UAE’s Astra Tech buys Botim, bolstering push to create super app

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United Arab Emirates-based technology investment firm Astra Tech bought the Gulf region’s most popular voice-calling app, Botim, taking it a step closer to creating a platform that will offer everything from instant messaging to digital payments.

The deal will make Astra Tech one of the largest communications technology platforms in the Middle East and North Africa. The firm didn’t provide a value for Botim, which it bought from a group of UAE investors, but said the app has 90 million registered and 25 million monthly active users.

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The UAE, where 85 percent of the population are foreigners, blocks calls from applications such as Microsoft Corp.’s Skype, Meta Platforms Inc’s WhatsApp and Apple Inc’s FaceTime. That has driven up user numbers for Botim, which is one of few apps UAE residents can use to make voice calls over the internet.

In addition to free video and voice calls, Botim offers money transfers within the UAE, phone recharges as well as bill payments locally and internationally, according to a statement. Following the acquisition, Astra Tech will allow users to pay bills and access government services through the app, and order food and groceries.

“Botim will be the first of its kind in the region to simplify interactions of hundreds of millions of users, allowing them to engage and transact seamlessly,” Astra Tech Founder Abdallah Abu Sheikh said.

Astra Tech joins firms including Uber Technologies Inc.’s Middle Eastern subsidiary Careem in building out so-called Super Apps. Careem’s app will allow access to services including food delivery, grocery shopping, shipping and bike rentals — all sectors that boomed during the pandemic.

The deal comes days after Astra Tech said PayBy, which it acquired in August, received central bank approval to provide services including money transfers and payments. The company aims to integrate these services within Botim, enabling users to pay utility bills or transact with stores online.

Astra Tech, founded last year, has raised $500 million from investors including Abu Dhabi-based artificial intelligence firm G42. The firm expects to announce further plans for Botim at the end of the first quarter and will continue to seek further acquisitions for the app.

Its first acquisition was Rizek, which connects users to vendors offering services from car rentals and Covid tests to housekeeping and personal training. Rizek, whose investors include Abu Dhabi’s ADQ, was valued at $75 million in its last funding round and has more than a million users.

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