BEIRUT: The Lebanese have always been good planters. Despite an underdeveloped agriculture sector that contributes only 5 percent to the national GDP and relies mostly on imports, most of the existing farmers are small local producers fighting the economic burden that has plagued their country this past year by growing their own crops.
“We have a big problem in our local food system,” rural development expert and co-founder of Mawsam Nicholas Gholam told Annahar. “We know that we are relying more and more on imports and we have a number of small scale producers all over Lebanon who can’t sell their products except in key areas like Souk el Tayib and Badaro.”
Gholam’s startup, Mawsam, which he co-founded with three of his friends, attempts to solve these problems by creating an online marketplace for all kinds of small scale producers in Lebanon. There are two main conditions for a producer to be accepted in Mawsam: he/she must be small scale, and their products must have a relatively long life to stand the conditions of being stored in the team’s depot in Dora (such as thyme, herbs, labneh, etc).
Mawsam now has 24 local producers on its website, including well-known local brands such as Caesar Cider and The Good Thymes, and more than 220 products ranging from soaps to honey and molasses. The website launched officially in April.
“Our aim is to have brands from all price ranges so that our consumers will be comfortable,” Gholam says.
How did the idea occur to the team?
The idea occurred to Gholam and his cofounder and CMO Serge Trad when they both found themselves broke in November 2019 due to the economic hardship that had plagued their country. Gholam had a master's degree in rural development and Trad in marketing, with the other two founders, specialized in IT and business. They all decided to put their heads together and come up with the idea of collecting products from local producers and selling them online.
“I used to be the manager of Souk El Tayeb for more than three years between 2015 and 2018, so I learned the ins and outs of the business,” Gholam said. This position gained him contacts of almost all the local producers who participated in the Souk, which inevitably made his job of convincing them to join his platform easier.
“My approach was that we wanted them to keep stocks of their products in our depot by consignment- ie, by relying on trust- and that we will grow the website organically,” Gholam says. “All of the producers we approached said yes.”
Strapped for cash, the startup used Shopify to create the platform and relied on word of mouth to grow organically. They have been active for almost three months, and are satisfied with the sales they have achieved so far, although they refused to disclose any amount.
Mawsam is not the only platform that sells the products of local producers. Buylebnene.com has been attracting visitors with its wide range of local brands such as Ghandoor and 114 and others. But the difference between the two, Gholam says, is that Mawsam relied on small local producers whose products are handmade, “and we want to stay that way,” he adds.
What is Mawsam’s future plan?
“We want to grow our portfolio so that we reach 1000 products by the end of the year, and by the beginning of next year we will be working on a B2B model called Mawsam Collection,” Gholam said. “We also hope to start accepting fresh products like vegetables and cheese.”
In the long term, Mawsam is planning to become a distributor of small scale products and not just aggregators.
You can shop from Mawsam and support local production here: https://www.almawsam.com/
Welcome to Annahar's "Startup City," a column designed to cover the hundreds of early-stage businesses in Beirut, and what they represent as to the talent and optimistic business plans of local young tech workers. Send your nominations to: email@example.com
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