When you think of apps, most likely the names of Silicon Valley companies will come to mind. But more and more, apps from the Middle East are starting their rise to tech fame. And Iraqi-made apps have not missed out on this trend.
Iraq has had a slow start to the competition but is catching up quickly due to ramped up start-up investment and accelerated digitization as a result of Covid-19. And with an extremely high smartphone penetration rate (% of the total population with a smartphone), it's no surprise that apps have benefited from the boom.
So, who are these apps, and why has UX/UI been key to their success?
Dubbed the "Amazon of Iraq", Miswag is a definitive heavyweight in the Iraqi tech scene. Miswag is an e-commerce app that has quickly become Iraq's go-to market for goods. And with over 500,000+ downloads on Google Play and a 4.4-star rating, Miswag certainly takes the lead in Iraq.
Pre-series A investment has surely super-charged their growth, but what else is fueling its success?
Miswag UX/UI designer, Zaid Hasan, thinks it's a few things: their teamwork, focus on user experience, and the fact that they are an Iraqi team designing a product for Iraqis. But if he had to pinpoint one thing that sets them apart from competitors?
“It’s the UX research. We always focus on that when designing a new experience or tackling a new business objective. Research has always been at the center of our process.”
At Miswag, their Iraqi team is always trying to understand their users better, Zaid explained.
“We really try to understand what our users want, their values, frustrations, and goals. We always try to offer them new ways - easier ways - to use our app so that they can get things done easily. So that has always been our main objective.”
Being an Iraqi team, creating an app for Iraqis, certainly plays a role in their success, according to Zaid.
“The thing is our user base is a unique one. Since the users here are relatively new to the e-commerce scene. When they land on Miswag, they sometimes come with no experience [with using e-commerce apps].”
Zaid explained how this is a crucial factor to consider to properly onboard their users and deliver the right experience. It’s also a factor that any similar app could have easily missed or been unable to tackle as a new, country-specific challenge.
Before using an app like Miswag, many Iraqis were used to physical shopping or shopping via an online site and exchanging purchases and cash upon delivery.
“We had the challenge here to level up our authenticity and trust between the users and us. We needed to find out how to communicate our value and improvements to their shopping experience.”
Zaid shared that they could tackle most of these challenges with solid research.
“Proper research. And by proper research, I mean identifying the major issues we're facing and working collaboratively to come up with efficient solutions. We always care about data, since it's the driving factor in terms of discovering hidden issues and understanding them.”
Often, when you think of revolutionary apps, they’re the apps that solved a pervasive problem. And as a result, they became wildly successful. Think of the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world.
“Sindibad provides anything that a person needs to travel — from the moment that you consider traveling to the time you reach your travel destination, we provide everything,” says Sindibad CEO, Ahmed Sabr.
Prior to Sindibad, Iraqis were forced to travel to multiple offices — and brave notoriously bad traffic — to gather everything they needed for international travel. They had to track down, arrange, and pay for flight tickets, visas, insurance, and PCR tests at various locations.
But Sindibad wasn't always a one-stop-shop solution.
"A year and a half ago, we put out our MVP [Minimum Viable Product]," Ahmed told us. "It was a very young product. And actually not that good."
But the Sindibad team went all-in on AB testing and user research. They quickly were able to figure out what their feature priorities should be, based on their UX research. "Once we started doing the research, we knew exactly what we had to build for the customer."
"I remember one of the first customers that reserved a flight on our app. I went to him at the airport and asked him about 100 questions," Ahmed recalled.
"I was like, 'Ok, what's the worst thing on our app?' 'What made you choose our app?' 'Why now?' 'What could we do better?' So, yeah, a lot of feedback."
For Sindibad, checking in with their users has guided their product development and allowed them to develop the range of features that they have today. This includes SindiCash, a feature where you can pay for your travel in cash instead of online payments, which has been a recurring challenge for the Iraqi market.
When asked about the overall impact of a focus on UX in the Iraqi market?
"It's a game-changer."
From these two Iraqi success stories, it's clear that the UX-driven customer-centricity, solid user research, and localized approach to feature development are a competitive advantage. As UX and UI continue to get more popular in the Iraqi market, we'll be on the lookout for new up-and-comers looking to shake up the tech scene.
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