Interview With Questler Founder Razan Khatib

| Jun 16, 2008 | comment 7 Comments

QuestlerFirst of all, I’d like to really thank Razan Khatib, the founder of Questler, an interesting Jordan-based startup which was previously reviewed here, for taking some of her time to answer some of our questions about Questler, offer us some insight into the startup, the experience so far and where it’s going, as well as tips and advice for other entrepreneurs.

How would you describe Questler in your own words?
Questler is an informal learning network which allows its user base to learn from each other on any topic they have in mind through posting Quests and commenting on them. Quests in Questler are mini-blogs of information categorized into 6 types, Query, Observation, Discovery, Research, Media and Story. Each of those types represents an informal aspect to everyday learning. It’s not only a Q & A site, as some users keep comparing us with Yahoo!Answers. Questler is a place for mini-blogging, conversation, discussion, opinions and recommendations from peers rather than experts. The word “Questler” was chosen because learning starts with a quest!

How did you get the idea for Questler? and what made you feel passionate about this specific idea?
The initial thoughts on Questler came in late 2005, I basically stumbled on facebook while searching for learning technologies, and thought immediately of the power of social networks in learning rather than just social connections. I felt that there is a great space here for innovation yet I let sometime over 10 months before I started seriously working on Questler. Had to make the jump into entrepreneurship and that took some time to kick in! I was always enthusiastic about self-learning and learning from others, I find this form of learning (informal) is the real learning everyone does when they start working as opposed to what we learning in formal settings.

Did you face any difficulties or challenges taking Questler from idea to project to company?
Yes of course I did, financing from one hand was a challenge, trying to find the right partners as well as trying to create something new as opposed to imitating other sites. Still a challenge with the number of web startups launching everyday, the hardest challenge is your ability to adapt and keep trying to differentiate your project/product. We made numerous mistakes along the way, but working on Questler was and is the most exciting and fulfilling work I’ve done in my life, the adrenaline rush when launching a release, when traffic takes a hike, amazing experience.

How did you go about financing Questler?
Questler was and is still privately funded by myself, reason for that is the flexibility and freedom it brings with working and amending the details of the product every day. However, we are about to monetize on Questler and have it fund itself before we look for other sources of funding for growth of course.

What lessons did you take away from launching Questler that you’d like to share with other entrepreneurs?
The most obvious are the following:

  1. Don’t make a site for everyone and except everyone to join, find a niche and target it at first then move into the everyone game field.
  2. Location matters, even if you think your product is global, you must focus on where you are and launch from there into the world. This one we had to learn the hard way, yet we wanted to try!
  3. Content matters, don’t rely too much on users generating content by themselves, do more to motivate people, give and take, try to find relevant content and go get it. Everyone does it, even YouTube when they started!
  4. Never forget that the user is the application and the capability of the environment is just the tool!
  5. FOCUS and dedication, this had made our progress very slow so far.

Who would you say are Questler’s main target audience?
We had to struggle for sometime in defining our target market, as our site is more connected to the personality traits of users rather than demographics. But we finally were able to tap on it as working people between the ages of 21 and upwards. 21-30 are starting their careers and like to learn as much as they can from others experiences, 30+ like to share their experiences, opinions and knowledge. Originally we tried to market the product globally; now we are working on marketing in Jordan first and then into the world as the team are located in Amman, Jordan.

How many people currently work on Questler?
6 people, 4 of which are co-founders, one developer, Khalil Majdalawi, and one community officer Sally Shalabi. I work on design, product development and business development. Hassan Shahin works on product and information architecture, Alma Khasawnih, is our research expert Eyad Makhoul is our CTO.

Could you give us a little overview of the technologies Questler is running on?
Questler was developed using a LAMP stack, PHP 5.0 under the Code Igniter framework (MVC), running on MySQL 5.0 database and Apache as the internet server. Questler is being hosted at Media Temple (mediatemple.com) they offer the greatest hosting service I’ve ever used.

How large is the current Questler road map?
What are the main features you’re looking forward to adding? Its huge :) we will soon launch a new release and remove the beta from the logo, further we are working on adding more features for the next 6 months. Of these are RSS feeds, channel pages, mobile version of the site, toolbar and many more.

Also in the making is launching new products that are now in the product development stage. Questler, the company has a mission of creating products that tap into learning through human experiences. And I am saying no more for now ;-)

How do you evaluate Questler’s performance up to now?
Well like any founder passionate about their creations that didn’t make it big yet, would tell you we haven’t gotten to the tip of where we want to be just yet. What we managed to do over the past 6 months is tweak the features, design and information design of the site all after listening very closely to our beta users (Thank you all!) Also, great and constructive feedback from different people at the 3rd International Mobile and computer based learning (IMCL 2008) where we presented a paper on “Questler: A learning 2.0 experience from Jordan”.

