It has been roughly one year since Yahoo! made waves in the Middle East, by buying Maktoob, the region’s largest web portal for $164 million.
From Silicon Valley’s observation deck that may seem like small peanuts— these days we barely bat an eye when HP and Dell get into a multi-billion dollar tug-of-war game. However, for the Middle East and in particular Jordan, the Maktoob takeover was a flash point for the fledgling tech scene.
That’s not to say that Jordan has become a premiere tech hub overnight. Indeed, the region still suffers from a dearth of angel investors. But there is a palpable rise in confidence among the region’s entrepreneurs, like Ammar Ibrahim founder of Asuaq.com. The young site, which touts itself as the Craigslist of the Middle East (minus the “censored” controversy), has only garnered about 300,000 unique visitors since its launch earlier this year, but it’s growing at a healthy clip. Traffic has doubled in the last five months.
On this week’s episode of Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur, SGN Founder Shervin Pishevar talks to Ibrahim about his new site, Jordan’s startup community, the Maktoob deal’s effect and the challenges of funding. See video above. Many thanks to Shoo Fee TV, a content provider and aggregator of Arab satellite channel listings based in Jordan, for shooting this video.
For all the progress in Jordan, it was interesting to hear Ibrahim discuss the ongoing challenges of raising capital in the region. Although he says the investment environment has improved significantly in the last 2-3 years, a site rich in traffic is still tough sell in this traditional market: “The thing that is still happening today is that people are still evaluating internet businesses on the balance sheet. So it’s pretty much like a grocery store, like gasoline station… So this is one of the biggest problems, if you’re a website and you do have significant traffic…it’s a bit difficult to monetize traffic…[so] internet businesses are undervalued because of the internet business model.”
To see episode one of Entrepreneur To Entrepreneur, featuring Yahoo’s former Chief Data Officer, Dr. Usama Fayyad, click here. On next week’s episode, we’ll meet the man Pishevar calls the “Ron Conway of the Middle East.”