How to build a tech business from scratch
Rupert Tait came to Dubai for three reasons. First, to escape political instability in his home country. Second, because his best friend lived in the city. And third, because “the biggest construction opportunities are here,” he says.
Arriving in 2020 from his native South Africa, he spent the first few months crashing on that best friend’s couch while he built the foundations of his new life – and new business.
Tait is CEO and, along with Marc Lemmens, co-founder of Procurified. It’s a digital platform that connects construction vendors with suppliers, replacing the heavily manual, Excel-based processes that preceded it.
Starting with “nothing but a suitcase,” Procurified has since facilitated around $140 million in tenders, and secured $1.1 million in seed funding in late 2022.
It’s a story that demonstrates the value of hard work, persistence, and being in the right place at the right time.
Starting from scratch
Tait has construction in his bones. “My family’s been in architecture and design for five generations,” he says. “Selfridges [in London] was partly designed by my great-grandfather.”
We’re on a mission to create software that streamlines and automates the connection from architect and interior designer to buying materials and putting them on a building.”
— Rupert Tait, CEO of Procurified
Following in his interior designer father’s footsteps, he started a design consultancy straight out of university. Before long, he was working on some of the biggest projects in the world. “We’re the lighting designers for Sindalah Island [in Saudi Arabia],” he says.
This combined heritage and experience gave him a deep insight into the construction sector, and where its inefficiencies lie – ultimately inspiring Procurified.
“The construction industry is hampered by its tools,” explains Tait. “We’re on a mission to create software that streamlines and automates the connection from architect and interior designer to buying materials and putting them on a building.”
It’s a great idea. But great ideas are cheap. Realizing them requires capital.
Raising the funds
Tait’s design lineage was fortuitous. He was less fortunate with funding. “I didn’t come from ‘my best friends are VCs’,” he says. “I had to do it the hard way: Not knowing anybody, building a network up, and getting traction on the product.”
And Tait had a supportive home to start from. AstroLabs builds tech ecosystems that combine basic facilities like co-working spaces with incubator and accelerator programs. It has supported the growth of companies ranging from homegrown unicorn Kitopi to multinationals like Deliveroo.
It was in AstroLabs Dubai that Tait developed Procurified, while attending meetups and networking events. “It was a good launchpad,” he says.
Even so, “starting a company anywhere is hard,” he adds, explaining that he pitched to around 150 VCs for investment, with over 200 pitch deck versions.
In the end, funding came from investors familiar with construction – who had previously turned him down.
“The process taught me a lot,” says Tait. “In hindsight, I think they were right not to invest early on. They saw things we couldn’t. Ultimately, I think we raised at the right time – when we knew where the product was going, and how to put a big chunk of money to good use.”
Scaling the business
Seed money in-hand, Tait says the company is currently focused on “generating revenue, proving the business, and delivering results.” The goal is to demonstrate $1 million annual revenue to attract further investment in 12 months.
Part of achieving that revenue will mean expanding beyond Dubai, and Tait intends to follow the number of big contractors who had or are setting up businesses elsewhere in the world. "They're our customers here in Dubai," he adds, "and here is where the decision makers are."
The lifestyle quality here is one of the best in the world, if not the best.”
— Rupert Tait, CEO of Procurified
Tait says people looking to access these opportunities choose to live in Dubai “because the lifestyle quality here is one of the best in the world, if not the best. Why would you not want to move here?”
And the lifestyle is paired with opportunity. “You can go to Silicon Valley or London where everybody’s pitching,” says Tait, “or you can come here where there’s more opportunity to grow a business in a sector that’s largely untouched.”
Building a better future
Tait says he moved to Dubai to “build a better future for myself.” He has arguably achieved that goal already – but the best is yet to come.
He believes that strong government support means “in five years, Dubai’s tech ecosystem is going to be massively developed,” citing investment from the Dubai Future Fund, and the Dubai Economic Agenda ‘D33’, as well as a raft of tech-friendly visas and business licences that have made it easy to set up in the emirate.
“I think it’s going to rival London and Silicon Valley,” he says. “I won’t be moving. Let’s put it like that.”