Iran’s Information and Communications Technology News Agency (ICTNA) lately caused a stir by reporting on claims that the country would soon get its first unicorn startup.
Shahram Shahkar, administrative manager at ride-hailing app business Snapp!, was said to have claimed at the Silk Road Startup Conference on the Persian Gulf island of Kish that the company would soon hit the $1bn valuation that grants unicorn status. Snapp!, following in Uber’s footsteps, by branching beyond simply ride-hailing, was moving into hotel reservation apps and, in collaboration with Irancell, also SnappPay software. Snapp! already offers food and package delivery services in Iran, a country of 85mn.
Inventiva, in a recent assessment of the top 10 potential unicorns in Iran, noted that Snapp!, starting off as Taxi Yaab in 2014, “did not have to market taxi culture to its consumers” as “Iranians were accustomed to taking unauthorized, unofficial cabs”. However, it added: “The software fell short of including a regular Iranian commuting feature into its product: haggling.”
It was found that “customers preferred the traditional haggling method with drivers to establish their fares. So the team improved the product and relaunched it in 2015 as Snapp.”
South African telecommunications company MTN is the largest international investor in Snapp!, with 43% ownership.
Inventiva also reported: “Snapp switched to a ‘progressive web app’ model when Apple and Google Play deleted Iranian apps [under pressure from the US as it re-applied heavy sanctions to Iran]. Clicking on it now brings you to a page in a web browser that nearly resembles the original. While there are certain disadvantages to this format (no push notifications, limited offline presence), it has a few options. To break its dependence on Google Maps, Snapp decided to build an in-house navigation system when Google withdrew its services from Iran in late 2017.”
The other potential unicorns listed by Inventiva are Iran’s ‘Amazon’, namely the Digikala e-store, the Cafe Bazaar smartphone app market, video-sharing website Aparaat, Navaar Audiobooks, online car marketplace Carvanaro, online listing platform for local service providers Donro, internet-based learning and teaching platform Webyad and second-hand goods website Divar.