This has to be one of the startups that I’ve met at AmmanTT 2012 with the biggest potential to succeed. Not because of what they do (although what they do is pretty awesome) but more because of the people behind it. I met with Tarek Koudsi one of the co-founders and from our meeting I could tell that he was very involved and driven to make hashdoc happen. Which is something I don’t see or feel when I meet a lot of the people starting up in the region.
Tarek, as he puts it, is a person with a hard core technical background “I was coding since I was a kid, I was kind of forced on to it”, referring to his early childhood years when his father used to force him to code and work with him.
Things have changed now and after working for several years he ended up working (from what I understood) with a company that provides backend services for financial firms across the MENA region. As he grew in the company his role evolved into more of the management side of operations rather than the technical side “I loved it with all its aspects, I had the chance to work with people from different departments, manage teams and so on. It was different because when your a techie you just want to know tech stuff, this opened up my eyes!”
Tarek then decided to move back to Amman when an opportunity with the municipality there arose, at the time the municipality was looking for someone to work on the implementation of an Oracle system that was purchased.
The reason I’m mentioning all this information about his career history is because throughout his years he worked at all levels of the corporate world and one thing that he faced constantly was that he always required some sort of document that made the work flow easier, so naturally he had to rely on google and other template sharing platforms. Which prompted the question from Tarek “Why isn’t there a place for me to look for specific documents?” And thus Hashdoc was born!
Tarek left his job and in August 2011 pitched hashtag to Oasis500 and they started in October of that year. They are currently incubated at Tanasuk who also happen to be a shareholder in Hashdoc. The team now consists of five people including three engineers, one content manager/editor and one business development member. And they are working hard to launch it in the coming weeks if not days.
So what is Hashdoc? Think of it as a hybrid of wikipedia, slideshare, quora and the iTunes appstore. It’s a platform to easily search and share documents and templates. “The other existing platforms presume that the user knows what they are looking for, with hashdoc we focus on the topics and filters.” explained Tarek.
Hashdoc will be an invitation only platform, because the founders want to build up a community where people know each other and the content is related. And they will only focus on a number of topics at first which are:
- Project management
“Our niche is going to be vertical, which will help in having depth in specific topics rather than thin on so many topics and it will allow us to know how to market, who to target, where to advertise and so on…” – Tarek Koudsi
The interface is very minimal, you can view it in different ways and is quite simple to use.
As you can see from the screenshot above, you can login with Twitter or Linkedin, the founders excluded Facebook because they wanted it to be more professional. And users can browse documents based on topics, publishers, format and stacks. The Stacks feature has to be my personal favorite, the name is as it suggests a stack of documents that are relevant to a certain procedure or work process that a person might require either on a professional or personal level. To give you an example, let’s say someone wants to start an ecommerce business, they would need documents to help them with the legal issues, marketing, branding, etc… So instead of searching for documents under each topic, they would simply search for a “ecommerce startup” stack and they would find a list of stacks that would contain documents that should help them in every step of the way, neat eh?
According to Tarek they are answering a need, in our meeting he showed me a quick search result for keywords that generated 750K+ searches monthly for their targeted keywords. “The interesting thing about Hashdoc is that we’re making an existing market better, not creating a new one. People will use it because they dont have to waste time searching for a required document, they search once and go back to their work.” stated the cofounder.
Tarek believes that what gives Hashdoc an edge over the competition is the technology they’re using. We talked about these technical integrations and apparently while they were carrying out the research they found some great open source tools that they customized. One of these tools being Maui, which is an engine developed by a Google employee, that identifies main topics in any text documents so you can throw text at it and it will let you know the main keywords automatically. This engine will help to suggest tags and topics related to the user according to information on their Linkedin accounts and so on. Another feature is that users can sync their documents with Dropbox and Google Docs.
“We focused on productivity, users have their own way to do things online. So why should I add a new thing? Users can sync with google docs and dropbox.” – Tarek Koudsi
Moving on I was interested to know how they were planning on monetizing the site and what their going to do market it. Regarding revenue generation they are planning on implementing one (or a number of) the following options:
- Witchdraft or Revenue sharing which would mean that they would introduce a marketplace and provide proper analytics
- Subscription, team workspaces or the “More” model (more storage, more template access, etc…)
- Lead generation
- Advertising. But Tarek admitted that he didn’t like this option and was trying his best to steer away from it
“Our plans is becoming google’s best friend, from the amount of content.” – Tarek Koudsi