When Nayrouz Talaat took to the podium on Demo Day of the first cycle of this year’s EG Bank’s MINT Incubator which drew to a close this June, she spoke with passion and vigor that was as beautiful to watch as it was amazing to hear.
Pitching as one of ten Egyptian startups who were taken under the wings of the program and nurtured through workshops, mentorships, and a number of other activities geared towards providing the requisite support and guidance to the participating startups with a view to accelerating them into their next growth phases, she exuded a different kind of confidence – a certain conviction that is the stuff of deeply-seated beliefs and not mere business ideas; something that came across as somewhat otherworldly, as it was largely unmatched for the rest of the evening.
Nayrouz didn’t just show up in that majestic hall at Cairo’s Zamalek Cinema that evening to sing for her supper or woo investors, she had come to effectively correct a stereotype. She had her sight on fixing a social aberration, and in a manner that many would not have seen coming. Suffice it to say that she had to come to rock the establishment with her own establishment, which, pardon the cliche, is essentially a platform designed of women, by women, and for women.
There is something of a widely-held, although, wrong and unfounded opinion about women when it comes to driving. In spite of efforts to expunge this epithet and correct this stereotype – as is evident in the increasing number of women taking the wheel for both private and commercial causes in various parts of today’s world, as well as the more recent development in Saudi Arabia where women are now issued drivers licenses and allowed to take the wheel – women are still wrongly regarded as poor drivers, even though in actual fact, a lot of women can do just about as a good job as anybody, or perhaps even better.
It is not uncommon to hear obscenities being yelled at women for what would ordinarily pass for faultless driving and parking in “different circumstances” in parts of Africa and the rest of the world, by “some people” who for “some reason” claim an entitlement to their place behind the wheel while dismissing “others” as inept and incapable; a posture that could be construed to imply that women should have no business behind the wheel.
This ill has eaten deep into the fabric of society and even though a number of people in certain circles are quick to downplay its importance, it still poses a cause for concern as it echoes the menace of gender inequality in society, whilst also having all the makings of full-blown chauvinism and sexism. And it makes for even gloomier reading when the dangers and ills women in various parts of the world are subjected to in the process of learning to drive is taken into account.
But where most people see a social problem and settle for the easy option of sitting on the fence and sulking, this Egyptian entrepreneur has identified an opportunity to empower fellow women in the country. Nayrouz Talaat is the Founder and CEO of Direxiona; an online platform that enables women to book driving lessons in real-time with professional female driving instructors who are willing to use their own cars for this purpose, based on their chosen time and location – now you get why I had to use that cliche earlier. Nayrouz’s creation is known to also provide tips on such aspects as safety rules, defensive driving techniques, as well as the basics of maintenance and mechanics as it concerns automobiles.
“I am a kind of person who is always trying something different, it’s part of my character. After I studied the entrepreneurship ecosystem closely from the concept of doing something that will have a positive impact on society, I came up with the idea for Direxiona because it appeals to my character,” she reckoned in a conversation with WeeTracker.
She also revealed that the motivation behind the startup was born out of the need to offer assistance to women in Egypt and other parts of Africa and the MENA region who want to master driving in a safe and conducive environment, as she had experienced firsthand the difficulties, hardships and security challenges associated with learning the skill, especially for women – since there are hardly any organized bodies that serve this purpose for women in the region.
Thus, Direxiona was born; a platform that can be considered as adopting a two-pronged approach with respect to tackling the female driving problem, as it seeks to increase the number of professionally-trained and experienced female driving instructors on one hand, whilst upping the population of women who can hold their own behind the wheel anywhere in the world on the other – thus empowering women on both sides.
Before her foray into the entrepreneurial scene, Nayrouz had worked as a journalist at the Egyptian Gazette; a local English daily, after obtaining a Bachelor Degree in English/Literature from the Faculty of Arts at the prestigious Ain Shams University back in 2002. She rose through the ranks and soon attained the position of Business Reporter, and this may have her motivated her interest in entrepreneurship as she was exposed to a number of entrepreneurship-focused programs and events while filling that role.
“As a business reporter, I was covering the activities of entrepreneurs and attending many entrepreneurship-focused events. This somewhat inspired me to start a venture of my own as a way of giving back to society,” she said. It wasn’t long before she took to attending local programs, where she was furnished with preliminary knowledge on some of the underlying concepts of running an actual business.
It could be surmised that some of the knowledge she gathered on the subject of business models and business plans were self-tutored. She also admitted that her efforts were buoyed initially by the encouragement and support she gathered from what seems like a friendly posture on the part of the Egyptian government towards startups in Egypt, as well as her time at the Swedish Institute where she benefited from a program designed to impart business knowledge to women who are looking to launch enterprises that have a recognizable social impact.
Through sheer will and desire, and in the absence of any form of external funding, she has been able to set up a platform that provides a safe and conducive environment to women who are looking to take driving lessons without having to go through any form of harassment or through the hassle of finding instructors that are sensitive to their needs.
Her startup, Direxiona is a tech-enabled platform that enables women to book driving lessons with experienced female instructors at the click of a button. By virtue of its design, the service allows for instant matching of clients with instructors that are closest to them. According to the CEO, Direxiona incorporates an “Uber-like” business model, as it is founded on economy-sharing.
