Ever noticed that mainstream reading material for kids often demonstrates a complete lack of imagination? That it’s over-simplified, dumbed-down, and unchallenging? Why are we doing this to our children? Asafeer Education Technologies asked the same question…and changed the landscape.
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do?
My name is Amr Abu-hmeidan, and I’m the CEO and Co-founder of Asafeer Education technologies. I’m the father of two curious kids, someone who believes in the power of reading to transform their perspective of the world and the power of technology to improve human life as a whole. I have a 13-year background in technology, data-driven decision making, and ecommerce. I like telling stories that can touch people, and possibly change the way they see the world.
What is 3asafeer, and how did it start?
3asafeer is a platform that provides kids with interesting Arabic stories to read anytime, anywhere, and on any device. We do this by providing a subscription service to schools that allows kids to read illustrated, audible, and leveled stories. Teachers can track their readings, guide them, and enrich their learning experiences with the resources and tools we provide for them.
What incited you to launch this business?
It started with my pain, as a father, in trying to find interesting Arabic content for my kids to read—and instead finding content that was too direct, and in many ways, condescending in the way it talked down to kids. I then decided to do something about it. I started by creating these digital stories as a favor to parents like me, but bit by bit, I started receiving feedback from teachers who were using them in the classroom, and liking them. That was when I had a moment of epiphany: I realized I could add much more value for teachers by providing them with tools and insights about their students through my background in tech and DDDM.
Why did you choose only Arabic books? Any plans to include other languages in the platform?
I’m always moving toward serving the largest segment of people, but there is no use in re-inventing the wheel. Since there’s already lots of great content in English, I’m not thinking about going there—but while talking to people from the Seedstars team, I started thinking of the value we could add to African languages that do not have enough content created for them.
What are the benefits of the digitalization of books?
It’s not digitizing content—rather, it’s the creation of content that’s digital first, enriched with audio and illustrations, and that is delivered through digital channels. I think it could be a great solution for the dire situation the publishing industry is in, in the Arab world, since it’s plagued with distributors who take around 50% of the prices of books just to distribute them locally—and when I say locally, I mean in the same city only, which leaves publishing houses and self-publishers dealing with dozens (if not hundreds) of distributors, which is challenging. All of this—plus horribly delayed cash flow that leaves no motive for authors and publishers, since they get paid so little, so late.
I THINK DIGITAL ELIMINATES THE MIDDLEMAN, AND IN SCHOOLS, I THINK IT’S THE NATURAL NEXT STEP, SINCE IT ADDS A LOT OF VALUE IN TERMS OF DATA COLLECTED ABOUT READING TO GUIDE STUDENTS’ PROGRESS—PLUS, IT’S BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, AND AT THE SAME, TIME BETTER FOR THE SCHOOLS’ FINANCIAL BOTTOM LINE.
Your website is dedicated to pupils, parents, and teachers. What specific services do you offer for each of them?
For kids in general, we offer interesting, leveled, digital books that are both audible and illustrated. For students in particular, when their school subscribes to the service, they get access to our extended premium content, with questions and tracking. Teachers get tools to assign books to their students to read, and to follow up on their reading, assess their progress, and report it to parents. Parents get more engaging, fact-based information about their kids, plus tools for non-native parents to enable them to follow up on their kids’ Arabic reading assignments.
What was the most difficult part of launching and managing this project? Contacting schools, promoting the website…?
There are always challenges when you’re bringing something new into the scene. The first is understanding the landscape in a complex, unique system, such as schools. Then there is the channel to reach those schools, and creating great, compelling content that is cost-efficient.
BUT WE LIKE THOSE CHALLENGES. THEY KEEP US ON OUR TOES, AND ALWAYS INNOVATING—SINCE WE’VE BOOTSTRAPPED THIS BUSINESS FROM SCRATCH, FROM THE BEGINNING.
In your opinion, what made your startup win JURY CHOICE?
We tell stories for a living, and pitching is all about storytelling, so it was an unfair advantage for us. In addition, from what I remember, we were the startup with the highest traction. We’ve had kids reading over 1,200,000 stories and generating over 55,000 hours of reading in the past 30 days alone. We’re running in 50 schools in the U.A.E., Qatar, Saudi, Jordan, the U.S., and Canada.
How was the event? And what did you learn from your participation?
The event was great. It’s always great to meet with and talk to brilliant people who believe they can make this world a better place. Plus, winning such events gives a boost to the morale of the team—though I’d like to measure myself and my business against my internal metrics. Sometimes, what you learn can be small, but so important. I learned that I should be more brief in my communication, which I think is also one of the reasons why we won—staying brief and right on the message.
This is also available in Arabic if you'd like.