Another day another startup from Amman, Jordan. But this one is not related to Oasis500 not that I have anything against them but it seems lately that all startups I meet from Amman are incubated at Oasis500. A couple of days ago I sat down with Zeid Malas and Tala Sukhun who are the founder and managing partner at Ihdeeny.com. They also happen to be husband and wife. Together with a third partner Tamara Haj Hasan they launched the online gift registry website on April fifth of this year. ihdeenyis the Middle East’s first online gift registry service, it is a platform that allows users to create and access a wide range of gift items to choose from. An interesting point about ihdeeny is that its not focused on weddings only, but users have the chance to create personal registries for all types of gift-giving and receiving occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, house warming’s and any other celebration.
Here’s a video of how it works:
So how and why did it start? Well When Tala and Zeid were planning their wedding last September, they realized how inconvenient the whole gifting process was: Buying or Receiving. “There was no such thing as a gift registry. More importantly, there was no convenient way for our friends and family that live abroad to buy us gifts and have them sent to Jordan. And so we thought: why not create an online Wedding registry platform!” Explained Tala
“We also really wanted to create a service for people to conveniently shop from their home or office without the hassle of driving around.” – Zeid Malas
According to the couple, they have been receiving good feedback about website and so far its working well. “We’re like brokers, we don’t have to stock our own products and it works well for users because the shopping process is done online without the hassle, users also pay the same prices they would at the stores” Said Tala. I wanted to know more about the payment process, because its a big subject nowadays online. Accepting payment online can be a tricky issue, people who went through it know how difficult it is in the MENA region.
Apparently they accept credit cards and they also offer cash on delivery. Now I almost always recommend against doing cash on delivery because it could be a nightmare and buyers can (and will) refuse the items and send them back and you end up absorbing the cost. But in this case the founders actually have a point, “Cash on delivery on other sites are made for buyers who purchase products for themselves, however on ihdeeny buyers purchase items for friends/family members as gifts from their registries, so returns should not be an issue with us.” Explained Zeid. (Just an FYI the buyers pay for the gift with cash on delivery and not the receiver of the gift!)
Currently the team is six people strong between business development, HR and marketing people although the technical work is outsourced, they are planning to moving it in house which makes sense especially since they’re an online business. Since we’re talking about the team I have to mention that I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with such a diverse background such as Zeid’s. At first he said he’s done it all, and in my mind I was thinking I’ve heard that before, but then he started to count the things he was involved in “I tried catering, I had a Shishaagency, worked in the steel and wood industry, worked in trading building materials with the family business, and also did some banking” said Zeid, in all honesty he mentioned more but I couldn’t get myself to stop wondering what on earth a Shisha agency was? But he explained that for a period of time he was importing/exporting high end shisha tobacco! Kind of a shisha drug dealer!
Tala on the other hand comes from a finance background and before ihdeeny she decided to change her career and work as an event coordinator at a school in Jordan.
Ihdeeny is a completely free platform for all users, they generate revenue by taking a commission of every sale made from the vendors. So if nobody purchases anything they don’t make any money! But what’s in it for the vendors? Well, they get an online presence for free (or at a very low cost which is the commission) “We’re essentially marketing their products and sending traffic their way.” said Tala. In the future they’re also planing on adding spots for featured vendors on the website at an agreed rate, however for now they’re doing it for free.
All vendors are either selected or approved onto the website, during our meeting Zeid received a confirmation from a vendor agreeing to sell her items on the website. And according to the founder a lot the vendors are contacting them to sell their items through ihdeeny. Which I found to be surprising, I thought that they might face some resistance in Jordan from vendors to list their items, but apparently not. Below is a screenshot from ihdeeny’s facebook page with a request from a vendor to sell on the website.
At the moment they have around 15 vendors but they’re forecasting to have 25+ vendors by the end of next week all of whom are from Jordan. For the moment they are focusing on the registry feature since the summer “wedding season” is approaching, so they are working closely with wedding planners, independent designers and related vendors who don’t necessarily have any physical shops. Since April ihdeeny has managed to get around 4500 unique visitors and 32K pageviews with minimal advertising spend. Which includes Facebook ads, a radio campaign on local stations, and magazine ads.
“Radio gave us good exposure but the best advertising was online, its more accesible and effective and its for these reasons that I don’t think we’ll run ads on magazines again” – Tala Sukhun
What Tala and Zeid found surprising was that although they’re only advertising and focusing on the Jordanian market, they have received purchases from the UAE, US and other countries for friends/family members residing in Jordan, their not sure how these people found out about the site but their guessing it has something to do with Facebook’s reach. But their marketing efforts don’t stop there they’re working hard to be a step ahead and by improving existing features and adding new ones, below is a list of features that I think will differentiate ihdeeny from other competitors:
- Cashback: This is a feature only for weddings, for example if you don’t want to buy a gift, or would like to also give away some money on top of the gift, you can pay with your credit card and the receiving couple can withdraw it in cash or vouchers from ihdeeny.
- Ihdeeny Voucher: Self explanatory really, the interesting thing is that it can be redeemed at anyone of their vendors and not just at a specific location. This makes a nice gift idea, especially when you don’t know what to get a friend on a special occasion. This feature is still a work in progress but should be live soon
- They have an in house team that specilizes in gift wrapping, card writing and deliveries
- And above all you don’t need to create an account to make a purchase!
I asked the couple what advice they have to offer other people starting up in the region and they said that it took a lot of patience, dedication and attention to details.
“You have to think of every detail. Definitely bounce the idea with the right people in the field. If you have an idea you’re passionate about, run with it. The idea will grow and become better the more you work on it so don’t be afraid to put in the hours! Also, don’t try to cut corners on important things; invest time and money in the main aspect of your business.” – Tala Sukhun
As for the future the team are currently working on expanding regionally into the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and other countries in the MENA, and expect the concept of gift giving to shift in the direction of online gift giving, since its an effective and efficient way to give gifts.
“I think ihdeeny will work regionally because its user friendly, easy to use, provides convenience more than actually going out and doing the shopping physically. It’s all about convenience” – Zeid Malas
As we were wrapping up our meeting, Zeid liked to bring up a very important point which was the name, I hadn’t asked because I knew what it meant (ihdeeny loosely translated means gift giving in Arabic) and they are looking to own the keywords gifting and gift giving online. But Tala then jumped in and said “He’s only bringing it up now because he came up with it and he’s very proud of it!”. And from what I picked up he was quite adamant about the name too… Apparently he gave the team an ultimatum either proceeding with ihdeeny or no project at all! That a boy Zeid! If you’d like to know more about ihdeeny checkout and like their facebook page.