This Russian "super app" is reaching across nations to forge a digital community
- 21 June 2017
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People become entrepreneurs for all sort of reasons. For Airat Kasimov and his team, it all started with their quest to develop a platform to help the ummah.
Almost seven years ago in mainland Russia, Airat was a young techie with a plan to change the world. He had fine-tuned his tech skills in powerful oil behemoths such as Gazprom and Transneft, and perhaps it was his experience there that encouraged him to dream big and start his own technology firm.
Today he owns HalalGuide, a search engine–based platform that boasts more than 15 categories of services on its app and website. The site aims to help Muslims worldwide practice their faith and maintain their lifestyle.
With more than 20 techies working full-time and partners from different parts of the world, HalalGuide has become what Airat likes to call a super app. It’s not hard to see why. Funded by a group of private investors in Russia, HalalGuide has been clocking record numbers during Ramadan. It launched its app version in 2015, and Airat and his team are now busy pursuing Series A funding.
“HalalGuide has more than 500,000 unique visitors every month and over 200,000 app downloads so far. Mosques and popular halal destinations in more than 120 countries are listed. On certain days in Ramadan we get more than 80,000 unique visitors,” Airat told My Salaam.
HalalGuide was created to resolve a real issue. “Members of our team had been left without information about halal places in Russian cities during their frequent business trips. We felt that this would be even more of an issue for our brothers and sisters who travel but cannot speak the local language; they may be unable to locate halal places to eat or understand directions to a mosque.”
Though HalalGuide kicked off by offering prayer times (this is still the most popular service in terms of traffic) and a directory of halal restaurants in Russia, the platform now covers many aspects of the Muslim lifestyle, including a marketplace, information about job offerings, and a crowdfunding platform that has so far completed 18 projects, including mosques in Greater Russia. HalalGuide wants to create a digital ecosystem for Muslims worldwide.
The firm is growing stronger in Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, and it is now expanding into Western Europe and North America. “Currently, we have partners in 12 countries and will start operating in another eight this year, including Germany, the United States and Singapore,” Airat said.
While the development team based in Kazan includes 21 techies focused on customizing HalalGuide for the different countries, the ten business developers working from different parts of the world focus on developing new markets and campaigns.
Airat and Ayub Bulat, General Manager at HalalGuide, are very much aware of the impact of Ramadan on consumers’ Internet habits, and all efforts are focused on ensuring that HalalGuide is the first choice when it comes to time spent online.
Ayub explained HalalGuide’s Ramadan-specific features: “Users can access resources such as a list of duas to read, the nearest mosque to pray at and nearby restaurants for iftar. HalalGuide also shows the time remaining until maghrib, allowing users to make the necessary preparations. […] Furthermore, the Ramadan feature allows users to record and track any potential missed fasts so they can make up for them.”
What does the app’s traffic heatmap look like? “Our most popular features are the prayer timings and restaurant locator,” Bulat said. “Sixty per cent of our traffic comes from mainland Russia for all services within HalalGuide. Ten per cent comes from the Commonwealth of Independent States, Turkey and China contribute 5 per cent respectively, and the rest comes from Korea, the United Kingdom and Malaysia.”
Developing business and traffic has never exactly been a cakewalk for Airat and his team, not to mention the difficulties of doing so in countries that offered absolutely no local support.
“The main challenge was to structure all the info (which was not available in one place) and then put it there. For each country, we had to change features and upgrade systems, prioritize areas, make the product bespoke. Finding partners and garnering local support in each market was not easy either,” Airat said.
Through it all, Airat has been very clear about what all of this is for. “The reason for our success is a barakah we received from Allah. It wasn’t easy, but we always felt the support. Each year, we aim to build our app to be more appealing. And our website is at the top for searches on fajr, maghrib timings, mosque locations and iftar recommendations.”