May 20, 2022

We all agreed to be positive and to focus on the future instead of what we lost in Syria

Launching a startup is no easy task, especially for refugees. Meet the band of brothers who founded an e-commerce site named after their mother, AsumSaray, which is catering to the huge numbers of Arab customers in Turkey.

As a young high school graduate in 2014, Mohammad’s plans for higher education were cut short by the conflict that was ravaging Syria.  He and his family were forced to flee their home in Damascus and restart their lives in Turkey, where Mohammad and his six siblings immediately started looking for ways to support their family financially. He was just 16 years old.

The siblings faced many obstacles; learning a different language, difficulties equivalating their  qualifications obtained in Syria and many employers refused them for not having Turkish passports.

“Syrian refugees in Turkey face barriers to finding a job. This forces them to start setting up small businesses, but usually, they face access to finance challenges,” says Muhammad’s elder brother, Mansour.

Arab customers, Turkish products

Living away from family and friends and wanting to keep up with the latest developments in the Syrian conflict led Mohammad to become more active on social media after moving to Turkey. “I was publishing [photos of] some Turkish products on my accounts just because I like it,” says Mohammad. “And then I found my friends and relatives asking me about it and checking if I can ship it to their locations in and outside Turkey”.

After a while, Mohammad called a family meeting with his siblings. He proposed his idea of establishing a Facebook page to sell and ship Turkish products to his Syrian customers. Mohammed had noticed that the Turkish e-commerce market often did not use the Arabic language, so a huge Arab customer base could not easily access Turkish products.

Our mother’s palace 

“We started shipping through social media, and then we developed the idea to launch an e-commerce website. The decision was not hard because we were already part of the market,” Mohammad says.

With the ever-increasing sales from social media, the family agreed to kick off their e-commerce website, AsumSaray Store. Saray in Turkish means ‘palace’, and Asoom is the name of the siblings’ mother. Which means Asoom Palace. “We called it AsumSaray to receive our mother’s blessing for success,” says Mohammad.

Meet Mohammad Jamal, 24, a Syrian entrepreneur in Turkey and founder of the first Arabic e-commerce website in Turkey (Asumsaray).

Revenues increased by 35%With the launching AsumSaray Store, the number of orders increased, which brought with it fresh challenges. “We faced many unpredictable challenges, including a shortage of Arab software developers to update the website frequently,” explains Mohammad. “The concept of e-commerce was not that popular in Turkey, and extra online customers meant we needed proper agreements with shipping companies.”

AsumSaray joined SPARK’s programme, Economic Resilience through the COVID-19, funded by the Qatar Fund for Development, and gained access to expert business training by the Arabic-speaking, BINA Business Incubator, to help expand the company.

During the incubation period with BINA, the AsumSaray team benefited from training, mentorship and customised coaching sessions on marketing, software development, human resources and financial management. Mohammad and his siblings developed their business model and found solutions to shipping agreements with Turkish suppliers throughout the incubation period. Furthermore, AsumSaray was introduced to many investors during the NIMA II startup competition organised by BINA.

After three years, plenty of support and a great deal of passion, AsumSaray’s revenue has increased by 35%. The team is currently working to establish a mobile application and add two more languages to the site: English and Turkish.

Supporting other refugees, Mohammad now helps refugees make a new start

AsumSaray started with two employees only, but now they have more than 16 employees and they have plans to expand which means creating more job opportunities. AsumSaray focuses to give opportunities for Syrian refugees and people with disabilities. “What gives us the passion for continuing is to prove that refugees are capable. We can have businesses that contribute to the prosperity of the host country’s GDP. We create jobs and ensure that we’re giving opportunities to people with disabilities.”.

As a business started by a refugee family, AsumSaray cares about creating jobs and securing labour rights for other refugees.

“We all agreed to be positive and to have the mentality of focusing on the future instead of what we lost in Syria,” says Muhammad’s elder brother Mansour.