There’s no doubt that traditional methods of teaching are being transformed by the Internet. Conventional classrooms are starting to be challenged by a plethora of e-learning businesses that claim their online courses are just as effective as their real-world counterparts.
This revolution in education is fast spreading to the Middle East, with Jordan’s Darebni TV spearheading the drive. Marwan Ziadat, the company’s founder and CEO, describes his website as an Arabic language online vocational training portal that specifically caters to unemployed Arab youth.
Even though the company is only over a year old, it was still crowned the best regional SME business at the third Global Entrepreneurship Summit in December 2012, and came in second place at an Arab startup competition organized by MIT last April.
A NATURAL EXTENSION
The idea for Darebni TV first came to Ziadat not long after he co-founded Grapheast Jordan in 2005. The company sold graphic design software, but gradually moved on to offer university students, academics, and corporate teams training on using computer programs.
Ziadat noticed a mismatch in the education market between university faculty expertise, students’ skills, and labor market needs. “We noticed that one of the main challenges youth are facing is that the skills kit they graduate with isn’t enough, and it’s very costly to take training programs that prepare you for a job,” Ziadat said.
Darebni TV was then created as a solution to this mismatch that isn’t exclusive to Jordan but plagues the region as a whole. “We came to fill the gap. Our core value as Darebni TV is to help Arab youth acquire employability skills quickly and cheaply,” he explained.
According to Ziadat, the decision to move online was easy. “We knew how to give offline trainings, [and as IT experts] we knew how to create an online platform, so we wanted to have the best of both worlds,” he explained. Building the online platform, however, was very expensive. Self-hosted video websites have to pay for pricey bandwidth costs, in addition to digital storage, security, and other online video technologies.
Although Ziadat believes his platform will one day become the main online portal for any Arabic speaker wishing to learn a new skill, so far Darebni TV’s tutorials are exclusively focused on IT skills. The plan is to start in the areas Ziadat and his trainers have the most experience in, and once the viability of the concept is proven, he expects to enter new territories.
The company further hopes to one day have a model that’s customized to every country’s labor needs. “Every country in the Arab world has jobs that their market needs, based on their economy and the nature of the country. Every year has a priority list for needed jobs, and what we’re trying to do is to start in Jordan and grow these vocational skills in various regions depending on the priority list for each country and its market potential,” Ziadat explained.
Although the company is currently focused on the Jordanian market, it has paying users in Libya and Egypt, and even as far afield as the Philippines, the United States, Canada, and Australia. So far, the platform has over 600 videos and 60 hours of tutorials. The company has made over $1 million in revenue since the beginning of its operations, and it hasn’t even begun implementing a digital marketing campaign yet. “This gave us confidence that we’re doing something that makes sense for users, and that they’re adopting it,” Ziadat told Venture.
Darebni TV’s major revenue stream comes from subscription fees. Clients pay $39 a month or $99 a year to access the platform, and can watch as many videos as they please. The company also has a B2B revenue stream, as it has signed agreements with Jordanian universities that pay a group subscription fee so their students can access the content. “It’s like licensing or white labeling. I don’t believe that any startup is going to have one revenue stream or business model. You need to build as many revenue streams as possible, and test the assumptions,” Ziadat noted.
He is now working towards having universities integrate Darebni TV into their curricula so that students and professors are engaged on the platform. Efforts are also underway to one day have the platform’s certificates accredited by the government. According to Ziadat, future revenue streams will focus on white labeling and creating customized online trainings for governments, institutions, and businesses.
Although Darebni TV is an online business, its real-world presence is fundamental to sustaining and expanding the company. “I don’t believe a purely online business model is enough to change the mindset in regards to education and youth empowerment in the region,” Ziadat said. In addition to signing agreements with universities, Darebni TV has several offline activities that promote the online platform, including having distributors in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, and Palestine that sell Darebni TV subscriptions to students and universities.
The company also hires students in Jordanian universities to act as brand ambassador’s by carrying branded Darebni TV tablets and promoting the platform amongst their classmates. It so far has two programs abroad; one in collaboration with Abdul Jameel Latif in Saudi Arabia, where it provides online vocational training courses to employees, and another with the Ministry of Education in Oman. His team is only 12 people strong, and his trainers have received more than 11,000 hours of training combined.
“There are huge opportunities out there. Currently, when people look for information they go online, so instead of changing the way youth prefer to find information, we get to them the same way they like,” Ziadat said.
So far the company doesn’t have any direct competitors in the region. Indirect competitors include non-Arabic e-learning platforms, offline training, and pirated English-language training. “There are platforms in the region that offer hardcore management training for business professionals, but there’s no mainstream level like us,” Ziadat said.
But there is one challenge Darebni TV hasn’t been able to conquer, one that most e-commerce businesses face; online payment. Nevertheless, the company believes that the obstacle will be resolved in the coming few years since there is high demand in the region for a solution.
While he believes that the cloud is the future, and his company is destined to thrive and be a market leader due to the shortage of Arabic content, like any startup he said he will need the support of the government and the private sector. “A startup’s life cycle is extremely difficult, starting something from scratch and building it up,” he explained. Nevertheless, the Jordanian company has already scored many wins on the regional scene, and its trajectory suggests that it will only grow bigger.