Haitham Al-Haidari is a serial entrepreneur currently leading Qatar Living® – the biggest platform in Qatar with around one million monthly active users.
With a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University in Qatar, Haitham has led tech companies to thrive internationally with a deep insight into growth strategies, Artificial Intelligence, and tech impact on societies.
Qatar Living has been a pivotal platform for individuals seeking information about life in Qatar. Could you share the story of how Qatar Living was founded in 2005 and the motivation behind creating the first social network in Qatar?
Haitham Al-Haidari: When Qatar Living was founded, it began as a forum —a space for people to communicate and engage in discussions. This was during the second half of the first millennium when the internet was still in its early stages. People primarily used the internet for communication and connection rather than business. Over the past decade, Qatar Living has evolved from being solely a forum to becoming a service provider through its communication channels. It has transformed into a platform that provides news and creates spaces addressing crucial aspects of life in Qatar, such as real estate and transportation, including vehicles.
Over the past decade, Qatar Living has evolved from being solely a forum to becoming a service provider through its communication channelsHaitham Al-Haidari
Given the unique nature of the country, residents and visitors alike often find themselves in need of finding an apartment or purchasing a car before anything else. Navigating these essential aspects of life in Qatar became the focus.
Qatar Living positioned itself to assist individuals with real estate, vehicles, services, and buying and selling items. About five years ago, it expanded its services to include job listings. These five or six verticals collectively encapsulate the diverse facets of life in Qatar.
As Qatar has progressed and become more sophisticated, with the upcoming World Cup expanding interests, Qatar Living now covers additional areas such as fashion, sports, and entrepreneurship. While these may not be the immediate needs upon arriving in Qatar, they represent the next steps individuals take once they are settled in the country, and that is our current focus.
You have now incorporated a range of new topics and aspects. Are there plans to introduce more?
Haitham Al-Haidari: Yes. Qatar Living not only intends to add new topics but also aims to revolutionize existing ones. The traditional methods we have employed are now being reimagined with a tech-enabled approach, albeit in a straightforward manner. It may not be overly sophisticated technically, but it is a simple way of delivering the services people seek.
For instance, when searching for an apartment or a car, the process involves checking prices, contacting the person, and moving forward. We now aspire to introduce a slightly higher level of complexity for users. In the quest for an apartment, we consider factors like whether the price is reasonable, leveraging the abundance of data at our disposal to assist clients. We are delving into data analytics not just to help users find what they want but to pinpoint precisely what they need, even the things they might not be aware of, ensuring it is the right fit.
Our commitment involves using our data and technology and incorporating AI into our systemsHaitham Al-Haidari
Our commitment involves using our data and technology and incorporating AI into our systems. We aim to ensure that when people use Qatar Living, they derive maximum value. Some services are offered in collaboration with other market players, while others are exclusive to us. Regardless, our focus is on providing the best possible service, even when we are the sole providers. Consequently, we are revamping many aspects to enhance the overall user experience, making it more exceptional.
Qatar Living is known for its diverse and engaged community, which caters to professionals from various fields. How do you ensure that the platform effectively addresses the unique needs and interests of both potential expatriates and current residents?
Haitham Al-Haidari: Qatar Living serves as a great example of how a company reflects on its community. Much of what we do is driven by community demand and needs. For instance, you can observe the distinct categories and demographics within each vertical based on how the content is presented or its nature. Certain verticals may attract more visitors than residents, and you can discern this from the type of content being consumed, creating a natural interaction. Additionally, some verticals are geared more towards Arabs than foreigners, and this distinction is evident in each vertical.
We are evolving into a data-oriented companyHaitham Al-Haidari
Maintaining this diversity is crucial. It is not about unifying everything to fit a specific persona because there isn’t one. The community is incredibly diverse, akin to a melting pot, and our approach must adapt accordingly. As we progress, we are evolving into a data-oriented company. The more data we comprehend about a particular service or group of people, the better we can provide something that resonates with them. This data-driven approach enhances the service and enriches the overall experience, ensuring it is more accurate and native to better serve our users.
What is one main thing that residents are searching for on Qatar Living?
Haitham Al-Haidari: I believe the most popular aspect of Qatar Living is the section dedicated to vehicles. People not only enjoy buying and selling vehicles, and indulging in the world of cars, but they also like to browse through the various offerings. The market is unique, offering a wide variety of cars, especially premium and sports cars. People enjoy investing a significant portion of their disposable income into enjoying life with a car.
Thus, the car section in Qatar is highly popular for both buying and selling, as well as browsing. People have fun looking for a new vehicle and expressing their excitement when they come across a particularly attractive deal. They often share these findings with others, turning it into a social car network of its own. The community engagement is impressive, making it sound like more than just a hobby – perhaps a unique social experience.
Qatar Living prides itself on being a hub for the exchange of knowledge and experiences within the online community. How do you encourage and facilitate community participation to ensure that most of the content comes from the community itself?
Haitham Al-Haidari: This is broken down into two parts, particularly regarding the verticals we offer. We do not own any of these items inside the verticals; rather, we serve as a facilitator. For instance, most of the content, such as apartment and house listings, is client or user-generated. People and clients choose to use our platform, leading them to produce and post content. We do not actively seek out brokers to post with us, take pictures of every room, or create content; instead, we empower the community to generate content for consumption. This approach applies across all verticals.
Concerning our news section, we ensure that we moderate and verify information, providing our users with accurate, fact-checked news, events, and updates in Doha. So, we create a space for the community to connect, engage, and answer each other’s questions.
Qatar Living has become a go-to source for information in Qatar, attracting individuals seeking both old and new informationHaitham Al-Haidari
On social media, we observe people connecting, discussing, and supporting one another. A recent example is when we were among the first to announce that Cristiano Ronaldo would not be playing in the upcoming game in Qatar. This sparked a discussion, allowing fans to express their reactions, share frustrations, and even trade tickets. We fostered a supportive environment where community members could interact.
Additionally, our platform serves as a valuable resource for information searches. Whether someone is looking for the best dentist in Messina or seeking advice on various topics, our forums often provide answers based on real experiences. We want to enhance this community engagement and forum participation in the upcoming web version of Qatar Living, creating a space where people can learn, support each other, and stay informed.
Qatar Living has become a go-to source for information in Qatar, attracting individuals seeking both old and new information. It has been instrumental in helping countless people, including myself, my wife, and many others. Leading this platform is a privilege, and I am excited to contribute to the positive impact it has on people’s daily lives.