ITDigest’s Interview With Abdallah Abu-Sheikh, Founder at Astra Tech


Leaders should never underestimate the importance of the network effect when building a business; it’;s crucial to be surrounded by talent.

As someone with a significant impact on the MENA region’s consumer technology sector, could you elaborate on the innovative features and services offered by the Ultra-platform under your leadership at Astra Tech, and how it addresses the challenge of platform fatigue?

Since the inception of Astra Tech, our vision was crystal clear; create a digital ecosystem aimed at simplifying people’s lives and revolutionizing the consumer technology sector in the MENA region, by addressing a prevalent issue in today’s world: the hundreds of thousands of apps that are flooding people’s phones and causing exhaustion from an excess amount of choices.

This led to the strategic acquisition of Botim,a VoIP app, along with PayBy, a fintech platform, and Rizek, an on-demand home services provider, all of which were seamlessly integrated and resulted in the transformation of Botim into the world’s first Ultra app.

The innovative features of the Ultra app play a pivotal role in redefining the user experience. One notable feature is the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities, such as BotimGPT, and the first executional Arabic LLM, our proprietary AI solution that is set to empower users to perform tasks using a simple text feature. Our commitment goes beyond mere innovation, as we create an inclusive platform accessible to individuals, regardless of income, age and financial backgrounds. This dedication to inclusivity is in every facet of our development process

Today, the Botim Ultra-App has over 150 million users globally, seamlessly integrating fintech, e-commerce, bill and fine payments and more.

Abdallah, in your journey of kick-starting groundbreaking innovations, could you share specific examples of projects or initiatives that showcase your focus on sustainability, mobility, and digitization in the digital marketplace and EV sector?

While my current focus isn’t exclusively on the electric vehicle (EV) sector with my latest venture, I do recognize its significance in the broader context of sustainability and the future of mobility and do believe that in today’s landscape, it is inevitable that sustainability, mobility, and digitization are  interconnected.

My first business was in Africa, where my late father’s aviation business had a strong presence, prompted by a conversation with the then President of The Gambia who asked me, “Can you build a renewable energy project?’ And I was like, “Sure, I can do this”, and that is how Lux started, amassing $700 million in assets within three years. This opened the door for my next venture Barq, the MENA’s pioneer in smart and sustainable mobility solutions, at the age of 25.

Through these experiences, I’ve realized my passion lies in creating impactful ventures. I constantly find myself asking the question, “How can I build something that changes people’s lives?”

Through Astra Tech, we are addressing the needs of untapped segments such as the underserved and underbanked, creating a cost-effective and self-sufficient ecosystem for consumers and businesses alike.

An example is our collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority. Recognizing the potential for improved communication between farmers and buyers, we implemented a solution enabling farmers to utilize a familiar app. By facilitating direct connections between farmers and consumers through a familiar app, we eliminate intermediaries, supporting local farmers by digitally empowering on one side and providing Botim users access to fresh produce. In doing so, we not only digitally empower local farmers but also offer Botim users convenient access to fresh produce. This approach not only supports the agricultural community but also aligns with sustainability goals.

As we continue to evolve, we anticipate incorporating sustainability and mobility initiatives more prominently into our innovation roadmap, aligning with global trends and the growing importance of environmentally conscious practices.

How does Astra Tech’s Ultra Platform, as the first of its kind in the MEA region, aim to streamline and simplify the interaction, engagement, and transactions between users and businesses?

I have always embraced the philosophy that if something needs to change, one should not wait for someone else to take the initiative, and that is where my journey began to identify and address problems that others tend to overlook.

In my role as the Co-Founder and CEO of Astra Tech, I have had the privilege of contributing to the transformation of the technology landscape in the MENA region, striving to foster a culture that embraces change and innovation. Astra’s vision is both straightforward and groundbreaking: to simplify people’s lives by creating an Ultra app.

I am particularly passionate about facilitating conversations that bring people together for the shared goal of building a more inclusive and forward-thinking tech environment. My work has found a platform on forums like TEDx, London Tech Week, Singapore FinTech Summit, and , and I aspire to continue these contributions as part of a broader effort to drive meaningful change.

What distinguishes Astra Tech is our commitment to an integrated ecosystem, where users perform tasks seamlessly within the platform, eliminating the complexity of using multiple apps. Our vision is realized through the Botim Ultra app, offering a more intuitive user experience. Unlike super apps with service-based use cases and poor unit economics, our ultra app leverages existing communication patterns. This strategy fosters inclusivity, digital sovereignty, and addresses underserved markets, resulting in higher user stickiness and frequency without the need for adapting to new behaviors or interfaces.

