WhatsApp, arguably the most popular messaging app on the planet, will soon have a new rival in the Middle East if Dubai’s most well-known businessman has his way.
Billionaire Mohamed Alabbar has revealed that he plans to launch a phone messaging service for the Middle East that aims to take on WhatsApp, among others.
Alabbar, chairman of Dubai’s largest listed property developer Emaar Properties, has been diversifying his business into other areas, especially technology.
Asked on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai on Tuesday if he was considering launching a messaging app akin to WhatsApp, Alabbar replied: “Yes, soon.”
When asked if the service would be aiming at an Arabic-speaking audience, he said, “It’s regional.”
He declined to provide further details.
The Gulf region tops among geographies across the globe in terms of mobile phone penetration. For instance, there are almost two phones for every person in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, which rank among the top seven countries globally in terms of phone penetration.
There were about 680 million mobile subscriptions across all of MENA as of 2014, a number that is expected to grow at an annual rate of about 6% in the coming years, reaching nearly one billion by 2020. And a major segment of those one billion mobile phone users will be between the ages of 18-35.
A company for millennials?
Alabbar also unveiled plans to launch a company for millennials only, as an attempt to capture the next wave of new ideas and innovations.
“We are establishing a company to be manned by 25 boys and girls. One rule: below 25 (years of age),” Alabbar said while addressing the Dubai International Project Management Forum.
“If you are not below 25, excuse me; you don’t know what’s happening around the world. I have four kids and they are my advisers, but they’re all above 25,” he said.
Alabbar has been diversifying his business into other areas, especially technology.
In August, Alabbar, along with a number of private investors from the region, announced plans to launch the largest technology fund the region has seen yet.
Led by Alabbar Enterprises, the fund aims to collect investments worth $1 billion to drive Arab tech-entrepreneurship and create a “sharing economy” business model that will be considered the first in the region.
According to reports, the fund will search for opportunities in acquiring technological projects operating in high-growth sectors, such as retail, fashion, transportation, media and others.
Arab entrepreneurs are being called to help invest and help the fund’s growth.
According to current estimates, tech startup funding in the MENA region was valued at over $750 million in 450 projects between 2013 and 2015.
The move comes amid other investment measures which Alabbar recently adopted, including acquiring 16% of Aramex, the logistics firm, to augment and tap e-commerce opportunities in the region.
It’s also been reported that the establishment of the first comprehensive regional electronic platform for payments is in the works under the same umbrella.
Alabbar had previously led the Adeptio group in acquiring Kharafi’s share in Americana (Kuwait Food Company) for $2.36 billion.
While the region is also home to a young and tech-savvy population, online content in Arabic-language is limited.
Alabbar was also behind a clutch of investment firms that recently purchased logistics firm Aramex.
Media reports previously said the deal was part of a strategy to build an e-commerce platform for the Arab world.
Recently, he also picked a 4% stake in online fashion retailer Yoox Net-A-Porter