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How Dubai’s latest startup, insydo, is positioning itself as a digital pocket guide


How Dubai’s latest startup, insydo, is positioning itself as a digital pocket guide

Remember when you wanted to find a plumber but didn’t know where to look? Or when you were done taking your guests to see the tallest building and the biggest mall, and ran out of options? Turns out that this is not uncommon, especially in a largely expat community like Dubai. There are magazines and websites that offer comprehensive listings, but they aren’t as search-savvy as users would like them to be. Enter insydo.

Launched officially on October 21, 2015, insydo is a digital search guide that handpicks services, places and activities in Dubai. Users can search for a specific service or browse by category. The idea sprang from founder and CEO Tanaz Dizadji’s obsession for saving her favorite services and places in an Excel sheet, until it got too much and she curated it all on one website.

A silent start

Technically, the website went live in October last year, but work began in 2014 itself to give the team time to develop the technology as well as research and curate businesses. “We wanted to have 2,000 businesses listed when we launched. That’s why we started in 2014,” says Dizadji.

Members of insydo’s current team of 14 – half of whom are tech guys – check out each business anonymously, review it and verify the information. Then, if it’s good enough, they list it on the website. If this seems like a lot of work for a small team, it is. That’s why insydo relies on influencers and bloggers to suggest places – all of which are then verified by the team, asserts Dizadji – in order to provide expertise in a specific field. Each listing provides comprehensive information, including budgets, the good and the bad, and even insider tips. Businesses that have a lot of flaws are simply not listed.

However, insydo doesn’t cover launches, because that’s when businesses are usually at their best. Also, other publications already cover similar content. Instead, insydo allows for a breathing period and monitors the business on social media. “Half of our research is through social listening,” says Dizadji.

The team also often goes back for repeat visits, the frequency of which depends on the category. “The aim is to provide as much information as possible and explain why we like a place, rather than use clichéd adjectives,” she says.

That’s also why the section on the negatives – “The Bad” – on every listing is important. It isn’t necessarily used to point out flaws, but rather to provide a holistic review and analyze why a place might not be the best choice for someone. For instance, Café Rider in Al Quoz is a hidden gem and Dizadji’s personal favourite – still, The Bad reveals that “seating is pretty limited for the size and could be comfier”, among other things.Search and rescue. Considering insydo’s close-knit relation with search, partnering with Google seems like the logical next step. “Who would say no to the King?” is all Dizadji says about the topic.


Search and rescue

Considering insydo’s close-knit relation with search, partnering with Google seems like the logical next step. “Who would say no to the King?” is all Dizadji says about the topic.

Though the portal’s search functionalities are a work-in-progress, Dizadji does think of insydo as a “little curated Google” – she admits that that’s probably an underestimating the giant’s capacity. However, Google doesn’t really produce its own editorial content – something Dizadji is extremely proud of when it comes to insydo.

She believes that Dubai’s large expat population and the numerous businesses opening and shutting shop every other week have created a demand for the kind of service insydo offers. And, in her opinion, this is a white space, relatively free of competitors.

Speaking of those who may be tempted to imitate insydo’s offerings, she says, “It won’t be easy for people to copy us, because they will have to do all the research. It’s scary from the technology side, but from the content side, it’s difficult.”


Saving Steve

With everything in place – almost – there was probably just one thing left for insydo to achieve: getting the visitors. Not one to go for run-of-the-mill ideas, Dizadji wanted a different and innovative marketing campaign. Luckily, the person in charge of insydo’s marketing is actually called Steve – Steven Worobec, in full – and so, over a couple of coffees, “Save Steve’s Job” was born.

Steve publicly put his job on the line through billboards and a press event on January 15, urging users to get on The concept behind the campaign is that every click takes Steve one step closer to keeping his job. “The idea is really [about] the innocence behind a startup, which is that pressure to get users on the site as quickly as possible so we can qualify for investment and keep growing,” Dizadji says.

She won’t share the target yet, so we won’t know if are saving Steve’s job. All Dizadji will say is that it’s an ambitious target. Assuming he doesn’t get fired – and it doesn’t seem all that likely– Steve has until February 15 to rally support. Steve says he’s as nervous as he is excited.

The campaign will see him popping up in universities, featured businesses, radio shows, kids gaming centers – as Spiderman, if we heard right – and so on. The activation will be supported through paid and organic social media posts, mainly on the company’s Facebook page.


Show me the money

Digital startups mostly either crash and burn or make millions by being bought over by big corporations. Insydo doesn’t seem to be going down either route just yet and one has to wonder, what’s in it for the company? “The long-term vision is that if we become a credible voice, businesses will apply to be featured and, if they are selected – and by no means is that guaranteed – we will let them add additional content [videos, coupons, etc.] at a fee,” says Dizadji.

However, she asserts that she wants the website to feel clean and uncluttered: “We want things that are not invasive, that complement the story and are clearly differentiated from the businesses featured.” One thing she is absolutely sure of is that she will never use visitors as a source of revenue – either through membership/subscription fees or by charging a fee for the app. “I’d love to introduce some kind of loyalty or incentive product,” she adds. Currently, the website is ad-free, but soon, it “might have ads in [the form of] page takeovers,” Dizadji says.


What’s next?

One would imagine that an app would be a natural first step for a digital pocket guide, but, Dizadji explains, “We started on [the] web because this is a search-based website and people typically search on [the] web [including via mobile] and we needed to pick up the traffic.”

Insydo currently covers only permanent businesses – the priority “is building that solid foundation of businesses that people can search and find,” says Dizadji. When asked about events like concerts, pop-ups, etc., which are definitely things people search for, she says: “We will cover that kind of content through the blog, which should be up and running in February – that info kind of already exists, so it’s not our core business.”

The company has ambitious plans of opening up outside the UAE by January 2017 – potentially in Singapore – and in other Emirates like Abu Dhabi before that. The mobile app is due in March.


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