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Play Date is a fantastic example of an Arabic startup with big ambitions spotting a gap in the local market that could end up with global reach. Prototype’s founder, Alex Rauser, met the app creator, publicist and Spread Communications MD Shamim Kassibawi to discuss the challenges, successes and future plans of running a digital startup.

What is Play Date?

Play Date is a way for families with young children to find each other and have play dates in Dubai. The parents set up a profile for their child and, like Tinder, find matching profiles in the area. They can select age, language, background and so on. When they find a family that makes a good match they arrange to meet up and maybe take advantage of an event arranged by one of our partners or use a discount we have sourced from a local supplier. By offering great discounts and events, they’ll continue to arrange meet ups through the app.

Coming up with the idea behind the Play Date app

A massive part of finding success with any business, especially an app-based one, is having a great new idea or a fantastic new way to use something that’s already out there. Kassibawi recommends playing to your strengths and looking locally to spot opportunities saying “I live with my sister and she has four kids. I could see that they interact from a very young age, they're social, and I realized that kids can do this from a young age and then at the same time I could see how expensive things were becoming for my sister. So I thought what if we get babies meeting babies and there's a brand element where the parents get a discount together.”

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The challenges for startups like PlayDate

There are three key challenges - finding the consumers, connecting with the brands, and building the app. A digital entrepreneur needs to have the right team around them to meet these challenges from the start. As a publicist, Kassibawi was well connected for the first two challenges, but the third was new ground for her.

Getting consumers signed up for the Play Date app

Getting out there and becoming visible is a hurdle for every startup. Getting the public to sign up is a massive challenge. You can’t just make an app and expect people to find it - it’s about creating social engagement first. This means it’s essential to use the data you get to learn about customer behaviour through social media and then converting that engagement into sign ups.

Play Date decided to focus on creating shareable content by experts their target market want to hear from. They have a family psychologist creating articles about the importance of socialising babies for their speech and development. They also have plans to engage a fitness expert to create content about how important exercise and keeping healthy is for new moms and suggesting ways to fit that in.

Getting brands onboard

The key here is to show brands how you can access a market that they want to increase their audience in. Moms are big business right now and lots of brands want to reach them.

Play Date bypasses bloggers, bypasses traditional media and gets a brand straight in front of a defined set of moms who want their products. Plus the app is able to gather a lot of data about our audience to help the brands pitch their offerings well. It’s reciprocal. By offering 10%-20% off brands and running events through Play Date, it’s an opportunity for companies to tap into that zeitgeist.

Of course, not everyone will go for it but the majority of the corporate response to Play Date has been enthusiastic.

Building the Play Date app

Shamim self-funded the Play Date app. This meant budgeting was tight and choices had to be made. Therefore, the initial focus was on an App for the iPhone market, as a larger market, but the Android version should be released early in 2018.

Choosing to locate your business in a digital app means finding the right partner to build it. This can seem daunting but a good team will guide you through the design and build stages. Kassabawi knew what she wanted Playdate to look like and the functions Play Date should have. Early day glitches in functionality were frustrating. Shamim remembers “at one point it grew very quickly because we were at campaign and every time I'd flick it would freeze or shut down and I hated not having control over that.”

Lessons for a digital entrepreneur

A few essentials any budding digital entrepreneur needs to build a successful business.

  • Research your market and spot a gap that needs to be filled.
  • Work within your budget and plan the most efficient use even if it means rolling out in stages.
  • Plan your approach to finding customers. How will you target them? Where are they? What budget do you have to spend?
  • Find a partner like Alex and the team at Prototype to build your app. Someone who understands the potential and pitfalls of app design from the user interface to the infrastructure.

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