Arabize, slap an Arabic funky name on it n’ you got yourself a new startup

| Jun 15, 2010 | comment 9 Comments

So if you skipped the class where your math teacher introduced Equivalence, you haven’t missed much. You can easily learn it while checking up some of the Arabia’s start-ups with some of the online services that you usually use. Mind you some will confuse you with Equality.

While this could be a degrading statement, there are very functional and online industry evolutionary reasons behind that. Simply it’s not our copycat genes that make us race for developing an Arabic version of the next big thing. Facebook? hah, we can make one in Arabic. Twitter? now that’s easy to make, let’s do that.

The “Yes We Can” Speech

Most of the times when one of those next big things float around on the Internet it creates a great deal of challenge for the developers(now called entrepreneurs) to prove that they can create something similar. Now, when the industry was in its infancy and all were trying to prove existence that could be acceptable, given the lack of funds, resources, and know-how that could limit the enthusiasts(see I’m not calling’em entrepreneurs yet). And, five years ago, our part of the world wasn’t really listening closely to the Internet start-up scene, so, as Albert Ainstein puts it best:

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

But that’s not doable anymore, as all are shared and blogged about, and we’re all connected. So if you wanna’ Arabize a LinkedIn or a Twitter, it’s a Game Over!

Market Access & Expertise

Although most of the Arabized services & apps are re-branded and translated the most important reason for the “Me Too” start-ups is the Market Access & Expertise. While Facebook was struggling with its own team structure and rivalry prior to going internationally lingual we had at least three Arabic social networks that bounced in and claimed reach, user loyalty, and the region domination. That was all for the simple reason that those developers knew their areas and knew their market. That worked for some, and failed for others. Once Facebook went fully internationalized and served the Arabic reader the press had nothing but claims from the Arabic social networks that they’re still not giving in. Old story.

So what’s happening now, Google is in town, Yahoo! is in town, Microsoft has been in town for a while, so don’t think about how your market is not reachable from the Silicon Valley anymore, once their studies show feasibility they’re sending their best in your way.

Intel Capital, IV Holding, Khalifa Fund, MBR SMB Fund, and twofour54 fund to name a few and lots of Angel Investors are in hunt for original/practical ideas. So no more reach problem as all can reach our market now, copy-cat genes should be reserved for some later generations when we’ve ended our ideas. With all the funds and resources available for start-ups it’s really shameful to see another branded in Arabic, it’s really shameful.

Missing the Boat

Now this one’s the biggest reason why we end up with becoming another start-up’s shadow, fear of missing the boat. So instead of fulfilling a need or solving a problem we try to dig hard to find solutions for the problems that we don’t have. Just because eBay works you go ahead n’ make another one for the region? Solve the payment gateway problem for a start, how about that? Instead, create another way of payment, tada! CoD(Cash on Delivery). Brilliant. Not only you didn’t fix the payment gateway issues but diverted everyone to not using payment gateways.

There is no boat to miss to begin with, as a matter of fact there’s no stream at all. It’s all in the cloud and there’s no destination but what you line.

With Maktoob’s deal earlier and the great International presence that the Digital & Advertising industries in the ME have it’s really uncool to end up with duplicates or equivalents. So show that Middle Eastern pride that you’ve been talking about all the time.

  • Adel

    great article :)

  • Hussam

    I agree with you in being not impressed with localized copy-cats. However, I do feel obligated to point out that this is not a uniquely Arabic issue as your article seems to imply. Copy cats exist everywhere, even amongst the big players (Google Buzz much? Heck, Facebook itself was not the first online social network). Anyway, I agree we need more original ideas that target our local needs, no doubt about that.

  • Mohammed MK Safi

    The pathetic aspect of it is that some of the copycats underestimate the resources that need to be devoted in order to copy (and improve on) the original website. So, Hussam is right in that this is not a uniquely Arabic issue, but when Google copies someone, they usually have a feasible plan on how to beat them. And the plan doesn't involve creating a worse service in a different language.

    In order for an Arabic service to go big, it'll need to be completely original and simple, just like Twitter. The reason for that is Arabs don't have the resources to make an Avatar movie. The best they can hope for is make a My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    As for Arabizing other services, someone should start a B2B service company that helps the big players Arabize their services.

  • mhashim

    It is not too surprising that this is happening. Considering most of these developers/entrepreneurs are getting their feet wet for the first time, there is a dominant feeling of going with the 'sure thing'.

    Its part of the natural evolution just the same way Europe is going through an evolution of copycat startups (especially all the german clones) to finding its own identity and solving its own unique problems.

    Like everything, the market works itself out. Failing to find success with copy cat startups will hopefully bring back stronger entrepreneurs that have been there done that and know that its time to dig a little deeper. As long as there are support systems and solid communities, I'm hopeful that this trend will only bring out better equipped founders.

  • Mohamed Hamedi

    Great article and I think you pointed to some very important issues that in a mature market would be a bad thing, but I think we should approach this copy-cat phenomena we are seeing in the Middle East in a different way, IMHO.

    As I see it, the copy-cats out there are not such a bad thing, it encourages initiative and courage to take a chance and actually go out and so something instead of the regionally accepted practice of sitting and watching.

    We have to believe that the copy cats hire people, force people to collaborate, share ideas. There bound to be some great ideas that will sprout among these people, who at the least shown that they can get up and do something.

    So, as bad as it might seem right now, I would look at it from a positive way and hope that this is just the start of an age (if I can have the liberty to say) of innovation in the Middle East region.

    Just my humble opinion.

  • Saleh Esmaeili

    @Mohamed Hamedi, @mhashim very valid points, I completely agree, it's about time mimicking gets replaced with innovation though, the time has come…

  • Al

    I am Arabic from Yemen and when I started there were sites started in the United States copying what I did that didnt bother me I was ready for that, and we still are No.1 for what we do ;-)

  • Saleh Esmaeili

    AI, that's great to hear. Of course we've lots o' great originality goin' on in our part of the world but the big picture n' mainstream services & solutions have remained Arabized. It's looking good from here on and it is going to be interesting as the start-up world is on fire.

  • H. Elzeni

    H. Elzeni

    Thanks for your nice article, I do agree with you that most of those CopyCats will work themselfs out someday. we need to get a bit more (Local & Original).

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