Jeeran Blog

“The Metamorphosis Of Jeeran” an article by Jordan Business

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

After spending years building and expanding one of the most significant web portals in the region, Jeeran’s decision to completely revamp its services.

After spending years building and expanding one of the most significant web portals in the region, Jeeran’s decision to completely revamp its services, while courageous, has been no easy feat for the local online company.Naseem Tarawnah talks to Jeeran’s CEO,Omar Koudsi, about the radical paradigm shift and how venturing into uncharted waters has fared thus far. 

When launched back in 2000, the World Wide Web was quite a different place. With an underlying vision to help empower Arab Internet users with the necessary tools to create their own localized content, Jeeran sprung on to the regional web scene with fervor reminiscent of the bubble days. What initially began as an Arabic language blogging service eventually went on to become one of the most prominent content portals in the Middle East. From 25 million page views a month to bringing together an online community of over 1.5 million users and hosting over 120,000 blogs, Jeeran grew by leaps and bounds in a matter of years. However, despite creating more intrinsic services, such as photo and video sharing, the company struggled to remain relevant in a rapidly- expanding regional market.


In 2010, shortly after the Jordanian web portal Maktoob was sold to Internet giant Yahoo!, the brains behind Jeeran decided to take a long, hard look at their vision. Co-founders Omar Koudsi and Laith Zraikat, fueled largely by a desire to become more relevant in the marketplace, decided to change the company’s direction completely. With a well-developed sense of digital trends, the duo managed to identify a new niche in the market, which coincided with the rise in social review sites like Yelp and the surge in app consumption. Putting both ingredients together, Jeeran’s management worked to recreate the site into a central hub for localized user reviews of places and services in various Arab cities.


If “evolution” in the tech world has been typically defined as the gradual progression of a good or a service, Jeeran’s transformation has been more akin to a metamorphosis. From inception to development and reboot, the company’s radical paradigm shift took roughly six months, and upon launch saw Jeeran risking the comfort of the substantial user base it had cultivated over the years. Its unwavering commitment to change proved worthwhile nevertheless, managing to capture the attention of both its existing users as well as the larger regional web community. In the past two years since the reboot, Jeeran has managed to register over 100,000 users while enjoying a month-on-month growth of 10% in web traffic that has now surpassed one million monthly. Its review service has now taken shape in cities across the region, including Amman, Jeddah, Riyadh, Dubai, Doha and Kuwait, while the company has attracted a significant round of funding from Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups.


Recently, Jordan Business sat down with Jeeran CEO Omar Koudsi to talk about the company’s monumental shift and what the future holds for Jeeran.
Q: When Jeeran decided to switch gears, what was the primary inspiration to pivot the company towards a completely different model and mission? Did the sale of Maktoob to Yahoo! back in 2009 play a role in that decision?

A: Yahoo!’s purchase of Maktoob was an important validation for the region. As far as I know, it was the first acquisition ever of an Arab web company by an American one. That gave a clear indication that the region’s web sector was now offering something to the world deemed worthy of acquiring. This was, simply put, fascinating to me.

At the time, Jeeran was a blog platform, where the vision was to provide a space for expression by the people in the Arab world. We then realized that not everyone wanted or could have the time to maintain a blog. In recent years, the Internet has been reshaping itself into a space where global players are locally relevant and have a share of all markets; the YouTube of the Arab world is YouTube, and the same goes for WordPress, Google and so on. The one advantage local players have over the global ones is just that: being local! So we took on a challenge that needed offline presence and strength.

Today, the challenge is being a local platform centered around places in your city, which we believe has the ability to solve significant problems for the masses while also creating real value in the market.


Q: What supported your belief that this was a model worth pursuing? Do you feel it is more sustainable than the previous paradigm?

A: Of course we took a risk. This change came about in early 2010, and nobody was talking about reviews of local places. There was no Google Places or Facebook Places at the time, and nobody in the region had really heard of Yelp or Foursquare. However, we believe that this model has a big future as it is social, local and mobile, and in line with where the Internet is heading. Today, local commerce is the future of web monetization, with statistics showing 95% of people’s spending being local, and this is where our model thrives.  We have quickly seen the results of having a platform that essentially lets you find the best doctor in town or the nearest balloon shop based on your local community’s recommendations.


