Soon, customers of VIVA Bahrain will get to experience next generation technology when they enter one of the telecom’s branches—the next generation tech of waiting in line that is. Rather than taking a printed ticket dispensed by a kiosk, they’ll be greeted by a tablet device, like an iPad, and simply tap the screen to reserve a spot in line.
The telecom is currently finalizing an agreement with Skiplino, a Bahraini startup that has developed a queue management system utilizing cloud technology and mobile devices.
Skiplino’s technology is designed to update and improve the way companies handle their customer queues. To direct and control customers waiting to be served, companies like telecoms and banks generally rely on queue management systems based around the aforementioned ticketing kiosk. But, these existing systems can be expensive, and don’t guarantee that you won’t get stuck waiting.
Convinced that he could make this process more efficient, Skiplino’s founder Zaman AH. Zaman began developing his own queue management system in 2015 after he got stuck waiting in line himself.
Several years ago, Zaman was heading to catch a flight at Bahrain International Airport when he stopped to make a quick transaction at the bank. He thought it would take three minutes. No such luck. “I had to wait like 45 minutes,” says Zaman.
A serial entrepreneur and already the founder of several startups, the incident inspired Zaman to do some research. He found that queue management systems had remained largely unchanged over the years—and that the same handful of companies had long controlled the market. That wasn’t all. “The more research I did, I found out that queue management systems are very, very expensive,” he says.
Considering recent advances in mobile technology and businesses becoming more data driven, Zaman felt there was an opportunity to improve the system while also cutting down on costs. He initially developed Skiplino through Level Z, a business he runs that incubates ideas and turns them into functioning products, before spinning them off into separate companies. That’s what he did with Skiplino in January 2017. Now a standalone company, it has three cofounders—Zaman, and two of his collaborators from Level Z, Ricardo Gaspar and Alharith Alatawi.
Skiplino’s system operates as a series of cloud-connected apps available on iOS, Android and for web. The first app is on the tablet device presented to customers at the door, where they can reserve a spot in line. Skiplino then sends them a ticket in form of an SMS or email confirmation (or printed, if all else fails). Or, another option, the startup created a free mobile app for customers, which can be used to join a queue before even arriving at a participating company’s branch.
Simultaneously, on a TV screen in the waiting room another Skiplino app displays which customer is being served. Then there’s an app for company agents, which they use to call customers. All of these are connected through the cloud and can be supervised by an administrator in the branch. That’s where Skiplino gets particularly interesting.
Skiplino’s system monitors what’s happening inside a branch in real-time, and collects a variety of data. Over time this reveals when a branch is busiest and how long customers are having to wait. It also tracks the performance and efficiency of individual employees and collects customer feedback. All of this data is compiled into reports, which companies can use to identify ways to improve efficiency and customer service.
According to Zaman, it takes less than an hour to get Skiplino’s service up and running and to train employees across multiple branches. A traditional queue management system can take days to install.
Skiplino recently surpassed the 1,000 subscribers mark, and today is being used by businesses and organizations in more than 120 countries. Most of the company’s subscribers come from the U.S., the U.K. and the Philippines. Its primary clients are telecoms, banks, government entities and even schools. “A big part of our clientele is universities that need a queue management system for their registration process,” says Zaman.
Regionally, Skiplino has clients such as Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior and Kuwait University. Another company using Skiplino is Careem in Qatar. There, the ride-sharing company uses Skiplino to help handle interactions with its drivers. Joeraj Fernando, Careem’s Supply Associate in Qatar, was responsible for subscribing to Skiplino and reports they’re happy with the service. “It has helped us a lot,” says Fernando.
Skiplino has two paid subscription tiers. The first costs $99 per month, per branch, the second $149 per month, per branch. The more expensive tier gives more customization options, such as integrating the service with a company’s logos. It also has a free plan for companies that handle fewer than 50 customers per day.
Pricing is an area where Zaman sees Skiplino as having a major advantage over competitors. In Bahrain, he says a competitor charged a client $330,000 per year to service 24 branches. Through Skiplino’s $99 monthly tier that would come out to $28,512 for 24 branches for an entire year. “It’s 90% cheaper than the closest competitor and with more options, analytics and reports,” says Zaman.
According to Zaman, the price difference is because traditional queue management systems require clients to install both the service provider’s hardware and software on premises. They also generally require clients to pay maintenance fees.
