Launched in 2013, Pricena is now a leading price comparison website which allows online shoppers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, Nigeria, and South Africa to make informed purchasing decisions. Pricena provides full information on the prices, product specs, shipping charges, delivery times, warranty, and return policies. In the UAE alone, the website’s product search offers as many as 14.1 million items from 138 stores.
Just before the end of 2020, we were lucky to reach out to Haneen Dabain, the Founder of Pricena, for an interview to find out how they address the challenges of the modern dynamic labor market and why the right partners and the right team are key success factors.
On Pricena’s Team, Plans and Company Brand
Q: Do you still call Pricena a startup? How big is Pricena’s team in 2020 and how is it distributed?
We’re a small team. There’s me working full time from the UAE, another co-founder who works part-time, and there’s Pavlo working full time from Ukraine. Also, there are freelancers, one from Bangladesh who helps with data entry, and another one who helps with translation from English to Arabic. So we’re not a big team and we have been a startup since day one.
Q: What are your plans for Pricena for 2021 and beyond (in terms of services, new features, global expansion)?
As to further global expansion, we’re currently present in 7 countries and we want to stick to them and grow there: to get new stores on the website, more visitors, and more traffic. There’s a lot of potential for growth, especially in the Middle East—e-commerce is booming in Qatar and Kuwait, so we want to focus on that.
A lot of users are asking us to open in new countries, for example, in Oman, Jordan, or Lebanon. We’re keeping an eye on these markets. We check how many e-commerce players there are in a country first so that it makes sense to start a business there. If there are no or very few big online stores only, there’s no sense for Pricena to open there.
I’m from Jordan, and my family don’t shop online because, for example, there’s no Amazon in Jordan. They do online shopping in Dubai and then find someone to deliver their purchases to Jordan.
So we’re keeping an eye on the Middle East and new possibilities to expand, but for the time being we’re focusing on the countries we’re already present in.
Q: You have store galore on the Pricena website: IKEA, H&M, Amazon, iHerb, Adidas. Plenty of work must have been done to make these partnerships happen. Do you invest the same amount of effort in partnerships today as you did in your early days, or does your company brand do most of the job?
In 2013, when we founded Pricena, it was arduous for us to get the big players like Amazon on board. Today, Amazon is one of our biggest partners, and we’re their affiliates where they do advertising when it comes to price comparison. They’re happy with the relationship. And because we’ve established such relationships not only with Amazon, but with other big brands like Carrefour too, it makes the job of partnering with new stores easier.
On Business Environment, Talent Market, and Customer Experience
Q: What has changed in doing business in the UAE since 2013?
It’s definitely become more mature. A lot of well-known brands like H&M, IKEA, and Adidas are coming online. In 2013 they didn’t have a footprint on the e-commerce market. Now all these brands are establishing their own websites, and the user experience on them is way better than before.
It’s an exciting market. Companies are looking for new ways to do marketing for their brands. If they were looking to Google and Facebook to promote their brands before, now they’re looking to price comparison websites, and this way they’re widening their promotion network.
Q: Are you going to embrace new technologies in 2021?
We’re constantly investigating what we can add to the Pricena website, what we can improve. We recently added image search on our apps by utilizing vision APIs and intelligence that can identify a product and then find it in our system. If there’s no such product, it offers similar products that are available on the UAE market.
For example, if you’re looking for a perfume, you can just take a picture of the box of the perfume and search by photo, there’s no need to type anything manually or indicate the exact name.
Q: How do you address the challenges of the modern dynamic labor market? Are there any specific skill challenges you’ve encountered in the UAE?
In the UAE in general, there are a lot of expats. I’m not a UAE citizen myself and I need a work visa to work in the country. The same thing is true for hiring. In order to find someone here, I need to provide them with a work visa and offer them a competitive salary. And don’t forget about insurance and workspace.
Since we’re a small company, we have a physical office in Fujairah, but it is far from where we live, so we worked from a shared workspace in Dubai. Now we work from home, of course, but before that we worked in a shared workspace. So there were a lot of expenses that came with hiring even just one person.
In terms of technical skills, we were able to find people with the needed skill sets, but we were not able to afford them. And this is where Grid Dynamics helped us.