Focus and dedication has been one major issue, every one of us (except Khalil) has other jobs to make money from and that showed its result into the slow moves we have been making which is already changing.

How does Questler plan to become profitable as a business?
Advertising is of course a revenue source we will tap on, but we are considering other sources of income through structuring our services differently. Other models we are looking at are channel sponsorship and mobile SMS.

Have you considered collaborating with other Arab startups on certain projects?
Yes, we are currently working with feedoor.com to create RSS feeds for Questler, and are very open to work with other Arab startups like TootCorp whom we consider as our close friends besides being noisy neighbors :)

Where do you see Questler a few years down the road?
Our vision is to for Questler to be company of ideas to be implemented through the web/mobile, with multiple products that focus on creating tools that help capture and cultivate learning and understanding of human experiences. We see it as an innovation center, a place for anyone with a great idea to have their space, focusing on talent from the region. A very cash positive company that shares its wealth with the people that work behind it every day.

Razan Khatib: A web strategist and technologist with 12 years of experience in information technology. Fulfilled several roles in IT project direction & management, product development & management, business process re-engineering & modeling, requirements solicitation & analysis, use case design & analysis in addition to software development and quality assurance & control. Focus for the past 3 years was on the web as a platform for innovative social media. Currently Co-founder and CEO of Spring Web Technologies and founder of Questler.com.
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  • http://www.za3tar.net/ za3tar

    Thank you Razan & Mohamed for this nice interview and for sharing some tips with us. I really appreciate the tips you gave for the fifth question, and i can’t agree more with you.

    I think many startups fail because they decide that their product is intended for a global audience and don’t invest in creating a loyal (and possibly local) community.

    I have also seen other online startups fail because they created the framework and just waited for the users to come in and fill the site with content. .. so you are absolutely right, that does not work.

    Thanks again for this wonderful interview, and my best wishes for continued success for you and Questler.

  • http://www.za3tar.net/ za3tar

    Thank you Razan & Mohamed for this nice interview and for sharing some tips with us. I really appreciate the tips you gave for the fifth question, and i can’t agree more with you.

    I think many startups fail because they decide that their product is intended for a global audience and don’t invest in creating a loyal (and possibly local) community.

    I have also seen other online startups fail because they created the framework and just waited for the users to come in and fill the site with content. .. so you are absolutely right, that does not work.

    Thanks again for this wonderful interview, and my best wishes for continued success for you and Questler.

  • http://www.za3tar.net/ za3tar

    Here is another thought / suggestion i have regarding Questler.

    When i was in Amman briefly, i was told about Questler, and the person who described it to me made it sound as if it is just another Q&A portal just like Yahoo! Answers. The same description was given to me by other people at different periods of time. So back then i wasn’t sure why would any company try to do something that a giant such as Yahoo! has done exactly and with not distinguishing features. .. and i have to admit, i wasn’t intrigued to check out the site.

    Anyway, when i read this interview and visited your site today, i realized it is more than just a Q&A portal. The whole “mini-blogging” description also confused me and i honestly didn’t know what it meant.

    I think what explained it best to me was the description given on your guided tour section, and i loved the idea. I think Questler should invest some more time to clear up the confusion in people’s minds about what questler really is. Maybe a better tag line, or some advertising, or even more blog interviews and reviews.

    Anyway .. great idea & site you have there, and i wish you continued success.

  • http://www.za3tar.net/ za3tar

    Here is another thought / suggestion i have regarding Questler.

    When i was in Amman briefly, i was told about Questler, and the person who described it to me made it sound as if it is just another Q&A portal just like Yahoo! Answers. The same description was given to me by other people at different periods of time. So back then i wasn’t sure why would any company try to do something that a giant such as Yahoo! has done exactly and with not distinguishing features. .. and i have to admit, i wasn’t intrigued to check out the site.

    Anyway, when i read this interview and visited your site today, i realized it is more than just a Q&A portal. The whole “mini-blogging” description also confused me and i honestly didn’t know what it meant.

    I think what explained it best to me was the description given on your guided tour section, and i loved the idea. I think Questler should invest some more time to clear up the confusion in people’s minds about what questler really is. Maybe a better tag line, or some advertising, or even more blog interviews and reviews.

    Anyway .. great idea & site you have there, and i wish you continued success.

  • http://www.questler.com Razan Khatib

    Thanks a lot Za3tar, we will definitely take your suggestions into serious consideration!

  • http://www.questler.com Razan Khatib

    Thanks a lot Za3tar, we will definitely take your suggestions into serious consideration!

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