Our friends at the former Muslim Business Club will be re-launching, changing their name and adding new features. Now known as Salam Business Club, we were graciously chosen to ask a few questions about the upcoming launch. Included are some first-hand experiences, challenges and problems of what can happen in the startup world. Farewell MBC, Greetings of Peace to SBC!
1. What has happened since the last time we featured Muslim Business Club, what’s new?
We’ll be re-launching at the end of August and just like during our first relaunch on April 1st, we have spent quite a lot of time and effort on the design and interface. But what you will notice first is the new name: Salam Business Club. We decided to switch from "Muslim Business Club" to "Salam Business Club" because it reflects the identity of the platform better than the current name. Most of our members are Muslims and live in Muslim countries but a huge percentage (more than 10%) are not Muslims and are very interested in getting into business with Muslims and Muslim countries from all over the world, be it American businessmen or Arab Christians. Nevertheless, the main reason was that we realized that people thought the platform was "for Muslims only" and propagating Muslim businesses only. But the idea has always been to enable people from Muslim countries to get into business with each other and not propagate a point of view on Islam. The only thing we do is run our company adhering to Sharia-laws, i.e. we’re not – and we never will – let anyone on our website propagate his/her business which is contradicting Sharia laws. This goes for gambling, anything related to alcohol or pornography etc. We have also turned down investment and venture capital offers that included paying or receiving interest but now we’re in talks with people and companies that might invest in our platform.
A huge percentage of our members live in Western countries, with the U.S. and the U.K. being in the top 10 of all countries, although LinkedIn, Ryze and XING are very active there. Apparently, the market is not as saturated as people would think. Still we don’t consider the Salam Business Club as a direct competitor to the other business networks because our main geographical target is the Arab/Eastern world. Due to our platform’s name, approach, our personal background and philosophy, it is easier for us to convince people to choose us over our competitors. Of course, appropriate features count as well but for now people have a lot of trust in our name.
Besides a completely new layout, we have added personal blogs to the member’s profiles. Members can comment on the blog postings and in the future we will also give our members the option to publish them as an RSS feed. [Editor's note: I love it! I can't wait for this feature. I can add it to my lifestream feeds.]
When you log in then the first thing you will notice is that your contacts activities will be shown to you right on the Dashboard, which is the page that you see after logging in. This is similar to what you see when you log in to Facebook and see what your contacts have been doing on the site. We have also added a status message and blocks of information about members that might be interesting for you in regard to your business… and dozens of other improvements all over the site.
2. How many members?
We can’t reveal the current number of members for a number of reasons but it’s a small five-digit value. We don’t run any ads, we didn’t make any press releases and the only publicity we had during our beta phase were two interviews, this being the third one. When the site has officially launched then this will change. There’s going to be press releases, more interviews and more public exposure. We were kind of running under the radar for the past 16 months but now we think the site is mature enough to be released to the wide public and we’re ready to grow.
3. Any organizations/business/media outlets that you have partnered with?
Besides IslamCrunch’s articles that we’re already featured in, we have also partnered with ArabCrunch and DinarStandard (the well-known and successful publication related to Muslim businesses and business strategies for the Muslim world). Additionally, we have received permission from the brothers at Illume Magazine to publish selected articles from their magazine which will give us more high-quality content. As you can see, we will be featuring news from the world of technology, business news as well as lifestyle topics.
4. Where do you see your site in 1 year?
We’re planning on reaching a nice six-digit number of members within one year and establishing the Salam Business Club as the main business tool for people living in Muslim, Eastern and Arab countries. Just as we said before, the market is huge and the growth rates are incredible, compared to the near-saturated American and European market. The Islamic Internet and business world is where the West was some eight years ago and with our business and personal background, we have the skills to tackle that market and bring our company to success.
5. Real life stories from members that have benefited from your site?
Yes, we have quite a few such stories like the one we mentioned in the first interview with IslamCrunch about the Turkish businessman looking to import goods from Indonesia. This is the story we share frequently. In fact, this member is now importing fruits from Indonesia and the contact was made via our platform. We also have many freelancers from Arab countries that have found companies that have outsourced work to them from Europe and the U.S. – and vice versa! There’s one more interesting story which has developed in the last month about a businessman from Rias‘ [Editor's note: Rias is one of the founders of Muslim/Salam Business Club] hometown of Hamburg who found a business partner in Dubai. We’ll be getting into more details about that in the near future when we have all the facts ready. Those are just the stories that we’re aware of because we know those people but there will surely be hundreds more that we don’t know of.
6. What have you learned prior to your re-launch?
This is probably the toughest question to answer. As you can imagine we have went through quite a lot of disappointments. Rias is still privately financing this project as we didn’t let any investor get into our company yet. We have grown from four people to about nine people working on various aspects of the platform. There’s a lot we had to organize – from marketing and PR to IT, design and business development. Some things we had to learn the hard way and we have been disappointed quite a few times. We have wasted money on advertising where we were deceived on what we would be getting for it. We have outsourced design issues to people that were not capable of sticking to deadlines and last year we got into talks with potential investors just to realize they were trying to not stick to the deal we had initially agreed on and thought we would be desperate enough to still accept their new terms.
We have learned from those experiences to only let people in that are willing to prove their skills and get compensated on a success-basis and not because of them sweet-talking us and bragging about what they will achieve once they’re in. It’s interesting to see how people decline to work with you once they realize they have to deliver before they get compensated. The good side about all of this is that now we’re very relaxed in regard to where we’re heading and how to get there. There’s no urgent need to get financing and we can now spend our time bringing our business forward before we get involved with potential shareholders.
We also learned to always make sure to have written agreements – not necessarily expensive contracts from expensive lawyers, but at least a written and signed piece of paper between the involved parties.
7. The best compliment you have received?
We have received hundreds of compliments that we might eventually publish after our re-launch. Most of them refer to our approach of starting such a platform with Muslim business ethics behind it. We clearly have a very strong entry-point into the Arab and Eastern region and the Islamic business world as a whole. This is where our competitors fail as being active in Turkey, the UAE or Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean people will, after signing up, actually use and pay for your services. We think our competitors underestimate the meaning of religious values, especially in non-secular Muslim countries, and their influence on how business is conducted and this is where we come into play with our network.