We differentiate ourselves not just by what we offer but by how we envision the future of digital services—an interconnected, user-friendly, and inclusive ecosystem that empowers individuals and businesses alike.

In what ways do digital ecosystems transform traditional business models, and how can organizations strategically adapt to leverage the full potential of these interconnected networks for sustainable growth and competitive advantage?

Digital ecosystems have played a crucial role in transforming our traditional business models, reshaping operations, enhancing user interactions, and promoting sustainable growth with a competitive edge.

In our strategic approach to adaptation within interconnected networks through the Ultra app, we’ve fostered collaborative partnerships that go beyond conventional boundaries. The integration of BotimGPT within the Ultra app is another example of the potential these initiatives hold. It showcases the intersection of AI technologies and digital ecosystems, facilitating natural language interactions and offering personalized recommendations to bridge language barriers and enhance user engagement.

To adapt to interconnected networks, I advocate for a user-centric philosophy. Our success, reflected in an 80% market penetration in the UAE, stems from our understanding of user pain points and  our commitment to addressing them. This user-first approach is a key driver of sustainable growth within the digital ecosystem.

An adaptive strategy involves forming collaborative partnerships, customizing services for diverse markets, integrating AI technologies, and prioritizing user-centric design. Astra Tech’s Ultra app serves as a clear example of leveraging interconnected networks for sustainable growth and gaining a competitive advantage in the evolving digital landscape.

In what ways do you believe the ongoing advancements in technology are not only transforming traditional industries but also creating new opportunities for innovation, and how can businesses effectively leverage these changes to stay ahead in a rapidly evolving digital landscape?

Ongoing technological advancements are reshaping industries and fostering innovation, evident in the rise of digital platforms and e-commerce. Automation and AI offer significant potential for cost reduction and enhanced operations, but success also requires an agile business model, allowing businesses to remain adaptable in the face of the ever-evolving technological landscapes.

Additionally, the abundance of data available in today’s digital landscape presents valuable insights into customer behavior and market trends. To capitalize on the wealth of data, businesses should employ advanced analytics tools for informed decision-making, ultimately tailoring their strategies to meet the consumers’ changing demands and needs.

To effectively navigate and leverage these changes, businesses should Embrace a culture of innovation, across all departments. Astra Tech follows a Day 1 culture, encouraging experimentation and continuous learning, what we refer to as “Build, Break, Build again, ” a philosophy that led to the creation of the groundbreaking Ultra app, Botim. Employee upskilling is crucial for a workforce ready for the digital era.

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Strategic partnerships and collaborations with technology companies and governments also provide access to cutting-edge innovations and expands our digital footprint, consumer trust and offerings. A user-centric approach, fueled by data insights, enhances customer satisfaction and loyalty. Investment in research and development remains crucial for staying at the forefront of technological advancements. Ethical considerations, such as social responsibility, contribute to building stronger relationships with customers and stakeholders.

What advice do you have for other leaders who are looking to drive growth for their brand?

Have a clear understanding that success is not a gift but the result of hard work and patience, embrace that both learning and failure are part of the journey. keep an open mind to acquire new knowledge as you grow, this means that you need to leave your ego at home and be ready to get your hands dirty.  Leaders should never underestimate the importance of the network effect when building a business; it’s crucial to be surrounded by talent. It fosters an environment of innovation, collaboration, and continuous improvement, essential elements for long-term success in today’s dynamic business landscape.

It’s also crucial to shift your perspective on observing others in the industry from a stance of fear, but rather a willingness to capitalize on the shortcomings and challenge the status quo. At Astra Tech, our Day 1 culture advocates for a fearless approach – build, break, and build again. We encourage our teams to experiment and persist, and that’s where creativity lies.

From an entrepreneurial standpoint, the emphasis should revolve around presenting a profitable and sustainable business model to funders. On the operational front, companies, founders, and entrepreneurs should strive to run their businesses with profitability as a priority, avoiding unnecessary costs – thinking of how to make the most value of each $1 spent.

Thanks, Abdallah!

Abdallah Abu-Sheikh is the CEO and Co-Founder of Astra Tech (Astra), He works alongside one of the world’s best technology teams to build the region’s largest technology ecosystem, boasting over 150 million global users.

Astra Tech is the holding group behind Botim, PayBy, and Rizek, seamlessly integrated into the world’s first Ultra platform under the Botim umbrella. We are committed to building the region’s most powerful platform, combining communications, financial services, and on-demand services for each and every one of our users.