EBRD and EU support start-up Abjjad in Jordan

By Dima Hamdallah

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Social network connects Arab book lovers during coronavirus pandemic

For the price of two cups of coffee in Jordan, Abjjad, a digital social network for readers, is providing monthly access to over 5,000 electronic books by 66,000 writers and novelists during the coronavirus lockdown.

Abjjad is the first Arabic social network for readers, authors, and bloggers in the Middle East. The tech start-up benefitted from the EBRD Star Venture programme in Jordan and is an Oasis500 accelerator beneficiary.

Through the programme, which is funded by the European Union and South Korea, the company completed an intensive business diagnostic workshop by the Institute for Manufacturing of the University of Cambridge to analyse their priorities and strategies and be mentored to automate their core operations.

The workshop and additional online sessions with a dedicated mentor helped Abjjad decrease the time and cost of operations as well as increase productivity and quality in the publication of Arabic digital books on their platform.

The woman-led company was founded in 2012 by Eman Hylooz, who is driven by her love for Arabic literature, which inspired her to create a platform for readers that share the same passion. Mrs Hylooz believes that creating this literature ecosystem for book lovers to mingle within a single platform is both entertaining and impactful.

“The first Arabic alphabet ever created was called ‘Abjjad’ – this is what inspired the name of the company, through which we hope to encourage more Arabic readers to start reading on our platform!” Mrs Hylooz says.

A degree in Computer Science provided her with the technical expertise to create and manage a successful platform on which two million non-paying members enjoy free access. The mobile application version has been downloaded by one million people to date. Readers with a free subscription can access 700 books, with this expanding to over 4,500 books for paying subscribers.

Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown in Jordan, Abjjad has seen 200,000 new subscriptions to its network, and content acquisition also accelerated amid the spike in online readers.

To their surprise, even though they had stopped spending on online advertisements back in April due to the virus and their desire to focus more on their content, downloads on their mobile application still doubled organically.

Greatly contributing to this increase was the release of the company’s new and improved mobile application, which was made possible through an EBRD advisory programme funded by the European Union that linked them with a Natural Language Processing (NLP) consultant. The consultant helped revisit the digitising process to solve quality issues with the Arabic content as well as minimise errors and the time to upload files received from publishers.

During the lockdown, Mrs Hylooz felt fortunate that her work was already performed remotely, so her business was not affected: on the contrary, productivity increased. This change in working situation has further proven to her that business development meetings can be done just as efficiently when done remotely. The company now has over 3000 books in the pipeline with 20 publishing houses.

 subscribers come from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, with content curated by a team of seven full-time employees and five freelancers from Jordan, Egypt, Dubai and West Bank and Gaza. However, they recently had to hire additional employees to keep up with the high demand for books.

Abjjad has won several awards including the Mohammed Bin Rashid Award for Arabic Language in 2019 and the Said Khoury Award for Entrepreneurs and Innovators in 2019. It was also a finalist at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year programme in 2018.

To date, the EBRD Star Venture programme has supported 16 start-ups in Jordan with world-class business advice enabling them to gain access to finance to strengthen their performance and accelerate their lifecycle.

 

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