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Interviews

Mint Basil Market Makes Healthy Living Easy and Accessible to Everyone

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Lara Noujaim and Vanessa Zuabi speak about how Mint Basil Market helps customers discover, learn about and purchase healthy and natural products.

Tell us about your company. 
Mint Basil Market is on a mission to make healthy living easy and accessible to all.  We make it easier for customers to discover, learn about and purchase healthy natural products and we do this through a content-driven online platform hosting a wide-range of highly curated products ranging from food, natural beauty, and cosmetics to eco-friendly household cleaning products. We partner with health experts to curate unique content like recipes and health tips around our products, and we make it easy to search according to your specific diet and health needs.

What services do you offer on the market? Who is the target audience? 
Our target audience is typically between ages 25-40 with a university degree. Someone who absorbs a lot of their content and information through social media. Most of our customers are juggling a lot at once and have limited time to spend finding and discovering the right healthy natural products for them and their families. We also have many sub-segments of customers ranging from mothers, vegans, keto-diet, gluten-free, natural beauty lovers, environmentalists. We customize our product selection and search options based on the needs of these communities of customers.

How and when did you startup? How did you arrive at the idea behind your company?
Almost a decade ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and forced to follow a very strict diet and healthy lifestyle. I spent years learning how to regain my health. When I moved to Lebanon, I faced two challenges. First, all the products that I needed weren’t in one place and there was a lack of local content about the brands and products to help me make more informed decisions.

I realized that I wasn’t alone in this challenge. There was a wide community of people that were seeking healthy natural products and spent hours trying to learn and discover what was good for them and purchasing these products from different places. My co-founder Lara and I teamed up and very quickly in January 2018 launched Mint Basil Market. 

Tell us about your team? How many members? Who is involved in the day to day operations?  
Our team is me, Vanessa Zuabi, CEO of the company, focused on our business and partnership development strategy, Lara Noujaim our CMO focused on digital marketing and website development, and a new operations coordinating handling our day to day operations. 

Did you come across any challenges during the initial days? 
In the early days, mastering our operations and logistics was difficult and required a lot of trial and error to learn the best system. This continues to be a work in progress as we grow and expand, especially as we integrate automation and technology to streamline our efforts even further. 

How is your company different from similar companies on the market? 
There are ways we stand out from our competition, which is currently mostly bricks and mortar health food stores. We offer filtration and categorization of products according to ingredients, nutritional facts, and categories by diet and health needs. The options include gluten-free, keto, vegan, and so on, to make it much easier to search.

When did you join the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre?
We joined Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre in February 2019. We saw Sheraa as a launchpad to prepare for new markets such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

In what areas has Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre helped you in your startup journey?
Sheraa helped us put in place a strategic plan to scale not only in Lebanon but also in the MENA region, specifically UAE and the Gulf. 

What are your future plans with your company? Any new markets/target audiences you plan to reach? 
We’re currently focusing on building out our technology to further meet the needs of our customer base and laying the foundations to scale throughout the region. 

What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? 
Always be open to learning and know that there is always something for you to learn.  Every step of the process will humble you and teach you something. 

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Gadgets

Scaling Innovation with Trends

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In an exclusive interview, Sky Li, the Founder, and CEO of realme, speaks about the USP of his company’s products, the company’s plans for adding new products to its portfolio, and the company’s commitment to the MEA region

What is realme’s long-term commitment to the MEA region?
I recently released a letter on my Twitter account in August 2022, pointing out our recent global strategy in market cultivation, “Simply Better” or “craftsmanship” strategy, and e-commerce strategy, which means more local-oriented events and products. This is a commitment to our existing markets.

These are all aligned with our activities and plans in UAE, we want to commit further to the local market, by listening to the needs of UAE consumers and bringing here the products that fit their needs. For example, we brought our first tablet product here to UAE in August, which we believe meets the lifestyle of consumers studying and working here.

Meanwhile, we are also seeking more in-depth and long-term cooperation with local e-commerce platforms, we are experimenting to bring a few product lines that would be exclusive to only e-commerce platforms, doing so would allow us to provide more attractive prices to the consumers.

With our “craftsmanship” strategy, our R&D investment increased by 58% year-on-year, focusing on improving technology innovation. We are bringing our most premium flagship model ever GT 2 Pro to the UAE market soon. The phone features a top-notch Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, the first 2K AMOLED flat display, and the first 150° ultra-wide camera. The consumers in ME can expect to have a distinctive and smooth experience in photography, game playing, and video streaming, as well as be given a special eco-friendly option with an unprecedented bio-based polymer design.

realme started with smartphones, and accessories and you have now launched a tablet. Do you plan to add more product categories to your portfolio this year?
We announced our “1+5+T” strategy last year to cover major AIoT product types and build a full-fledged AIoT ecosystem, spanning smart TVs, laptops, tablets, smartwatches, wearables, and a vast number of smart gadgets and accessories under our TechLife ecosystem. These are other than the realme 9 Pro series, realme 9i, realme C35, and realme Pad that we have launched this year.

