“We must preserve our culture. Back in the day, this was an easy task. We were living in an isolated world; there were natural barriers that preserved culture, traditions and heritage. Nowadays, we enjoy living in a connected globalized world, which is phenomenal. This, however, means that our culture is no longer the only culture we’re exposed to. We should embrace other cultures, but without letting go of our own. Using the Arabic language as our main language of communication is a way of preserving our culture. We need to encourage one another to express ourselves in Arabic. We need to narrate our own stories.” Said Nawaf Felemban, CEO and Founder of Kasra.
In an interview with MediAvataar MENA, Nawaf shared the purpose behind launching Kasra.com-reintroducing, rekindling and reuniting the Arab World.
Here is the complete Q&A….
Nawaf: What was the purpose behind launching Kasra?
MediAvataar: Our company mission is to “unite the Arab world one cat picture at a time.” We want to be the one place on the Arabic Internet where Arabs of different nationalities are all commenting on content that resonates with them. Our goal is to break the current status of Arabic media by becoming the first large¬scale publisher of viral Arabic content, on a safe platform where everyone feels welcome. Along the way, we hope to empower Arabs to be narrators of their own stories by publishing compelling content that readers will want to share with family and friends.
Nawaf: What does the word Kasra mean?
MediAvataar: We chose Kasra as homage to our Arabic language ¬ The kasra is a diacritic symbol in the Arabic alphabet. The word is also a symbol of the startup’s ambition. Kasra also means to “break” or “disrupt.” The vision of the startup was to create premium, entertaining content to “break” the traditional state of Arabic media, to enable Arabs to break barriers to telling their stories, and to take a break from the routine and stresses of life.
Nawaf: How has been the response like?
MediAvataar: The response has been positive. On the user side, our readers have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. This is evident in their comments and engagement on our content. The positive response has also been evident in our growth. Kasra achieved over 1 million unique visitors per month within 6 months of launch – making it one of the fastest growing Arabic websites to date. Today, Kasra has 3 million unique users per month. On the sales side, clients and agencies have been very excited because we offer services that no one else offers in the market. That is a mix of highly relevant content developed by our on the ground teams in different countries, and our extensive data analytics capability.
Nawaf: How do you view the online content space in the region?
MediAvataar: There is not enough Arabic content online. Arabic speakers are 7¬8% of the global online population, but only 1¬3% of online content is in Arabic. Moreover, competitor Arabic websites are niche, intended for some, but not for all. Egyptians read content from Egypt, Saudis read content from Saudi, and so on. Many large¬scale Arabic websites tend to be religiously motivated or politically biased, addressing a particular audience. In addition, the tone of Arabic online has a tendency to be high brow rhetoric or low quality message board conversation. There is no middle ground – content that is not intellectual, but still intelligent, covering topics people talk about the most: music, culture, entertainment, daily life. As a result, people in the Arab World feel alienated from the Arabic Internet – and do not see the value of expressing themselves in Arabic. Youth and young people suffer the most, unable to find content that resonates with how they communicate online.
Nawaf: How important is to embrace traditions and heritage?
MediAvataar: must preserve our culture. Back in the day, this was an easy task. We were living in an isolated world; there were natural barriers that preserved culture, traditions and heritage. Nowadays, we enjoy living in a connected globalized world, which is phenomenal. This, however, means that our culture is no longer the only culture we’re exposed to. We should embrace other cultures, but without letting go of our own. Using the Arabic language as our main language of communication is a way of preserving our culture. We need to encourage one another to express ourselves in Arabic. We need to narrate our own stories. We need to move beyond being consumers of content to producers of content. In addition, we should start using Arabic as an expression tool, and not as a piece of art that can only be critiqued by artists. For a long time, people have not felt comfortable putting their words out there out of fear of criticism “You don’t know how to write in Arabic!”, “that’s not how you write this”, “that’s the wrong choice of words”. The focus on the purity of the language deters people from sharing their thoughts and opinions. We must encourage the exchange of thoughts and not the grammatical perfection.
