With social media use booming in Arab World in the wake of spring protests, it comes as no surprise that Morocco’s first social network is on the rise.
French-Arabic network Alam Jadid, founded by entrepreneur Mohamed al Yacoubi in Casablanca in January 2010, just expanded this June to Algeria and Tunisia. With Arab youth populations around 40%, and Facebook penetration rates far below that (22%, 10%, and 5% in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria), there may be no time like the present for a local social network.
And as Google+ enters the battle for global social media market share, Alam Jadid is wasting no time taking the Maghreb by storm with its simple interface and multiple content channels.
We asked founder and CEO Mohamed al Yacoubi The Wamda 10 Questions:
(photo courtesy of WeLoveBuzz)
1) How did you decide to create Alam Jadid?
I have always wanted to create something on my own. And Warwick University in England, where I went to school, was an empowering environment for entrepreneurship. After seeing friends start companies, I began researching market opportunities, and decided to create Alam Jadid to provide people with more relevant local information.
2) Do you see your market as local, regional, or global?
Our market was initially Morocco, but we expanded our market as we noticed that more people were joining from abroad. We are still targeting the Middle East and North Africa, with the hope of becoming regional, beginning with entering our neighboring countries.
3) What are your ambitions? How do you plan to grow?
We just completed a round of funding from private investors in Europe this year, which enabled us to expand into Algeria and Tunisia this June. We have been working with a team of ten, but are now building up a team of directors and developers who will help us grow further. We plan on seeking more funding at end of the year.
4) What were the most important decisions that you made in your company, or what was a key turning point in your approach?
Perhaps the most important decision was the company’s inception. And once we released our beta, we proved the venture actually had traction in the Arab online market. Another important step was learning to loosen my control as founder to bring investors onboard. It can be tough to give up independence, but learning to value the expertise of investors was an important step.
5) What is the biggest problem that you faced (or are facing) in your company, or what were the biggest mistakes you made as an entrepreneur?
I started this company when I was only 19 years old, and that was a huge challenge. Mostly because it was tough to make co-workers in Morocco understand that I would manage them while studying abroad. But I kept focused, tried to prove myself, and gave the team a common vision, which I believe motivated them. Another challenge I faced was not having technical knowledge in computer science, since my background is business management.
6) What is your role in your company? If you have partners, how do you manage your partnership?
As the founder and CEO, I started by doing everything in the company, from legal work, to marketing, public relations and media, as well as technical development, even though I don’t know programming or design! But I enjoy challenges. We now have a team of ten and several investors who help with their experience.
7) Has owning a company made you financially more secure, or not?
Money isn't really the primary objective for me; rather I want to reach the goals I set for myself. As a startup we are still in our investment phase, what academics call the 'death valley'. We are simply working on making sure things get done properly. But hopefully the hard work will pay off at some point, be it in terms of experience or financial reward.
8) How does technology enable your business? What is a technical tool that you cannot live without?
We are based 100% online, so the internet enables us to function. I believe tools like Twitter have become essential daily or even hourly sources of information. Similarly, the new applications we just released with our latest version will enhance users’ ability to connect and exchange information with each other.
9) What does your family and/or spouse think of your company? Would you advise other people to become entrepreneurs?
My family as a whole has been extremely supportive in this adventure, helping me overcome the tough times coping with both studies and the company They also were crucial investors in Alamjadid. Having people around you that believe in what you are doing helps with motivation, so I am really thankful that they created an 'entrepreneurial environment' to help me succeed.
10) Have the recent revolutions in the region influenced your approach?
I think the recent revolutions have made us more relevant by showing that people want more ways to communicate with each other. Relevant, local content is key. We continue to design very precise tools that people will use and adopt widely, to address this human need, a real social need to connect, especially within the same culture and language.