deliver it to the receiving point.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

From my time as a Syrian immigrant, the cost of express shipping of documents, passports and proof of residence to Syria was high. My average yearly spend reached up to $180. On one day, I paid over $150 for a single paper to be sent. Also, the transit time is long, taking over 15 days to cities like Aleppo and Hama that are far away from Damascus. This is incredibly hard for each Syrian family, who will pay at least $55 for a single shipment. This is equal to more than half the wages of a Syrian employee. This led me to the concept of “Shiffer”.

Shiffer Logo

What was your mission at the outset? Has this mission changed?

When I started Shiffer, I was thinking of building a constant connection between the sender and their parcel so that they could monitor their shipment directly. Our primary goal was to make the system more accessible to Syrian immigrants.

Today, we now have our business up and running. We get a lot of advice from mentors and investors, allowing us to work independently and make changes in our business model. In the future, we are looking to build trust between the peers and protect them against any illegal transactions. Also, we are aiming to provide insurance on all our shipments. In particular, we want to ensure that the system is accessible for all developing and emerging countries. We aim to do this in the way we have designed our platform. We have used blockchain technology to give a 100% discount to all refugees in the world. Further to this, we also collaborate with the UNHCR in our work.

How did you break into the business world?

We participated in the Jusoor Entrepreneurship Boot Camp 2018 in Beirut. They pushed us to take the first step and make my business idea a reality. Following this we participated in the Five One Labs Boot Camp in Erbil in May 2018. They provided us with help and support to develop our business and grow on an international scale.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business or project?

First, he must ask himself, does his business find a solution or need to a real problem in his community? Second, he should not delay his project, and get the confidence to start it as soon as possible with the right and good team.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

  1. Being patient to face the problem and keep the hope to achieve his business idea.
  2. Being a good listener so that he can take on board a lot of advice to ensure his business is suited to his customer.
  3. Being an analytical thinker because the job of an entrepreneur is to find a solution to a problem. As such, he needs to analyze everything in his surroundings to find the right solution.

Describe your typical day.

Since March, I have been working full time at Shiffer. I wake up at 9am and first check my email and entrepreneurial news from around the world. After that, I start work. At 4pm I take a break. At 7pm, I start up again on my laptop and study the online course I am taking until I have completed my daily study plan. Over the last few weeks, I have also spent my mornings seeking a new job, as our Shiffer alpha version is now complete and we are going to launch it soon.

What’s your favorite part of the work you do?

Shiffer is logistics platform, the content of it is related directly to my masters degree in Supply Chain Management and has given me the opportunity to apply what I learnt then to my startup. In addition, my work allows me to provide a solution to and help people in my country.

Can you tell us about your personal experience of business and trade?

I grew up in a Syrian business family. A lot of my family members work in investment, the industrial sector and trade. In particular, my father was a businessman. When I was a child, I would spend a lot of time in his office. This developed my skill set before I went on to start my degree.

After five years of studying the field at university, I started a job as a project engineer and managing director for an Emirati construction company in Iraq. This gave me enough information and experience to found a new business and also provided me with connections and networking skills. During this work, I completed many projects in Kurdistan. The most important of them was the Grand Millennium Hotel Sulaimani (Shary Jwan). After this, I opened my own personal engineering office in Baxitiary, Erbil. Then I worked part time as a sales manager for a building materials factory in Erbil for four months.