Rayan Almuslem is the founder of Adderah Marketplace in Saudi Arabia.
The mission of Adderah is to become the go-to online marketplace in Qatif city and the region that would connect buyers with the local and regional retailers.
I talked to Rayan about his journey from an eBay seller to a proud MultiMerch marketplace owner.
The idea of starting his own business first came to Rayan back in 2016 while he was studying business in Corvallis, Oregon.
At first, it had nothing to do with marketplaces.
Unlike many other marketplace entrepreneurs trying to emulate Amazon or Etsy, Rayan simply wanted to get a taste of entrepreneurship by starting his own online store.
"I was studying at Oregon State University planning to get a degree in Business Information Systems, but I was doing very poor at college. During my time in college, I used to buy products from thrift stores and garage sales and then flipping them on eBay for a profit. I was doing pretty well and enjoying buying and selling and from there decided that what I want to do for the rest of my life."
Rayan still has the piece of paper with him where he jotted down his business ideas on that ultimately became Adderah.
Ultimately, he decided to drop out of college and start an ecommerce business back in his hometown of Qatif.
"Dropping out of college was absolutely one of the hardest decisions that I have ever taken in my life. But in my business journey, I have learned the importance of taking risks and not letting the opportunity slip away. If you don't do it, someone else will!"
The search for the perfect ecommerce solution
Nowadays, starting an online store is relatively easy. Entrepreneurs have a wide variety of ecommerce solutions available to them – from shopping cart software like Magento to hosted platforms like Shopify.
After having researched the alternatives, Rayan has decided to use OpenCart – the free and open source shopping cart software – to build his online store.
"I was considering both Magento and OpenCart for my platform, but ultimately went with the latter. This was mostly because of OpenCart's simplicity and the fact that I was already familiar with it somewhat."
This was when Rayan first heard about MultiMerch and actually thought of starting a marketplace, not just a regular online store. This would let him not only sell his own products, but also allow others to sell on his platform for a fee.
"I needed a theme for my OpenCart store and discovered Basel. It looked great and featured MultiMerch compatibility, which is when I had the idea of turning this into a marketplace business."
MultiMerch isn't the only marketplace platform software out there, but I believe we're offering our marketplace owners something better than just great software.
Regular lifetime updates, lifetime technical support and a personal approach to each of our clients is something I'm particularly proud of.
That is also what Rayan came to understand when researching MultiMerch and the alternatives.
"I figured MultiMerch is more than just software. For one, it was more expensive than the regular OpenCart extensions – so I started looking into MultiMerch to see what value it offers. That's when I tried the demo, talked to Martin and realized it's not just a great platform, but also a great company."
After having tried a number of MultiMerch alternatives and not liking any of them, Rayan decided to go with MultiMerch.
"Sure, there are a lot of alternatives to MultiMerch. I tried most, but didn't really like any of them. They're all either too crude, too complex or just don't have the right team behind them. MultiMerch offers software with great usability and has a team I can trust and rely on when running into issues. So, I gave MultiMerch a try and loved it – still do!"
Now, Rayan's a loyal MultiMerch client – and we, in turn, are fans of Adderah. That's the relationship we're trying to build with every one of our marketplace owners.
(Looking for more reasons to go with MultiMerch for your marketplace project? Click here to read my blog post titled Why MultiMerch?)
Launching the marketplace and getting vendors to join
Selecting the right software for your marketplace platform is one thing. Actually turning it into a viable marketplace business is something completely different.
Rayan had to learn this the hard way trying to start and grow Adderah.
"I thought I'll just set up my marketplace, sellers will join and I'll start turning a profit. Guess what? It doesn't really work like that!"
As a marketplace platform owner, you have to figure out a way to attract sellers to your marketplace. In most cases, growing the supply side of your two-sided platform will be your primary objective and challenge.
If your marketplace has no sellers, it's as good as useless. And getting sellers to join may prove to be more difficult than you expect.
"I had a really hard time convincing vendors to join Adderah. They told me my platform will never take off. They told me I'll just waste their time because my platform is new and nobody would use it. I've been told that people in Qatif don't like to shop online anyways. So I got rejected A LOT."
To try and get more sellers on board, Rayan was going door-to-door trying to persuade local business owners to join his platform.
Some turned him down outright, some promised to join only to never follow through on the promise.
"There's a lot of big players in the industry, so I wanted to start small and scale later. I was calling and visiting local businesses like crazy. Wasted a lot of time and effort, but you gotta do what you gotta do to grow your supply side."
Being a product photographer, Rayan even offered one local stationary store to take professional photos of their product catalog and upload them to his platform himself – for free. He spent some 20 hours taking and processing photos and even more time creating product descriptions and publishing products on Adderah.
The only thing they'd need to do would be to update their prices. They didn't. A few months later, Rayan had to pause their vendor account.
"I kept asking the store owner to do just this one little thing since I did everything else for them already. They promised they'll do it, but never did. This is one of the things you don't expect until you run into it. Having a plan is important, so is having people who believe in you."
