Muxlim.com: A Web 2.0 Destination for Muslims
By Rafi-uddin Shikoh,
Posted February 28, 2007
Just as the young blazing entrepreneurs of the Web 2.0 online destinations such as YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Wikipedia etc., have built global brands in a matter of years, Mohamed El-Fatatry a young Egyptian who was born and raised in the UAE is building a similar Web 2.0 destination – but one with consideration for Muslim values and sensitivities.
With niche ethnic and religious affinity based sites taking off-- case in point being Koolanoo, a Jewish online social networking destination which recently received a first round financing of $3 million--building online destinations that cater to unique Muslim needs certainly have a market.
Muxlim.com as it is called is an already existing network of sites started in late 2005 which includes a Muslim MySpace (Muslimspace.com) – a social networking site; a Muslim FlickR (Muslimr.com) – photo sharing site, IslamicTorrents.net – a file sharing site and many more. Already with unique visitor traffic of 5 million last year and 80,000 registered users, El-Fatatry has decided to combine the network under one umbrella experience of Muxlim.com with the aim to provide a complete online experience primarily based on user-generated content.
65-70% of the Muxlim network users today are primarily Muslims based in the West but El-Fatatry has big plans including enabling the experience in Arabic, French and Malay to expand its reach. He estimates the current size of Muslims online globally to be 150 million and growing. In order to build a scalable strong platform and facilitate this expansion, he is working on completing another round of seed funding for $1.5 million. Current negotiations are with a Finnish Government Venture Fund and other Silicon Valley and European investors. Surprisingly, Muxlim.com has not been successful in getting any Muslim investor/VC interested.
Mohamed El-Fatatry, an Egyptian national was born and raised in the UAE where he studied Computer Science at the American University of Sharjah, U.A.E. Following the path of many new economy entrepreneurs, he is currently juggling between his new venture and Media Technology studies at EVTEK University of Applied Sciences in Espoo, Finland.
In a phone interview from Espoo, El-Fatatry passionately made a case for his venture, its future plans and challenges. Below is a summary of the interview:
DS: What is the purpose of Muxlim.com?
ME: Digital Halal Network was a group of sites that I had developed on my own as a hobby in 2005. I always liked to use the Internet but usually felt uncomfortable using some services especially user-generated ones like MySpace, Flickr, TorrentSpy, etc... because of the poor moral standard on such sites. So I thought of starting similar services based on Muslim values.
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So with Muxlim we hope to provide a complete online experience for Muslims primarily based on user-generated content. That includes social networking, email, search, games, videos, news, prayer times, entertainment, qibla direction, maps, calendar, and then further enhance their experience by providing mobile access.
Also, Muxlim not only plans to have services for Muslims, but due to the rising concern and need for a morally rich Internet, we plan to launch a few services for non Muslims as well but are still based on Islamic values. Moral guidelines are not new for Internet websites. Meg Whitman CEO of eBay is a religious Christian so she doesn't allow adult products to be sold on the site. Google as well doesn't allow hard liquor and weapon ads on their AdSense program. Similarly, we are a technology company with similar moral guidelines but they are derived from a different source, Islam.
DS: What is the strategy behind consolidation of all sites under Muxlim.com?
ME: The first service I started was IslamicTorrents.net in August 2005, which in a few months grew very rapidly generating some income that enabled me to open the next site MuslimSpace.com. And from there it was a domino effect. Each site funded the next and so on... till the sites grew big enough to be struck by infrastructure, scalability, and cross-network single login problems. Hence the need to create a global system that can solve this problem.
DS: How do you define your market?
ME: Muxlim is not a religious portal, but a technology portal with Muslim values. We believe that the ultimate majority of Muslims around the world share the same core values and morals that are applied on our network. We are trying to offer services that appeal to all cultures, ages and countries.
However, no doubt the youth are more interesting from a business perspective because they "hang out" on the Internet, have a lot of disposable income and create the content in user-driven services. Older generations usually use the Internet to fulfill some tasks or find information. Both have different approaches that need to be kept in mind.
In terms of geography, Muslims are widely spread across the whole world. However, we will first target English-speaking Muslims (for ex: in Europe and North America) and then continue on to the Middle East with Arabic language services. We also have other plans for more languages in the future.
DS: Does Muslim family life encourage/ support entrepreneurship? How so or if not what should be done?