We are also planning to expand our product portfolio further in UAE by launching our most premium flagship GT 2 Pro in the near month. In addition, considering the advanced development of 5G in the Middle East, we are planning to bring a 5G smartphone priced under AED 750 this year as well.

What is the value proposition of realme, compared with its competitors?
At realme, we scale innovation with trends. We are the brand of choice for consumers who seek tech and trends. As a part of our tech-decentralization initiative, we equip our products across price segments with the latest technology, for example, this year we launched our realme 9 Pro in UAE in May, which was the first 5G smartphone with Qualcomm snapdragon processor for sale under AED 1000 in the market.

Not only does it have a powerful processor and equipped with 5G, but it also has an innovative Light Shift Design that can change color depending on lighting conditions, and realme is also the first smartphone brand to debut with the 9 Pro series on this year’s Paris Fashion Show runway by collaborating with Danish designer brand Heliot Emil. Therefore, if you are looking for a powerful smartphone with a trendsetting design, realme is the right brand to go for.

What sort of commitment do you offer regarding OS upgrades and security patches?
realme always keeps its eyes on UI using experience, providing seamless realme UI with the latest android features in terms of new design and privacy protection. For example, realme GT 2 Pro which runs Android 12 with realme UI 3.0 was one of the first phones to get Android 13 beta and will get 3 Android OS updates and 4 years of Android security patches. We will also release a new list of devices that will receive the Android 13 update in the next year.

We saw realme launch special editions through various partnerships. What sort of fan following do you have for the special editions and how are such partnerships chosen?
I recently pointed out our recent global strategy in market cultivation, which means more local-oriented events and products. This also means a closer relationship with local partners and a greater end-to-end product experience. realme aims to provide leap-forward performance and trendsetting design at reasonable prices for young people, so we will provide a more localized marketing approach as well.

We have a deeper understanding of our consumers in different markets, so we launched special editions accordingly. For instance, for young people who love anime, we cooperated with the famous comic IP Naruto, and for those who love gaming, we cooperated with the most popular mobile game, Free Fire. With our market cultivation strategy, more local-oriented products and marketing approaches could be expected.

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Audio Devices

Sonos Voice Control Aims to Connect Listeners to the Content They Love

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In an exclusive interview with Gadget Voize, Jo Dureau, the Vice President for Voice Experience at Sonos, speaks about Sonos Voice Control and key innovations the company has launched into the market

What is Sonos Voice Control? What does it do?
Sonos Voice Control is an entirely new voice experience that delivers fast, accurate hands-free control of your music and your Sonos system with unmatched privacy. Designed to effortlessly connect listeners to the content they love, Sonos Voice Control delivers the Sonos app experience using only your voice.

Using your voice is the simplest, most natural way to control your music, yet many choose not to use voice assistants due to privacy concerns. Sonos Voice Control will fill this gap for those customers, while also giving those using other voice assistants the option to use a focused voice assistant custom-designed for their music and their Sonos system.

Sonos Voice Control provides customers with the reliability and privacy reassurance that they are seeking while allowing them the option to use a focused voice assistant that is custom designed for their music and their Sonos system without compromising any of their personal data. The Sonos voice engine processes your voice and understands your requests entirely on the speaker.

No audio or transcript is sent to the cloud, stored, listened to, or read by anyone, so all your conversations will remain private. Sonos Voice Control is trained on voluntary data from sources like Sonos Beta to continue to improve voice recognition and key features. Sonos Voice Control collects usage data such as IP address and language preference, system data such as product type, grouping settings, and the names of music services.

This data is necessary for the product to be able to request music from your music services and to serve it to the right speaker at the right volume. You can use the new voice experience on Sonos to play music, group speakers, move music around your home, and more. It is also able to control the playback of your home theater system, including play, pause, volume and turning on night mode, and speech enhancement. A full list of Sonos Voice Control actions can be found on our support page, or by saying, “Hey Sonos, what can you do?”.

When will this feature upgrade be rolled out and when will it be available in the MEA region?
Sonos Voice Control is available in US English as of June 1, French will follow later. What’s important to keep in mind is that Sonos Voice Control initially is optimized for US English speakers, who can use the service regardless of their location. We’ll share more on upcoming languages in due course.

How will this feature be available to voice-capable Sonos speakers? Is it through a firmware upgrade?
You can activate Sonos Voice Control on all voice-capable Sonos products and can control all other Sonos products in your system through any of these supported speakers. As with all service and feature updates, we strive to make new updates backward compatible whenever possible. At launch, Sonos Voice Control works with Sonos Radio, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, and Pandora.

How does Sonos innovate when it comes to key technologies and services?’
Sonos innovation powers better-listening experiences. We invented multiroom wireless audio, made it sound amazing, and changed the way people listen at home. Known for premium sound, ease of use, thoughtful design, and an open platform, we create products and experiences that make listening simpler and more joyful, bringing you closer to the music and audio content you love. Most recently by introducing Sonos Ray, our new compact and most affordable soundbar.

