Interview With Mohamad Haj Hasan, Co-Founder Of Jawaker & Akhtaboot

| Apr 22, 2009 | comment 2 Comments

Mohamad Haj HasanGoing back to our interviews with Arab internet entrepreneurs, we bring you a new interview with Mohamad Haj Hasan, co-founder of Jordan based Boundless, the company behind online cards game destination Jawaker, and online job portal Akhtaboot.

Of course, before anything I’d like to thank Mohamad for taking the time to answer our questions about Jawaker, their experience with it and where they aim to take it.

How did you get the idea for Jawaker? and what made you passionate about it as a project?

The idea of Jawaker came about when my partner, Yousef Shamoun, and I were bored one day and felt like playing cards online. We knew that there were a bunch of sites offering a wide variety of card games, and we thought that there must be at least one that has the card games that we grew up with (i.e. Trix, Tarneeb, Basra, etc.). Of course, we knew there were many programs that allowed us to play with a computer, but we wanted a multi-player experience of playing with other people. After spending time searching for such a site with no success, we decided to build our own site.

We decided to have our gaming infrastructure be based in Javascript (without the need for any downloads) in order to allow us to rapidly develop new games for the site. It is very easy to be passionate about Jawaker, because everything we do is very fun. Testing literally means playing, and since you are the first mover in the market, the thrill of innovation is a huge motivator.

What were the main challenges you faced while bringing Jawaker to life?

We originally thought that a gaming website would be simple. But we soon realized that there were so many issues and hurdles, even beyond the obvious technical ones. Gathering the “official” rules for these games and applying the UI based on these rules is not an easy task. Also, having the game play be user-friendly, fun and as close to playing in reality is quite challenging. There were huge debates on how and what information to show and also how to design gaming transitions that would scale across multiple games.

Then came the users and all the issues that come with putting yourself out there in front of people. We were always focused on a multi-player gaming experience, and that means that a critical mass of concurrent users needs to be on your site in order for the site to become alive. Tweaking the options around the game play itself was a big challenge that we solved by gathering statistics, listening to our users and reading the logs.

Jawaker started with Trix and has been releasing other games too; what games are next on your agenda?

We currently have Trix, Trix Complex, Solitaire and Tarneeb. Our infrastructure is set to roll out multiple card games. All I can say is stay tuned for what is coming up next!

Where do you see Jawaker a few years from now?

We see Jawaker as the leading card gaming portal for the Arab world. We are focused on card games that cater to our audience, and we hope that Jawaker will grow into a brand that is synonymous with the games that it hosts.

How do you plan to turn Jawaker into a profitable venture?

Our focus right now is on gaining users and traffic and improving the gaming experience for our users. We believe that the money will come after that. We thrive on creativity, and we just launched our own proprietary ad serving model that actually places ads on the back of the cards while users are playing. We believe that this kind of advertising will prove to be more effective than standard banner ads, since the brand will be right there in front of the user rather than sidelined around the content.

How many people are in the team behind Jawaker?

We are a small team of five people.

Could you give us a little idea about the technologies powering Jawaker?

Jawaker is built atop Merb, a Ruby MVC web development framework. Jawaker heavily relies on Memcached for caching. For data storage we use the Postgres database system, which has proven itself to be very reliable. Jawaker also has lots of Javascript code in its UI. We use the prototype framework, which has considerably eased development. Jawaker is deployed on Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing infrastructure, widely used by many web startups.

How different was the experience of creating and launching Jawaker than that with Akhtaboot?

Akhtaboot had a VERY steep learning curve. When we first started Akhtaboot, Yousef Shamoun, Fouad Mardini and I, barely knew anything about building a web application and an online business. We learnt so much during our experience with Akhtaboot that we were able to apply so many lessons to the development of Jawaker. It is much more focused and structured the second time around.

What lessons did you learn from launching Jawaker and Akhtaboot that you’d like to share with other Arab entrepreneurs?

There are so many opportunities in the Arab online space. The most important piece of advice is to incorporate a professional mentality and to benchmark globally. When we build our applications, we are focused on building quality apps that scale and that can compete on a global level. We always read up on what others in the industry are doing, and we stay ahead of the global curve, not just the Arab curve. Arab online users are thirsty for quality apps that strike a local cord with them, and only Arab entrepreneurs can provide these apps. Build a “glocal” company, one that originates in local thought but aims to compete and scale on a global level.

Jawaker and Akhtaboot are both products of Boundless; tell us more about your strategy for Boundless and are there any new products/services in the making?

Every web app we build increases our experience and knowledge exponentially. We do not believe in barriers at Boundless, we believe that there is a lot of room for creativity in the Arab online space. Our strategy is to keep innovating and bringing creative and original web applications to the regional market and to become pioneers in the space. We also build websites for third parties in order to leverage our experience to create better websites for our clients. We actually have a number of different projects in the pipeline that are essentially ideas staring everyone in the face, ideas that only lack determined implementation. Bringing ideas to life is what we love to do at Boundless.

Mohamad Haj Hasan graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Upon graduation he joined Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in New York, where he worked as a Financial Analyst in their Mergers & Acquisitions department. Before co-founding the online recruitment site Akhtaboot in late 2006, Mohamad was a Vice President at Rasmala Investments, a regional Asset Management firm based in Dubai, where he worked with a range of Middle Eastern and Gulf clients. Mohamad has since co-founded the web development company Boundless, which developed the online gaming website Jawaker among other third-party client websites.
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