An easy fix for rent problems

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - In a global crisis like the outbreak of Covid-19, startups in the region have bolstered their operations as most of them are tech-enabled and faster.

Kuwait-based Ajar - which started its operations in the UAE in late-2018 - are giving all tenants and landlords contactless, online payment solutions for free. Ajar's agents will onboard them and send an online invoice for payment immediately or based on the due date - no service charges, no transaction fees.

Currently, over 35,000 residents use Ajar and under the current circumstances, landlords can also take advantage of the facilities like providing temporary discounts for tenants who cannot fulfill their rent payments, or cancelling or postponing rent payments as needed, and splitting the rent over several installments as required.

"We've noticed that a lot of property owners are finding ways to avail the pressure of payments on the tenants and we're here to support that," said Shaheen Al Khudhari, founder and chief executive officer of Ajar.

The company's primary investors include Beco Capital, Sharq Ventures and 500 Startups. It has so far raised $3 million and is at the pre-series A round.

"Our investors are more strategic partners than simply financial supporters. They have facilitated many market opportunities, providing us with strategic value through their global networks, investment portfolios and insights," said Al Khudhari.

Ajar is the only platform in the region that currently allows landlords to manage and collect rent from both locally- and globally-located properties. For example, a property owner based in can collect rent for his property that's based in Egypt, France or wherever.

Ajar's platform offsets inevitable credit card fees with rewards that help tenants make back the money they spend on fees. Through the AjarRewards programme, the startup has partnered with companies across Kuwait and the UAE to give tenants discounts, cash-backs and more every time they pay their rent online. Rewards include everything from essentials like groceries, laundry, gifts and electronics.

Yousef Al Hammad, partner at Beco Capital, said: "We backed Ajar in 2016 on its mission to digitise the cornerstone of the real estate industry - rent collection - and build a platform to improve efficiency and transparency for both tenants and landlords. Ajar is solving a problem that involves the largest expense item - rent - for most households, in an industry that has been late in adopting digitisation and technology. Shaheen and the Ajar team have been able to capture a solid share of the market through their perseverance and focus, but this is still the tip of the iceberg. We are extremely excited about the future of the industry, and Ajar's leadership role in its transformation."

Ajar emerged in 2016, when Al Khudhari moved into an apartment in the heart of Kuwait and faced frustrations when trying to pay his rent. Every month, he faced challenges to chase down his landlord and make the payment based on his landlord's availability, withdraw a large sum of cash or dig out a check that he would then stress about losing until he was able to chase down his landlord.

If he needed to travel, he'd have to figure out a way to pay a large sum of cash in advance or talk to the landlord to potentially allow him to make a payment after his travels and receive a receipt for his payment days later and lose it within minutes.

Working at a logistics company at the time, Al Khudhari also saw the flip-side of the equation where the company struggled with managing the properties it owned efficiently. He recognised the market opportunity, quit his job and founded Ajar to create a simpler solution for paying rent and managing properties.

His landlord even became Ajar's first client.

Since then, Ajar has grown to become property management and rent collection platform in the Middle East, with operations in the UAE and Kuwait. Ajar has also become an increasingly critical strategic partner for banks and financial institutions, currently partnering with Ahli United Bank and others in Kuwait.

Holding an MIS degree and MBA, Al Khudhari has over 10 years of experience working in a variety of fields including real estate, logistics, finance, accounting and IT. Since founding Ajar in 2016, he has grown the company to become the leading property management and rent collection solution in the Middle East.

Mohammed Al Munaikh, strategy director at Ajar Online, said: "I have known Ajar since the idea stage and seeing the product's evolution and the market's response to it has been incredible. Ajar has not only digitised some of the most inefficient practices in the real estate industry, but it has also completely changed the mindsets of the industry's technology-resistant stakeholders. To be able to capture over 10 per cent of the Kuwaiti real estate market share in less than three years is no small achievement, and it's a validation of Ajar's true potential. What's most exciting is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. It's a pleasure to be a part of a team that will stop at nothing to achieve its mission, and I'm excited to unlock even more value in the real estate industry as we continue to redefine the landlord and tenant experience at Ajar."

Ajar is planning to expand its operations geographically into the two largest markets in the Middle East in 2020 - Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

"We are also expanding our tools and feature set to provide more value to our landlords and tenants. The goal is for Ajar to become the number one platform for landlord decision making and property management, while facilitating cross-border real estate focused transactions to anyone who needs it, wherever they are," said Al Khudhari.

- [email protected]

Sandhya D'Mello

Journalist. Period. My interests are Economics, Finance and Information Technology. Prior to joining Al Khaleej Today, I have worked with some leading publications in India, including the Economic Times.

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