ME: I was born in the U.A.E (to Egyptian parents) and raised in a family that I consider more open minded than most in the Arab world. Both my parents are journalists and they have traveled around the world. This was instrumental at different stages in my lifetime, for instance when I wanted to travel abroad to pursue my studies and also when I wanted to get married.
Spoon feeding by the parents is unfortunately a common problem in the Muslim world that needs to be addressed by society. My family in general is very supportive and appreciates my professional career, although they always emphasize on completing my degree (Google Founder Sergey Brin's mother apparently calls him every week and reminds him to go back to Stanford to get his degree. A global motherly concern, it seems!).
DS: Scandinavian countries are considered one of the most innovative in the world. How has that culture influenced your drive for innovation/ entrepreneurship?
ME: Scandinavian countries in general and Finland specifically do indeed have a culture that is very supportive and appreciative towards innovations and technology. This is something that helped me choose Finland as a place of study in the first place, as well as the fact that all higher education programs have no tuition-fees even for foreign students.
There are also numerous incubator programs, competitions, innovation centers and incentives for individuals to re-enforce their abilities to innovate, after which they are helped to utilize their innovations commercially.
Alhamdullilah, Muxlim has been receiving a lot of local media attention, support and appreciation because we are applying technologies to a new market, and working to help make the world a better place.
DS: How do you monitor for non-Muslim content or offensive content?
ME: There is a golden rule in the new Internet age: "Empower the users and they will love you". This is what makes Wikipedia a very successful venture. They have attracted the right crowd of early adopters to their service, empowered them so they felt Wikipedia was their "own encyclopedia" that they had to contribute to, and now they don't have to worry about vandalism or inaccuraccy because the community stops any attempts within seconds.
Similarly, our users are comfortable using our services because they are tailor-made for their needs and values. Whenever someone tries to post offensive content, the community immediately reports the violating page to notify the administrators. This makes our job a lot easier and gives the users a feeling of responsibility.
DS: Describe how you started?
ME: I always thought that there was a lot of room on the Muslim Internet scene for innovation, since the existing players are either content with their activities for example marriage services or they are not adopting new technologies fast enough.
With the growth of my user base to millions, while generating satisfactory revenues, I decided to start looking for angel investors to take the network to the next level. Having seed capital would enable me to acquire more infrastructure as well as further develop the network to be more valuable for the users and more commercially successful. I contacted a few, and by that time MuslimSpace was receiving good media attention (ABC News, Helsingin Sanomat, etc..) so some started contacting me as well.
One of the angel investors was Pietari Paivanen, who is an experienced professional in international marketing in the ICT sector. We met once, discussed the history of the network and its future plans and immediately there was a click. The chemistry worked very well and we were both enthusiastic and excited about the idea.
Although Pietari is not a Muslim, he still shared the same vision I had of making the world a better place by, 1) enabling Muslims to use technology comfortably on services that are based on their values, 2) provide a platform for debate between humans regardless of what religion they follow.
DS: What is your revenue strategy?
ME: Since we have a large number of services, we also have several different revenue models. Advertising is no doubt an important revenue stream as well as premium memberships, premium features, software (to facilitate mobile or enhanced access) sales, consulting services (introducing modified-versions of existing services to the Muslim market) as well as commissions from content delivery (enable service providers to deliver content from our inventory to mobile phones). Each service has its own way of operating, and the revenue models have been previously tested by other companies. The risk in our case is merely an execution of a tested technology, and tested revenue models on a new market.
DS: What are your biggest challenges going forward?
ME: Our biggest challenges are: 1) acquiring the needed capital to drive the growth especially that Arab/Muslim VC funds have not shown substantial interest in our venture (although we are currently negotiating with several international and renowned VCs). 2) Build our brand and become the #1 online destination for Muslims, 3) educate people in the Muslim countries about social production, 4) establishing connections with governments and organizations to avoid any potential obstacles like ISP blocking etc., 5) managing to maintain a safe and constructive atmosphere on our services (prevent preaching hate, etc...).I would also like to pass a message to Arab/Muslim VCs through this interview to try and be more active investors in seed and early growth stage companies especially that are based on Islamic principles. We have found tremendous interest from international VCs as well as existing companies whose services are blocked by some Middle Eastern ISPs, and want to enter the market through a Muslim-modified version.Info