Written by iryna prysyazhnuk
Ammar Akhtar, founder of Finalrentals and a keynote speaker shares insights on discovering a niche for innovation, bootstrapping a startup, and skills every non-tech founder needs.
Ammar Akhtar created Finalrentals in 2016, and the company has become the largest car rental marketplace in the UAE with over 40,000 locations worldwide. Akhtar brought together his expertise in information technology and his passion for cars and tech and created a successful company without outside investment.
How one can spot a startup opportunity in a crowded market?
Akhtar’s expertise is in the rental car industry and building all sorts of technology for it, from the websites to the complex IT solutions. While working full-time for renowned brands such as Dollar and Thrifty, Akhtar noticed one thing all of them didn’t have – seamless customer experience. Those brands had great infrastructure, people, cars, but customers were not happy when getting their cars at the checkout counter.
Akhtar realized, that the entire industry lacked a united ecosystem that would make customer’s experience in renting a car easy and pleasant. And decided to create that ecosystem.
How do you move from the idea to launching s startup? What about the finances?
Finalrentals is a bootstrapped startup, meaning that Akhtar has launched the business without outside capital. He didn’t have venture investments or grants from accelerators and used his own savings. Akhtar describes his company as “at a very lean and a very breakeven sort of a smart business, which is now kissing profitability.”
He explains that two things helped him to create a successful bootstrapped company: savings and years of industry expertise.
“I had some money in my bank and I understand the industry. I knew everything about car rentals, how it works inside out, every single thing, not just the tech part,” said Akhtar.
Akhtar’s advice – take your time to know the industry you want to innovate, learn all the aspects and problems, not just the one you want to solve.
What to expect in the first year of running a startup?
“It is going to be very difficult because you will not start making money just after you have the business. That’s not how it works, it will take a lot of time. Do you have the time? Do you have the resources?” said Ammar.
Resources mean friends and family, savings, and some angel investment. How much of those? Akhtar recommends carefully calculate and have enough for at least a year of running a business and having enough to make a living if your business never takes off.
Akhtar explains, that in today’s world bootstrapping is not hard, but requires a calculation of the entire scenario.
If you’re not sure you have enough resources and time, Akhmad suggests trying to secure seed funding, such as early investments or grants.
Before starting to invest your time and resources into developing an idea into a company, validate your idea and get enough feedback.
He emphasized that feedback and understanding of product and market fit are the crucial elements in the success of any startup. Create a prototype and test it, get your first 100 customers, and study their user experience and feedback. Only after proceed with developing your idea or adjusting it to the market needs.
The most important lessons learned from the pandemic?
Being capable to work remotely and transform Finalrentals into 80% remote business was one of the lessons Akhtar learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, what really helped him to grow the company and hire new team members during this most unpredictable time were personal relationships.
“My father always used to say that business is done on the basis of the relationship. Business is human to human”.
No matter what type of business you are, tech or digital, putting human relationships at the center of this business is a key for thriving during challenging times.
Akhtar explained that the relationship that he has built with the suppliers, customers, and employees was the key to the company’s growth during a pandemic. Finalrentals have hired people when other startups were furloughing. Finalrentals opened their first office European office in Poland and scheduled the launch in Malta.
How the business actually grew despite location closures?
Part of the success of Finalrentals is based on its business model – the company charges a small amount as a transaction fee and never relied on large cash flow amounts.
Not having any large expenses was the other factor that helped Finalrentals to grow instead of shutting down.
Challenging times are great for executing decisions from a long-term box.
Unpredictable times are great for adjustments and need to be turned into opportunities. The physical locations of Finalrentals were closed due to government restrictions, so Akhtar has focused on questions he and his team had in the long-term box. They have created a brand-new version of the website with an improved customer experience and an entirely new booking engine.
Those improvements made the Finalrentals even more ahead of all their competitors.
What are the tips for early-stage startup founders?
One of the factors that contributed to the success of Finalrentals is Akhtar’s expertise in the car rental industry and experience with building all types of car rental technology. However, that was just a part of a story.
“I didn’t know anything about marketing, labor law, or franchise agreements, but I had online resources. Spend two, three hours, and learn all those things”, said Akhtar.
He emphasized that for non-tech founders it’s extremely important to understand how the tech part works, and not rely on just hiring professionals. Founders have to understand the basics of every aspect of their business.
“Whatever you’re doing, you must learn something about it. Don’t just think you will hire people! You must understand something, sink your teeth into that”, said Ammar.