Karl Abou Zeid’s grandfather launched a courier service in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, making risky deliveries across the divided capital. Fast forward three decades, and Beirut’s traditional delivery services are the equivalent of snail mail, painfully sluggish in a city that’s moving increasingly faster.
To respond to quickly escalating demands, Abou Zeid, along with partner Ziad Jureidini, have co-founded a speedy alternative: SQWIRL. Officially launched in June 2016, the app links users with contracted carriers, who get around the city on motorbikes and are affectionately termed “squirrels”, to deliver just about anything in the Greater Beirut area.
Available for iOS and Android, the app boasts 200 user downloads and 1,000 successfully completed deliveries so far. Customers can track their deliveries, which usually take between 20 and 30 minutes, and the fee charged by the courier service varies based on the time and distance of the journey, with an average small or medium-sized package costing between $5 and $8.
Abou Zeid says most of their orders come from small and medium-sized businesses (many of them e-commerce platforms), while around 30 percent of requests are personal. Many online stores have opted for SQWIRL because it allows for the delivery of products to their clients within hours instead of days (as with traditional delivery services), making the purchase that much more satisfying for today’s instant-gratification generation.
Abou Zeid lists clothing, make-up, pet food and personal belongings among SQWIRL’s popular delivery items. They’ve even dealt with emergency situations. One personal request was from a woman at the airport who had forgotten her passport at home. Thanks to SQWIRL, the traveler got her passport on time and made her flight. Additional delivery requests have included phones, chargers and other personal items accidentally left behind.
SQWIRL is seeking to draw in more customers who value the opportunity cost of using the service rather than spending their valuable time in Beirut’s congested streets. Abou Zeid explains: “The [traditional delivery service]industry is ready to be disrupted. It’s a system that’s very limiting to the end-user.” Abou Zeid hopes SQWIRL will move beyond the Lebanese market and says they keep in mind the needs of an eventual global customer base while working on tech design.
The idea for the service was born in October 2015. Since then, the startup graduated from the Speed@BDD accelerator, raised one round of seed funding and is now on to Series A, with the business officially registered as an sal this month. Abou Zeid is not new to the entrepreneurship ecosystem and hopes the third time’s a charm. SQWIRL is his third business venture to date, and while the other two concepts never launched for various reasons, he says the experience of having worked on unsuccessful ventures helped him kick off his most recent initiative quickly and efficiently.