One of the direct results of the arab spring revolutions is the sudden increase in the number of entrepreneurs in the arab world. As things starting settling down the handful of pre-arabSpring were joined by hundreds if not thousands of new entrepreneurs. Filled with ArabSpring euphoria most of these new entrepreneurs had grandiose ideas they believed would make a dent in the reality they are living in, and perhaps-as a welcomed side effect-would catapult them into stardom. However without much of a business plan, foreseeable revenue stream or previous experience many of them just faded away (ex: zabatak).
Going through these projects I realized that there is a single recipe followed by most of them, it may not turn your idea into a steady cashflow however its almost guaranteed to grant you your 15 minutes of fame.
There is a certain approach followed by most post jan25 entrepreneurs almost guaranteed to result in 15 minutes of fame before slipping into oblivion as lack of a revenue stream kicks in.
The approach is as follows
1. Pick a grandiose idea
A social website through which users can report potholes and other paving issues impacting their driving experience as well as traffic.
lets use “Improving the quality of the streets and driving experience in Egypt” as an example.
2. Put in a social spin
This shifts the content production overhead to the user, greatly reducing the operational expenses (opex).
“Working Together to Improve the quality of the streets and driving experience in Egypt”
3. Pick a hip name and an appropriately grandiose mission statement.
The name must be based on a slang word, it must be a verb derivative referring to (us/you/them), the mission statement must emphasize public working and how we can solve all our problems by coming together. In our example “Shaware3na, together we can drive better“. http://www.shaware3na.com
4. Find an open source social platform that can accommodate your idea with minimal effort.
Ushahidi is perfect for spatial representation of crowd sourced reports. (and what would work with this example).
Switfriver for twitter driven analytics/aggregation.
Drupal / Joomla / WordPress for almost everything else.
5. Design and Logo Guidelines
Text based easy to read logo is the most optimum choice here, incorporating Arabic letters into it would make a huge difference to people high on national pride, including tashkeel help as well.
“Shawarعak with the S looking like a paved road”
The website must have an Arabic version since most of your users if not all would be Arabic speakers.
6. Host on the cloud
The cheapest cloud based service would do, this will have a directly influence how long the website will remains live, many options exist some of which are:
7. Marketing the grandiose idea
Target the popular facebook pages, Peppering them with how your idea would make your country a much better place (needless to say use Arabic), talk to the admins of that page and try to get them to endorse your product. Try to get people who are high on the newly rediscovered national pride to like your product and market it for you. Hit even the Islamist pages (using the share Fl khair sentence).
A twitter account wouldn’t hurt, ask the movers and shakers of twitterverse to tweet about you (most of them would since they are always looking for something new and cool to talk about).
8. Start talking with the media
Once the idea starts gaining traction media is to be contacted. target main stream newspapers technology sections. Tech journalists are always on the look out for some local news to run since there aren’t that many to begin with, and once someone talks about you in one news paper the rest would instantly want to talk to you.
TV is a must as well channels such as ONTV are quite interested in products that has the potential of “helping” Egypt, if you play your cards right you’ll get featured in one of their shows (Baladna or onTube).
9. Whats next
15 minutes of fame achieved, and with minimal operational expenses the website can be kept live until the weekly visitors figure is in the double digits, since its OPEX is quite affordable it can be left online for a year or two even after people stop visiting it. However you should direct your effort towards a new venture, reusing that same approach with another fresh grandiose idea. Which will be even easier to promote since it is “brought to you by the creators of shaware3na.com“.
Its not much of a surprise that most of these venture fade away overtime, with other products replacing them. It all comes down to having a sustainable revenue stream be it ad based/donations based or even through direct sales, most of the sites I mentioned in this entry are spontaneous ideas based on good will rather than a solid business plan. Even worse some of them don’t propose a solution to the issue they are tracking, working instead as a social analytical tools, with the data sitting there not being used.
Zabatak.com, people report incidents and then…? who is expected to take actions based on that data?
Most of these sites are still online only because they are quite cheap to operate, even as the number of weekly hits dwindles down to even a single digit, they can be maintained for a couple of years with minimal expenses and can always be used as reference to future ventures. Their value proposition is limited to presenting crowd sourced data and only useful as long as the users are using it, basically if you take all the bells and whistles away all these sites represent a single concept “gathering data and representing it” and shouldn’t be classified as innovative solutions.
Ushahidi the platform powering all the spatial data presentation start ups is a Kenyan project
Surprisingly incubators and accelerators fall for this formula, supporting projects that are known to have limited sustainability and limited (unrealistic) revenue streams, flat 6 labs supported several of the startups mentioned in this entry. Personally I believe that the money and effort they have invested in these products could have been directed towards startups with something more tangible to offer, as in they should promote computer science projects rather than information technology. Even though they aren’t sexy they possess huge potential and are infinitely reusable. Be it Arabic NLP or a new graphical representation suite for spatial data, anything with true value and that includes leans more towards development than marketing (social sites) would have a much higher long term variable, not to mention have a higher competition entry threshold.