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Tarek Halabi

Tarek Halabi: Transitioning Automotive Horizons with Tech Disruption

The automotive industry, once a symbol of tradition and stability, is now undergoing a profound paradigm shift. Technological advancements, changing consumer preferences, and environmental consciousness are reshaping its landscape, steering in a new era of innovation and transformation.

CarSwitch, a revolutionary e-commerce platform, addresses challenges and trust issues in this industry. Established to streamline the car transaction experience, CarSwitch offers a one-stop-shop app that digitizes car ads, automates buyer experiences, and facilitates interactions between buyers and sellers while ensuring transparency and trust. The company has successfully expanded its operations to 8 cities across the UAE and KSA.

Tarek Halabi, the General Manager for CarSwitch in KSA, has played a fundamental role in the company’s success. With a background in banking and a passion for challenging environments, Tarek made a strategic move into the tech world by founding his own e-commerce company.

In our exclusive interview with him, Tarek shares insights into his professional journey, the unique offerings of CarSwitch, and his perspective on steering the company through the winds of change in the ever-evolving automotive industry.

Below are the highlights from the interview!

Could you please brief us about yourself and what motivated you to embark on this sector?

I am a person who has a deep passion for uncertainty, and I love to challenge myself by jumping into areas where others hesitate. I spent 12 years in banking and reached a point where I needed to throw myself into uncharted territory to challenge myself before it was too late. I moved countries and started my own e-commerce company as a stepping stone into the tech world.

After selling my company, I decided to pivot into growth hacking so I could be part of the growth story in the region, especially in UAE & KSA, as I saw the potential in the market. I joined an auto tech startup and launched their business in different GCC countries before finally settling in CarSwitch as I saw a deep need for a tech play that solved many problems in this disorganized space of peer-to-peer transactions in the auto industry. Every milestone in my journey started with lots of questions and more thorns than roses, but looking back at it, it shaped me into the person I am today.

Could you elaborate on your company and its inception story?

CarSwitch started as an answer to painful experiences and trust issues in the car industry. It’s an overwhelming experience for people who are already busy with their day-to-day lives and must make informed decisions on the second biggest purchase of their lives, after their homes.

Our next milestone was launching in Saudi Arabia, keeping in mind the local culture combined with a strong product proposition. Now, we have loyal brand advocates all across KSA and a Google review rating of 4.9 with more than 2400 reviews.

Could you elaborate on your company and its inception story?

  • Smoothest experience – We are committed to providing a seamless process for our customers; this value is at the core of what we do.
  • Expert advisors – Our team of experts supports from test drives to ownership transfers, which adds value and reassurance to the customer experience.
  • A trusted partner – When it comes to cars, trust is paramount; from certified inspections to online payments, safety and security are at the heart of our customer retention.

What are the qualities and values you think your clients admire in you as a business leader and your company the most?

Two qualities matter the most when thinking about your clients. First is transparency and trust. People value honesty, and they are willing to pay a premium when they believe that their needs are met while adopting ethical practices throughout the transaction.

Secondly, having a human element in the process. Our app is a pure tech play, and we’ve recently adopted AI into our platform, but at a certain point in the process, there’s someone holding your hand to ensure that you understand every detail about the car, and they shake your hand once the car ownership is transferred to your name.

Every leader faces challenges. Can you describe a major obstacle you encountered and the strategies you employed to overcome it?

Funding is one of the common challenges in the region, especially when you’re in the growth phase; the cycle to close funding rounds could be extended, and deadlines

could be missed. In these stressful pockets of time, there are a few strategies we follow to ensure that we keep up with the market pace and keep employees motivated. In my experience, having an open conversation with the employees about where we stand and where we want to go reaps the greatest rewards.

Give your team an open platform to express their ideas, and you’ll be surprised at the amount of useful information and ideas that eventually offset those challenges by improving revenues, optimizing costs, and unlocking new products.

Looking at the technological advancements that are transforming almost all the sectors of the modern industry, how is your company leveraging these advancements to make its solutions resourceful for its esteemed clients?

From an early stage, our vision was to digitize the car transaction experience. We succeeded at consolidating all manual transactions and client queries into one platform where buyers and sellers can interact and negotiate without compromising any of the parties’ identities.

Our recent launch was AI integration, and now we’re the first auto player in the region to have a fully virtual assistant to help you navigate your next car purchase.

How do you define innovation in your industry, and how is your company exhibiting excellence in implementing various augmentations in its services and operations?

Innovation is all about creating value. The auto industry lacks innovation when it comes to car transactions; specifically, there are conflicting incentives for both sides of the transaction that result in less transparency. GCC is a place of endless opportunities and a highly productive workforce.

We decided to focus our innovation on reducing the transaction time of buying or selling a car, targeting busy individuals. We created a one-stop shop app to digitize car ads and automate buyer experience by managing queries, negotiations, and payments within the app to guide you through your purchase with peace of mind.

How do you foster a culture of empowerment within your team or organization, and what steps do you take to identify and nurture leadership potential in others?

Our core DNA is a startup mentality. Despite growing and operating in 8 cities across UAE and KSA, we still have daily conversations with our teams on the ground where the feedback and innovation come from. We empower them by giving them space to explore their ideas and make mistakes.

Most of the time, you can identify leaders from the early stages, but actions speak for themselves, so I bet on people who show up with a mentality of trying to change the status quo and are progressive in trying to push ideas forward.

Personally, I put my full trust in my team. I like to be involved with them daily by discussing feedback and ideas on how we can be 1% better every day. If you genuinely tell people they are good, and you value their work, they will wake up every day trying to prove you right.

How do you view the role of business leaders in addressing social and environmental issues in the Middle East, and what initiatives or practices do you implement to make a positive impact on society and the environment?

GCC is an emerging market, and with the influx of expats and the boom in the economy, it’s a challenge to find local talents at the same pace as the growing business. We addressed that issue, and in KSA, for example, we focused on hiring local talents and invested in our own internal training programs where we provide talents with the professional development and technical skills required for our industry. Eventually, those talents will be destined to do bigger things with us or will graduate to other channels and make an impact there.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs venturing into the same sector?

Have a co-founder who complements your set of skills. To run a company, you need a variety of skill sets ranging from broad conceptual creativity to laser-focused analytical skills, and having a partner who has the skill sets you lack is like finding the right piece of the puzzle.

Please give us a few testimonials from your clients and awards or recognition that accurately highlight your achievements in the corporate niche.

The most trusted pre-owned car company in Dubai by MEA Business Awards.

We are the highest-rated app, with a rating of 4.8.

Google reviews for KSA: 4.9-star rating