Star Tech: Alfii seeks to be a force multiplier for overwhelmed HR teams

The company helps start-ups, SMEs and fast-growing businesses modernise and streamline their approach with a refreshing new take on software

Follow us on Google News-khaleejtimes

Supplied photos
Supplied photos

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Thu 24 Nov 2022, 7:28 PM

Alfii, a Dubai-based tech start-up, has launched its new software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform for end-to-end human resource (HR) workflow automation to the region’s underserved start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The software is user-friendly and intuitive for both employers and employees. The platform boasts a powerful back end that gives HR leaders the tools and insights they need to take better care of their people.

The company, founded by Yousef Albarqawi, Becky Jefferies and Dina Mohammad-Laity, is on a mission to help companies take better care of their people by freeing HR teams from convoluted and time-consuming administrative work.

Alfii, which means millennial in Arabic, comes at a time when HR owners need more than ever to focus on engaging, supporting, and caring for their people, while navigating the new dimensions of remote, hybrid and contingent workforces in this post-pandemic world of work. This is especially true for those with modern workforces and fast-growing organisations — like start-ups and SMEs — where the HR teams are overwhelmed and struggling to keep up.

“For companies to remain competitive today, they need to be laser-focused on providing a better employee experience, which is only possible if HR teams are freed from the overwhelm of administrative tasks,” said Yousef Albarqawi, CEO, Alfii.

“But most of them are still relying on outdated, non-digitised or highly fragmented systems to manage people's operations. With Alfii, HR owners will be able to manage all employee data through one holistic solution,” he added.

More powerful and comprehensive tools like Alfii are becoming increasingly necessary for HR owners in order to free up time for them to focus on more critical workforce challenges faced by startups and SMEs today.

Yousef, Dina, and Becky are no strangers to these challenges. Despite having spent their careers—which together comprise a long list of tech majors such as Uber, Deliveroo, Property Finder and Talabat—in non-HR business functions, they still experienced first-hand the pains of slow, manual HR processes.

Yousef had become acutely aware of how broken it was throughout his career as an operator, during which he hired and managed over a thousand people. He realised there was no consistent record or “single source of truth” for employee data that he could compare to a quality customer relationship management (CRM) system— even though staffing expenses are the single biggest cost centre for most companies — which made it easy for critical information to get lost. Administrative tasks were manual and time-consuming, and existing HR tools were way too complicated to use. After speaking to hundreds of HR leaders, he and his co-founders noticed gaps in every alternative HR solution: platforms are either outdated, too complicated to integrate, unaffordable for smaller businesses, or they simply aren’t built to accommodate the future of work.

These deterrents have led start-ups and SMEs with very few suitable tools for their size.

Data shows that 36 per cent of companies with 11 to 50 employees don’t have an HR function at all, and this number goes up to 68 per cent for those with less than 10 people — which means the HR responsibilities fall on the shoulders of founders and business owners.

Yousef came to the realisation that this was a very real problem and saw a prime opportunity to create change for exasperated HR owners. He said, “we’re on a journey to give all businesses access to tools that help their workforce thrive, because your people have the potential to be your greatest asset and most valuable competitive edge. This is really just the beginning, though — there’s so much more to come, and we care deeply about transforming this space.”

The team has onboarded a diversified selection of customers from tech, hospitality, e-commerce, media and advertising, recruitment, pharmaceuticals, consulting and other industries across the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, South Africa, UK and US markets into its private beta programme and is set to go live in January.

One of Alfii’s first customers is Samer Hamadeh, founder of one of Dubai’s favorite restaurants, Akiba Dori. “I can’t wait for the product to hit the market and shake things up. As a business owner, I’m all too familiar with the burden of administrative work that comes with hiring and managing a team. I’ve yet to find a comprehensive solution that can handle those processes without creating more cost and complexity — but Alfii is finally cracking it,” Samer said.

“Even the early version of the product is excellent — it’s simple and clean to use but still robust in terms of functionality. I’m excited to put it to good use while scaling my own business,” he added.

