Jordan: Startups Do Not Have to be New!

Published March 14th, 2019 - 08:46 GMT

Of all the NGOs and business mentors telling entrepreneurs how to catapult their start-ups to success, very few give free, applicable advice on how to actually kick-start a business, according to two Jordanian entrepreneurs.

But why would anyone?

Competition and self-interest are definitive features of business, and when combined with what Adam Smith called the invisible hand, they “guide resources to their most valued use”, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Luis’s Economic Lowdown Podcast.

While the trend is to not share too much when telling one’s story, Obaida Rawashdeh and Heba Muhareb were very open about the details of their success.

In an interview, Rawashdeh and Muhareb, founders of Rimal Capital, Shanab Games and Catania Solutions, said that “competition is good”.

When asked on whether he dreads sharing the details of his early successes, which laid the foundation for him and his wife’s small empire, Rawashdeh said: “I wish more people would make use of these tips, it doesn’t scare me!”

“It is all good for the economy and the market,” he explained.

Forget about most of what you learned about entrepreneurship and start-ups, because successful ideas do not have to be entirely new, he added.

“All this focus on coming up with new ideas and inventions is overrated; developing and enhancing what is already out there is one very rewarding way to get started,” Rawashdeh claimed.

“You will have to work extra hard, yes, that much is true.”

In a nutshell, Rawashdeh and Muhareb began their entrepreneurial journey with simple Android utility applications and ended up with JD24 million in their portfolio.

But there is much more to it than just that.

“While attending Princess Sumaya University for Technology [PSUT], I sold homemade detergents that I mixed and packaged myself. I was studying computer science,” Rawashdeh said.

In 2012, he, then still single, borrowed JD500 from his father to market his first idea; holding workshops and courses specialised in Android application development for smartphones.

Shortly after, he partnered up with a friend and launched an academy.

“It was great while it lasted. Though I like teaching, my partner and I had to go own paths; we wanted different things. So eventually, we parted,” he said.

That was around a year or so after the couple got together, according to Muhareb.

“He was the coding genius and I was the visual wizard. Together we brought the most basic stuff to life. I mean, we fought, because all he sees is code, but we completed each other. Not only as business partners, but for life. The fighting was not always cute,” she said.

In other words, she saw what Rawashdeh could not in the apps (short for applications) he built.

“She just sees what I do not! To the point that Heba now not only takes care of the visual and interactive parts of our applications, but even my clothes and our furniture at home. She is a genius when it comes to user interface [UI] development and user experience [UX] perfection,” he added.

UI and UX are the two design and coding aspects that address the visual and interactive aspects of a programme on the user’s side.

“With Heba on my side and me being under so much pressure to find a job, I started developing utility applications for Android smartphones. She perfected them,” he noted.

Applications do not die, unlike games, he said.


They are tools that users resort to for a variety of solutions to their perhaps limited technological, and other, capabilities.

“My first utility application was a video downloader for Facebook, with an interface that allowed users to browse Facebook, very much like Facebook Lite, which was not out yet. The difference is that, with our app, you could download the videos you wanted from the website,” he elaborated.

The downloader application consumed so little data that it worked perfectly in low connectivity and remote areas of the world.

The app has more than 70 million downloads from around the world, according to the Google Play store.

“At any time, there are 16,000 users of the application,” he added.

This application started bringing in money, and so, other applications for other social media platforms followed.

“We neither invented Facebook, nor did we invent the video downloader application. All we did was perfect them to the point of meeting the needs of an unsaturated segment of the social media market,” Rawashdeh underlined.

It was being used all the way from India to Brazil, the programmer said.

The couple were starting to make good money and wanted to diversify their portfolio.

“So we went into game development while I was employed at another company and working with Obaida at the same time,” Muhareb said.

They began “localising games to appeal to the Arab Gulf demographics”, Rawashdeh said.

“When our first car-drifting smartphone game took off, localised to Saudi specifications, we started our company, Shanab Games,” he continued.

Shortly after, Muhareb resigned her job at the other company and joined Rawashdeh full time in 2015. The couple were engaged.

“I mean, when we look back at the designs and stuff that we developed back in 2012, we laugh. We have both progressed so much since then!”

Continuous education

Education and self-education are key for development, Rawashed said.

Hands-on experience is great, but continuously learning is critical to success and progress, Muhareb pointed out.

“We are both graduates of PSUT and we both carry a masters degree in computer science, and we still take courses and read relevant literature in our fields,” Muhareb said.

“Education is everything. It is doubly important for women, because our place is not in the kitchen,” she said.

Muhareb still does the cooking, but Rawasheh helps out hugely at home as well, she said.

“In fact, women can bring so much to the [business] table. Their contributions to business are priceless. I try hard to reach a one-to-one male-to-female ratio at our companies, but as much as I would love to enable more women, objective criteria must remain the determining recruitment factor,” Rawasheh said.

“But qualification is the definitive criterion,” Muhareb reasserted, saying that they currently employ more men than women at their companies.

“We are trying to reach and maintain that goal, but we will not be rejecting male applicants based on their gender, nor do we fire our employees,” he added.

The couple claim that their employee turnover is zero, which means that since their companies’ inceptions, none of their employees have resigned.

“We invest in people,” Muhareb followed, “not only in terms of employing fresh graduates, but also in terms of encouraging their continuous learning process”.

Both Catania and Shanab offer development courses for their employees to enhance their skills, which factors into their pay raises, she added.

“The way we see it, is that online smartphone applications are the oil and gold of the ICT sector worldwide. Technology is a tenant of modern societies, just like oil has been for nearly a century now, and demand on global ICT solutions, namely applications, will keep growing,” Rawashdeh said.

On the other hand, it allows for individuals with the relevant technical skills to tap into the benefits of an unrestricted global market, according to Muhaseb.

“What makes it such a valuable resource to the Jordanian economy is the huge amount of qualified graduates and youth with the relevant skills and the strength of our universities, such as PSUT,” she underlined.

“Invest in schools and technology,” Rawashdeh said.

In line with their vision for the future, the couple’s investment company, Rimal Capital, funds various projects and SMEs, mostly in Jordan.

“When Catania and Shanab took off, we decided to invest in our people, in technology and help drive our economy forward,” Rawashdeh said.

It was never about the money, they both agreed.

“When we found out we were exempt of taxes, instead of hoarding the money... we thought why not invest in something that will bring us all and our community good fortune?” he added.

Today, the couple stand recognised by Google as pioneers in their fields and attend the company’s closed sessions around the world.

Looking to the future, Rawashdeh said he aspires to build a Jordanian version of the global company Alphabet Inc., which is trying to acquire at least one company for every letter in the English alphabet. Only, Rawashdeh wants to cover all segments of the ICT sector.

“One last piece of advice: When your project starts bringing in money, don’t go spending it on luxuries. Save it; you will need it later on!” Muhareb concluded. 


This article has been adapted from its original source.     

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