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Business News/ Companies / Start-ups/  Startify founder eyes Gulf expansion for Indian D2C brands

Dubai: Sudhir Syal has promoted Irish band Westlife’s concert in Dubai and sold premium eyewear in the Middle East. He will soon promote corn chips as well as fashion and personal care products in the region. But there’s a big difference this time.

Syal, who established BookMyShow and Lenskart in the region as the chief executive officer of their Middle East operations, is now set to facilitate the entry of several other Indian brands in the Gulf under his “go-to-market accelerator" startup Startify.

Startify’s objective, says the founder and CEO of the six-month-old startup, is to help launch and scale direct-to-consumer (D2C) Indian brands that are keen to tap into the $250-billion retail market of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“Lenskart opened my eyes to the fact that Indian brands can succeed in this market... I realized that other companies can benefit from the Lenskart playbook as they scale in the MENA region," he said. “That’s where Startify came from."

The Middle East is emerging as a new destination for D2C startups that have found a product market fit in India, he says. “This is owing to the higher pricing power here, and the advanced online and retail ecosystem," said the INSEAD alumnus, as he gears up for his third innings in the region.

Syal moved to Dubai in early 2019 to lead the Middle East operations of BookMyShow, the movie and entertainment ticketing platform that counts private equity firm TPG Growth as an investor. Previously, he spearheaded the company’s business in Indonesia over nearly four years as CEO of that market.

Highlighting the “pro-business" ecosystem of the UAE, Syal pointed out that it took just 12 months to scale BookMyShow in the Middle East to the level it reached in three and a half years in Indonesia.

At BookMyShow Middle East, he built a team of 25, partnered with Coca Cola Arena to become their preferred ticketing partner and a promoter of concerts in the region, including that of Westlife and The 1975. This was before covid-19 disrupted the entertainment business across the globe.

In early 2021, Lenskart founder Peyush Bansal hired Syal to launch the popular Indian eyewear brand in the Middle East. “I moved from negotiating with Guns N’ Roses to negotiating with ophthalmologists within a week," quipped Syal, referring to the American hard rock band.

During his two-year stint at Lenskart, the eyewear retailer signed up 13 physical stores across major shopping malls in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, including in the world’s largest, Dubai Mall. The stores that opened during Syal’s stint operated at a gross margin of over 75% and the business is expected to break even by early 2024.

Startify, says Syal, intends to work with brands in fashion, beauty, food, and personal care verticals. “We are looking to work with Indian brands that are 50-crore plus in revenue," he said. The startup, which is in talks with venture capital firms and angel investors to raise about $500,000 in pre-seed funding, offers end-to-end services to establish a brand in the market. These include incorporation, acquiring product licenses, brand positioning, offline distribution, online distribution, and the setting up of supply chain.

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Dilasha Seth
" Dilasha Seth is a journalist reporting on macroeconomic policy for the last 11 years. She writes extensively on issues including international trade, macroeconomic data, fiscal policy, and taxation. At Mint, she reports on trade deals that India is signing besides key policy decisions of the Ministry of Finance. She closely tracked and covered the transition to the goods and services tax (GST) regime in 2017 and also writes on direct tax-related issues. In the past, she has worked with Business Standard and The Economic Times. She is based in Bangalore."
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Updated: 31 Aug 2023, 12:21 AM IST
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