The first release of the product, which is currently in invite-only private beta, is designed to simplify core HR processes, like recruiting, onboarding, document collection and management, and payroll. In the same way that CRM systems bring customer data into one place to form a 360-degree view of their customers, Alfii will also provide a single source of truth for employee data. Further down the line, the team will tackle the rest of the employee lifecycle, infusing a “human touch” across every aspect of the user journey. Ultimately, companies that don’t require (or have resources for) enterprise-grade tools can access a full suite of equally robust tools and insights to streamline all their people operations.

“Our first and most important focus is on making a great product that people actually like using,” Yousef said.

“We aim to be a trailblazer in creating solutions for these segments to handle human resources and deliver even better people experiences than their larger counterparts.”

Recognising that functionality alone is not sufficient, Alfii promises a comprehensive feature set packaged in a seamless, consumer-focused user experience. Likewise, HR owners need a tool they can start using instantly, that also provides a self-service experience for employees. A new customer can sign up and start using the Alfii platform in only a few minutes. “We’re not building this for businesses. We’re building this for people doing business — which means everything we do should be humanised. In the same way that our favourite apps are easy to use and highly engaging, we’re making the user experience our priority,” said Yousef.

The needs for digitisation and automation in this space are nothing new: HR services are a nearly $400 (Dh1,469) billion global industry, and it’s projected to continue growing. However, this space is highly fragmented — to the point that a single business may use up to 40 different tools to manage the full talent life cycle of their workforce. Most of these tools are not integrated, prohibitively expensive to acquire, can be very hard to implement and manage, and offer inconsistent user experiences. Yet no matter the economic climate, these tools are essential for businesses to run their HR operations efficiently. The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, in particular, has been largely underserved by the industry.

So, while Alfii plans to effectively serve a global customer base, its first focus will be the Middle East. “There’s still a large addressable market right here in our backyard that has been neglected for a long time,” said Yousef.

“And while we’ve seen some major success stories from similar players in other regions— some of which have scaled into unicorns — there’s still a lot of work to be done in this space to support businesses with modern workforces.”

Meet the co-founders

Yousef Albarqawi, CEO

Yousef is a serial entrepreneur and operator with a diverse background across tech, hospitality, and finance. He began his career in finance and private wealth management at prominent multi-family offices, followed by a series of startups that he founded and exited before transitioning into tech, where his experience ranged from early-stage ventures to global multi-nationals such as Deliveroo.

During this time, he also played a key role in setting the precedent for the cloud kitchens business category in the Mena region. Throughout his career as an operations leader, Yousef has built businesses and teams from scratch up to 500 people and managed P&Ls in excess of $100 (Dh367) million. Yousef holds a BA from the American University of Beirut, and he later continued his graduate studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

Becky Jefferies, CMO

Becky is a Dubai-based brand-builder, storyteller and 360-degree marketer with 15 years of branding and global marketing experience in organizations ranging from pre-seed startups to 'Fortune 500' multi-nationals. She has launched products and services in over 30 countries across tech, beauty, wellness, automotive, consumer durables and financial industries. Her pivot into tech began with Uber, where she led a Mena-wide marketing team and launched campaigns that earned four MENA Effie awards. After that, she stood up the marketing function at Silicon Valley-based fintech Tribal Credit; and followed as Marketing Director at a Dubai-based fund and incubator, where she built and launched two e-commerce brands — one of which was named 'Most Promising Brand of the Year 2021' by 'Entrepreneur'.

Most recently, she worked as a freelance brand strategy consultant before joining Alfii. Her early career background included international marketing, brand management, product marketing and channel marketing roles at corporations based in the US, where she was born and raised. She holds an MBA with honours from IE Business School in Spain and a Marketing degree from James Madison University in the US.

Dina Mohammad-Laity, CTO

Dina is an award-winning leader in the tech and data space known for her expertise in de-hyping all parts of the data lifecycle and building great data products on solid, maintainable foundations. She’s been described as a pragmatic disruptor — a badge she has worn proudly throughout her diverse tech career in industries ranging from real estate to publishing to online dating. She has held positions in data platform engineering, product analytics, data-driven growth, and data product management for companies that include Talabat (Delivery Hero MENA), Property Finder, Feeld, Astrolabs, Zoopla Property Group, and more. Dina has a B.Sc in Economics from SOAS University of London and an M.Sc in Applied Statistics from Birkbeck College at the University of London.

More news from Business