Technology, Startup, Startup in Lebanon, Startup ideas

We all know football fanatics, who refer to their favorite football teams as their very own. Some fans would do anything to sit front row and center in the stadium, to watch their favorite team score, even if it just a friendly match. In comes Fly-Foot, the only platform in the Middle East where fans can access matches, and have their entire trip personalized and planned, in just 9 clicks.

BDD sat with Rayan Ismail (RI), Founder & CEO of Fly-Foot to discuss an undying passion for sports, and his entrepreneurial journey with all its challenges.

BDD: How did the idea for Fly-foot come about?

RI: In 2011, as a side activity, we organized an amateur football tournament in Lebanon. The prize for the winners was a trip to a European city to attend a game and watch their favorite team play live. Once we started assembling the travel package for the winners, we realized how difficult it was for someone in the MENA region to organize this type of experience. Having a great passion for football, along with our entrepreneurial drive, Firas Arab, Georges Batrouni, and myself decided to solve the problem ourselves by building a platform to offer a hassle-free experience for football fans in MENA, starting with Lebanon.

BDD: So what do you offer clients? What makes you unique?

RI: Football fans are willing to do whatever it takes to watch their favorite teams in action. However, most of these matches take place in Europe, leaving MENA’s football community very underserved. Only a few people have the opportunity to travel abroad to watch their favorite players in action, due to having to navigate a tough research amongst multiple unknown vendors, with results that come out often as costly and non-reliable.

With Fly-Foot, fans in the MENA region can book and personalize a complete European football experience without worrying about the logistics of organizing the trip. Fly-Foot’s offers:

  • A One-Stop-Shop: Fly-Foot leverages strong partnerships with trusted vendors to provide all-inclusive football experiences. With just a few clicks, fans can book a standard package that includes hotel accommodations and match tickets, or they can opt for add- ons, such as flights and off-the-beaten-track excursions. Fly-Foot’s end-to-end service includes on-the-ground support from local representatives in the top 15 European football cities, who provide emergency assistance, travel tips, recommendations, and more.
  • Secure and Affordable: On average, Fly-Foot’s travel packages are 20% cheaper than buying the single travel components separately. Fly-Foot created strong partnerships and made them directly available to fans, enabling it to guarantee a fantastic accommodation experience, a global reach to all the World Airlines and fans’ seating criteria (e.g. group seating or preferred location).

BDD: That sounds like a great value proposition. What were the key lessons that you learnt when founding the business?

RI: I learned that you should wear different hats at all times, of course there will be a learning curve with time, but to start off, you should be ready to do everything. Also I learned that you always have to move fast towards delivery. You don’t need to perfect everything before you go to the market.

BDD: What challenges do you still face and how are you working to overcome them?

RI: Building the team by hiring the right people is not as evident as it might sound. Selecting a suitable candidate that fits the job well enough is a peculiarly tricky task especially when you don’t want to compromise synergy and culture in your business.

Additionally, creating and establishing global partnerships out of Beirut is very hard. There are more things we have to prove out of here than if we were based elsewhere. Finally, our access to capital is very limited, and today with everything happening in Lebanon, the situation is worse than ever.

BDD: What were the tools that helped you grow, or you wish you had?

RI: I think the most important thing is a solid ecosystem, which is something that is still budding in Lebanon. The ecosystem needs to play a grander role, lobby for the best infrastructure, more spaces and facilities for startups, for tax incentives and grace periods. We also need a mature financial market, as this will invite more funds to come in and give us capital to grow, and it will also give us a wider range of exits, such as going public.

BDD: What are your plans for Fly-Foot in the coming months?

RI: We have successfully positioned Fly-Foot as the go-to solution for football enthusiasts in Lebanon. Our fully modular offerings will allow the business to expand its client base and enter new markets in the coming months. We are now working to improve our scalability throughout the GCC and North Africa.

We are developing an App that will provide automated trip tips and enable customers to check their itinerary, request emergency support, or communicate with other fans traveling in the same city. More local and international partnerships will help to further expand the service and product offering. We are also planning to raise USD 1.4 million by Q3 2020 to invest in hiring marketing, sales, and IT professionals to support the app, as well as expanding Fly Foot’s presence in UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Some football fans would do anything to sit front row and center in the stadium, to watch their favorite team score. In comes Fly-Foot, the only platform in the Middle East that...
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