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Advice from One of Saudi Arabia's Most Famous Web Entrepreneurs
“Developing for another sevice, like Twitter, is often a non-permanent profit business model”, says Saleh Al Zaid, the founder of LunarApps which currently offers three Twitter-based apps.
With a bit of innovation, and by taking advantage of Twitter’s popularity, Al Zaid, who spoke to us at Arabnet last year about his journey, is now one of the most famous entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia.
After initially launching a few sites, including Untiny, a service to expand shortened links, he first became famous for TwitMail, a service that allows you to share emails on Twitter. Famous tech blogger Robert Scoble called the app “the first global tech brand to come from Saudi Arabia," and Forbes magazine profiled Al Zaid as an example of an entrepreneur putting the Middle East on the global entrepreneurship map.
Based in Riyadh, LunarApps now has a small team of four members, who include founder CEO Al Zaid, Hailah Al-Shetwi as marketer, social media expert and marketing specialist, Jerais Al-Jeraisy as Linux and server guru, and Khalid Lafi as web developer.
TwitMail was the first LunarApps project to use Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API). The website was launched in 2010 as a closed beta version, and then was made open to the public few days before the beginning of 2011. TwitMail depends on ads to make revenue, and Al Zaid assures allows it to make steady revenue after it entered into an advertising partnership with Saudi Mobily.
“We are working on improving TwitMail to make it connect to other services so that it becomes an email forwarding service of its own”, says Al Zaid. LunarApps currently hopes to develop a completely updated version of TwitMail that includes more plug-ins and services, as well as to upgrade TwitMail to make it more suitable to Arab users. Al Zaid expects the development of this new version of the website to take time but believes it will come back with great results.
Al Zaid had also acquired Twtbase, a comprehensive database for all twitter apps and services, in an auction. He explained his move saying, “I saw that the website had good content, but poor design, and was generating significant profits, so I entered the auction and won it. It only cost me about ten thousand riyals (~$2,666).”
The ex-owner of the website is Zachary Collins, a Dutch native who was listed as one of the Top 10 Young Developers of the Year at .net. By tweaking the website’s design and boosting its advertising, Saleh Al Zaid was able to double its revenue in the early months. The young Saudi entrepreneur was also able to recover the cost of TwtBase during the first year and a half, but then found the website management too intensive, as it needed constant attention and regular posts about Twitter apps, which drove him to leave it as is for the time being, open for further development in the future.
Arab Entrepreneurs Obstacles and Tips
Al Zaid believes that determining your path or destination is the most confusing part, especially when as a web entrepreneurs you engage with multiple fields such as marketing, management and web development.
“As an entrepreneur, you will have to try more than one way most of he time, and most of them might very well fail until you find the best and most successful way,” says Al Zaid.
Based on his experience in web entrepreneurship, Al Zaid advises new entrepreneurs to think of, research and focus on more than just the practical aspects of their projects. By coming into contact with many Arab entrepreneurs and developers, and visiting Silicon Valley, he's been impressed by the difference in entrepreneurship between the Arab world and the rest of the world.
“Many Arab entrepreneurs separate between the service and its quality on one side, and the Arab user level and his actual service needs on another." Yet, it's important to focus on the user when building the product, he says. "Arab users are different from foreign users, and so are Arab internet services."
Ahmed is a writer and a tech analyst, passionate about technology and electronics. He is the founder of GadgetsArabia, the first tech blog in Arabic and the Editor-in-Chief of Swalif.Net. You can follow him on Twitter@ahmdgabr or by email at ahmedgabr[at]swalif[dot]net.
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