The Cloud, co-founded by a Lebanese, wants to become the Airbnb of restaurants

The biggest taxi company without owning a single car? Uber. The biggest hotel chain without even owning a room? Airbnb. Biggest restaurant chain with no kitchen? This is the title that The Cloud, an Emirati start-up co-founded at the end of 2019 by the Lebanese Georges Karam, would like to claim one day.

Originally from the village of Zghorta (North Lebanon), the young man identifies his model as follows: “We want to become the Airbnb of catering. In other words, the leaders of third-generation cloud kitchens. “The first generation of this type of kitchen, he explains, consists of a company that has a large area, divided into several kitchens rented to different brands and from which they prepare orders and deliver them to their customers. . The second generation is a single company that owns the entire surface and is responsible for preparing the dishes there on behalf of several brands with which it has entered into agreements. »

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But in the case of The Cloud, and therefore in that of third-generation cloud kitchens, the company has neither spaces to rent, nor kitchens, nor chefs. Its model is based rather on the fact that it allows restaurateurs to make their kitchens available for the preparation of dishes from other brands, sold under their labels. “On the one hand, this model allows restaurant owners to optimize the use of their kitchen and their staff, and therefore to generate more income, even if they do not market their own dishes. On the other hand, it allows these same restaurateurs to expand their clientele and market their products in cities or even in countries in which they have no presence”, explains the CEO.

Model Pioneers

Georges Karam thus gives the example of a brand physically established in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, but which, thanks to The Cloud, manages to produce and market, via another brand, its dishes in Belgium, the second country in which established this company after the Emirates. “On average, restaurants that adopt our model manage to increase the number of dishes produced by 30% in four months,” continues Georges Karam. In these cases, the restaurants receive these orders through the mobile applications of aggregators, such as Zomato, Talabat or Deliveroo, which will then take care of the delivery of these dishes.

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Nothing predisposed Georges Karam to launch a start-up “pioneer of this model in the field of catering in the MENA zone” and “one of the first to have adopted it throughout the world”.

At the age of 18, the man who had always lived in the United Arab Emirates, with the exception of the many summers spent in Lebanon with his family, decided to return to the country to continue his studies there. In 2008, he enrolled at the American University of Beirut (AUB), where he obtained a degree in economics three years later. He then won a scholarship to continue his studies in Lithuania where he obtained a master’s degree in management, with a specialization in finance. With his diplomas in hand, he returned to the Emirates in 2013 where he held several positions related to his university course until 2019.

Passionate about cooking, he decided in 2017 to “start a new adventure” and opened his own restaurant, without quitting his job. The following months will be difficult, his restaurant struggling to attract a large number of customers. “It was with the aim of increasing the restaurant’s sales that Kamil Rogalinski (second co-founder of The Cloud) and I met several times. However, little by little, the concept of The Cloud developed, came to life and became a project in its own right,” he recalls.

First and foremost a tech company

Initially launched in Abu Dhabi, then in Dubai, Sharjah and Al-Ain the following four months, “our business was abruptly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed, although we showed the potential to exploit “, he explains. “The return to normal” and the adaptation to the pandemic will only take place a few months later, around June. If everything was “very difficult” at the beginning, Georges Karam now sees things from another angle. “The pandemic has been a boon for us. We were in the right place, at the right time and in the right sector,” with restaurants looking for an escape route to survive and consumers turning even more to an online shopping and home delivery model.

The model is proven, The Cloud manages to raise $1.2 million in September 2020, mainly from the MEVP fund. The start-up installed within Hub71 – the international technological center of Abu Dhabi – then sees bigger, much bigger. It will successively establish itself in 39 cities in the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Romania and the Netherlands. Two years later, on September 14, it announced that it had concluded a $10 million fundraiser with MEVP, Olayan Financing Company and Rua Growth Fund. This new injection of funds will aim to help the start-up expand its presence in the short term in the MENA zone and around the world. At the regional level, The Cloud intends to soon set up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to establish its second office in the kingdom, and also wants to settle in Kuwait in order to strengthen its presence in the Gulf countries. At the international level, The Cloud wishes to continue to focus on the European market in the short term and plans to soon enter the French and Italian markets. If the platform now brings together 700 catering brands, it expects to be able to bring this total to more than a thousand by the end of the year.

At the same time, this newly raised envelope will also allow it to increase its workforce, going from around 130 employees today to nearly 200 by the end of 2023, while maintaining the focus on strengthening its team of developers at full time, numbering 15 today. Because, although The Cloud is a player in the restaurant sector, its major asset is nevertheless at the level of its digital platform.

Entirely designed and developed in-house under the direction of Kamil Rogalinski, technical director, this technological interface makes it possible to display in real time and analyze all the orders that pass through The Cloud. At the same time, and in addition to access to this platform, the restaurants that join it also benefit from a mobile application, also entirely developed in-house, which allows them to monitor several parameters of their preparation process so as to encourage them to improve their service. Among the indicators displayed by this application are notably the times of preparation of dishes and delivery, the evolution of sales, the most ordered dishes and the regions of origin of the orders. All with a view to optimizing the production chain.

The biggest taxi company without owning a single car? Uber. The biggest hotel chain without even owning a room? Airbnb. Biggest restaurant chain with no kitchen? This is the title that The Cloud, an Emirati start-up co-founded at the end of 2019 by the Lebanese Georges Karam, would like to claim one day.
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