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Adnan Haque, the co-founder of a contactless payments solution that is being used at some 200 restaurants in the UAE, believes startups that add value to a consumer’s life will last in Pakistan, advocating against aggressive customer acquisition. His remarks come in the backdrop of some tough times for the startup space in Pakistan.

Speaking to Asma Mustafa on Aaj News’ In the Arena, Haque said that a company will do well if it “ends up creating a new kind of industry or kind of helping an industry, as long as there’s tapered growth”.

On the other hand, he believes “companies that spend aggressively to acquire customers are the ones that end up getting hurt the most”.

“Of course you’re a start up, you want to show how you’re disruptive and you want to show how you can grow super fast, but not at a cost that will end up affecting hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

He said that in Pakistan, there are a lot of opportunities to add value in the technology sector and even in the brick-and-mortar areas “as long as it’s measured growth”. In the interview, Haque also talked about growing up in Lahore and London, studying in Canada and the US, before he ended up in the UAE.

“When I came here, I was working for a small, private equity team. What I fell in love with was the fact that this country was literally giving opportunities to anybody and everybody.

“And I think that was the biggest calling for me. People that live in UAE are absolutely blessed to have a country that supports them, gives them opportunities, has the right processes and infrastructure in place to help people like me succeed.”

He added that it is one of the best places in the world to do business.

“I’ve done it (business) in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, even in Canada. Every market has its own pros and cons. But I think this hub is built to help businesses come grow and essentially expand.

“There’s a lot of government support in helping businesses set up and start and then obviously there’s benefits from a taxation perspective … you’re essentially helping people that either come from developing countries set up here or even western countries come and expand their brand. There’s safety, there’s security.”

Haque ended up launching Spades, a payments solution, in the UAE earlier this year with $2.5 million in investment from European angel investors.

Spades is a web-based payment solution for restaurants and customers with the aim to elevate the dine-in experience.

Users scan the QR code on their table to see their bill, split it, add any service fee, and make the payment from their phone without the need for a server or even an app.

The idea is to make payments easier for customers, and free up time for servers to focus on other tasks.

The fintech payment startup signed over 150 restaurants in its first 12 weeks and launched with major brands in UAE such as NOLA, Couqley, Alaca, and The Sum of Us.

Haque launched the firm with Mehdi Chraibi and Sameer Poonja who between them had successful careers building digital products for Visa, Emirates airline, Oracle, Millicom, and Rocket Internet.

The team is backed by executives with leadership roles at global payment service providers, including Visa and MasterCard, as well as cloud kitchens and multiple hospitality houses.

“The beauty is that we’re fully integrated,” Haque said, referring to Spades.

“We integrate into the point of sale ordering system … typically on a busy night, when you want to leave, you’re chasing the server down for the bill.”

But with Spades, the whole payment process can take “less than 10 seconds”.

“And especially from the service perspective, they can be serving desserts or giving a last drink to somebody, but instead of that, what they’re doing is they’re standing with a machine and trying to collect payment from four people who themselves are arguing about who’s paying for what. So really that’s our core problem.”

But that’s not all, he says.

“We are giving back time to the staff to not just go and provide better service, but go home faster. And in some cases, the system has even tripled the tips that wait staff receives.”

Speaking on future plans, Haque said Spades will be launching in Saudi Arabia next and there are plans to come to Pakistan as well.

“Pakistan is definitely part of our roadmap, for sure. I think the population is craving for technology like this.”

To watch the complete episode, click here

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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