In contrast, Skiplino doesn’t sell clients any hardware and its system is hosted on the cloud. It’s installed like you would download any other app. Although clients need mobile devices to run Skiplino’s system, they presumably already own these.
Still, there’s plenty of competition out there from established players and new alike. Skiplino isn’t the only company trying to update queueing technology. One is Dubai’s Wavetec, which has developed its own mobilebased queueing system, in addition to offering traditional varieties. Founded in 1986, Wavetec has served clients such as Emirates and Zain.
Despite healthy subscriber growth, Skiplino only had its first billing cycle in July. Zaman projects the company will take $1.1 million in revenue by the end of 2017. In the meantime, Skiplino is working to close a series A funding round. To date the company has raised $1.28 million in seed funding from Level Z and two outside investors.
Now Zaman wants to expand his team, and is considering opening other offices in the U.A.E. and potentially in London or Amsterdam.
For Zaman, Skiplino is just the latest in a string of ventures. “I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to make a sort of dent on the world.”
He started his first business in 2007 when he was 23. Although born and raised in Bahrain, he lived in the U.A.E. for around 10 years and studied business at the American University in Dubai. It was there he started a company that sold in-flight advertising on low-cost airlines in the region, which consisted of placing ads on the backs of tray tables.
He eventually got a couple of offers to buy his fledgling company, but he turned them down—something he now describes as the “arrogance of ignorance.” Shortly afterwards the 2008 global financial crisis struck, and his business fell apart.
Zaman eventually moved back to Bahrain, where in 2010 he and a partner formed Digital Cube Technologies, which developed enterprise software for companies to help with things like business process management and auditing.
While running Digital Cube he also co-founded a gaming studio called Crocodile Games in 2012. He ran that for three years until his partner in the venture left, after which the company folded. “So I had a few failures, here and there,” he says, with a laugh.
But Digital Cube ended up being a profitable company. He eventually used funds made from his other businesses to start his own holding company, Zaman Ventures, through which he made a few investments. In 2015, he ceded control of Digital Cube to his partner, and went on to form Level Z, which he styled as a “startup factory.” He put all of the funds from Zaman Ventures into the new company. “I wanted to do Level Z because I had a lot of projects I had shelved over the years,” says Zaman. “Skiplino was one of them.”
He enlisted his eventual Skiplino co-founders, Gaspar and Alatawi, to help him with Level Z. Gaspar previously worked as head of design for Ogilvy in Bahrain, and had been introduced to Gaspar through a friend several years earlier. Alatawi, who handles the operational side of the business, was a family friend. “I actually convinced both of them to quit their jobs and do this full-time,” says Zaman.
In addition to Gaspar and Alatawi, Zaman hired engineers, developers and marketeers. Skiplino was Level Z’s first project. Since then the startup factory has begun work on other ideas, including a media and advertising project called Vert.
Although Zaman is still CEO at Level Z, he serves in the same capacity for Skiplino and plans on remaining in that role for the foreseeable future. If the startup proves successful in the long run, he may bring in someone else to run it.
Once Skiplino’s system was built, they posted it on Product Hunt, a website that lets users discover new products. That helped the company gain early traction. Skiplino’s first subscriber was a small bank in Italy.
However, an early challenge for Skiplino came from convincing clients of the merits of a cloud-based queue management system. Many potential clients were wary that relying on cloud technology would mean Skiplino would have access to sensitive information. It doesn’t, reports Zaman—but it’s an issue to contend with nonetheless.
Another problem has come from pricing. Many companies assume that because Skiplino is cheaper than traditional systems that it’s because it’s of inferior quality. “If you’re used to buying something for like $10,000, and I come to you and tell you, ‘Okay I’ll give you something better for $99,’ you’d be shocked. You’d be skeptical,” says Zaman.
Despite that, companies are subscribing—and in faraway markets like the U.S. that’s happened generally without the startup making much of a marketing or sales push there. “We thought we would have to target the region,” says Zaman. “But people were finding us from around the globe.”
That prompted Zaman to actively look to expand the company further, which is part of the reason why he’s intent on closing another funding round. He was approached in the past by regional investors about Skiplino, but turned them down. “People wanted to come in at a very low valuation,” he says. Now he thinks Skiplino is ready for something bigger.
After a decade spent tinkering with different ventures, perhaps Zaman has finally found the idea he’s been waiting for.