Q: Given the current business dynamic, how are you reimagining Pricena’s customer experience to provide the best quality service?
When it comes to user experience, we want our customers to find the needed product as quickly as possible. If they don’t find the product they need, we help them find alternatives.
We’re constantly working on our search algorithms to get quick and accurate results to users. We focus on the ease of use of the app.
What we did recently is that we enhanced our product classification algorithm in order to identify more products that are similar to each other. We invest a lot in specification, it’s easier when it comes to electronics, because they have specifications that we can match. But when it comes to a toothpaste, for example, a lot of stores don’t specify a lot of product information, so it can be very hard for us to know if a certain toothpaste is the same across a number of stores.
We worked a lot on reimagining this classification algorithm, and now if a user is looking for a toothbrush, they’ll see this exact product compared in different stores.
Q: A few years earlier, you were successfully leveraging market insights provided by Pricena. How do you promote Pricena in 2020?
Yes, and we still provide such insights to the stores we have with us. We’ve actually added more reports for the stores to take advantage of when they become a partner of Pricena.
We give the stores five different reports:
- An assortment gap report reveals what products the stores are missing.
- A popularity report shows what the most popular products on Pricena are and how many views they get.
- We provide popular demand reports. Pricena users can register to get email alerts when a product’s price drops to the amount they’ve indicated. We give our partner stores a report about the products that are in demand and what price point users are interested in. This gives the stores insight about how to price a certain product or whether there’s an opportunity that they can take by reducing the price of a product and thus get 500 users notified about the change.
- An intelligence report gives the stores insight into their competitive position and what easy wins they can get, for example, slight price changes that can boost their ranking in terms of price.
- Finally, a leads report provides stores with data on all the clicks that come from Pricena on the leads that we generated for them.
All these reports are available to all stores on Pricena, and they help stores to better price their products, which is also good for our users.
Q: Advice for entrepreneurs: when you’re trying to estimate the probability of success, how do you make a go decision for a certain idea to be implemented?
It’s not one thing, it’s a combination of things. In order to decide whether you go ahead with an idea, it’s important that you go into details first. If you’re talking about a new business idea, define the problem that you’re solving with your product or service, study the market for it, study the competition, and find out what makes you stand out. Ask yourself how you’re going to execute it in a different way than your competitors do; how easy it is for someone else to replicate your idea and compete with you and how you can survive that.
For example, when it comes to Pricena, there were other price comparison websites in the region. But we’re the only one that continues to exist because we did things differently. We’re productive with a small number of people. We don’t need to hire an army to execute our idea. And this was our differentiator.
We were able to survive hard times because we were working with the right people: we managed to find the right partners and the right team. People do matter. And people turned out to be our superpower.
And you have to be sure you’ll find the needed technical expertise, whatever you’re building. For us, we did it ourselves because we were technical people, and when we needed help we found Grid Dynamics. So we had the right team with us.
Cooperation With Grid Dynamics
Q: Did you have prior experience working with remote employees before your cooperation with Grid Dynamics?
Back in 2013, we faced the need to develop iOS and Android mobile apps, and we hired a freelancer. But his commitment to work was not great. For example, he could just say that for some reason it was a tough month for him, so he wouldn’t be very productive, and that we should chat in a month. At the pace we wanted to move, that was not very convenient, we wanted someone who was committed and invested, someone who wouldn’t think of Pricena as a one-time project to be finished soon. This is why we realized that a freelancer was not for us.
We wanted someone who would continuously work on a product, take responsibility, provide good code, and be always available when we need to communicate with them.
When it comes to app development, there are a lot of crashes and emergencies possible, so we needed someone responsible enough who could fix them immediately. At this point we decided we needed someone full time. This is where Grid Dynamics came along.
Q: How did you find Grid Dynamics?
I used to work with agencies before I started Pricena, and I’d worked with guys from Grid Dynamics at one of them. They were very proficient, always there, always on time. I had a great experience with Grid Dynamics through that agency, I knew I could trust Grid Dynamics, the quality they provided was high, and the communication was really smooth. So, when I founded Pricena and needed someone full time, I immediately thought about Grid Dynamics.
Later, a friend of mine who worked for a big company in the UAE asked me to recommend a company for hiring offshore employees. I recommended Grid Dynamics without a shadow of a doubt, and they hired five offshore employees with Grid Dynamics.
