When a product hits it big, it leaves everyone wondering: what’s their secret ingredient? We spoke to product and UX professionals at two of Lebanon’s most successful apps- Anghami and Toters- to find out what they’re doing differently to stand out.
It’s hard to start any reflection on Lebanon without mention of the ongoing financial crisis and political turmoil that kicked off in August 2020. However, as many continue to grapple with the deepening challenges of the current situation, Lebanon’s digital economy is the light at the end of the tunnel.
And like in Iraq, COVID-19 fast-tracked digitalization and highlighted the need for effective digital solutions for everyday problems. This, combined with historically high levels of qualified tech talent, has meant that despite the current crisis, Lebanon has a few apps that continued to experience success.
In this article, we’ll have a dive into two Lebanese apps and uncover the secret (or secrets!) to their success.
Often called the “Spotify of the Middle East,” Anghami is arguably the biggest app to come out of Lebanon (and was, in its origins, 100% Lebanese-made, by the way). And as Anghami earned a spot on the NASDAQ and went public, it’s undoubtedly one of the most successful.
Anghami has a number of draws for young tech talent looking to make an impact with a local-app-gone-international. “I chose Anghami because of its potential, its place in the market, and the people that work there.” Bara’ah Alnawaiseh explained.
Bara’ah joined Anghami last year as their User Experience Research Lead. With a degree in translation, Bara’ah found herself drawn to UX because of its relationship to psychology and its goal to understand and communicate better with others.
Anghami’s regional focus was appealing and important, for Bara’ah, “I wanted to give back to that instead of being part of an enterprise where we have a lot of people working but with less impact. And I wanted to help spread research in UX research in the Middle East, as well.”
Bara’ah was Anghemi’s very first UX research hire and took a role that would turn out to be crucial for a company obsessed with their users. On day one, Bara’ah could already see the foundations of how Anghemi became so successful.
“I saw how they were eager they were to listen to their audience. They were following every study. They were watching every video of moderated or unmoderated research.” Bara’ah told us, “They had a real thirst to listen to their users.”
User centricity, keeping the user top of mind in everything they do, has always been important to Anghami. But now they’re embarking on a new level of user-centricity. Bara’ah shared how Anghami is extending the reach of UX competencies in the team to better understand the user.
“I ran small sessions where I taught the team how to be part of the research, how to ask the questions, how to be part of a test plan, and how to understand research outcomes. I did a research one-on-one session and design thinking session with them.”
Through these sessions, Bara’ah’s teaching other business units to empathize with users and ask the right questions to get to create a great user experience.
When speaking about Lebanese success stories, Toters delivery is often dropped in the same breath as Anghami.
It should come as no surprise that a food delivery service is one of the most well-known apps in Lebanon. But what is surprising is that Toters’ has consistently outperformed international competitors like Zomato - David and Goliath style.
“Our secret weapon is that we try to be as local as possible like we try that we try to understand that market and the specific persona of the people in that market.” Ibrahim Chawa, Toters’ Head of Product, explained, “And this is what gets basically gives us our competitive edge.”
“It shouldn't be so easy for some international player to just come in and then just apply their one-size-fits-all product to this market.” Ibrahim continued.
“The problems that we deal with are not like any problems that other companies deal with. Like for example, you might have heard of the fuel shortages that happened in the summer in Lebanon, or the electricity issues. And we’re still operational.”
For Ibrahim, success is the result of staying close to the users and being local, “We're able to continue operating because we're very close to it, and we're keeping an eye on it, and we're very adaptable.”
UX and UI designers at Toters are responsible for maintaining this local approach and applying it to their product. Ibrahim shared that Toters believes strongly in continuous education and empowering the talent they hire.
“We're inspired by the best of the best so we're all about continuous education,” Ibrahim continued to drop a number of Silicon Valley favorites like About Face and Inspired, that the team are all encouraged to brush up on.
“We basically take everything we can learn from those books and try to inspire our talent to first read and then apply similar principles.”
Of course, successful UX and UI designers need more than just books for inspiration. They are also distributed among product teams and are given both the autonomy and accountability that they need in order to create something great.
Looking at the exemplary Lebanese-made apps like Anghami and Toters, it's clear that location does matter. But what’s more important is the connection that locale offers to a team's ability to empathize, react, and adapt to the needs of their users.
The best apps are built as if the team personally knows the intended user. And in the case of Anghami and Toters, the teams just might know their users better than anyone else.
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