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UAE’s fuel refill app Cafu expects growth after competition from Enoc

Cafu founder says gas stations will find it hard to survive

Dubai: Having a big company such as Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc) as new competition may just be some of the best news Cafu got.

Cafu, a start-up that allows users to fill up their car’s gas tank through the click of a button on their phone, said it was validation to see a large traditional player enter the space of on-demand delivery. It also defended its safety standards after suggestions that Enoc can provide a safer alternative.

Rashid Al Ghurair, founder and chief executive officer of Cafu, said that Enoc’s entry into the fuel delivery space will only drive awareness of such a service, and this will benefit both companies. His comments come after Enoc announced earlier this month it will launch an app that allows drivers to have someone come to their location and fuel their car.

“Enoc will be spreading awareness of such a service, which will also help us to grow,” Al Ghurair said in an interview with Gulf News. “It’s like when Uber came here (to the UAE). They helped Careem, and Careem helped Uber, so they created an industry and awareness and pushed in the same direction.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if I see more players adopting the same move.”

Asked about the financial impact of a larger player entering the market where Cafu is the only provider, Al Ghurair said he expected that to accelerate growth in the start-up’s customer base as more consumers discover the service.

He pointed that with changing consumer habits, it will “very difficult” anyway for stations to survive as cities become smarter, and as demand increases.

Al Ghurair said that consumers are already opting for e-banking rather than visiting a branch, and are doing more of their shopping and food delivery online instead of at brick and mortar stores or over the phone.

Currently, Cafu is the only provider of on-demand fuel delivery through an app. Enoc said it will be starting its roll-out to businesses, and then expanding to serve individuals.

When Enoc announced its latest service, which is called Enoc Link, the company said that the difference compared to Cafu is safety. Saif Al Falasi, chief executive officer of Enoc, said the company has been in the business longer, and has trained its staff to mitigate any risks.

He also hinted at new regulations coming in that will allow only the UAE’s three main national oil companies (Enoc, Adnoc, and Emarat) to sell fuel in the country.

Cafu’s founder said that authorities in Dubai are already satisfied with his company’s safety standards and mitigation plans. He said the company works with authorities that include Dubai Civil Defence and the UK’s Health and Safety Executive Council to adopt the highest safety measures

He added that Cafu would welcome new regulations that aim to ensure the best practices are in place. Al Ghurair said he was confident that the Dubai government’s vision of being among the top innovators by 2021 will be realised.

“This is what I want to prove wrong. This country will always have forward-looking leaders who will support innovation, and who will support start-ups,” he said.

Enoc’s citation of new regulations is a throwback to what other companies, especially in the gig economy, such as Careem and Airbnb, encountered when they set up in the UAE. Careem and Uber were both suspended in August 2016 in Abu Dhabi over licensing issues. Now, the ride-hailing apps both have deals with transport authorities and are regulated in the UAE.

Similarly, when Airbnb attempted to launch in Dubai, regulations came in place to require homeowners to obtain licences before they can rent space in their homes on Airbnb.

Cafu said that it has no issues with partnering with a regulator because that would help all sides, including consumers who will be confident in the safety of the product they are using.

“We’re always keeping our doors open for collaboration. We can always extend our AI (Artificial Intelligence) solutions to new players in this arena,” Al Ghurair said.

For now, Cafu, which started operations in November 2018, is focused on expanding its delivery services. The company already has a fleet of over 100 trucks, and it believes that as it grows and as technology evolves, it will reach more users and even be able to reduce its delivery charges as a result.

Cafu charges users the same price for fuel as they would find at petrol stations, but adds an Dh18 service charge. Reports hinted that Enoc, in comparison, would offer its service at a Dh10 delivery charge.