There is a new player in the region for online commerce, but it is not in the way that you think: it is a website designed to help you get your project off the ground. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, crowdfunding it is a way to get projects funded by taking your case directly to your audience. Simply put, it allows people with a good idea, but no means to see it through, to see who might want to pitch in to make it happen. Normally, for their efforts, a funder would be compensated by some version of the finished product. As this sort of online marketing has begun to revolutionize online purchasing and manufacturing, it was only a matter of time before there was one specific to the Arab world; thank goodness it has arrived. We sit down with Abdallah Absi, CEO of Zoomaal, to see how it’s going.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Zoomaal.com?
From the age of 17, I have been trying and testing start-ups, although not getting funding required to carry through. Four and a half years later, and with hard earned experience, a thorough study of crowdfunding and how it works, an impressive list of investors, and an inspiration that started it all, I was able to put together the right project in Zoomaal. Living in a system with no government support to entrepreneurs and where there is much difficulty in acquiring funding from venture capitalists (especially for small projects) has been tough. It has also led to the slowing down of Arab innovation and creativity. Believing in the Arab world, and that Arabs really are creative people with so many potential projects that never get the financial means to make it happen, caused me to use all that I had learned previously on this endeavor.
Is there any significance to the name?
“Zoomaal” comes from the Arabic phrase pronounced “thoo maal,” which means ‘someone with money’ as a direct translation. This is a perfect, concise way to describe an Arab crowdfunding platform. It also helps that it sounds unique and catchy in English too.
When did it launch?
Our official launch was on the 4th of July 2013, but there was a lot of work done before that in order to make sure that we already had projects up and running when we launched.
How is your traffic at present?
We have more than 600 projects in our pipeline, and have raised just short of $100,000 in funding to date. So we are quite happy with it.
Why this website/market segment?
We wanted to be able to help entrepreneurs that might have a creative idea but just lack the funding to make it work.
Any problems/ particulars to the Arab world?
Crowdfunding is a relatively new initiative in the Arab world; people are generally distrustful of paying money online.
Who is your average user?
Somewhat young, tech savvy users who are present on more than one social media platform, as well as people with credit cards and such who are able to fund.
How important is it to have an Arab specific site of this kind (as opposed to Arabs just using the Western version of same)?
The problem with the Western versions currently available in the world is that their payment systems are set up so that many people in Arab countries cannot fund projects on those platforms. Therefore, many Arab project owners on the site cannot be supported by their family and friends back home. Also, Arab projects do not get the exposure they deserve because the market is different. Additionally, there are language barriers, geographic barriers, and people in the area have more connections with media and organizations and are therefore better equipped to provide the marketing push and advice required for a successful campaign.
How important are “creativity and innovation” to your site and why do they feature so heavily in your projects?
The vision of Zoomaal is based heavily on supporting Arab creativity and innovation. And since crowdfunding is based on acquiring money from the people, projects need to be creative and innovative in order to have appeal and thus get funded.
What sort of projects find success and/or failure on your site?
Cool gadgets and community projects are the most successful because they hold the most appeal to people. The project owners themselves, their connections and reach, if it’s a group or an organization, the social media presence is a pretty reliable indicator of the reach, and hence higher possibility of funding; all of these things help.
Any notable projects you would like to speak about?
We recently helped the musical group Mashrou’ Leila crowdfund their third album Ra’asuk. We raised around $67,000 for that. Another good one would be Project Dalala , which uses sentiment analysis to empower social change and development. This one is still going on currently and can be found on our site. Lastly, we had the ‘THIS Toothbrush’ which raised just under $19,000. What was really neat about this project is that it blended the old world traditional Miswak toothbrush with the modern Arab lifestyle.
Where does the 5% service fee go?
The 5% fee that Zoomaal takes from successful projects goes to the improvement of services provided, the honing of creativity present in the Arab world, and the educating of people in the Arab world about crowdfunding.
Finish this sentence: In one year from now, the website will be…
The center of Arab creativity and innovation!
Zoomaal is up and running for all you creative entrepreneurs out there. Go to their website to learn more at www.zoomaal.com.