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Startup Story

OTO's all-in-one shipping gateway for e-commerce businesses

OTO Founders posing for picture

In the e-commerce boom, this SaaS startup supercharges shipping

Jolted by the pandemic, consumers in the Middle East and North Africa have rapidly developed an appetite for online shopping, boosting the region’s e-commerce revenues to $48.6 billion in 2022 (up from $26 billion in 2018). To keep up with consumer demand for rapid home delivery, more than 2000 brands have turned to OTO, a shipping aggregator whose AI-driven dashboard quickly routes packages to the most reliable couriers while providing real-time tracking to retailers.

So how does it work? OTO uses plugins that work with most e-commerce platforms, such as Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, and Salla. Once an order is placed, the plugin will alert OTO’s system, which then applies an AI-based engine to automatically assign orders to the most optimal location, whether it be a retail store or warehouse.

All a retailer has to do is receive and prepare the order, which is picked up by one of more than 120 delivery partners – including Aramex, SMSA, SPL, DHL, FedEx, UPS, Careem, and Quiqup – all of which are managed on one single dashboard. This makes OTO the largest integrator of shipping services in the region.

While the startup has already seen significant success, including a recent $3 million round of seed funding, cofounders Mohammad Al-Razaz, CEO, and Furkan Uzar, CTO, have their eyes set on scaling further.

Software supercharged by Google products

As OTO has grown, citing more than a 300% year-over-year increase in the number of orders processed, its need for a more scalable and reliable infrastructure has grown as well. “In OTO, we are supporting so many transactions and independent services a day, our infrastructure requires a cloud solution that can scale automatically,” explains Uzar.

Before joining Google for Startups Accelerator: Middle East & North Africa, OTO was already using a number of Google tools, such as Google Maps Platform, using its geolocation and routing APIs to optimize delivery. As part of the Accelerator program, the OTO team was introduced to mentors from across Google’s products and networks, many of whom introduced them to Google solutions for their challenges.

“When we joined the Google for Startups Accelerator, we learned about the flexibility and scalability of Google Cloud Platform and decided to migrate from our existing cloud service provider,” added Uzer. “With the help of Google mentors, we were able to fully migrate in just two months. Google Cloud helped us deploy this volume of services and instances in an easy-to-manage way.”

Migrating to Google Cloud also allowed OTO to apply Cloud Translation, improving the solution’s ability to better serve more brands and countries, and double down on their use of Firebase to build and update their API.

“For us, it’s all about integration. We understand the power of a full-fledged solution that manages all your operations in one place, so you can imagine we do the same to manage our own company,” says Al-Razaz.

Tech-first thinking at Google for Startups Accelerator: MENA

Al-Razaz and Uzar had first heard of Google for Startups Accelerator: Middle East & North Africa when the organizing team reached out to them to apply. And though the cofounders didn’t make the first cohort, they attended further learning sessions and eventually entered the second cohort in 2021.

“Learning is an important value at OTO. We have a learning session every Tuesday for everyone in the company, so we embrace learning, big time!” exudes Al-Razaz. “We’ve attended several accelerators before, but we wanted to attend Google for Startups Accelerator: Middle East & North Africa because it was more tech-oriented. We wanted our technology teams to attend these sessions.”

“Usually accelerators are designed for founders – they focus on how to start and run a company – and less so the tech side, for instance hosting, data structure, AI, and machine learning. That’s what got us excited about Google for Startups Accelerators,” says Al-Razaz.

Al-Razaz also emphasized the mentorship and connections that Accelerator facilitated. “It’s all about mentorship. They give you accessibility to amazing mentors and consultants that you can actually talk to. We talked to the guy leading Waze, and he shared his approach to running it as a startup. Without Google, we wouldn’t have been able to connect with such mentors.”

“All of these touchpoints – Waze, Google Cloud, Firebase – were introduced by Accelerator mentors,” Uzar adds.

During Google for Startups Accelerator, the OTO team also learned to set objectives and key results (OKRs) and even applied the practice to launch a new product, OTO e-commerce. “It was kind of overwhelming!” Al-Razaz admits. “We had to attend the sessions and at the same time build a new product. The mentors were a huge help – they would try to guide us through that experience, and connect us to anybody we needed to in the organization.”

His advice for startups in a Google for Startups Accelerator: “Don’t expect mentors to come with answers. I’ve personally asked the same question to two different mentors and received two different answers. You’re a founder—they will give you their own experience, and you must decide.”

What’s next for OTO

OTO continues to grow at blinding speed and recently surpassed 1 million shipments processed. With little time to celebrate, the cofounders set their eyes on the next milestone: 10 million shipments.

“I still have a lot of moments where I’m convincing investors and early believers. We’re building something that can’t be benchmarked against anything else. We’re building something new,” Al-Razas says. “We’re in an amazing region; it’s rich, full of talent, and in the middle – the Middle East. We code from right-to-left and left-to-right, in Arabic and English, so we can actually speak to both sides of the world. Yet, when we look at the region, we haven’t seen many global companies out of it. That’s why we want to be one of the first. That’s why, from day one, we called the company ‘OTO Global Inc.’”

Learn more about OTO