This allows for the business partners (i.e the instructors), to conduct these driving lessons using their own cars. This feature is actually central to the operations of the platform; something that could be considered a creative way of solving an identified problem, as it is low-cost and efficient.
The business model of the platform is designed in such a way that payments can be made online for any of the various packages that are available and tailored to meet the needs of different individuals.
“Customers can pay online for any of the different packages available and the instructors are themselves paid according to the number of hours that they have put in on the job. The smallest package on the platform goes for EGP 850.00 while the biggest package costs EGP 1.6 K and it lasts for twelve hours. The instructors themselves earn at an hourly rate of EGP 85.00,” she offered.
Direxiona boasts of having trained over 150 women as driving instructors since inception – offering them lessons in such aspects as traffic safety rules, defensive driving techniques, and basic car fixing tips. It also lays claim to over 50 female driving instructors who are currently active on the platform, as well as an impressive 3000 females who have used the services of the platform to become efficient drivers themselves in as many as 10,000 scheduled driving classes since the establishment of the startup in 2017.
But it was not always rosy in the beginning as Nayrouz cited challenges that threatened to derail the business initially – hurdles that had to be surmounted to get the business to its current respectable position. She hinted at having her work cut out for her in the area of correcting the stereotype and cultural reservations that surround both women in business and the idea of women as drivers during those early days when Direxiona was still at the idea stage. She also pointed out that learning the intricacies of running a business also posed a problem initially as she didn’t really have a strong footing on the technical front initially.
“Even when you have all the information, the execution of everything doesn’t come easy. At certain points, you’ll require funds, experience, and resources. I was able to get through these initial challenges by getting insights from like-minded people who pointed me in the right directions. They were mentors who gave me the knowledge and information I needed to take that step forward,” she told WeeTracker. Although the startup is largely self-funded, Nayrouz remains very aware of the importance of the support and assistance rendered to the business in the form of education and information from a number of both local and international organizations.
Female drivers who want to become instructors on Direxiona are required to have at least 5 years experience in driving. Such individuals can apply on the platform via the startup’s official website or recruitment agencies that are in partnership with the platform.
After which they go through a series of vetting, training, and evaluations on traffic rules and driving techniques to increase their proficiency; so as to guarantee that customers of the platform are getting instructions from individuals that are grounded on the subject, and in a vehicle that is road-worthy (documentation is demanded to ascertain the cars in question are 100% in maintenance).
In addition, the platform throws its doors open to private car owners who only want to sharpen their driving skills, without exploring the option of instructing. It also offers driving tips through its official channels which include social media handles.
Nayrouz has fond memories of the MINT Incubator experience as, according to her, it came as a very timely adventure. “EG Bank’s MINT Incubator came after a very long journey, as we had gotten to an advanced stage in the business. We were past the early stage and we wanted to grow, secure partnerships, increase revenue and sales,” she said.
“So the program was an accelerator that showed us how to go about all those details. I applied after I was notified of the program via email and we got selected amongst the first thirty. The list was soon trimmed down to ten and we were again selected. Participating in the program exposed the team to concepts that focused on business, marketing, sales, revenue generation, partnership, and recruitment of expertise. It was a really amazing experience and it served to put the business on track.”
Nayrouz is unfazed by the competition in the industry as she believes Direxiona is well-placed in the market on the backs of its keenness on bringing about positive social impact, rather than fixating on bottom lines. She opined that, although funds are very important when it comes to running a business, they shouldn’t form the basis of doing business.
To her, the idea is to first meet a need, and hopefully gather revenue while at it; and the latter just happens to always accompany the former naturally. This is what drove her to create the platform basically out of her own purse in the first place; and with its offerings tailored to meet the unique needs of women in a caring and friendly manner, she believes Direxiona has the edge over the competition.
And that assertion may indeed be justified on account of the platform’s aegis and value propositions which incorporates a large-scale, technology-driven approach, as well as an emphasis on nurturing professional female instructors that are sensitive to customer demands.
Nayrouz considers Direxiona to mean a lot more than just business or money; it is something of an innate burning desire to the entrepreneur, who interestingly appears to have not completely jettisoned her first love; writing, as she still freelances as a business writer on a number of media outlets.
She also expressed her pleasure and delight at the attention and recognition that the startup has garnered from both local and international media, as it is an indication that the business is definitely getting something right, whilst also serving as encouragement to put in more work in spite of the current challenges which exists in the form of financing and policies that are best suited to traditional business models.
Currently, Direxiona boasts a team of five, alongside the CEO, with an IT expert, a social media and PR specialist, as well as an operations and finance personnel, also on the company’s roster. The platform also welcomes interest from fresh graduates who are willing to look beyond unrealistically-quick-and-fat paychecks to garner the requisite experience and hone their skills in a real-life business environment.
Going forward, the startup aims to secure substantial investments to further scale its operations and possibly buoy its plans to expand into other countries in Africa and the MENA region; a move that should see it boost its capital and revenue. There are also indications that the platform is actively in the process of developing a mobile app that is expected to enhance customer experience and facilitate quick access to its operations. In any case, Nayrouz appears to have found fulfillment in helping women empower women.