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The Story of a Father Who Built a Startup in the Middle of Riots to Help His Son

Maarouf El Assaad, Mar 12 2014

If you’re looking for a digital platform that publishes books and comic books for children, look no further, for we bring you “Rawy Kids,” an app that offers a comprehensive library of interactive, entertaining stories for children.  The app, alongside books and stories published inside it, aims at planting values and principles of the Arab culture in children’s minds and personalities, in order to raise a new generation with stronger values, using modern technology.  To know more about the app, we had this interview with Mr. Mahmoud Al Ghazz, the founder and CEO of “Rawy”.

How was the idea of “Rawy” conceived?

The idea came to me, at first, as way of presenting Arabic culture and heritage to my son, Youssef.  I’ve noticed that children are more and more interacting with tablets and smartphones at a younger age.  I’ve also noticed a lack of interactive Arabic content, which made me think of developing an app that offers more than simple e-books.

How was the development of the app funded?

At first, the project was endorsed by “Flat6labs,” a regional startup accelerator program that fosters and invests in bright and passionate entrepreneurs with cutting-edge ideas.  Then we were able to get more funds by personal efforts, support from family and friends, and the participation of owners and investors.  Additionally, we are currently working on expanding the investment circle.

What were the main obstacles and challenges you’ve faced?

One of the main obstacles was the short period of support offered by startup accelerators.  Most accelerators support new projects for 3 months only.  Fortunately, “Flat6labs” extended support to 6 months.  Trying to do this project in a country like Egypt, where initiatives are weak, the culture of emerging companies is just starting to spread, and the economy is unstable; without the proper guidance would have been a huge risk.

The political situation had deeply affected us as well.  Our offices were quite close to the presidential palace, where demonstrations and tear gas became a familiar scene.  There were times when we weren’t able to get to the company because of sit-ins or demonstrations, and we had to work from home, where connection would be out sometimes.  There was a lot of tension and violence.  All that was a big burden on us.

Finally, one of the biggest obstacles we faced was recruiting a highly skilled team with a tight budget.  The tools used for developing “Rawy” are very advanced, which requires an exceptionally highly-paid staff.  But we were very fortunate in solving this dilemma.  We were able to put together a team with excellent skills, vast experience and unique background.  More importantly, our team members are not just employees at “Rawy;” they are individuals who are motivated and they share our view of raising a new Arab generation with stronger values using modern technology.  That helps immensely with managing the staff, who collectively own 20% of the company’s shares.

What mistakes have you made, and what have you learned from them?

The mistakes we’ve made are so many, we’ve lost count.  One of the advances of emerging companies is that you have the freedom to build your company however you want.  However, founders usually have no idea how to do that, except for having their own vision for a company with a group of creative people, ready to work on their project and to put an extra effort to build a friendly environment.

You try to have different formations, and sometimes you fail, even miserably, until you eventually start to find the way to run your company well.  I’m not saying we found the ideal way; we still make mistakes every once in a while, but we are getting there.

What makes “Rawy” stand out among other apps?

“Rawy” stands out because you can create a really rich story with it.  You can combine animation, comics, interaction and narration to create a joyful experience using the power of mobile technology.

What are the competitive features of “Rawy”?

We’ve developed the app to make this technology available for artists and writers.  That, in turn, gives us variable sources of content.  It also creates a mutual benefit relationship with people who work with us.  We believe that is what gives “Rawy” its competitive edge; we allow artists to maintain ownership of their work, enrich our content and create revenue for the artists and ourselves.

Have you made deals with publishing houses and writers?

Yes, we’re already working with many independent and established writers.  We’ve been talking to a number of publishing houses in Egypt and things are going well so far.  We’re very optimistic.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs like yourself?

My advice is to accept change as a normal part of running an emerging company.  On the other hand, a company must maintain its unique vision.  Creating a balance between holding on to your ideas and change is a difficult process.  Sometimes, you have to follow what your investors and clients want; other times you have to follow your instincts.  That’s not easy.

What plans do you have for the future?

We’ve been developing a new app called “Rawy Comics.”  It works the same way as “Rawy Kids,” but will target a more mature audience, and focus on artwork, plot and exploring different types of drawings.

We can’t disclose too many details at the time being, but we have a very exciting new project; we’re working with one of the best-selling authors in Egypt on a standalone app.  We’re completely confident it will be a major step forward.  Finally, “Rawy” is working with educational institutions that want to use our technology to create joyful, interactive educational solutions.  We’re still in early stages, but, so far, things look very promising.

“Rawy Kids” is available for download on Android, Windows Phone and iOS.

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