An entrepreneur at heart and techie in action, Tarek Koudsi learned a lot from his family hardware and software business in Jordan before launching Hashdoc, the first online professional document storage and search site to launch in the Arab world.
“The best way to learn is to talk about what you know and try to teach people about it,” says, Koudsi who accumulated 11 years of experience as a programmer and tech expert, beginning by working with his father’s clients. He supported growing Jordanian startups such as Talasim and Jeeran before he left programming to work for a well-known stock management company in Dubai.
Five years later, when Koudsi received an offer from the Greater Amman Municipality to work as a technical supervisor on a major internal project, the timing was perfect- he was ready to return home to start his own business.
Tarek Koudsi’s connections from his previous work helped pave the way for his new business. “People are more encouraged when they can associate you with a group,” he admits.
As a programmer, becoming a founder took Koudsi out of his comfort zone, which was, in his words, “sitting behind a computer, with food on the desk and a bed to crash on.” But five years of experience at the stock exchange company in Dubai and a PMP certificate provided him with research and management skills that helped him design a global product.
Koudsi explains that when building Hashdoc as an online repository for any variety of professional documents, similar to Docstoc, his aim was to build something for Jordan while at the same time not merely localizing an Arabic version of something international.
The platform offers professionals handpicked business documents reviewed and approved before they appear on the company’s website. What makes is stands out, says Koudsi, is “the way content is organized based on topics, sources, types and formats;” the team has put a lot of thought into the way users search for and categorize documents. After all, indexing is at the core of their business.
Hashdoc hosts documents for small businesses on seven topics: project management, human resources, design, software development, psychology, leadership and social media, and these topics organically branch out to 150 others. Social media and project management are the most popular.
Their cross-indexing system came into play naturally, says Koudsi. “We started with 'human resources' as a central topic, but when we found that some of the documents under HR talk about ‘employee performance appraisal,’ we started a new topic and listed them under both; this is how we expand our topics cloud.”
At this point, any language is viable on the “content agnostic” platform. Hashdoc “crawls and uploads content as an extra for users so no special attention is paid to non-English documents,” says Koudsi. In the future, if demand for Arabic business documents increases, Hashdoc might partner with Jordanian startup Dakwak to integrate with their translation services through an API.
Still in alpha, Hashdoc is currently available by invitation only, but the platform has received 600 invitation requests, with an average of 20 requests per week, says Koudsi.
To generate revenue, the team is considering five different models:
- A marketplace where documents are sold and Hashdoc shares revenues with owners
- Offering premium accounts with a subscription model
- Content sponsorship: sponsors can have selected documents appear on a topic's page based on pre-defined sub topics that are used in the document.
- Lead generation: the platform can also generate sales for documents' owners in exchange for a percentage of revenue.
- B2B: companies can use a white-labeled version of the platform to manage internal projects (like a Basecamp focused on document management).
Finding Support in Jordan
As a global-facing startup, Hashdoc is getting its share of attention in Jordan, partially thanks to its incubation at Oasis500. When Hashdoc was just an idea in 2011, Koudsi applied to Oasis500 hoping to acquire not only the 10,000 JDs in seed capital, but also access to their mentorship program.
A central challenge he addresses in the program was ensuring that his idea was viable, solid and realistic, although he admits he still wants to learn more about financial planning.
Due to his experience at Oasis500, Koudsi explains that Hashdoc is currently in talks with three angel investors and expect to close a deal soon.
Tips for startups
The first thing Koudsi said when we asked him for advice for entrepreneurs is, “Tell as many people as you can about your idea, even if they’re not into your business. Don't be afraid your idea will be stolen.”
Many would like to wait until their product is finalized and ready for launch, but Koudsi thinks this process could take a lifetime. “Don't get stuck on research,” he says. “Start things and keep reading. If you start up you'll have a chance to inject feedback in phases. Hashdoc now is only 40-50% of what I want it to be.”