Q: What kind of goal did Pricena want to achieve by hiring developers with Grid Dynamics? How has working with Grid Dynamics helped you move toward this goal, so far?
We used to have two full-time employees with Grid Dynamics. We had a mobile developer who worked with us for three or four years, and we had a PHP developer, and both have changed. With app development, we really needed him at the very beginning because we didn’t have an app at all. We spent three years building our apps and we completed this goal successfully.
Q: Could you provide a quick overview of your daily routine connected to technical implementation?
Pavlo—our current offshore developer with Grid Dynamics— always has a big project he’s working on. Now his goal is to build the functionality to feed files from our partner stores. On top of that, Pavlo has a lot of small independent tasks: bug fixes, enhancements, check this, check that. We split his day as follows: the first half of the day he works on small tasks, the other half he dedicates to the big project.
To stay on the same page, we use our project management software to track tasks and set priorities and due dates. When Pavlo comes to work early in the morning, he has a list of tasks for the day, then we have a sync-up call to discuss the tasks if needed and to keep in touch. It’s very easy for me to work with him.
Q: Why did you choose Grid Dynamics over other providers to hire a remote developer?
When we got our first interview with Grid Dynamics in 2016, I started getting a lot of emails from similar companies saying that they could help me with my development team and projects.
Honestly, I never looked closer at these companies. I’d had great experience with Grid Dynamics before. I have a great experience with Grid Dynamics now, and I don’t want to change anything. I’m happy with Grid Dynamics. I’m not looking into other options.
That said, I can imagine how many emails I’ll still get after this interview (laughing).
Q: What has your experience with Grid Dynamics been like? What has been achieved?
I’ve had a reliable partner in building a product that I needed for my company. I’m a technical person working directly with Grid Dynamics developers, so I can evaluate the code and confirm that the quality provided by Grid Dynamics developers is really good. And when it comes to communication, it’s also great. I know you provide English classes for your developers.
Q: What do you find most impressive about Grid Dynamics?
You guys are really reliable. We had a PHP developer for three productive years, and at some point, I think he got bored and wanted to change. I respected that. I personally couldn’t stay in one company for more than three years. He grew his skills during his time with us and probably found a new challenge at another company. Grid Dynamics was really fast to find a replacement who could quickly take over the job. There was almost no gap in between. It’s been a year already that we’re working with Pavlo, our new developer with Grid Dynamics, and I’m very satisfied with him.
Q: Before you started working with remote development, what had been your top concerns about outsourcing, and have any of them turned out to be true?
With Grid Dynamics, it’s a little bit different. It’s not that kind of job where I have to worry if I’m going to get high quality, or if I’ll lose my money because I’m not deeply involved in the project implementation and not sure what results to expect.
It’s not our story as we’ve never faced such issues. We’ve had a good team provided by Grid Dynamics, and the support we get is very good. You’ve helped us with any issues that may have arisen from having a team that is working remotely, like some minor communication issues or misalignments. However, the support we’ve been getting along the way has always helped to minimize them. I can always get in touch with Anna, our HR/Client Manager, and it’s easy to reach any of you at Grid Dynamics. The cooperation with Grid Dynamics has made our work life smooth.
Q: What have you learned about working with a Ukrainian remote development team?
Personalities differ, some are outgoing, some are more reserved, but overall I love their attitude—they strive to produce something really good.
Q: What’s the most important advantage outsourcing gives to companies?
Access to talent. You have more options to find a better fit for your company than hiring locally. There are a lot of people in Ukraine who are really great at what they do. I’ve had a chat with guys from Silicon Valley and they said they had a team in Ukraine as well.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to a company leader who is considering working with an offshore team?
They need to have the right mindset regarding having a team remotely. Communication is not as smooth as with someone in the same office, but with the right attitude and the right remote team on board, it’s more than possible, especially if the team is fully dedicated to your company.
Some business owners have concerns that offshore teams won’t be working as hard because they don’t SEE them working hard. But the attitude towards remote work has completely changed. It’s 2020, 9 to 6 office jobs are getting irrelevant. Everybody’s working from home now. 2020 has brought a good lesson for all of us about working remotely.