Marketing a Book on Arabic Culture with an iPad App: The Finjan

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Daveeda Shaheen lived in many places while she was growing up, among them the United States, Switzerland, and England. But wherever she was in the world, one tradition remained the same: reading coffee grounds with her mother. An age-old Arabic art, coffee reading led Shaheen to The Finjan, or what she calls “my contribution to my background.” 

“Our household was always very creative, and it was all very Arabic,” says Shaheen. “I started doing artwork with coffee grounds, and then that turned into a history book about coffee and coffee readings; where did coffee come from, who started this custom, why do we do it. I was brought up in the Starbucks age and it gave us this coffee shop lifestyle, but we don’t know about the history before this lifestyle.”

Finjan, the Arabic word for coffee cup, now spans a coffee table book, an iPad app, coffee bean and stainless steel pendants and cufflinks whose sales support a farmer growing coffee for The Finjan in Yemen - the bedrock of the coffee trade. All this will eventually culminate in the form of a coffee shop. Working on her own has meant that Shaheen’s development plans for The Finjan haven’t moved as fast as she’d like, but she’s found many perks in entrepreneurship.

“I go out a lot and see a lot of people, and the first thing they ask is: ‘what do you do?’ I say that I wrote a book and so they ask where they can find it,” she explains. “For the book, I became my own sales person – you have the ability not to be constrained and caught up with a publisher contract, you can hire your own distributor, have an ISPN number and go into bookshops and sell directly, without involving a third party. I’m not making millions of dollars and I’m not very well recognised yet, but I’m doing it slowly and it’s very gratifying, because the more people I tell, the more they are interested in the concept.”

A special edition of the coffee table book has been released exclusively to Aramex, after founder and CEO Fadi Ghandour chose it as a corporate gift to clients. Shaheen is currently working on developing a different edition for the public, and believes the story behind The Finjan will carry book sales in a digital age. “People still love to have a book to give away, you can’t give away an E-book the same way,” she says. “The Finjan is a little story wrapped up in this book – it comes with a coffee cup and pot." 

Shaheen admits she hasn’t done much work promoting The Finjan application yet, but she says that adding this fun dimension to her project has attracted people of all ages. “Kids like to play with the app because you have to flip the phone or iPad around and swirl it to get your coffee cup reading,” she says. “The older generation who know coffee reading are fascinated that they are doing the manoeuvres they know on a technical piece of equipment. It’s not fortune telling, it’s just a fun, beautiful app.”

As for her ultimate goal, Shaheen is currently scouting for locations around Dubai to launch the flagship Finjan coffee shop, which will serve coffee grown through the Finjan Initiative, which focuses on growing coffee in Yemen where it was first cultivated. Coffee capsules will be manufactured and sold through the coffee shop, and not only will they be compatible with Nespresso machines, Shaheen made sure they will be fully biodegradable. “I wanted to make sure everything about The Finjan was contemporary – I didn’t want it to have an old fashioned feel,” she says.

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