MENA Entrepreneur Profiles: Mohamed Hassan of ArabLance
My assignment for this feature required me to profile the founder of ArabLance. It’s a service that Sudanese born, Mohamed Hassan, will readily admit is the Arab world’s version of Elance, the world’s largest website for brokering freelance work that gets performed online.
However, to say that Mohamed Hassan is another opportunist whose simply copied and pasted a trendy business model out of Silicon Valley has never obviously met him.
“Unemployment,” says Mohamed flatly. “It’s all about unemployment”.
“We developed this marketplace to connect clients who are seeking completion of certain projects and tasks, such as translation, web development, marketing, business support, etc. The service providers just happen to be the jobless individuals, the freelancers, SMEs and even employed people who can achieve this task for them.
See, Mohamed thinks that creating this online marketplace will be a part of the solution to curing some of the world’s most notorious unemployment rates here in the Middle East.
“But how does creating an online marketplace create additional earned wages for the economy?” I ask, hoping to stump him.
“…after all, aren’t these online services simply undercutting employers in the real world by putting the work directly into the hands of others who will simply do the same job on the side? Can you really claim that services like ArabLance are truly adding to the market, rather than pillaging it?”
“Efficiency”, replies Mohamed.
A service that can isolate and parcel out specific tasks for the person best suited to complete the job is eliminating waste and creating additional value with the high-quality work of a laser-focused specialist. It is after all quite plausible that gigantic companies suffer from salaried employees who approach responsibilities holistically, rather than point-by-point. Because let’s face it, a lot of work that needs to get done, doesn’t get done – so it gets shoved under the corporate glacier, and when it comes time to identify why a program succeeded or failed, we will let the same biased manager explain the reasons in a way that will rarely implicate his or her own inabilities to be both a generalist and a specialist.
There are, of course, many critics who point out that the rise of specialist freelance work is simply corporate exploitation at its best (and just watch out for the “crowdsourced labor” concept which may very well have us clicking on a mouse all day long for pennies in a Matrix-style dystopia); after all, there has never been a better to time to cut overhead by renting out an army of freelancers who can do the job five times cheaper than a salaried manager.
Mohamed, un-phased by my devil’s advocacy, continues:
“There are simply too many reasons why the Arab World could use an injection of work-at-home jobs,” he explains with the fervor of an NGO director. “Unemployment has many faces in the Arab World, whether it’s the Saudi wife who cannot afford a chauffeur to drive her to work, or that extra college graduate who won’t find a rhythm to their career for another 8 years, or the Palestinian who has no chance of ever reaching places of employment due to security checkpoints – the creation of these work-at-home jobs are going to create immensely needed relief for all market actors”.
It makes enough sense, especially since one of the things I do is blogging and for the longest time I’ve wanted to curate a list of the Middle East’s most influential bloggers so that I can reach out to them. For around $75 I could commission an unemployed mother, say in Tunisia, to create an excel spreadsheet for me that includes all the information I need to reach out to them quickly. After all, it’s not like some fancy agency in Dubai Media City would want to do that for me.
I could, of course, head on over to TimeSvr.com, and contract an Indian freelancer to do it for me for a little bit cheaper – but here’s the cool part: Indians don’t typically work with Arabic!
And this is where ArabLance truly shines. The entire website, from top to bottom, reads in Arabic – which means we that now have affordable access to Arabic-language knowledge workers at a time where the demand for this kind of content is skyrocketing.
The analytics for ArabLance seem to embody this overall hockeystick growth trend with a 344% increase in new users in the last three months. It has been a little over 8 months since launch and they’ve accumulated 1,653 fans on Facebook and 1,152 followers on Twitter — a sign that they must have done something right in coming to existence.