Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Nakhweh, A Volunteer Matching Portal For Jordan

| October 4, 2009 – 10:26 pm | comment 2 Comments

Nakhweh

Nakhweh is a new portal that was recently launched in Jordan, aimed at being a tool to foster and develop voluntary work in the community, through bridging the gap between available programs and volunteers.

The site tries to achieve its goal by offering a number of online features to support the networking of leaders and volunteers in the community.

The portal is the brainchild of Kamel Al-Asmar and Hadi Nasereddin of Ideation Box from Jordan.

The following is a little Q&A we got to do with Kamel to know more about Nakhweh, how things have been going so far and their plans for the future. A big thanks to him for taking the time to answer our questions and offer some insight into Nakhweh.

Tell us more about Nakhweh and your goals for it in your own words.

Nakhweh.com is basically a website that aims to help in the matching process between the volunteers who are passionate about serving their communities and the organizations that need the help of those volunteers.
Nakhweh has been launched on the 19th of August with the least options that make the website usable and functioning in a way that serves volunteers and organizations simply yet effectively. That decision of launching the project at its early stages has been taken for two main reasons, which are: The Holy Month of Ramadan and to be the first in taking such an initiative before anybody else.

Our vision for Nakhweh is to make it the official volunteering platform for Jordan in a short time, to help other social entrepreneurs and to plan events every while and then to support a cause.

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Interview with Dan Stuart, Managing Partner At Intilaq

| April 27, 2009 – 10:01 am | comment 2 Comments

Dan StuartOne of the most interesting developments that have taken place recently in the internet entrepreneurship and venture capital space in the Arab world has been the launch of Bayt’s venture capital arm “Intilaq”.

To get even more details about this exciting bit of news, I got to ask Dan Stuart, who is Head of strategic initiatives at Bayt and a Managing Partner at Intilaq, a few questions about it all; why they’re doing it, why now, where they’re going and more.

I’d like to thank him very much for taking some of his time to answer these questions and provide us all with more insight into this new venture.

What made Bayt decide to move into the venture capital space?
The vision and mission of Bayt.com don’t say anything about being strictly a job site, per se. From the outset, the founders were focused on creating a Middle Eastern institution that empowers people in the region to build better lives. Jobs were the primary focus because of their direct impact on lifestyle – and we have maintained a firm leadership positioning in that domain as measured by any parameter – but from the outset we recognized that there are many other opportunities to better people’s lives in the Middle East. Combine this affinity to the people of the region with a first-hand understanding of the unique needs of the region as well as the challenges in starting a business in the region, and add to that a strong desire to expand our scope and invest the capital reserves that we have built over time, and we decided that an investment arm was the logical next step.

Why did you choose to do it now?
There has never been a better time to start an online business in the Middle East. Internet penetration is skyrocketing, there is a huge bubble in regional demographics at the youth level, successful online business models are prevalent globally, but still relatively nascent regionally, and agile and open source technologies are making it easier to put vision into reality. Inefficient processes are ripe for disruption, and with funding and mentorship, we think that there is great potential for not only local/regional Internet successes to emerge, but truly global leaders. There is no reason that a Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Facebook, Baidu, Salesforce, or other online tech leader cannot – and should not – emerge from the MENA region.

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

| April 22, 2009 – 9:45 am | 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.

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Interview With StartUpArabia Founder, Mohamed Marwen Meddah, On Al Hurra TV

| January 15, 2009 – 8:33 am | comment 22 Comments

For those who don’t follow the Arabic version of StartUpArabia, here is the interview with StartUpArabia founder, Mohamed Marwen Meddah, on Al-Hurra TV (in Arabic).

Interview With Habib Haddad, Co-Founder Of Language Analytics LLC. / Yamli

| July 21, 2008 – 11:40 am | comment 18 Comments
Habib Haddad And Imad Jureidini
Habib Haddad & Imad Jureidini

Continuing our series of interviews with Arab entrepreneurs, we bring you our interview with Habib Haddad, co-founder of Language Analytics LLC., the company that brought us Yamli, the cool web-based transliteration tool that solves the problem of many Arab users who don’t have an Arabic keyboard or who aren’t as comfortable typing in Arabic.

