As you hopefully know if you’ve ever interacted with our service, On Your Way is a community business: our clients are regular people living in Lebanon, and our main “suppliers” are individual travelers flying between the US or Europe and Lebanon.
Not only do we depend on our community, we like you guys ! That’s why we decided to do a series of blog posts opening up the company, so those of you who have an interest understand better what it is we do and how we do it. Beyond information, we’re also actively looking for suggestions on what you need and what to build so do tell !
There is little reason for On Your Way to exist, and even less reason for us to be focused on Lebanon! While Mané’s looks can get her mistaken for a Lebanese, my northern-French white skin makes it obvious very quickly that I haven’t spent long in the Levant. Before we launched On Your Way, neither of us had set foot in or near Beirut.
When we started out, the plan was to focus on Armenia, Mané’s country of origin, as we knew from relatives’ horror stories how difficult international shopping was there. It didn’t take much research to see that it wouldn’t make sense to operate in that market, as price differentials with the US/EU were too low and the competition seemed to be working rather well.
Enters the Lebanese Armenian diaspora (I am always amazed at how well the Armenian connection works!):
- “You know, this would work super well in Lebanon. I’d be happy to be your first traveler; I could use a trip to go see my parents.
- OK sure, we’ll give it a try”
And we did. And they were right! While we always thought that people would welcome the idea of free plane tickets (solving that side of the platform equation), we only gradually realized how important the issues of customs hassle and shipping fees were for shoppers. Growing order volumes and customer feedback are strengthening that impression every day.
A couple years in, what have we learnt?
Lebanon is – to me at least – an amazingly stimulating place! More on that in an upcoming post.
Business-wise, the original idea was to simply connect buyers and travelers and let them do their transactions independently of us, like an AirBnB for empty suitcase space. After about a year of operating this way, we realized that it was just too much hassle for users to connect. As friendly as people are, no one wants to spend a full day in Beirut meeting 30 strangers to hand them their orders.
So we decided to internalize the transactions: the buyers deal with us, the travelers deal with us. On balance, we feel that it has been a good decision, more than compensating for the reduced “human touch” by an increase in service quality (actually, we’d be interested to hear from you if you think otherwise. Actually, we’d be happy to hear from you no matter what. But I digress).
We have also learnt that there is a real demand for the service that we provide. We have heart-warming stories of frequent travelers whom we help with their long-distance relationships. We also have thousands of customers who have been able to get for a reasonable price products that are unavailable or absurdly expensive in Beirut shops.
Clearly, we aren’t quite done. Much work needs to be done to improve the service, make it faster, more reliable, more streamlined, easier to navigate (we’ll soon publish a roadmap of the features we are planning on launching). But we do feel like we are going somewhere with this service!
Thank you dear travelers for traveling with us. Thank you dear buyers for buying from us. Thank you Jeff Bezos for having created Amazon. We’re a good client of yours.