As Executive seeks to celebrate Lebanese successes across the globe in 2013, we will be travelling to hear their stories. But in a digital age when information can spread faster than ever, the Lebanese language can be a powerful tool for creating unity. Many second and third generation expats, however, have never learned the language of their forefathers. Hadi el-Khoury, founder of the Keefak app that aims to teach people the Lebanese Arabic dialect, plans to change that. Executive asked him how.
What made you start Keefak?
I have been living in France since 2000 and have been in contact with a lot of French Lebanese that have been living in the country for the last 20 or 30 years. They told me that their biggest regret is not being able to transmit the Lebanese dialect to their children. So the idea popped into my head that I could use new technologies to try to do something to change that.
You launched in January 2012. How big is the app right now and where is it most popular?
We have around 10,000 users worldwide, by this I mean 10,000 people that are regularly using the app. We have a large part in France and the US and with modest numbers in Latin America and Australia. But the communication and marketing has just started – in 2012 all growth was organic, by word of mouth.
If a student does the sixteen courses currently on the app, what level of Arabic would they reach?
It would be mainly conversational. We are in the middle of categorizing lessons between intermediate, beginner and advanced but I think that the sixteen courses that are already implemented in the app are something between beginner and intermediate.
How big do you think Keefak can be?
We would be glad if we can reach 100 downloads a day. We have noticed a clear correlation between marketing and download rates – it is something quite measurable. We have the benefit of having early adopters that have expressed nice reviews. We know the product is robust and fun, so we are convinced that our biggest challenge is our marketing and communication.
100 downloads a day would take you to around 3,000 a month, each at $5. Would that make you profitable?
If you look at Keefak as a technology startup it is a three-year cycle. The first year you test the product and have early adopters, the second year you start industrializing you processes – whether on a production or marketing level, and the third year you start being profitable. I think if we get to this download rate a day, we can start being profitable at the beginning of 2014.
What are you plans for expanding the app – do you plan to move into other dialects?
I have been asked to move the concept to some other dialects, including in Spain in the Basque region. We have been asked also to check if we can do it for Syrian dialect. We are open [to these ideas] – the skeleton is here, the functionality is here, we just need to find the appropriate content providers. So if we have a Syrian dialect professor willing to team up with us we can have an app for that.
Where do you see Keefak in five years time?
I would see Keefak as the main connector between the diaspora and Lebanon. I also plan to develop Keefak Junior for children between the ages of four and ten – a game-centric application with cartoon characters that they could relate to.
And even in Lebanon, what we are noticing is that because the Lebanese are very keen on teaching foreign languages to their children they are forgetting about Lebanese [Arabic]. When I go to Lebanon with my four-year-old child everyone speaks to her in French or English – I would be very pleased if they spoke to her in Lebanese.