Navigating regulatory red tape, big corporate competitors and a pandemic, CAFU has managed to emerge with 20x fleet growth in 5 years

Navigating regulatory red tape, big corporate competitors and a pandemic, CAFU has managed to emerge with 20x fleet growth in 5 years 

CAFU is the first UAE company to offer on-demand services that include vehicle refuelling, car washing, battery, tire, and oil change, and minor servicing.

CAFU is the Middle East's first on-demand car service platform, and it's a story of ingenuity as they navigated through regulatory red tape, big corporations, and a pandemic. In just five short years, CAFU has grown its fleet of 20 trucks twenty-fold, creating a platform that offers a slew of car services, including car wash, battery, tire, and oil change, minor servicing and emergency fuel delivery. CAFU exhibited rapid growth in a short period of time by deeply studying its own niche, which enabled them to highlight the core problems—money and time—and provide a high-quality service.

The idea for CAFU was sparked by the outdated model of traditional petrol stations and the desire of its founder, Rashid Al Ghurair, to create a better way of serving customers. During a period when on-demand services were becoming more ubiquitous with the popularity of services like Careem, Uber and Talabat, CAFU was able to identify a market gap and capitalise on it through an easy-to-use app that solved a common problem its customers in its market faced.

This is according to Alaa El-Huni, Chief Business Officer at CAFU, who in a conversation with the Abu Dhabi SME Hub sheds light on the company's offerings and journey so far.

Alaa El-Huni, Chief Business Officer at CAFU

Customer acquisition and market expansion

In the early days of CAFU, the focus was on delivering a quality service to each and every customer, to enable the company to establish a name for itself in the market. This led to organic growth through word-of-mouth recommendations, which was amplified by targeted marketing efforts. 

“As we continue to grow, our focus remains on providing the best possible service, allowing our loyal customers to drive our expansion through their positive experiences and recommendations,” El-Huni explained.

CAFU has expanded to new cities and countries, but it approaches international expansion with a localised mindset. While selecting markets to expand into, it looks at factors such as customer demand, market potential, and regulations, and develops the right solution for each new locale.

Navigating the pandemic and other challenges over the years

A challenging time for many companies, CAFU was able to adapt during the COVID era by tweaking its services and pricing.

“One of the key ways we adapted during the pandemic was by investing in the community and removing delivery charges to help consumers save both time and money, making refuelling vehicles hassle-free,” El-Huni said.

But the pandemic was just the latest obstacle the company had to navigate. 

Circling back to when the company first launched, it had to contend with the fact that it was going up against the oil and gas industry, one of the largest and most historied sectors.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced at the outset was that we were going to be facing the Oil and Gas industry, which is historically one of the largest industries in the world, with huge, well-established and deep-pocketed players,” El-Huni noted. “We understood this challenge and chose to see it as an opportunity. We knew we would have to be stronger, leaner, and more agile to disrupt this sector successfully.”

Given CAFU’s role as an industry disruptor with a novel business model, the company had to navigate the various existing regulations in place, which involved engaging in discourse with government entities. Thanks to a solid understanding of the industry, CAFU was able to overcome these obstacles.

Moving forward, the company will continue on its trajectory of calculated growth, as opposed to pursuing rapid unsustainable scaling. 

“Funding is becoming even more selective, and investors will prioritise businesses with a long-term, realistic growth plan,” El-Huni noted.

Partnerships have been a key part of CAFU's journey, playing an important role in achieving development impact while meeting business goals. CAFU has partnered with companies like ekar and Urent to expand the reach of its brand and services, and it looks for a value exchange that helps both parties achieve their goals. The company will continue to seek similar partnerships that carry value-add. 

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