We are committed to delivering new experiences, like Sonos Voice Control, that effortlessly connect listeners to the content they love.

  • Sonos holds a growing portfolio of more than 1,700 patents with over 700 pending (May 2020)
  • According to IEEE’s 2017 Patent Power Report, Sonos is ranked 2nd in Electronics and 19th overall in the strength of patent portfolios

What are Sonos’ plans for the Middle East and Africa region, both in terms of products and its presence in the region?
Earlier this year in May 2022, Sonos physically arrived in the region with the launch of its first flagship store in Dubai, UAE. We opened doors at the iconic Mall of The Emirates with a new space that offers a multi-sensory experience to fully immerse customers in the easy-to-use Sonos sound system. Sound enthusiasts and tech-savvy are now able to visit the store and find a wide range of trusted and premium products that show how easy it is to discover and connect.

This new store experience in Dubai shows a big opportunity in the Middle East and we believe that we can serve our customers’ audio needs in all the places and spaces they live. We remain committed to launching at least two new products every year and continue to focus on creating great products, innovating on our industry-leading sound experience platform, delivering new experiences for customers, and making it easier than ever for customers to enjoy listening on Sonos.

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Apps

Making Renting a Car Simple, Safe, and Flexible

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Gadget Voize speaks to Soham Shah, the CEO of Selfdrive.ae, an on-demand rent-a-car platform that’s on a mission to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to match users’ profiles with the cars they wish to drive

Tell us about the platform. How did you arrive at the concept behind it?
Selfdrive, is a smart mobility Super App, that allows users to rent a car on demand in a simple, safe and flexible way. The app is designed on a proprietary tech foundation concept known as search–select–pay, which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to match users’ profiles with the cars they wish to drive. It’s currently available in the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait and we plan to add further new markets in the near future.

The idea to start Selfdrive was spurred when we realised that the car manufacturers and dealerships have a unique problem – they have a lot of unsold inventory standing. This led us to come up with the idea of having a platform that facilitates deals for consumers and gives them direct access to dealership vehicles.

How does the platform differentiate itself from similar platforms on the market?
As compared to other car rental services, Selfdrive is a Super App, which basically means that it is end-to-end integrated. The app offers a 3-step convenient process of SEARCH- SELECT- PAY with the flexibility to subscribe from 1 day to 36 months.

In addition, our AI integration helps us to profile customers based on their specific requirements. For example, if you are a registered customer on our platform and have been driving a certain segment of a vehicle, say BMW – every time you return to the application, the look and feel of the application would typically change based on your client profile. This helps us better understand that this client is within the luxury segment, so he/she doesn’t have to waste his/her time navigating through the entire app.

You are currently operating in the UAE, and you recently expanded into Qatar and Bahrain. What were the factors involved in choosing such markets for your expansion strategy?
Our expansion into Bahrain and Qatar is a testament to our growing popularity and success and an indicator of the changing landscape of the automotive rental market in the region and beyond. We aim to acquire 50-65 per cent of the digital rental market share in these markets with our seamless customer experience and range of product offerings through the app. We plan to add further new markets in the Middle East and are actively looking at other regions globally as business goes from strength to strength.

When it comes to super apps such as Selfdrive in the region, what factors do users consider before trying out such platforms?
Selfdrive is crafted in a way which makes it easy for users to access the platform. Our integrated technology is simple, yet robust making it a seamless process for the users to navigate through the app. The super app car rental platform offers an easy and convenient process of ‘search – select – pay’ ethos, giving customers in the region access to over 5,000 vehicles at 100+ locations across UAE delivered to their doorstep. The super app offers various products for users, express booking (daily and weekly), micro lease (1 month to 12 months) and LeasePro (lease to own) offering brand new “0” KM cars direct from the dealership from 1 year to 3 years.

What sort of outlook do you have for Selfdrive, both in terms of demand and innovation?
Mobile apps are one of the major elements of modern tech and this impacted the automotive sector. They are the future of car rentals because they open a different vertical for customers and users feel it as a convenient, accessible and easy way of renting or leasing vehicles on demand.

From cost-effective to mid-range and premium models, various brands are showcased with the latest car model options, helping them access mobility at their fingertips from any location, be it the airport, residence, hotel or any part of the country. Given the way apps are dominating the automotive space, we are already witnessing a huge demand by users. Going forward, one instrumental feature that will be a part of the super app is the customer who makes a reservation will now be able to track their progress about their reservation.

In simple words, customers will have real-time access to the key stages of delivery. As such, once the car has been reserved, customers will be able to view updates on reservations, incorporation of compliance documents in the system, car details sent to the dealership, the car is prepped and ready at the dealership, and notification on where and when can the vehicle be picked up from or an indication on the current status of the delivery time. All in all, customers will be able to view the car right from stage one to the finale on the car coming to you in a live Google map environment.

As our super app will offer real-time updates on car delivery, customer confidence in our services will also increase. In addition, customers can also view a status bar or the progress tab post the reservation, which is a new feature unique to the industry and will make us another first in the automotive space.

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