Thinking inside the box.

Christine is a journalist from South Africa, who has lived and worked in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, covering everything from hard news to luxury lifestyle. Having been bitten by the travel bug as an infant, Christine finds it fairly easy to uproot herself in search of new adventures and stories.

We’ve all experienced the living hell of too many things, too little space in the Middle East. Winter clothes unceremoniously stuffed in with festive decorations that we only use once a year, and garages doubling up as packing containers. Until one day you break down and finally agree it’s time for a self-storage plan—that’s before you see the price tag of course.

Enter Boxit—a self-storage startup that is ticking all the right boxes in Kuwait, and just starting to take on the UAE market by launching in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

Using the idea box

The idea for Boxit came to CEO Premlal Pullisserry while he and his wife were doing some spring-cleaning. They had a whole host of items that were not going to be used, but weren’t going to be thrown out either.

At the time, private storage companies in Kuwait offered a minimum space of around 10 sq ft, costing nothing less than $150 a month. Jokingly, Pulissery and his wife suggested storing their unwanted items at their neighbor’s home, which seemed to have a lot of extra space.

That joke led to Pulissery and his co-founders, Abraham Thomas and Joby Matthew to further explore the idea of using private space for storage. The trio surveyed over 200 people in their community to see whether there was interest for affordable micro-level storage.

Not surprisingly, there were others like Pulissery and his wife who were undergoing a similar hassle. The founders then turned towards American storage-on-demand companies like BoxBee and MakeSpace, and found the inspiration for Boxit. Building their business model on these global sharing economy companies, Boxit, in its current avatar, is an app-based company that owns no warehouses or delivery vehicles. Its operations are similar to MakeSpace, but almost entirely eliminate the need for customer participation.

Its goal is to disrupt the storage industry in the region by offering a service that makes storage as easy and seamless as possible—at a much more palatable price using a combination of technology and logistics. Its user-facing product is simply an app that allows you to request a storage box or two (or twelve) that are delivered to your door. Once you’ve packed all your items, taking pictures as you go, you appoint a time for the boxes to be picked up.

Should you need one of your stored items, you can browse your visual catalogue in the app, select the boxes you want, and schedule a delivery back to your place within a day. Bringing this global concept to the region, however, has had some challenges, says Pulissery.

It’s all about the trust

For one, even though Kuwait has one of the most smartphone-savvy populations in the Middle East, people are still apprehensive in adopting technology for transaction-based activities. So building trust has been a substantial obstacle.

“We found that people in this region are still mistrusting of paying online. That is why we started with Cash On Delivery. But we have noticed that we only need to do that the first time round. Once the customers have used our services, seen how it works and know that we are real, then, with their subsequent subscriptions, they would readily and happily pay online.”

In order to establish trust with the Kuwaiti community, the Boxit team used a couple of methods.

They first identified early adopters who could spread the word, and then looked for a further endorsement from key institutions and local media.

“While conducting our surveys within the communities, we registered those who were interested as potential early adopters. And once we launched the beta version of our product, we asked those who registered to start using it. Since we had already met them, and updated them on what’s coming, we’d already built a small relationship with that group of people,” he says.

Being active within the startup and tech communities in Kuwait, and having trusted institutions giving their stamps of approval took the trust factor one step further.

“One of the key things that really cemented our trustworthiness was the exposure we got from the media in the early days who recognized us as a legitimate startup business.”

New avenues, new beginnings

In the initial days, Boxit primarily targeted expats, who they thought would readily adopt the concept. “But one of the surprising things that we came across during this journey, is that even the locals really appreciated this idea, and started using the service as much, if not, even more than the expats,” Pulissery says.

They also found differential behaviors in expats versus locals. “Where expats will take three to four boxes, the locals take a minimum of 10 to 12 on average. Another thing we found surprising was that the larger the house, the more storage people need.”

“We also get more references from locals than expats, because locals are part of a very close-knit community,” he adds. Nader Museitif, one of Boxit’s early investors, mentors and board members, is confident that the region will see accelerated growth in the adoption of e-commerce.

“We see a lot of growth in people using technology here, especially when you look at companies like Uber or sites like Souq.com. And don’t forget the sheer number of expats who come from developed markets where they are used to using apps for such services,” says Museitif, who heads business development at Uber’s MENA operations.

Thankfully for Boxit, there are others who hold Museitif’s view on the opportunity. In May, the team successfully closed their seed round, at a valuation of $2.3 million, securing a neat $600,000 in funding. This infusion will be used in regional expansion and hiring more staff, says Pulissery, until there are blue box trucks crisscrossing every major Arab city in the region. 

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