New dating app targetted at single Muslims in MENA and SEA
Founders eye crowdfunding route for expansion plans
FOR single people in conservative Muslim societies, dating can be a tricky proposition, requiring the active involvement of family members from the get-go.
But what if you wanted to find out whether you have anything in common with someone first, eliminating potential awkwardness or incompatibility before setting those traditional wheels in motion?
A new mobile dating app called Salamz, by Malaysia-based startup Rocketech Ltd, aims to solve that problem.
In an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), chief executive officer Homam Alghorani notes that in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), arranged marriages are very common.
However, a large percentage of the ‘new generation’ want to choose their own life partners, Alghorani says, citing research conducted by Rocketech during the course of product development.
“In some countries in the Middle East, chatting with a girl in a cafe or mall can raise many questions and can even destroy the girl’s reputation or give her problems,” he says.
This is where Salamz comes into play. The mobile app is intended to facilitate communication between both parties, allowing them to get to know each other better.
The mobile-based approach was the most effective as the team found that there are more than 20 million Muslim singles with smartphones in its targeted region.
After connecting via Salamz, if both people feel they are seriously interested in each other, they can proceed with the traditional approach – for example, the guy will send his parents to the girl’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage.
“We want to help people who are seriously looking for a marriage and provide them with a chance to get to know each other a bit before they meet or get engaged.
“So we still maintain and respect the traditional values, but are bringing it more in line with the 21st century, through technology,” Alghorani says.
The initial idea was to build a messaging app similar to offerings like WhatsApp, but Viber was blocked in some countries in the Middle East, with rumours at the time of WhatsApp sharing that same fate.
“My cofounder and I were also talking about how difficult it is to find a wife in Europe from his home country, as he lives in Ireland. Then we came up with the idea to pivot to a matchmaking platform,” Alghorani says.
In addition, the decision to go with a mobile-first approach meant that there was a lower risk of someone reading private conversations by mistake, as mobile devices are intensely personal in usage.
“We also felt that monetising a matchmaking platform would work better than trying to monetise a messaging app. And two months after that, Salamz was launched,” he says.
Building for conservatives
A native of Syria, Alghorani (pic) holds a degree in Computing from Staffordshire University and had established a few startups before founding Rocketech in March this year.
His former companies include Smart Surface Sdn Bhd, Innovation Now Sdn Bhd and Smart Future Solutions Sdn Bhd, all of which were in the field of large-scale interactive screens.
He has also been recognised for his work, winning an ITEX2009 Gold Award for Best Invention, for an interactive table he had built with his previous business partner.
His cofounder holds a degree in Business Information Technology from the University of Greenwich and currently maintains a day job with a global technology company.
The duo’s approach to developing Salamz may be considered unorthodox, according to Alghorani, in comparison with most companies that release apps only after they are completely developed.
“We released our app at a very early stage of development with basic features and a very simple interface. We then adjusted the platform based on feedback from our testers and early adopters.
“We also tried out experiments on our users to see the response. This way, we made our app. from Day One, developed according to the market and users' wishes, and that will make our app most appealing and dynamic,” he declares.
Some bumps along the development included dealing with right-to-left languages like Arabic, as the alignment of the text is the other way around, resulting in broken text that did not display correctly.
Alghorani notes that the market already has many dating apps, with popular platforms being Tinder, Match.com and others, but adds that these are mostly used for casual dating.
“Other services targeting Muslim singles still use web platforms mainly and may not have a mobile app, or their mobile app is very complicated to use or just a mobile version of their website.
“So we are trying to provide a simple, secure and user friendly mobile experience, starting with the basics and then maintaining sustainable development for the application, to make ensure it's giving the best experience in the market,” he claims.
Salamz was released on the Google Play Store on July 15 but only for beta testers. It was officially launched with a press announcement on Aug 28, garnering more than 1,000 downloads in three days.
Alghorani reports that Salamz is just shy of 2,000 downloads to date, with an iOS version slated to launch very soon.
Targeted mainly at MENA markets and South-East Asia, the app is currently available in English and Arabic, with plans to expand language support for French, Indonesian, Malay, Turkish, Urdu and Russian.
The game plan
Rocketech is a self-funded enterprise and Alghorani says the team did not want to look for funding with just an idea, preferring to have a company, app and download statistics to offer potential investors in order to be taken more seriously.
“Our goal is to reach 10%-20% of our target market in three to five years, and we are going to ask for funding using a crowd equity investment platform from the Middle East called Eureeca; we are looking to raise US$120,000 to US$150,000.
“We heard Malaysia will soon allow crowd equity investments and if that happens within six months, then we may give it a try,” he adds.
In the meantime, the immediate mission is to update and improve the app with features such as push notifications, Facebook integration and additional languages.
Asked about the monetisation strategy for Salamz, Alghorani says a monthly subscription model will be used, offering paying members VIP perks.
“For example, a standard user can chat only with matched people while a VIP member can start conversation with anybody and doesn't have to wait until the other party finds his or her profile and give him or her a ‘like’,” he explains.
Alghorani shares that the toughest challenge so far as an entrepreneur has been finding the right cofounder. To keep himself motivated, he uses his own projections.
“I have made a projection for revenue so every [once in a while] I open up the spreadsheet and look at the numbers of how much money I can make if I achieve my goals,” he says.
But there is also a deeper, more emotional motivation driving this startup founder.
“I selected a different path from what my parents wanted me to be in, so I always feel like I need to prove to them that I am not wasting my time behind the computer and that I am really doing something they should be proud of,” he adds.
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