Nawaf: Do you think that youth is your right target group/audience?
MediAvataar: Yes, absolutely ¬ the youth is the largest segment in the Arab population. Nearly a third of the Arab population is between the ages of 15¬29. Also, the youth is the most engaged group online.
Nawaf: How do you look at the competition?
MediAvataar: As I’ve already mentioned before, there is not enough Arabic content online. Arabic speakers are 7¬8% of the global online population, but only 1¬3% of online content is in Arabic. This gap is wide, can never be filled with only one player. We need more competition to fill this gap. Publishers today don't leverage data and technology to the extent they can today. There is a strong belief within most publishers that certain content does well. For example, politics, football, cars, etc. This is far from the truth. Publishers need to use data to truly learn what people care about. Here at Kasra, for example, we learned from our analytics platform some insights. Some were not surprising, for example content that adds value to the readers’ day to day life, like how to peel a pomegranate, does very well. Other insights go against traditional beliefs, such as food content does well with certain segments of men. Going forward, all publishers should not only embrace tech but make it a core area of the business. It is the way to revive Arabic content, and cater to the needs of Arab readers. As for advertising, competition today is too focused on traditional models of advertising. These models are dying and have been proven to be ineffective with the audience. We are leading the way in native advertising, and believe this is where our competition needs to move into. We use data to link clients to their target segments through content that readers truly care about and resonate with.
Nawaf: Please take us through the content on the website?
MediAvataar: We publish intelligent, “bite¬sized” content that readers use to break boredom, or stress. Our content covers a wide range of topics: DIY, culture, entertainment, life hacks, sports, food and many other topics that resonate with our readership. Our stories are like a chocolate bar – a little something sweet that you have as a pick¬me¬up to get you through the day. On Kasra, we have a non¬divisive editorial policy ¬ we don’t publish divisive content, such as politics and religion. We are committed to creating a safe place where readers feel comfortable sharing content they like and expressing their ideas. We tightly enforce our editorial policy to make sure no one feels unwelcome on the website. In addition, the marketing team processes every single comment on social media to extend this safe environment to all Kasra channels. Finally, Kasra is committed to maintaining the highest standards for content quality, so readers know they can trust all information that appears on the website.
Nawaf: How important is to keep innovating?
MediAvataar: It is critical to staying ahead of competition. Innovation is needed on both sides: content and tech. We invest significant resources in developing proprietary technology to differentiate us from the rest as well as continuously revamping our content ¬ content that Arab readers find both relevant and engaging. We also invest in improving the user experience in our website.
Nawaf: Please tell us more about your collaboration with Souq.com.
MediAvataar: Kasra wanted to experiment with native advertisements to see whether Arabic speaking readers would respond to this new advertising format. Native ads have been one of the fastest growing segments within digital marketing. Native ads by publishers, like Kasra, are viral stories that readers can enjoy, sponsored by brands. According to Business Insider, spend on native advertisements in the U.S. is expected to reach $21 billion by 2018. We presented our native advertising initiative to Souq, who wanted to reach a specific customer segment: Arabic speakers in Egypt and the GCC. This resulted in a collaboration on a pilot at the end of 2015. Kasra believes that native advertisements provide the best experience for users. In addition, native advertisements are powerful tools for brands to change awareness and mindset with consumers. Our campaign for Souq achieved over 200,000 social engagements on Facebook and Twitter across 10 articles in Egypt and the GCC, in addition to more than 2 minutes of average reading time on each article. Through surveys, Kasra estimates that it was able to raise awareness by as much as 8x on a single article. Looking forward, Kasra foresees educating brands on digital marketing, and Native ads specifically, as one of the biggest challenges.
Nawaf: Many more such alliances in the pipeline? How does the road ahead look for Kasra?
MediAvataar: We are currently working with leading advertising agencies, who are very excited to work with us because we provide something unique in the market. Native advertising with high local relevance. We are also speaking to many top brands and government entities to help them with campaigns that truly connect with people. Looking ahead, we will continue to invest in better understanding the needs of our users as well as launching video content.