Q: To what extent have you managed to maintain your user base, and have you noticed any changes in who your customers now are and Jeeran’s community?

A: It has not been easy, especially since our customers were very attached to our old services, which included blogging and creating personal websites that are naturally very personal and intimate products. Indeed, many of them did not initially accept the shift, but as the new product unfolded, users began to see the real value Jeeran adds to their city. Users also become more empowered over time simply by seeing the influence their reviews and contributions have had in helping other people connect and interact better with places in their city.
Q: Jeeran has recently become part of the Endeavor Jordan network. How has this benefited your development as a company, and specifically has it influenced the shift Jeeran is going through?

A: The shift to our new model took place as we were joining the Endeavor network. It was difficult to explain to the organization why we were pivoting from the seemingly successful blogging platform to this new untested environment. However, their belief in our success came from our past ability to execute, which essentially positioned us as a company in which the team came first and the idea second.

The Endeavor network is an amazing network of entrepreneurs and mentors. We have always believed that one of the most important activities any start-up can engage in is learning. Endeavor accelerated our learning process by ten-fold, simply by providing us access to its network.

Q: Have you felt that the direction Jeeran is now pursuing has become more attractive to investors and customers alike?

A: We do not base our decisions based on investors’ interest. As you build something that solves real problems and creates value, everything else will follow. To customers, the new model was not alluring at first as the culture of user reviews and review writing is quite new to us. However, things have quickly changed and users get what we do and are very eager to share their own experiences on Jeeran. Of course, the hype in the local and mobile scenes on a global level has helped, as has the Arab Spring’s ability to encourage people to engage, write and contribute.


Q: While you are venturing into new territory, it is not one without competition, including the likes of Yelp. How do you hope to compete and what do you feel are the product niches Jeeran can fulfill that others may struggle to do?

A: In general, we are attracted to places where it is difficult to operate in and, therefore, have little competition. At this stage, the competition does not really exist in the markets we are currently operating in, with most players being too niche. Jeeran has been at this for two years now, and we have a team of over 40 people working around the clock to build what we hope will be the most useful Internet company in the Arab world and beyond. Our efforts are both online and offline, creating personal experiences by holding local meet-ups, gatherings and dinners that bring together our users, which naturally distinguishes us. In short, we welcome competition and look forward to it as it validates the market.


Q: How difficult or easy has it been to expand into certain countries? What are the noticeable barriers in the assortment of countries you are currently in, as well as those you want to expand into? What are you doing to overcome these barriers?

A: We face two primary barriers in all the cities we have launched in: data and the lack of a local user- review culture. Most Arab cities have very scattered data about the places and services that operate within their borders. Where data is available, it is often inaccurate or missing things like categorization, location and so on.

The data we and our users are working on gathering through reviews includes not only the aforementioned, but also things like opening hours, valet service and whether credit cards are accepted at this or that particular place. The collection and validation of such data takes time and more often than not, we find ourselves needing to start from scratch in some cities.

Our second challenge focuses on the culture of user reviews in the region. The question we constantly grapple with is how do you get people to write reviews and, better yet, how do you get them to write 50,000 of them? What we have learned thus far is that it boils down to building and enforcing the culture by re-iterating the benefits of reviews for a community.


Q: With Jeeran relying on its users to submit reviews, how do you go about ensuring quality of review? Moreover, how do you make it easier for customers to submit reviews?

A: What is more challenging than getting people to write reviews is to get them to write qualityreviews. We enforce this by doing many small things that range from encouraging people to be very honest and critical in their reviews to writing tips on how to write great reviews. With this in mind, making it easier for people to write reviews is not necessary better, as it tends to impact quality. In other words, we do not want to be a site that is littered with “wow, this place is amazing!” type of reviews, but rather more qualitative material.


Q: Do you believe Jeeran can influence the way the service industry in the Middle East operates? Moreover, do you aim to corporatize the data you collect from user reviews and offer it as a service to businesses looking for detailed feedback?

A: We have interacted a great deal with small business owners in order to educate them on how to respond to a critique and be all right with the concept of transparency. We invite business owners to claim their business pages, update their info and respond to reviews, while also offering various statistics on the business owner’s personal dashboard. We hope to offer more detailed insights for them in the near future.

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