In 1783, Mozart wanted to perform some of his recently composed concertos in a concert hall in Vienna. To fund his project, he published an invitation requesting prospective backers to ‘subscribe’ to it, offering manuscripts of his compositions as ‘rewards’ to those who pledged. Mozart still fell short on funding, but he tried again a year later and 176 backers pledged enough contributions to make the project happen. He duly thanked them in the concert manuscripts.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and shift from Europe to the Middle East and you have Zoomaal, a new Arab funding platform and its potential bedfellow, Wezank.
Zoomaal is an online crowdfunding portal for Arab projects. Its scope mainly covers projects from Lebanon, KSA, Jordan, UAE, and Egypt, with representatives in each country. Zoomaal officially launched in July 2013, backed by four major Arab investors, Wamda (UAE), MEVP(Lebanon), N2V (KSA), and Sawari Ventures (Egypt) setting its credibility to the fullest for prospective participants, whether the fund-hungry Entrepreneurs or the third party backers who are donating or investing in the proposed projects.
Zoomaal, literally translating to “man with money”, works pretty much the same as the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Entrepreneurs with a business idea but lacking funds are invited to set up a funding campaign. The first step is to shoot a video that explains the product and the campaign. The video is posted on the Zoomaal website along with an explanatory text and a set of rewards. The rewards are the anticipatory added value and acknowledgement to whoever decides to contribute to funding the project, and range from ‘Thank you” notes and mentions in Prefaces and Websites of the projects-to-be, to items that relate to the campaign. Lebanese indie band, Mashrou’ Leila, for example, who crowd funded its latest album on Zoomaal, offered Skype concerts for individual contributors as one of its campaign rewards. The trick is to get your viewers hooked, and turn them into eager investors. The punch line however is that if the full amount is not reached within the pre-set timeframe, it’s a No-Go. The third-party investors get their money back and the entrepreneurs get nothing.
By introducing crowdfunding to the region in an Arab-focused structure Zoomaal has done its business landscape a great favor, but it did not up the game. As a product, it did not offer anything new. Its placement in the Arab world is currently governed by its accessibility compared to other platforms such as Kickstarter. But but does that mean that if other platforms, that have much more visibility and foundation, develop Arab-friendly payment options that Zoomaal as a product would become obsolete?
Here’s where Wezank comes in. Wezank is a Lebanese online platform claiming the credo “We explain your ideas with beautiful videos,” and it lives up to it. With the starting argument that we are visual creatures, and that video content is the most viewed on the web, Wezank’s assertion is convincing. Your idea is commercially worth nothing if no one knows about it, and if you don’t know how to explain it, no one ever will [know about it.] Wezank’s team creates fun and relatable explainer videos for all sorts of ideas. Their video for “Lebanese New Phone Regulations” was adopted by the Ministry of Telecommunication and aired on national television in Lebanon as it simply gets the message across.
The relationship between Zoomaal and Wezank automatically makes sense. Zoomaal is encouraging entrepreneurs to start their businesses and Wezank is helping them voice their ideas in videos, the main communication medium on Zoomaal. What if there’s a Wezank package to Zoomaal. The Wezank fee could be included within the pledged sum of the campaign. What if they take it further, and develop this new platform into something new, a hybrid between good old crowdfunding and the actual resources in the Arab world to bolster these start-up initiatives. Wezank is just one obvious example of how to take Zoomaal a little notch up from simply benefitting from specific deficits in the Arab context, to something more aware of what that context could offer it, and how to give back.
By admitting the force of the crowd, as opposed to typical institutional trajectories of funding and supporting artworks and commercial start-ups, the business scene is bound to become more versatile. The next great idea will turn into a tangible, functional business model. More projects will see the light. Increased competition will produce more thought-of products and farther accessibility will release the youth from the burdens of archaic jobs.