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Story | Education
23 December 2020

Autofix QA: the crystallization of a QF education


QF alumni’s automobile service is an example of what happens when creativity meets technology – and the benefits of studying in a multiversity campus.

What are the chances that two alumni from an art and design university would find and fill a market gap in a highly technical industry? If you answered ‘highly unlikely’, read on.

In 2017, Habeeb Mohammed Abu-Futtaim and Ayaz Rauf, two graduates of Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) – a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university – were working at the Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani museum, when they decided to launch something that had been on their minds since their undergraduate days – “an Uber for garages”, an online platform that would connect customers in need of automobile services, with local garages.

Ahmed Abuhamra

Ayaz Rauf

As they discussed the idea and explored Qatar’s automobile sector further, the pair noticed that the market seemed to have two categories of service providers: on the one hand, there were brand dealerships that provided quality service but were extremely expensive, and on the other, local garages that offered stop-gap measures that were cheaper, but lower in quality.

Intrigued, the pair spent several months gathering data, studying the consumer segment, and researching the services offered in Qatar. They discovered that there were hardly any local businesses that offered the same level of quality and transparency which were being offered by brand dealerships; the existing ones lacked either the infrastructure, the trained expertise, competent costs and services, orpost-service warranties that made high-end dealerships justify their steep billings.

“It was quite obvious that there was a glaring gap – or huge opportunity – in the market,” says Habeeb Abu-Futtaim, whose family hails from Yemen. “That’s when we decided to rethink our strategy; it was no longer about a virtual platform, but a physical one.

Initially, it was a challenge to even get the word out that such a service existed in Doha

Habeeb Abu-Futtaim

“With that in mind, we started Autofix QA in 2018, in a small space in the Industrial Area. As we’d started this with the aim of providing dealership-level services at affordable prices, without compromising on quality, initially, it was a challenge to even get the word out that such a service existed in Doha.

“But thanks to a strong online presence and a small yet committed team who personally oversaw everything from meeting with clients, through rehauling engines, to post-service follow-ups, news of our venture spread. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride since.”

Ahmed Rauf

Habeeb Abu-Futtaim

By 2019, the duo was able to move their business to a larger – and their current – physical space. Today, Autofix’s 14-strong team offers both technical and cosmetic automobile services, and have steadily built up a set of loyal customers as well as partners – Knightsbridge Automotive and Top Line Car Services being examples of partnered service providers from the same sector.

Over a year into the venture, Abu-Futtaim and Rauf were joined by two petroleum engineering alumni of Texas A&M University at Qatar, also a QF partner university: Ahmed Abuhamra, from Qatar, and Ayaz’s brother Ahmed Rauf. The additions worked perfectly.

Initially, it was a challenge to even get the word out that such a service existed in Doha

Habeeb Abu-Futtaim

“Autofix wouldn’t have evolved into what it is today, had it not been for Qatar Foundation’s immense pool of alumni talent that we can dip into, as and when needed,” says Ayaz Rauf, from Pakistan.

“If I had to pinpoint one element of a QF education that I’m incredibly grateful for, it has to be the cross-campus exposure we received; when you’re able to hang out with students from other universities, by default, you get to hear about their projects, and you go ‘Wow! This is so cool! These guys are doing stuff I can contribute to’.

“In our specific case, the technical finesse of these engineering graduates is what converts our creative concepts into concrete plans; their expertise has made a major difference in streamlining mechanical operations and cutting costs. For instance, when it comes to purchasing a sophisticated piece of equipment, and training our team to make the most of it, their guidance and mentoring is crucial.”

More than a lucrative break, we saw this as a way of giving back to the community that had supported us so much

Ahmed Abuhamra

Right from the start, the foursome was keen that their venture would tick the boxes of sustainability – a year into its operations, Autofix QA went paperless, with all transactions and documentation being converted to digital records, while a local waste management firm was entrusted with collecting used chemicals, sludge, grease and oils to be either recycled, or disposed-off responsibly.

And, there was more.

“The nature of the work may be highly technical, and there’s a constant buzz in the service area – but that only seems to have inspired Ayaz and Habeeb’s creativity,” smiles Ahmed Rauf. “The manner in which they view an object or interpret a challenge brings a refreshing perspective to this business, especially when it comes to repurposing scrap or discarded car parts.

The Autofix QA team at work.

“Where you see a dented petrol can, they see a cup holder; where you see the mangled front half of a car, they see a sofa; worn-out tires and plumbing pipes become washbasins or overhead lights, and cast-off cog-wheels turn into coffee-table coasters. And our customers love it, especially when bespoke pieces are designed exclusively for them.”

At VCUarts Qatar, no matter how outrageous or far-fetched our ideas seemed to be, our professors encouraged us to bring them to the discussion table

Ayaz Rauf

By early 2020, the four QF alumni had settled the initial teething troubles, and had built a solid reputation. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, with the Industrial Area zone being sealed off to prevent further spread, all businesses in the neighborhood, including Autofix, were forced to close down. The team had just decided to use the time to conduct their regular infrastructure inspection and maintenance, when they started receiving urgent requests.

“It’s strange how opportunities land at your doorstep,” says Ahmed Abuhamra. “We had mentally braced ourselves to remain shut for a while, when our customers reached out to us with repeated requests to disinfect their cars. Households which had one member affected and quarantined, wanted their vehicles sanitized before the rest of the members used it again – especially in situations where the most frequent user was the one who was sick.

“We stepped in. But this time, more than a lucrative break, we saw this as a way of giving back to the community that had supported us so much. Hence, we ourselves learned, and then trained our team in proper disinfection protocol.

“And it didn’t stop there; soon, small and mid-level businesses wanted their premises disinfected. So, we expanded our services to help them as well. Ironically, by the fourth quarter of 2020 we found ourselves even busier than before. Through all this, we maintained a nominal fee which covered only our costs.”

The question of how two people with an art and design background would even think of venturing into the automobile service sector is one that is often asked of Abu-Futtaim and Ayaz.

“At VCUarts Qatar, no matter how outrageous or far-fetched our ideas seemed to be, our professors encouraged us to bring them to the discussion table,” says Ayaz Rauf. “And when, with their guidance, those ideas were fleshed out, we often discovered far from being outrageous, they were solid, practical solutions.

“When you’re educated in an atmosphere like that, you realize that there really are no boundaries when it comes to what is possible and what isn’t. It’s a trait that you see across Education City.

“Autofix QA is very much the crystallization of a QF education.”

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