Seriously Funny: Jordanian comedy portal Talasim

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Late last September, Talasim.com, took one of the six winning spots at the UK's Seedcamp, earning 50,000 Euros in funding. But as the site's co-founder Sabri Hakim sees it, this is only the first step on the road to Silicon Valley.

By Anas Almasri

This has been a good year for Jordanian internet companies. On 25 August, Yahoo announced that it was buying Maktoob. com for a hefty (but undisclosed) amount of money. And in the same month, Talasim.com, another Jordanian outfit, beat around 1500 other companies to gain a spot among six winners in Seedcamp, a competition for the most promising internet startup that is held in London every September

Maktoob.com was the first email service to offer Arabic script, and it was expected, with smart marketing, of course, that it would eventually hit the big time. Talasim, however, is a wholly different proposition: an online comedy channel.

Talasim

Comedy on its own is an awkward type of proposition for a business in Jordan, put it online, and the combination becomes thoroughly unpredictable. In fact, one of the two creators of Talasim.com, Sabri Hakim, joked after winning the award in Seedcamp that he wanted to thank his parents for “having absolutely no faith in this project whatsoever.”

But Hakim – who established Talasim with his friend Zeid Koudsi in 2005 - has a straightforward explanation for Talasim’s success at Seedcamp. “Like any investor, Seedcamp is looking for a company with the ingredients to become successful and yield high return on investment. And we won because of the uniqueness of our business proposition."

What is Talasim? "One might say that it is a website for jokes and entertainment. But what we truly are is a platform for self-expression through means of comedy for Arab youth across the globe. We are a comedy community for Arabs – that is our slogan.” Hakim emphasizes that Talasim offers more than just comedy. “We are seeking comedy as a means of self-expression rather than just entertainment. In our opinion, the most effective way for transferring opinions, thoughts, beliefs, or ideologies to youth is through comedy.”

But an innovative idea on its own can only take you so far. “We also did our homework, we knew our stuff and our presentation went really well,” he says. He explains what message Talasim tried to communicate through the presentation. “We wanted them to appreciate the fact that in the Arab world, there are very few means for self-expression for the youth and that Talasim provides a platform for promoting self-expression through comedy. We also showed them that we are already a profitable enterprise. There are many creative websites that are not certain about their revenue model. We showed them that we are a creative Arab company that is making profit.”

According to Hakim, Talasim has several revenue streams. Talasim sells its production to television and print media. It also has a radio show that runs four times a week and has recently started organizing stand-up comedy shows.

At 50,000 Euros, it is tough to argue that the monetary award is impressive. While Hakim does not lessen from its value, for, as he explains, every burgeoning business is in need of liquidity, he stresses that the significance of the award reaches far beyond its current monetary value. “The significance of the achievement is having someone believe in you to the extent of investing in you. The idea is take this money, prepare ourselves and then go with Seedcamp to Silicon Valley in January, where we will be introduced to an investor. We are also getting a lot of quality publicity as a result of this competition. Next month, we are going be featured in Wired Magazine, which will also introduce us to potential investors.”

Talasim is now setting its sights on creating a stand-up comedy scene in the Middle-East, starting from Amman, where it is already organizing shows. (If you are a follower of Amman’s events calendar you probably already saw an ad for Talasim’s shows.) Hakim’s excitement about the standup comedy venture is palpable. I asked him if he thought that standup comedy, which Time Magazine describes as “a unique American art form,” has been embraced by Arabs. “No doubt, humor can be culturally and geographically sensitive,” he says, “but the concept of comedy is becoming standardized around the globe. Think of how many people watch Friends in the Arab world, for example. The Arab world has been very accepting of standup comedy. In fact, the idea of a person standing on a stage and delivering creative content, like poetry, is original to Arab culture.”

© Venture Magazine 2010

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