Bey2ollak, the award-winning mobile application allowing users to share real-time information about traffic in Cairo and Alexandria, was launched in October 2010. Founded by five cousins, it now has a user base of more than 600, 000 users with 190,000 active monthly users.
While the bumpy political situation in Egypt has upset many investments, a group of youth took the slogan of “Be local, social, adaptable and simple” as their motto when they launched their successful application. The Daily News Egypt spoke to Gamal El-Din Sadek, one of the co-founders of Bey2ollak.
1- Where did the idea of Bey2ollak grow from?
My cousin Ali Rafea and I noticed that people are communicating socially about traffic which is a part of everyone’s daily routine, with their family, friends and co-workers to warn each other or suggest alternative routes. Moreover, social network users are always sharing information about traffic and how they feel frustrated. Some local radio stations were reporting traffic updates, and also the Cairo traffic hashtag on twitter is always very active.
We decided to create a platform which combines all these kinds of information about traffic and is all built on people’s sharing information; if the users don’t share we won’t exist. That’s why our motto is “We empower people to be traffic together”.
Before Bey2ollak, Ali and I, who had a computer science background, had an idea and were looking for support. After meeting with businessmen, we realised that what we needed was a different set of skills and expertise. We started to create our team, which wasn’t a hard process for us as our big family combines various educational backgrounds. Soon a team of five co-founders of Bey2ollak was formed; Ali Rafea, Mohamed Rafea and I have a computer science background, Mostafa El-Beltagy has a business and marketing background, and finally Yehia Ismail is specialised in fine arts and design. We cover all the core functions necessary to build and launch the service.
2- How did you choose the name Bey2ollak?
I wish it had a story, but it came to me suddenly, and I immediately told Ali and he liked it. We decided to buy an internet domain with that name, and that was the thing which was always encouraging us to accomplish the project, because we already had something on hand.
3- How did you start?
It wasn’t clear whether our product would be a website or a mobile application. In 2010, the year we launched the service, the idea of mobile applications wasn’t that popular like now; Android systems were not available in Egypt yet and there wasn’t an app store for Blackberry yet. We decided to make an online survey, which showed a big appeal to the mobile application idea.
Mostafa, with his marketing background, saw that it could be preferable to operate on iPhone, but we decided to start with blackberry as it was very popular then, in order to guarantee that the launch would be successful.
4- What was your marketing plan to reach users?
We knew from the first day who exactly was our target market; we wanted the internet users who are online 24/7 posting and tweeting about their daily life. So, we decided to launch virally through our friends, and told them to change their profile pictures to Bey2ollak’s logo and to send BBM and Whatsapp broadcasts to their friends telling them about the application.
We also chose the language of the application to be the friendly franco-arab language which is spoken by all the youth, adding a sense of humor to the names of our features from “7alawa” which indicates that the road is perfect, to “mafeesh amal” which indicates that the traffic is very bad.
5- Tell us more about the launch.
On our launch day, I wished to reach 1000 registered users, but we all surprised that we had more than 6000 registered users in the first day only. After that, we received an email from Vodafone offering help. The launch was successful beyond our expectations. But at the beginning we were covering only the most important routes and bridges which are used by most of the users.
6- What challenges did Bey2ollak face before launching?
We were not driven by money, since before January 2012 we had no cash yield; our motive was to have an impact on society. But culturally, yes, there was a challenge because the idea of entrepreneurship was not understood. Some people were urging us to have other full-time jobs to guarantee a stable career.
Unexpectedly, the January 25th Revolution benefited us and made us more adaptable; we started reporting about the blocked roads and add more features like “Khatar” to warn about unsafe roads, and “El7a2ny” which includes the phone numbers of Emergency and Police and so on.
7- Since the users are the source of information, How do you check that the information reported is true?
We operate on a ‘trust based network’ with our users, and we have the means to evaluate contributions based on the personal information or profile of the user who reported to us, when he registered, how many times he shared information, how many times he viewed the application. According to that, we rank the users from “unsure” to “top reporter”. If wrong information has been shared, we can take various measures from warning to blocking a user from reporting.
8- Do you perform differently during situations like fuel crisis?
Sure, as long as people are reporting about traffic, they are reporting about many related issues. When we faced the fuel crisis, we thought of adding a feature about it. It worked well and users started reporting about which fuel stations to go to at what time and so on. Also during the elections time, we did something similar about the polling stations.
As of now, there’s a feature named “Safro in groups” encouraging people to travel to the North Coast together due to the current insecurity.
9- Tell us more about your award.
We took part in NexGen boot camp in July 2011; it was supported by USAID, the Egyptian ministry of telecommunications and the Danish embassy. It supports entrepreneurship in Egypt through sharing the experience of global entrepreneurs. It was so inspiring to us and we won an office at the ministry of telecommunications which serves as our headquarters.
10- How do you survive in the current economic crisis?
Of course it affects us but our source of revenue is from our partners along with the SMS service about traffic updates promoted by Vodafone.
11- Do you have any ideas for mobile apps further than the traffic guide?
We’re focusing now on Bey2ollak to maintain and grow our popularity. But we do have a vision for something else with the same flavour of Bey2ollak.
12- When will Bey2ollak service cover all Egypt’s governorates?
Technically, it’s easy but the most important is the presence of a need to this service. 90% of the interactions are from Cairo so we focus on it and we can suggest alternative routes. In other governorates, there may not be traffic problem [the] same as [as there is in] Cairo.
13- After three years of operating, do you feel that the traffic get any better?
Actually it has worsened. When we started, we did not hope to solve the traffic problem, but now we are thinking how we can help.
14- Are you looking to expand in international markets?
Yes, and we already have taken steps in another country. But it’s not easy since the flavour of Bey2ollak is so Egyptian.
15- Do you think that the January revolution encouraged entrepreneurship in Egypt?
Sure, as before the revolution our ambitions were limited. After the revolution our national identity increased and all of us wanted to do something useful. In my point of view, entrepreneurship is the only solution for developing Egypt.
16- Do you have any advice for young start-up firms?
Focus on the idea and don’t be driven by money. Also make sure that your team meets the core of your business. And finally, don’t wait for the fund and take the action.