Expatwoman expansion part of growing trend [National, The (United Arab Emirates)]
(National, The (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Expatwoman.com, the UAE-based website that offers expatriates advice on all things local is going global. The company recently launched in Azerbaijan and will enter Singapore and Hong Kong during the next couple of months.
"We are now going outside the GCC areas," said Gail Livingstone, general manager at expatwoman.com. "In Azerbaijan there is a lot of construction and a booming economy. English isn't widely spoken there and information is not all available in one place. We have pulled it all together and provided that information in the expatwoman style. We're the first community-focused information website. We have a niche and we are taking it around the world."
Expatwoman.com was founded 12 years ago in Dubai with just £12,000 (Dh72,456). Since then it has launched localised versions in Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It is now one of the most visited websites in the UAE, ranking 80th according to Alexa.com. Every day, the website receives more than 365,000 unique visits and 3.5 million average monthly page views.
It is just one among locally based websites founded by women to have expanded to surrounding countries and beyond as more innovators and entrepreneurs try their hand at digital media.
Many expatriate information websites focus on issues such as financial services and administrative processes. Expatwoman.com instead provides information on restaurants, schools, doctors and more and was the first to provide information aimed at a female audience, according to Ms Livingstone. It was the identification of this gap that led to its success, she said.
But building up a successful website requires more than just identifying a gap in the market.
"There is a notion that it is relatively easy to start an internet business because of the low cost and low barriers to entry. But making it and taking the website from the initial concept to something that is a business is extremely challenging," said Loulou Khazen Baz, the co-founder of Nabbesh, an online skills marketplace. "A lot of people underestimate the cost in terms of time and effort that is needed to take a $10,000 project that you started to a sustainable business."
Nabbesh launched just over a year ago, after Ms Khazen Baz won the Dh1 million grand prize on the television show The Entrepreneur in 2012. It is now looking to expand its reach beyond the UAE. It already has a presence in Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but wants to increase the company's foothold.
Many multinationals are now reaching out and funding women's initiative in the information technology sector, trying to encourage more women to start their own online businesses and change cultural perceptions.
"Sometimes you get people asking you: 'why are you doing this? Do you need to do this?' This is the challenge for a woman. Culturally you're supposed to be married and having children and starting a family. I want to be successful by my own right and build a sustainable business and have something to feel proud of, but not everyone understands that," said Ms Khazen Baz.
Overall the landscape for women entrepreneurs has improved over the past few years. Organisations such as GSMA and the Cherie Blair Foundation have launched initiatives that aim to give women improved connectivity and better access to information and business support, while others, such as Wamda, have played a hand in funding local start-ups.
"There is so much more support. It is a totally different landscape. There are mentors, and business leaders are aware of mentoring start-ups and companies," said May Habib, the founder of Qordoba, an online localisation company that secured a $1.5 million round of funding from Wamda last week.
"We are planning to use the investment to further develop our software product.
"Geographically, over the next 12 months we will focus on the European market and the Saudi market and hope to have a sales representative in the US by the end of the year," she said.
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