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If you’re familiar with the comic book character The Batman, you may also know Alfred Pennyworth, his trusted butler and sidekick. But what does this companion have to do with a hooded vigilante figure in this story on a UAE-based human resources (HR) technology platform called Alfii? Well, I’ll let its co-founder and CEO Yousef Albarqawi explain.” The name “Alfii” has a few different meanings, but the original idea was inspired by Alfred, Batman’s butler, who helped make things happen for the world but has never been on the front lines,” explains Albarqawi. “He provided all the help and support needed behind the scenes. Our name is a tribute to that: the support system that makes great things happen.”


Dina Mohammad-Laity, Yousef Albarqawi and Becky Jefferies, co-founders of Alfii

It was during his tenures as operations leader, at early stage initiatives and at global multinational companies like Deliveroo, that Albarqawi first observed how overwhelmed and underresourced HR professionals can be. This eventually led him to the idea of ​​creating Alfii, and he launched it together with two other co-founders: Dina Mohammad-Laity, a data scientist who has worked at renowned MENA companies such as Talabat and PropertyFinder, and Becky Jefferies , a brand-maker who previously led a MENA-level marketing team at Uber. “I learned that many HR teams, some with workforces of several thousand people, still relied on outdated, undigitized spreadsheets or other systems to manage HR processes and employee data,” recalls Albarqai. “I’ve also noticed that many companies invest in high-quality customer relationship management systems to bring customer data together in one place and manage those relationships easily, but lack an equivalent ‘single source of truth’ for management of their employees. And this despite the fact that personnel costs are the single biggest cost item for most companies! That’s why I decided to create Alfii. I want to make sure that all companies, not just large companies , can help their employees thrive.”

Set to go public in mid-December 2022, Alfii has now launched its private beta program in the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia as well as the US and UK. Its first release aims to streamline core HR processes of recruiting, onboarding, document collection and management, as well as payroll. And once publicly launched, Albarqawi ensures that any business can register on the Alfii e platform straight away start using it. “As a business-to-business (B2B) software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, our business model is subscription-based and pricing is structured on a per-seat/month basis,” she adds. “Later, we’ll address other aspects of workforce management, which will likely include benefits, leave and attendance, engagement, learning and development. There will also be additional managed value-added services that will be charged on a per-use basis. But, what’s more Most importantly, our model is optimized for startups and SMEs.”

Source: Alfii

Now, with SMEs accounting for 50% of the UAE’s gross domestic product and the nation itself becoming a global startup hub, catering to this market could add significant value to Alfii. “If we can enable our region’s startups and SMEs to offer people experiences that are as good, if not better, than their larger counterparts, then we have done our job, at least the beginning,” adds Albarqawi. The co-founder also clarifies that one of the main reasons Alfii is targeting this specific market is because the HR hurdles faced by smaller companies are extremely complicated. “Many large organizations are benefiting from enterprise-grade tools, but for most of the 5,000+ startups and 350,000+ SMEs in the UAE, the adoption of these tools is still relatively low,” he says. “On the one hand, enterprise-grade solutions are too complicated and expensive to integrate, aren’t easy to use, or are highly fragmented to the point that a single company could use as many as 40 different tools to manage their workforce” On the other aside, SME-oriented solutions in the region have left a lot of room for disruption. To quote my co-founder, Dina: “It’s 2022. Why do people copy and paste the same things every month? Want to cry.'”

Yousef Albarqawi, co-founder and CEO of Alfii. Source: Alfii

The fact that the inefficiency of one HR team often spills over into other areas of an organization is probably a fair assessment. But Mohammad-Laity, the co-founder of Alfii who is also its Chief Technological Officer, offers a narrative here that is not highlighted very often within such a discourse. “We need to understand that what further amplifies the frustration for HR teams is that they actually care deeply about making a difference for people — this is usually why they pursued a career in HR in the first place — but they rarely get to focus on the more important rewarding and rewarding aspects of their job,” she says. “No matter how well-meaning they are, they keep getting sidelined by paperwork and administrative tasks. By removing repetitive administrative tasks, we are increasing the amount of time they can spend on meaningful work that is best handled by a human. This significant work has a direct impact on the entire team, due to the people-centric nature.”

Related: Startup Spotlight: Predixa is helping companies in the UAE unlock the financial value of diversity, equity and inclusion

Incorporating a human touch thus became a necessary aspect of Alfii’s operations. But the key to doing it right is harnessing the power of technology wisely, says Mohammad-Laity. “Data is a big part of how we approach the human element,” he explains. “We are designing our platform with a powerful backend that can provide advanced analytics and insights into employee satisfaction, engagement levels, and other metrics that are important to keeping tabs on their people. I like to say that data is the voice of humans at scale and by designing the product the way we did, with the development principles that we have, we make sure that user data is critical to how the product works and is developed over time.”

Dina Mohammad-Laity, co-founder and CTO, Alfii. Source: Alfii

So how does Alfii reduce mundane and repetitive tasks for HR teams? “One example is our offering an employee self-service experience, where instead of asking their HR business partner for official documents (like a salary slip, for example) or updates to their personal information, they can help each other directly through the platform,” says Albarqawi. “One of our favorite features is a customizable drag-and-drop template builder, which simplifies things like offer letters, employment contracts, employee policies, and so on. By integrating electronic signatures into your workflow, new entrants and employees can digitally sign documents without leaving the platform.So we are committed to publishing a product that people love to use, just like our favorite apps, which is why every aspect of the user journey has a human touch; this is an important part of our DNA as a brand.”

And according to Jefferies, co-founder and chief marketing officer of the startup, the need for such people-centric features has become more significant in the post-pandemic world. “Despite the recent macroeconomic climate that has led to layoffs and other challenges for companies of all sizes and stages, it is still clear that for companies to remain competitive in today’s workplace, they need to win over talent and that is why so so many of them are consciously making a shift towards people-centric organizations,” Jefferies says. “That might sound like a buzzword now, but we believe it’s here to stay. And considering most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, that’s good news for all of us!”

Jefferies’ claims are backed up by hard facts, of course. For example, Deloitte Survey 2022 Gen Z and Millennials highlighted that good work, life balance and learning/development opportunities were now top priorities when choosing an employer. And if other workplace shifts like “The Big Resignation” and “silent leave” are anything to go by, it stands to reason that catering to this majority millennial workforce will require companies to rethink the human element of things. This, perhaps, is the right time to introduce the other meaning behind the startup name. “The word Alfii is also Arabic for ‘millennial’, which will soon become the largest segment of the workforce in the world,” explains Albarqawi. “The product we are building is for the future of work that they will soon be the biggest part of!”

Becky Jefferies, co-founder and CMO, Alfii. Source: Alfii

Jefferies adds that having two female co-founders at the helm of Alfii is also one of its greatest strengths. “When it comes to how female leadership is helping shape things at Alfii, one of the first things I would like to point out is the empathy factor,” she says. “Empathy is often seen as one of the ‘superpowers’ that women bring to the table, and given the importance of letting customer feedback drive product development, this gives us an edge that we consistently lean on. We have spoken to hundreds of HR leaders in many different geographies and the ability to listen, understand and relate to their pain points and challenges play a large part in shaping our product offering. With this insight, we can design intentionally the platform for what HR teams need most.”

With a public launch now just around the corner, the co-founding trio hope to see all their plans for Alfii turn into tangible results very soon. “Alfii’s ultimate vision is to help companies create a more connected, better performing and happier workforce,” says Albarqawi. “We want to do this by building the most user-centric and comprehensive people experience platform. It’s a great product vision that we intend to build good and fast!”

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