Five minutes with.. Soluqi founder Benjamin Balazs

Balazs details the motivations behind the firm he launched earlier this year and where he plans to go next



What was the inspiration behind Soluqi?

I am inspired by two major problems that I have been experiencing for more than a decade.

I started coding and building websites when I was still in high school. At that time, both my clients and myself had a limited command of the English language. We all preferred digital solutions in our native language, Hungarian, which is a highly isolated and unique language spoken by about 10 million people only. Moreover, my clients were mainly micro and unofficial businesses and had very limited budgets. For these reasons, breaking language and cost barriers has always been my focus.

At the age of 18, I created a website building platform to tackle these problems. The product was a ready-made website that was mainly purchased by Hungarian photographers. The site was initially geared towards photographers as I myself was into portrait and studio photography and realised how difficult it was to create my own personalised, impressive website, in a language I was confident in.

Upon moving to Dubai, I realised that the Arabic web is currently growing four times slower than the global average and out of 430 million native Arabic speakers, more than 80 million do not speak English, making the need for a platform like Soluqi that much greater in this part of the world.

How has the reception been since the launch in May?

Since our launch we have had an amazing response, specifically in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. We have doubled our registered users month on month and achieved more than 10,000 Arabic language sign-ups. The appetite for a platform that allows native Arabic speakers to easily build websites is clearly there. What we are even more excited about, beyond the sign-ups, is that our users are highly engaged with the platform. Nearly 30 per cent of our free users are publishing their websites and becoming active users of Soluqi. These users are visiting their sites regularly to add content like photos and links that improve their websites further.

Another great thing about our audience is that they love giving us feedback about the product features they are looking for and how we can improve their experience. This is extremely beneficial for us as it helps us to further develop our feature pipeline.

What are your goals for the platform overall?

Soluqi was founded with the mission of empowering people of all languages to create their own web spaces easily and efficiently. Over the past few months we have been listening to user’s feedback and incorporating features to meet their needs.

One of the main goals of our platform is to eliminate the cost and language barriers typically associated with web creation, by empowering anyone to build websites without the need for any technical skills. We save our users money and time and we drive revenue by enabling anyone to start selling their products and promoting their businesses online in Arabic, Portuguese or English and this will soon expand to other languages as well.

We are in the process of testing the platform’s ability to function in linguistically isolated markets in order to gauge what the appetite is for different languages in different regions. Our thought process was to address the most underserved, but fastest growing markets. For example, we started testing Soluqi in the Brazilian market in the local Portuguese dialect in order to see if users there would be as interested and excited as they have proven to be in the MENA region. While it is still early we are very optimistic about the results to date and the potential to scale our platform globally by creating localised and relevant content.

Do you have any regional expansion plans?

We plan to continue growing throughout all Arabic speaking markets in the MENA region. When we first launched, our target market was the GCC (specifically Saudi), and even though our platform is available in both English and Arabic, an overwhelming percentage of our users were building their websites in Arabic within Saudi Arabia.

After seeing strong results it felt like a no-brainer that we should run test campaigns on the Arabic language regionally and build out our expansion focus to the countries with the highest engagement rates. In the past couple of months we have on boarded users from every country in the MENA region, with our best results lying in Saudi (40 per cent of our users), Egypt (30 per cent) and Morocco/Algeria (10 per cent). We went from seeing a few dozen new users per day to nearly 500 in two months on a shoestring budget.

Therefore we are now focusing on creating the best experience possible for our users in each of these markets and catering our marketing towards each one before we expand further. If we are able to continue seeing month on month growth and engagement in these three key markets as well as build out the features that our users crave, we will then be able to grow organically throughout the rest of the region.

In addition, we recently launched a domain-focused on boarding solution on both mobile and desktop devices that made it easy for people to reserve their website domain names in minutes. Within the next few weeks we will be launching a tutorial program with best practice tips and ways to optimise your website.

We are also launching a mobile website editing tool that will allow users to easily and quickly modify their websites from their mobile phones and tablets. With the growth of smartphones and entrepreneurship in the MENA region we see this as the next big feature release that will really help our customers build better websites with ease.

E-commerce is a definite priority for us but, unlike our competitors, we believe the e-commerce functionality is not about the number of features you have available but how much value those features create for users. We are inspired by Apple design and products and will aim to bring similar aesthetics forward when launching our e-commerce solution in the coming months.

Are you seeking further funding at the moment?

Technology start-ups, especially in this region, are always in fundraising mode so we are following suit. We have a clear 18-month plan in place with specific milestones that we want to achieve. We know where we want to take the product and we have already established relationships with the resources we want to involve in our journey.

This being said, we are currently growing at an increasing rate and have identified clear key performance indicators to hit over the next 30 days that will determine how we would like to raise further funding.

Are you hiring?

Right now, we are not actively hiring but after raising our next round we will be looking to add developers to our team that can continue enhancing the product, as well as regional staff for our customer support function in each of the major markets that we are working in.

What is your leadership style?

The question I constantly ask myself is; how I would hire, motivate and compensate myself at Soluqi if I was my own employee? We treat everyone at Soluqi as a partner in our company, with absolute trust in their capabilities from day one. In other words, we expect practical results but we do not have set working hours and our hiring process evaluates skills and desire over standard qualifications. Therefore, when it comes to hiring, we rely on practices used to evaluate candidates, such as executing a step-by-step process and giving smaller tasks for testing purposes to determine if someone is a good fit for the role.

In my spare time I like to…

From a young age, outdoor sports have always played an important role in my life. For this reason whenever I have free time available I try to spend it in a way that disconnects me from the digital world and gets me outside! Smartphones make it very difficult to not be constantly ‘plugged in’ and connected but I feel it is important to get in touch with ones self at times too. On this token, my favourite pass-time is kite surfing because it is a sport which keeps your body in balance while simultaneously relieving stress and facilitating complete focus.

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