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  • Writer's pictureAbdullah Al-Shaksy

Carzaty: The Wild Ride Here

From left to right: Marwan Chaar and Hassan Al Lawati, co-chief executives of Kavak GCC (formerly Carzaty).

I first met Hassan Lawati and Marwan Chaar in August of 2018. We had just launched Phaze Ventures a few months prior, and they were raising their Seed round for the first online auto-retailer in the country, Carzaty. Their company was just over 1-year post-launch and was already clocking in around $500,000 of monthly sales.

The value proposition to people looking to buy or sell a car was clear: better prices, bigger selections, a trusted brand and convenience.

The massively underserved market opportunity in the region was plain to see, with most players tackling the used car market with brick-and-mortar or classified websites, and we really liked the team but had a number of questions unanswered by the time their round was coming to a close. How was the team going to scale with such a capital intensive business model (owning their own inventory)? Was their planned foray into providing buyers with access to financing in-line with our Sharia compliance principles? And how achievable would cross-border growth be?

Phaze Ventures ultimately passed on their seed round, but the team and I stayed in contact with Hassan and Marwan in the following year as we grew our understanding in the business. Over that year we grew impressed by the teams data-driven, disciplined and methodical approach scaling the business.

We finally joined their next financing round in 2019 alongside IDO investments (see our original announcement here), and subsequently worked closely with the management team and lawyers to structure and lead a (ahead of it's time) Sharia-compliant venture-debt financing note. By late 2019, between the note and the equity round, the company was able to secure several million dollars of equity and debt financing and things were looking up. The team began their plans for their expansion into the UAE, and continued growth back in home base Oman.

Then the unthinkable happened.

March of 2020, Covid was exploding onto the world stage with uncertainty growing day-by-day on the trajectory of the disease. Lockdowns had rapidly spread around the world and arrived on Carzaty's doorsteps in Oman, sales had ground to total halt with even the ability to transfer or register a car completely on hold locally. As with all of our portfolio companies at the time, I found myself on the phone with Hasan and Marwan almost daily, they were working rapidly to cut their burn rate, renegotiate the venture-debt terms that Phaze Ventures had helped create, and recapitalize the company with an extension of their Series-A equity round which Phaze Ventures was the first to affirm our commitment towards. It was scary times.

We dug deep into our network at Phaze Ventures for support and became a sounding board and communications channel for Carzaty until both their debt and equity crisis were narrowly averted.

By then, it was mid-2020 and lockdowns had begun to ease in parts of the world and the fog had begun to lift on the global economy. Carzaty quickly siezed on the opportunity to launch in the UAE as planned, and within months of sales restarting, growth was turning explosive. The global used car market was surging due to a combination of supply chain constraints in the automotive industry, and more budget conscious buyers dominating the market.

By early 2021, the company had surpassed it's previous monthly sales records, and was growing by leaps and bounds. Discussions began for a Series-B round of equity to supercharge growth and expand into the rest of the GCC when the company was approached by multiple parties for an exit. I recall several long conversations with Hasan around this time, weighing the growth potential, the ability to scale the business alone, and where this was all heading. The board ultimately voted for a total exit to Kavak - a SoftBank and Founder's Fund backed platform valued at $8.7 billion (the most valuable startup in Latin America).

It was a landmark deal for the Omani startup ecosystem and Phaze Ventures: the first time a venture backed technology startup had achieved international scale and exited to a multi-billion dollar global business. Kavak planned to invest $130 million in the GCC, expand the team to over 1000 people, and grow the GCC market into 10% of Kavak's global business (see the Bloomberg article here).

The team spent the subsequent months quietly closing the complex transaction and executing their ambitious integration plan. Having had a chance to meet with some of the Kavak team, and witness the behind the scenes transformation of Carzaty's business on the ground - I could not be more excited for what the future holds for them.

We are very proud of what the team have accomplished, and I look forward to continue working with both Hassan and Marwan as advisors to Phaze Ventures and mentors to the next cohort of founders in our portfolio.

About Phaze Ventures

Established in 2018, Phaze Ventures is the first private venture capital firm in the Sultanate of Oman, founded to fund early-stage disruptive technology companies from around the globe, and accelerate the transformation of the region’s economies through early-stage investments and strategic partnerships.

The firm manages $30 million, targeting early-stage startups in MENA, Europe and North America, with investments from the country’s largest investors, including Oman Information and Communications Technology Group (part of the sovereign fund of Oman), Ominvest and several prominent family offices.

Phaze Ventures' current investments include eMushrif, CyberOwl, and Voyager, and is headed by its three co-founders: Abdullah Al-Shaksy, co-founder and CEO, Mohammed Al-Wahaibi, co-founder and partner, and Masoud Al-Rawahi, co-founder and partner. The team is also supported by a diverse group of advisors with leadership experience at global technology firms including Binance, Amazon, Siri, and Spotify.

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