One of the people who did believe in Rayan's idea was his uncle – the owner of a Almohanna Pharmacies Group, a regional pharmacy company.
"My uncle was my first true supporter, he agreed to join Adderah at once! I took professional photos of 1300+ of his products and uploaded them to his seller account. It took me more than 5 months and I'm still working on it, but it's absolutely worth it."
Promoting the marketplace through multiple channels
If there's one thing that many successful entrepreneurs have in common it is the ability to bounce back from setbacks.
Getting rejected by so many local businesses didn't stop Rayan from believing in his idea. If anything, it made him even more dedicated to making Adderah work and trying different approaches in process – like influencer marketing.
"I found this local influencer on Instagram from my hometown and told him about Adderah to see if we can create a promo campaign together. So we actually made a short video telling people about my platform, just recorded ourselves using it. And it was pretty successful – I got quite a lot of sales out of this campaign."
Instagram isn't the only marketing channel Rayan uses for Adderah. He also promotes the marketplace through local banners, such as this one in a local shopping mall.
Word of mouth is another important advertising channel. When a local vendor agrees to join Adderah, Rayan places a sticker on their shop window that tells visitors they can purchase from this store online via Adderah.
"Advertising allows me to save time and attract more sellers quickly without having to personally visit and talk to every one of them."
At one point, he was actually on the local news talking about his marketplace.
"Learning to promote your platform is the key to surviving the early stages of your business. There's a local platform similar to Adderah that's been around for years, yet people don't know about it since they don't advertise. And if people don't know about your business, you basically don't exist."
Figuring out the operations and the business model
As a marketplace owner, you'll also need to figure out a way to handle a lot of things – from payments and deliveries to dealing with your buyers and your vendors to keep them happy.
You'll also need to find the right business model to turn your platform into a viable marketplace business.
In the early stages, you can afford to give away access to your platform to anyone who's willing to join at no cost, but that's not something that will work in the long run.
"We only started charging selling fees a month ago. Before that, Adderah wasn't making anything. At one point, I actually had to stop advertising and take up a part-time job to be able to cover the costs."
Adderah doesn't currently accept customer payments through the platform – all sales happen offline via POS systems or cash on delivery.
This is in part due to how people prefer to make purchases in Saudi Arabia, in part to keep the operations as easy as possible both for Adderah and the vendors in the early stages of the business.
"Initially, I was simply letting sellers test my platform and sell for free – if you receive an order, you deliver it and keep all the profit. The drawback was I didn't have any control over the sale – and the fees – at all. So, to be part of the transaction, I started handling the deliveries myself and collecting fees in process. People here don't like dealing with deliveries anyway, it's much more difficult in Saudi Arabia than it is in the US."
Now, when the customer makes a purchase through Adderah, Rayan picks up the order from the vendor and delivers it directly to the customer.
"This makes my operations somewhat easier since I don't have to deal with refunds and returns and can collect selling and delivery fees myself."
It also allows Rayan to talk to both customers and vendors to better understand their needs, get valuable feedback and keep making Adderah better.
"It works pretty well. I'm actually the only person behind the project right now – building and advertising the platform, working as a delivery guy, doing finances. It's hard, but that's what you do as a small business owner. As Gary Vee says, don't be fancy before you're fancy. I'm sure I'll need a team later, but not yet."
Mobile apps, ads and the future of Adderah
MultiMerch comes with support for mobile-friendly and responsive themes in mind, so it's possible to build a mobile app using any regular kit.
"I first tried GoNative, but ultimately went with a mobile app kit from CodeCanyon. It was pretty straight-forward and took me less than one week from the beginning to publishing my apps on Google Play and App Store."
Today, Adderah marketplace has over 160 vendors, 4000+ products and hundreds of happy customers.
For Rayan, that's just the start.
"It took me a while to get to this point, but I have big plans for Adderah. For one, I plan to invest much more in advertisement – if you don't advertise, you don't grow. That's one of the important things I've learned trying to get Adderah off the ground."
How do you advertise a new marketplace platform? Try what's available and see what works best.
"Instagram has worked really well for us. That's our primary channel right now. Local promotion banners is another thing that works pretty well. It really depends on your industry, though – you'll need to figure it out yourself."
Rayan's advice to fellow marketplace owners
You will face challenges – so get ready to take risks and to never quit.
"I spent A LOT of time building Adderah. I thought it would be easy, but it never wasn't and still isn't. I'll never quit because it's just not an option, I dropped out of college so this is all I have – and I have to find a way to make it work."
Have an operational plan in mind, but be flexible and adapt to change.
"I had some plans for how to run Adderah before I started it, but I also had to figure out a lot of things on the go. You have to learn to work hard, overcome difficulties and figure out solutions to problems you didn't know existed."
Looking to build a marketplace with MultiMerch? Apply for a personal demo today and let's talk!