I’d really like to start by thanking Habib for taking some of his time to answer our questions, generously providing details and insight about Yamli, how everything fell into place, where they’re taking it, as well as sharing some tips and advice for other entrepreneurs.

How did you get the idea to build a tool like Yamli?

The idea came from my personal frustration in interacting with the Arabic language on the Web. It seemed to me unreal that I, an Arabic native speaker, had difficulty using my own language on the web. Living in Boston, access to an Arabic keyboard is not very easy especially when you are on your desk at work and want to search for news in Arabic. Even when I lived in Lebanon my interaction with the Arabic keyboard was limited, which is sad but it is the case with a large number of Arabic internet users. In fact, studies at the American University in Cairo shows that 78% of Arabic internet users have never typed in Arabic! Imagine if 78% of French never typed in French. Imagine how destructive that would be for the language on the web and how limiting it would be for local businesses, entrepreneurs and even publishers.

Could you tell us more about the steps you went through to make Yamli a reality?

Form the team: I was happy to have Imad Jureidini, a colleague from a previous startup to join me as a co-founder. My advice here is to pick someone who complements you, excel at what they do, who you enjoy hanging out with, and look for someone you think is smarter than you.

Identify the vision and goals: This is the thing that says that if we don’t get anything else right, this is what we’re going to do well and really excel at it.

This to me is the most important step and is broken down into multiple steps:

  • Listen to your users’ problems: We spoke to potential real users (friends and family) to get a feeling on how they view the ideal solution for this problem. It’s amazing how unexpectedly unhelpful this was. Basically users don’t know the best solution to their problems, but they know what problems they have. Instead of asking what users want, try listening to their problems.
  • Know your REAL competition: Transliteration in general, and even in the case of Arabic, is not a new concept but we felt it had not been solved the right way. There were a few tools out there that solved this problem by requiring the user to learn a one to one mapping table. However our real competition was the English keyboard. We wanted to come up with a solution appealing enough to convince the user, who is not accustomed to typing in Arabic, that now he can actually do it, that he can type real Arabic words using Yamli with no extra effort.
  • Our vision:
    • Accurate solution that does not require the effort of learning from the users and that “magically” finds the right word.
    • Seamless solution, drop dead simple to start typing and not even feel an extra layer.
    • Available to all users (API)

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Interview With Twffaha Co-Founder & CEO Ashraf Mansoor

| July 14, 2008 – 11:03 am | comment 4 Comments

Ashraf MansoorBefore anything, I’d really like to thank Ashraf Mansoor, the co-founder and CEO of Twffaha, the job portal for Arab women, which was previously reviewed here, for taking some of his time to answer our questions about Twffaha, and give us more insight into the startup, how things have been going so far, as well as sharing some tips and advice for other entrepreneurs.

How would you describe Twffaha in your own words?

Twffaha is an endeavor to endorse and promote recruiting women in the Middle East. It is an online job portal that strives to provide women job seekers with state-of-the art tools, and tips that will help them unearth jobs in accordance with their skills and qualifications. A platform for employers to land their next greatest prospect, and a belief that women are an underrated asset that if recruited properly will guide to economic growth and sustainability in the Middle East.

How did you get the idea for Twffaha? And what made you feel passionate about this specific idea?

The idea for Twffaha came in late 2007. We came across different studies that showed the rate of recruiting women in the region is far beyond the international rates. At the time we were designing a job portal for a different purpose, and then we thought we need to find a niche in order to compete with the numerous job portals in the market, that’s when we decided to launch an exclusive women job portal, and came up with the name Twffaha.

What difficulties or challenges did you face making Twffaha a reality?

As an Arabic startup you are destined to face challenges. The atmosphere is not conductive for startups. One of the problems was finding the right people who believed in the idea and who can be a driving force. We also encountered major outages during our public beta that forced us to reconsider our infrastructure, and find new reliable partners. We believe problems are an integral part of a startup structure, so we embrace them.

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Interview With Questler Founder Razan Khatib

| June 16, 2008 – 11:04 am | 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.

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