Our first client in Saudi Arabia
How we started building a stronger relationship with our new client. Our thoughts about the country and culture on behalf of our CEO Povilas Redko.
April 11, 2022 •
We are based in multiple cities across Europe and our headquarters are in Vilnius, Lithuania. Like our peers, we are usually hired by local clients, but also by companies located in Asia, the UK, and the USA.
In December 2018 we received an email from a company based in Beirut Lebanon, which was unusual. To be honest I knew quite little about the country and had never heard of the company. We started exchanging emails.
It was an established marketing agency servicing large international brands in the region. They were tasked with building an app for their client in Oman. The app design was almost finished, but the rest had to be built from scratch, in 10 weeks.
Normally this would be a project for at least 20 – 24 weeks. The situation seemed quite unusual, but we decided to pitch in person. Me and Martins Bajars flew out to the headquarters in Austria and came back the same night (4 flights + 200km in a rental car). On February 1st we shook hands with the client in Austria. On April 15th the project was delivered in Oman on time and on budget.
Content with this success we started building a stronger relationship with our friends in Beirut. In October 2019 they invited us for a visit. At that time Lebanon was suffering from a political crisis & riots. Cash withdrawal was limited and the main road to the airport was blocked by protesters every other day.
I and Martins decided to spend the weekend traveling to Beirut. Martins arrived early and had a wonderful time thanks to our hosts. Nightlife in Beirut was quite lively. At day time, streets were full of military equipment, soldiers, and barbed wire. We were the only guests at Radisson Blue that morning. And there was a metal detector at the hotel entrance.
We walked to the office on foot. The climate is warm and pleasant since Beirut is on the coast of Mediterranean sea. It is hugged by lush mountains that are tall enough to have snow. What a beautiful place. The office was really stylish and cozy as it should be in a marketing agency. We tried the wonderful Lebanese cuisine which some people say is the best in the world – I agree.
The trip solidified our feeling that this would be a great partnership with both sides benefiting. We started looking for additional opportunities together. Apparently, our friends were serving a large retailer in Saudi Arabia. Because of the project, they had a couple of people on-site in Riyadh at all times and other people would travel there on a weekly basis.
This client did not have an eCommerce app, only a website. It felt like an opportunity. I suggested joining on one of the weekly trips that our Lebanese partners were doing. They agreed and I booked my tickets to Riyadh in November 2019.
Saudi Arabian government “opened” the country just a few weeks earlier. Before that entering the country was not very simple and required weeks of doing paperwork. Now everyone could come in. It is a wealthy country with a high dependency on oil revenues. Obviously, they wish to diversify, perhaps repeat the success of Dubai thus the “opening”.
You may have heard stories about somewhat unusual rules and restrictions that apply to citizens and visitors. While unusual for someone from Europe, here it is tradition, the way people have led their lives for many years and many generations. The new generation is really internet savvy, has traveled quite a bit, and is less concerned about maintaining traditions.
Because of this, the country is going through a lot of change. An immense music festival with diverse crowds and loud music rocked Riyadh while I was there. Modern high-rise buildings are being built, but having had no tourists up till now means there are few hotels. Almost none of the streets have pavements for walking. In Saudi Arabia eCommerce has been booming for some time and for most businesses having an app is a must.
Arriving at the headquarters of this retailer I felt a bit weird – nobody has asked for me to come. Still, I got invited for a 10-minute meeting with the CTO who was not overly enthusiastic. Things went a bit smoother a few hours later when I met the CEO. We had a 30-minute conversation and I think he was impressed with our portfolio and my coming just for a pitch from such a far-away country as Lituania. I was asked to send a formal offer.
Weeks passed with almost nothing happening. I knew that our lebanese friends from the marketing agency were putting in a good word for us. Will we get a chance to build the app? “Inshallah”, which stands for “if God wills”. Eventually, though things started moving. We got the green light and I felt relieved. Finally!
Delivering the project was something else in itself and deserves a separate article.
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