Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

ASTF And Intel Launch 4th Arab Technology Business Plan Competition

| September 17, 2008 – 3:51 pm | comment No Comments

ASTFThe Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF), a regional and international non-profit NGO, in collaboration with Intel announced the launch of the 4th Arab Technology Business Plan Competition, and the start of the 2nd Made in the Arab World Competition, across more than ten Arab countries including the UAE, KSA, Jordan and Egypt.

ASTF was established in 2000 by Arab scientists and researchers in order to identify and support outstanding scientific achievement within the region. The Foundation also seeks to promote the advancement Arab entrepreneurship by acting as a mediator between up and coming companies and investors. 

Commenting on the announcement, Ferruh Gurtas, Corporate Affairs Group Director, Intel Middle East, Turkey and Africa said: ’The Middle East is an exciting and dynamic region with a growing number of entrepreneurs – many of whom require initial funding to launch their projects. The 4th Arab Technology Business Plan Competition does just that. It is an opportunity for young, Arab entrepreneurs to map out and transform their ideas from a concept to a tangible working company. At Intel we believe entrepreneurship is a key driver for emerging Middle East economies. As the region begins to compete on an increasingly global scale, these skills, coupled with technological expertise will help local businesses to excel in an international marketplace.’

The Arab Technology Business Plan Competition strives to support and assist Arab entrepreneurs to transform their ideas into successful ventures by providing them with access to potential investors and venture capitalist that are willing to finance promising technology start-ups through the Arab Investment Forum, which is held annually in one of the participating Arab nations. 

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Broadband Subscribers Increase By 48% In The Middle East

| September 11, 2008 – 12:03 pm | comment 1 Comment

The number of broadband subscribers in the Middle East increased by 48 per cent in 2007 compared to 2006, according to a new report published by industry research company RNCOS.

The report, titled ‘Middle East Broadband Forecast to 2010‘, said that ‘the region’s soaring broadband demand has been propelled by the inadequacy of existing broadband infrastructure, and government policies promoting rapid broadband adoption as a tool for economic development’.

Among the report’s other key findings:

- In 2007, Israel dominated the Middle East broadband market having major chunk of the broadband subscribers, followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE.

- Egypt is anticipated to report highest growth in its broadband subscriber base among the Middle Eastern countries at a CAGR of over 83% from 2008 to 2010.

- The total number of 3G subscribers in the Middle East is expected to surpass four million by 2010 end, growing at a CAGR of around 60%.

- Throughout the Middle East region, incumbent and alternative fixed-line operators are rolling out IPTV, helping the operators better maintain their main-line base and gradually increase spend per customer in the face of falling ADSL prices.

Amazon Joins Taufeer.com E-Channel Retailers Program

| September 7, 2008 – 7:03 pm | comment 4 Comments

TaufeerTaufeer.com, part of Riyadh-based Taufeer Information Systems LLC, a leading e-commerce service provider, today announced that amazon.com, one of the world’s largest online retailers, has joined Taufeer.com e-channel retailers program.

By using Taufeer.com e-channel service, amazon.com will be able to present its products and offers to millions of Ready-to-buy customers in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

‘We are very excited about signing up a mega retailer such as amazon.com to our e-channel program,’ said Yasser Abdullah, Founder and CEO of Taufeer.com.

‘After careful analysis and testing by amazon.com, our advanced comparison shopping service was selected for its simplicity and ease of integration with Amazon.com infrastructure,’ he added.

Starting with consumer electronics products, amazon.com will expand its offering on Taufeer.com to cover a large selection of products targeted for the Saudi market. Amazon.com has no presence in the Arab market and this represent the first step in bringing their collection and shopping experience to Middle East.

‘This is an important milestone in our strategy to be the first destination for online shoppers in the Middle East. Our service is suitable for all retailers, regardless of their current ecommerce deployment stage. So far, the feedback has been excellent and we expect to sign up a few major retailers in Saudi Arabia very shortly.’

Taufeer.com e-Channel service is aimed to help retailers jump start the challenges and technical difficulties and proceed to achieve significant returns without significant investment. Web retailers can also benefit from Taufeer.com shopping comparison to generate qualified sales leads to their online stores.

Middle East Has World’s Second Fastest Internet Traffic Growth

| September 4, 2008 – 11:42 am | comment 1 Comment

According to a new study from TeleGeography, a telecommunications research and advisory firm, international internet traffic grew 53% between mid-2007 and mid-2008, down from 61% the preceding year.

The Middle East claims the second fastest internet traffic growth in the world, with a growth rate of 97% a year since 2005. South Asia, with its booming economies, comes in first place, with an average annual rate of 103%.
The slowest growing region of the world is North America, with a 57% annual growth rate.

