CAFU – Disrupting a Centuries-Old Fueling Business, “Only possible in Dubai”

CAFU – Disrupting a Centuries-Old Fueling Business, “Only possible in Dubai”

By Nazmia Nassereddine, 01 July 2023

CAFU is a fuel-on-demand start-up, which was founded in 2018 by Rashid Al Ghurair, who is also a member of the newly formed Board of Directors at the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy. Entrepreneur Middle East got a chance to sit down with CAFU’s Chief Business Officer, Mr. Alaa El-Huni.

Alaa started his entrepreneurial journey around 20 years ago and has worked across investment, growth, expansion, corporate strategy product development and served in organizations across both the Middle East and African regions. 

The fuel-on-demand startup’s origins come from when Rashid noticed that, despite radical developments in the automotive industry, the petrol station has largely continued to operate along a century-old model without much upgrades. After garnering experience in the oil & gas industry, Rashid’s keen interest in technology and innovative solutions spurred the idea of creating a service that would disrupt a traditional way doing things – such as fueling your car with petrol. In a city that embraces innovation, luxury and convenience-culture, Rashid re-imagined the fueling experience. This was precisely the CAFU vision and approach that resonated with Alaa and attracted him to join CAFU in the first place. 

Photo: Rashid Al Ghurair

Photo: Rashid Al Ghurair, Founder and CEO at CAFU. Source: Entrepreneur Middle East

Alaa does acknowledge that launching a business does not come without its own set of challenges. Firstly, there are always technical challenges around designing, creating and launching “phygital" (physical + digital) solutions that provide an operational real-world service, managed by a smart, mobile, and connected solution. CAFU’s business model also came with more complex obstacles to overcome initially, with the health and safety implications and licenses needed to be permitted to transport flammable liquids such as gasoline across the city and into neighborhoods. This required a concerted and joint collaboration between CAFU and the many Dubai government agencies to assess the policy and regulatory challenges all on its own. Alaa also remarked, “the task of changing the way consumers think and behave when it comes to refuelling and additional vehicle services was also slower at the start, than we imagined.” But it seems that Dubai’s convenience-focused market has caught on, especially through the pandemic. It helps that CAFU’s fuel-up prices are exactly the same as that which you see at your neighbourhood pump. Without having to staff a full-blown gasoline station, CAFU can come to you and deliver convenience at the same price-point. 

Today, CAFU’s service portfolio has increased to include a range of convenience-driven services, including on-demand car washes, as well as change-out services for battery, tyre, and engine oil. Most recently, CAFU has added car insurance sales to its list of services. What started out as a development of an app-based technology, has evolved into intelligently connecting the community to a vast network of maintenance and service partners, all with a simple goal: which is “to give people more time to enjoy their lifestyle.”  

On asking how supportive the government has been for CAFU, Alaa said “CAFU could only have been born in Dubai.” He further states that the support received from the government of Dubai has enabled CAFU to grow as an entity and as an organization. “We really appreciate how we have had the opportunity to leverage governmental platforms on numerous occasions to have open and honest conversations with the regulators, government programs, and units that are focused on supporting innovation and disruption.” He further states that “few governments would have enabled such a disruptive and, at the time, unproven business model as ours to flourish.” This support received from the government of Dubai highlights the city's commitment to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship and has helped to position Dubai as a hub for technology and start-up activity in the region. Perhaps, it’s true. CAFU’s very existence shows how forward-thinking Dubai is and was, 5 years ago when they were established. Especially at that time, not every city nor country, for that matter, would be so readily open to changing the status quo. 

Alaa believes that Dubai is a great launchpad to expand outward and conquer new markets too. CAFU has recently launched in its first international market in Canada. Driven by their commitment to sustainable innovation and the desire to provide the best solutions to market-specific requirements, CAFU is launching mobile EV charging to individuals and fleets. This is also in line with both Canada’s and the UAE’s goals to be carbon neutral by 2050.  

Related: Sustainable Innovations and Startups in the MENA Region

Thinking back to some of the challenges Alaa and the CAFU team faced upon launching, he had a few words of advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs.  

  1. Access to funding, especially in the early stages of development, can be hard; look to secure what you need when looking to scale up. Raising capital while operating simultaneously is stressful.  
  2. “Differentiate yourselves quickly,” Alaa says. Startups operating in competitive ecosystems such as Dubai need to differentiate themselves and offer unique value propositions to succeed. A startup’s ability to do this will also lead to greater access to funding.  
  3. Lastly, Alaa says, “work with the system, not against it.” Regulatory and legal frameworks can also present challenges for disruptive technologies and business models, particularly those in highly regulated industries such as insurance or finance. Work with government so you can find out where your collaborative synergies lie. Things will work out smoother for you in the long-run.  

CAFU’s Chief Business Officer, Mr. Alaa El-Huni

Photo: Mr. Alaa El-Huni, Chief Business Officer at CAFU. 

Dubai and the UAE provide competitive advantages and growth prospects in a vibrant digital economy, in addition to the many encouraging efforts by various public sector entities. Dubai’s regular announcements regarding plans for various innovations such as autonomous vehicles and taxis, 3D printing construction, hyperloops, and electric sky-pod networks – all point to one thing: Dubai is serious about embracing innovation and cutting-edge technologies. Other grand plans include becoming the global hub for cryptocurrencies and digital assets, and supporting 40,000 virtual or remote workers by 2030. Such plans are bound to make sure that the city’s startup ecosystem continues to grow and develop, thus providing even more new opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators in the years ahead.

Related: Dubai’s Roadmap to Becoming the Digital Economy Capital of the World


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