Addressing the challenge of excess possessions and limited space, Samer Corban, Mansour Habchi , and Bassem Makarem ventured to create a platform that offers an alternative to traditional buying: borrowing. Whether someone is in search of camping equipment, musical instruments, or even event venues, their platform, Ajjerni, provides comprehensive solutions that could potentially shift consumer needs toward community-driven resource sharing.
We talked to the three co-founders on how their solution was created, the challenges and adversities they encountered, and their ambitious plans for future expansion.
Q: Can you tell us about Ajjerni?
A: Ajjerni is a peer-to-peer rental marketplace that enables users to rent everyday items from others in their community. From electronic equipment, camping/hiking gear, musical instruments, to home furniture, office equipment, and venues, Ajjerni currently offers 20 different categories, including a section for free items and giveaways.
Q: What led you to work on this solution?
A: We started Ajjerni during the financial crisis in Lebanon, when many people were grappling with reduced purchasing power. It was during this time that we decided to introduce a solution that offers users an alternative to costly purchases, provides them with the opportunity to earn extra income, and promotes the circular economy by encouraging renting over buying. From photography gear to musical instruments, our solution benefits borrowers by saving them money and granting access to a wide range of items. It also benefits lenders by helping them generate income from their unused belongings. Furthermore, it benefits the environment by reducing users’ carbon footprints, a crucial contribution in these unprecedented times.
Q: Who benefits from your solution, and why is it important?
A: Ajjerni serves a diverse range of stakeholders. Our users enjoy the benefits of premium items without the burden of complete ownership, resulting in savings and increased variety. Individuals with items that are infrequently used can earn extra income by renting them out through Ajjerni. Ajjerni also promotes a culture of sharing, contributing to sustainable living by reducing waste and the carbon emissions associated with production. Our platform strengthens the local economy, keeping funds within the community instead of channeling them to large corporations. Additionally, it breaks down accessibility barriers for high-cost items, enabling individuals who might not otherwise afford such items to conveniently access them through cost-effective rentals.
Q: What were the main challenges you’ve faced so far?
A: At every stage of Ajjerni’s journey, we’ve encountered various significant challenges, from sourcing enough supply on the website to building a trustworthy community, for instance. The latest challenge we had to surmount was the payment process due to the absence of online payment options in Lebanon.
Q: If you had to highlight one significant achievement during your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be, and what lesson did you learn from it?
A: A significant achievement during our entrepreneurial journey would be forming the founding team. It’s among the most important decisions, if not the most important, at an early stage. Creating a team with complementary skills and a strong working relationship is crucial for the smooth functioning of any startup.
Q: How did you overcome these challenges, and what did you do to keep going?
A: We tackled these challenges by thinking creatively and adapting to the local market. For example, in terms of supply, we engaged in substantial business development to encourage rental stores to list their inventory on our website. It’s crucial to view each challenge as a sign of progress. When faced with a challenge, you either overcome it or pivot. It’s important not to become emotional or disheartened in such situations. There’s always a solution.
Q: Why did you apply to the ScaleSmart program, and what were your expectations?
A: We applied to the ScaleSmart program with the hope of obtaining the guidance and mentorship needed to raise funds and expand Ajjerni’s presence in Lebanon and the rest of the MENA region.
Q: What are your long-term goals as a startup?
A: Our aim is to establish a presence in every country within the Middle East and North Africa, becoming the largest rental marketplace in the MENA region. We aspire to foster a culture of sharing and renting, promoting a more sustainable and economical way of life, which is greatly needed in our part of the world.
The ACT Smart Innovation Hub
The ScaleSmart program falls under the ACT Smart Innovation Hub, a comprehensive initiative initiated by Berytech aimed at empowering the Lebanese entrepreneurial ecosystem. This initiative seeks to revitalize the funding and investment sector, stimulate innovation and startup creation, and enhance the competitiveness, growth, and market access for innovative businesses in the agriculture, food, and clean technology sectors in Lebanon.