Internet Traffic (TeleGeography)

For the second consecutive year, total international internet capacity grew faster than total internet traffic, leading to lower utilisation levels on many internet backbones. Between 2007 and 2008 average traffic utilisation levels decreased from 31% to 29%, while peak utilisation fell from 44% to 43%. The aggregate trend toward lower utilisation of capacity belies significant regional differences. While utilisation on international links to Europe and Asia fell in 2008, they rose in the US & Canada and Latin America where traffic growth outpaced the deployment of new internet bandwidth.

The Middle East is connected to the rest of the world by only a handful of undersea cables, and was hit hard by widespread internet blackouts in late January, after the simultaneous failure of some of these undersea cables located off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.

Many major telecommunications company in the region are currently involved in a number of international cable projects, with more than $1 billion of investment, to augment internet capacity for the region.

Middle East Businesses Missing Out On Online Marketing Power

| August 30, 2008 – 6:07 pm | comment 5 Comments

Yousef TuqanMiddle East businesses could be taking far greater advantage of the marketing power of the Internet.

That was the message presented by Flip Media CEO, Yousef Tuqan, as he discussed the best ways for Qatar companies to build their web presence at this week’s QSTP TECHtalk.

Tuqan said: ‘Online advertising has been growing at more than 50% a year since 2004. Despite this frenetic increase the total last year came to just $35m, or less than 1% of what Middle East companies spend offline.’

On the plus side, he said, this low demand translates to low prices for online ads, an opportunity that Qatar companies can take advantage of. For example a life-insurance company in the US might pay $30 or more if someone clicks on their advertisement. In the Middle East, a company in the same industry may only have to pay a dollar or two.

Tuqan was presenting at a TECHtalk seminar hosted by Qatar Science & Technology Park. The bi-monthly seminars focus on the intersection between technology and business, and are open to the public.

Joining Tuqan in a panel discussion were ictQatar QCERT Center Director & Manager, Khalid Sadiq Al-Hashmi and Fuego General Manager, Karl Gretton. They agreed that although Qatar has one of the highest rates of Internet usage in the region, with 26% of the population now online, local businesses are not yet making the most of the web.

Tuqan said: ‘The most effective regional online advertising strategies take advantage of the latest technologies in relation to making users active participants instead of passive viewers, but within the social and cultural contexts of the region.’

He gave a case study of a Dubai property developer who set up a website where people could make good wishes for Ramadan. It attracted almost 40,000 participants in less than one month.

Yousef’s PowerPoint presentation is available here (PDF).

The Nine Deadly Startup Diseases

| August 23, 2008 – 3:39 pm | comment 4 Comments

VirusesBuilding a successful startup is no easy feat; There are a number of problems that founders can face and that can hurt their startups, even fatally.

A really interesting article was published on Sitepoint recently about the nine deadly startup diseases and how they can be cured; I thought I’d share the nine points here in my own words.

The list of deadly diseases goes as follows:

1. The Imaginary User Syndrome: Having no idea who your target audience are will only lead to a lack of direction for your startup, many problems marketing it, and even possible failure. A core target audience has to be defined and reached out to.

2. The Frenetic Distraction Pox: Where time and effort is invested in the early days of a startup is very important; the obvious choice is on building the product, attracting users, reaching objectives; other non-essential tasks can wait for later.

3. The Wrong Hire Infection: Hiring the wrong people at the initial stages of a startup could prove very problematic and even fatal for it; a certain caliber of employees, commitment, skills and passion are really important.

4. The Implicit Promise Fever: Basing your startup on implicit agreements and assumptions with the co-founders and members without anything written down to clarify things like share percentages, voting rights, what do if there is a disagreement or if things don’t work out too well, can only lead to a bunch of problems that could haunt the startup.

5. The Stealth Product Delusion: Waiting as long as possible before starting to show the product to people for feedback under the pretext that it should be perfect is a mistake; the earlier people start giving feedback on the product, the earlier and easier you can factor their ideas into the product and know if you’re on the right track.

6. The Wrong Platform Fracture: Choosing the wrong platform (language, framework, technology) to build your product could come at a very costly price if at a later stage it turns out that it doesn’t fulfill all your needs, isn’t able to scale or isn’t flexible enough; so the decision should be a very well researched one before taking the leap into development.

7. The Other Interest Disorder: Working on other different projects or startups in parallel could prove fatal for a startup, especially in its initial phases of its life, when it needs all the time and effort it can get and more. Focus and dedication are of utmost importance.

8. The Perfection Hallucination: Perfectionism could hurt a startup more than it helps; it has to be balanced with a good deal of pragmatism to know just when the right point is to put the product or new feature out there for users and continue tweaking, enhancing and factoring in feedback later on.

