Stunning Kuwaiti marketplace for designers blends print magazine with e-commerce

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Stunning architecture, sleek furniture, and bold recycled art fill the pages of “YourPages,” a new quarterly print and digital magazine released by Kuwait-based design marketplace yourAOK (which previously stood for Architecture of Kuwait but has taken the new meaning "you are a-ok"). Immediately, its attention to detail stands out, signaling that AOK is not just your average job listing site. With four architects as founders, AOK is a powerful new platform targeting the Gulf market.

The idea is simple: designers (listed as "talent") can post their portfolios online and look to connect with "firms," who can specify available jobs in design, architecture, animation, or other creative freelance work. YourPages then pulls from their portfolios to showcase their best, most original work to potential clients in an offline print format. Its second issue, due in October, will be distributed to galleries, design and architecture firms, and real estate agencies in Kuwait, Dubai, Qatar, and Bahrain.

It's all designed to empower the next generation of talent, says cofounder Ruba AlSaleh. “These days there are a lot of platforms targeting freelancers, but we’re seeing in the current market that there’s more of a need for design entrepreneurs. They know what their design methodologies are, but they don’t know how to get their startup going.”

While several other sites- Lebanon’s DesignHub, and Jordan’s tasmeemME, not to mention sections of skills community nabbesh- offer freelance designers a chance to post their portfolio and seek work, AOK have one of the smoothest and most visually-appealing layouts I’ve seen from a hiring platform. 

That's probably also because it's much more than a job site. AOK also offers a collaborative section, where talent can come together to work jointly on a project, and it even features a materials marketplace where manufacturers can sell high quality design products to clients. 

“We have yet to see any form of database for quality products in the Middle East and North Africa,” says AlSaleh.

This allows AOK to make revenue, by charging sellers a subscription free, in addition to the fees it charges firms for  listing job postings and unlocking talent CVs. Right now, signing up is free for talent, but in the future, the startup may offer bespoke consulting services for designers looking for specific work.


Building a niche portal

The four founders first developed the idea for a designer’s marketplace in 2011, promptly winning the Qatar Design Entrepreneurship Challenge. Yet, not a team to take an award as market validation, they began testing the need in the Gulf market, soon discovering that designers in Kuwait had a clear lack of networking opportunities. 

The founders- who have all kept their day jobs- then took their time to build the AOK concept around a sense of authentic connection, says AlSaleh. "[We focused on] real networking, where you look at other people’s work, rate their work, and where you have a way to see and access other people’s digital portfolios.”

With over 400 signups in under two months, the site is now going regional, seeing interest come not just from Kuwait but also from Lebanon, Algeria, and Jordan. Their team of seven is now introducing video portfolio capability for animators and film makers, although most of their users are illustrators and graphic designers.

The startup is also in talks with universities such as Kuwait University to provide the platform to students as part of their coursework, hoping to attracting new talent while they’re still in school. 

As a startup, their model will have to shift; after funding the project with their own money, the founders are now hoping to find investment to support their expansion, and increase distribution of their magazine. Yet as the platform takes off, one of the cofounders is leaving his architecture job to work on yourAOK full time. 

Whether a larger scale print publication will eventually take more in revenues than it adds remains to be seen, but for now, its unique visual content and contact with clients will likely only help the site continue to stand out. 

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