Melltoo, an app full of hope for Dubai

Co-founders of Dubai-based Melltoo, Morad Irsane and Sharene Lee
Co-founders of Dubai-based Melltoo, Morad Irsane and Sharene Lee | Melltoo

When husband and wife Morad Irsane and Sharene Lee were looking to buy a used car in Saudi Arabia back in 2014, they were surprised at how difficult the process was. They found scammers, untrustworthy sellers and it was almost impossible to reach people by phone or email. The experienced entrepreneurs realized quickly that they had uncovered a market niche that they could add value to, and the idea for Melltoo was born.

“What we are trying to accomplish is to bring trust back in the market place, because that’s one of the sore issues in the secondhand marketplace,” said Lee. “Then to make it easy, convenient and to put some kind of seriousness back into buying and selling second hand.”

Melltoo is an application that allows users to post pictures and descriptions of their second hand items. Users can like and share interesting posts, purchase the item and even have it delivered all through the app. While the focus has been on creating a platform for used items, it has also been used to promote the sale of small craft items for stay at home moms looking to make extra cash. Today the app has been downloaded by more than 200,000 users, and continues to get at least 600 new downloads a day.

The couple moved to Dubai, to avoid the difficulties of starting a business in the Kingdom. While they could have moved back to Los Angeles, where Irsane is originally from, they wanted to help promote the startup community in Dubai.

“I really wanted to be in this region and make an impact,” said Irsane. “So I said I want to make it happen here in Dubai. So everything we did was to get the startup going and to get local players, the local institutions investing in us, and then from there showing that there is hope in the local industry, in the locally grown.”

Achieving that goal wasn’t simple. The team’s business model is to keep investments small, and keep the team hungry. That way, says Irsane, they are always looking for novel solutions to hurdles. They started by creating a small app through a developer in India, and used the product to gauge the market, and then they began to approach local investors with their idea.

At first the couple said they thought they would have to overcome misconceptions that startups can only be successful with young, white, rich tech experts. Yet, they quickly found that despite being middle aged with a strict Islamic appearance (Irsane has a long dark beard, and Lee is fully veiled), it was trust that won investors over.

“We come in the doors and there’s a bit of a chip on the shoulder,” said Lee. “But we came with a vision, with a goal, with a mission. We set ourselves milestones and we were very very clear with investors what we pledged to achieve at each stage, and each stage we delivered. This is how we’ve established trust with investors."

In March the team raised over $200,000 from the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, Turn8 and WOMENA, the Dubai-based women investors group. They promised a delivery and payment component to the app called Pay and Ship Secure, which they recently launched on Android. With the iOS launch coming in the next couple weeks, Melltoo is gearing up for another round of investing in September. They are excited about their success, and even more enthusiastic about the contribution they are making to the region as a whole.

“Yeah we are surrounded by problems,” said Irsane. “But if we want to overcome these bigger problems that are facing us we have to change and start building things. When we build, things will stop breaking around us. That’s the hope.”