9. The Marketing Blind Spot: The idea of ‘Build it, and they will come’, as enticing as it is, doesn’t always hold true; relying solely on word of mouth marketing could cost the startup its life; every startup needs a certain specific combination of marketing techniques to get through to people and builds its user base; all those techniques and options have to be explored.

You can read the full article with more details here: Nine Deadly Startup Diseases – and How to Cure Them.

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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Challenges To Web 2.0 In The Arab World

| June 9, 2008 – 1:17 pm | comment 20 Comments
This guest blog is by Mohamed Nanabhay , Head of New Media at the AlJazeera Network based in Doha, Qatar.

Launching an internet company in the the region can be a challenging endevour. While there is lots of startup activity going on, it is worthwhile looking at what those challenges are when starting up or assessing the success rate of the newest kid on the block. The three big challenges facing entrepreneurs in the region are:

  1. Low internet penetration
    Across the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA), you’re looking at approximately 25 million internet users (of which less than 6 million have broadband). But that doesn’t give you an accurate figure for the size of the market – to get that number we need to remove Iran and Israel which leaves us with an astonishing figure of under 10 million internet users and about 3 million broadband users.Whichever way you look at it, 10 million is not a big number. To put it into perspective, France alone has nearly 16 million internet users (with 12 million broadband users) but entrepreneurs are finding it difficult to start-up just for the French market. Loic Le Meur tells the story of Richard Branson telling him that his problem was that he was French which limited his market. Loic has moved to decided that it was too small a market to start Seesmic in so he moved to San Francisco.

    This of course does not mean it is impossible to build a company or site for the Arabic interweb, it just means that there is a problem of scale.

  2. Online advertising market immature
    So even if you managed to capture a sizable chunk of the online audience, you’re faced with a problem of revenue generation. Forget trying to build a business based on a subscription model (which is so 1.0 anyway) since credit card penetration is probably lower than internet penetration. So what you’re left with is seeking out online advertising or sponsorship.I have yet to see a serious player in this market (if you know of one please let me know ASAP) which sadly means that there is no serious underlying business model. This is changing slowly – Google has setup shop in the region and has been promoting Adwords to the marketing folk but I suspect it will take some time before we see impressive CPMs.
  3. The environment is not conducive for startups
    But even if there was an advertising model that worked, we’re still left with the fact that there isn’t a strong internet startup culture and most online plays lack any serious innovation. Even the sweet services from the TootCorp gang are more or less localised versions of Silicon Valley startups (Ikbis = Youtube & Watwet =Twitter).Of course, this problem isn’t limited to the region but it should be something people are concerned about. I’ve seen people being put down in so many ways when trying to launch something new and novel. I have two university students interning for me – they are super-smart, motivated and hardworking. There is no reason that they couldn’t build a rockin’ internet company. Unfortunately I’ve seen many people (from lecturers to people who should get it) continually being totally hostile to the web projects they work on. Definitely not the way to foster innovation….

    And lest we forget the bureaucracy…

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The Importance Of Having An API For Arab Startups

| May 30, 2008 – 1:18 pm | comment 15 Comments

APIOver the past few years, one of the really important trends and directions we’ve been seeing with online services is the move towards opening their platforms, mainly through APIs (Application programming interfaces), so that people can build a set of tools around them, pull or push information through them easily, and so as to make it easier for other platforms to talk to their platform as well.

When it comes to the tools developed around these platforms, we find tools that use the base functionalities provided by the platform, just making them easier to use by providing different interfaces and clients for the application; and other tools that extend the application further by providing complimentary functionalities that make it even more interesting for more users.

In both of these cases, having people developing these kinds of tools, and users adopting them, can only be good for the service, mainly because it helps build a community of users around the service, spreads it even further into the mainstream, and because it also provides clearer ideas for growth through the different uses the application is being used for.

On the other hand, having the possibility for other platforms to talk to their platform provides users of both platforms with an added-value, which can only be good, building user loyalty and growing both services’ user bases.

In the Arab online startup scene, we can’t really find that many examples of services opening up their platforms through APIs, even though I think it’s even more important and crucial in the Arab internet context.

Arab startups don’t have as much access to funding as their US or international counterparts, meaning that they have less flexibility and ability to grow their service into a central point that can be everything for everyone, so it’d be more interesting if they could just concentrate on one area, that they could fully develop and do very well, and then open it up so that other specialized services can plug in and communicate with it, in a way that we end up with a group of online applications that compliment each other and work together successfully.

Just taking the example of Yamli that recently opened up their linguistic service through an API, we can see that the online services that have integrated the functionality in their systems have easily provided an added-value for their users without having to invest a lot of time into developing a solution of their own, leaving them the time to concentrate on their main business, while Yamli see a growth in their user base and can continue to develop their solution even more.

In the end it’s a win-win situation for both the providing service and the consuming one.

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