Muhammad Chbib may not be heading Tajawal as its CEO anymore, but his future plan is still brimming with his innovative ideas anticipated by the industry. He is currently working on a new online travel start-up, that is set to launch in the first half of 2019. The “trip builder” uses a combination of frontend artificial intelligence (AI) and backend existing travel agencies to provide an auto-created itinerary to customers when they fill in their travel details.
Artificial Intelligence is an emerging trend in the MENA region that is being increasingly showcased and talked about in the industry. First and foremost an entrepreneur, Muhammad Chbib believes that great marketing strategies are shaped from consumer data. In this interview with Communicate, he talks about the importance of using data to implement actions and meet consumer needs while also discussing his aspirations of catering to the Muslim economy.
You are currently working on an online travel startup. What is the idea behind that?
In a nutshell, it is a B2B2C model. First of all, we create your customized itinerary as simple as that. You could specify where you want to go on the platform and upon submission it will send the details to four or five offline agencies. The first few versions of the itinerary is offered by them and later the itinerary will be auto-created by artificial intelligence based on a couple of things. So you have a trip builder, previous experiences with people and certain signals they read they suggested the automatic itinerary.
What are you trying to achieve from this? Do you have any target audience?
We want to build it, through targeting Muslim audience because we have 1.8 billion Muslim population in the world and there’s not a single brand serving them. You can click on it, and then you can adjust every single component such as going to non-alcoholic restaurants, hotels, or motels that take out the alcohol before you arrived. So that’s the kind of stuff that I’m focusing on right now, based on data and based on AI in the future.
There’s a lot of talks about artificial intelligence, and a lot of people are using it. But how far are you going to be contributing to this?
Five years ago, we used to call it statistical methods of measuring or analysis among other names. Today, people have no idea what is it about, and that’s the issue. All these like buzzwords that don’t have any meaning, they don’t have any value unless you use them for the benefit of the consumer. For example, for the travel business, in the beginning, I can’t use artificial intelligence because I don’t have data. But I can interpret certain signals when it comes to my platform I can interpret what IP address, what country or what city you’re coming from. I can interpret maybe if you’re male or female, I can look at the language in your browser, I can look at like five or six signals with it. So based on that, I can cluster you in very broad clusters. The likelihood that I match your needs based on this cluster is very low. As we grow and as I get more data about you, I can interpret more signals from your social media and the things you allow me to see. I’ll probably be able to narrow down the cluster that your part of and come up with more relevant content. That is my contribution for now.
Do you think with your new ventures you are more focused on data?
I don’t have any intention of bringing more focus on the data. It’s not my mission to bring data to people. My mission is to create an amazing business that serves consumer needs. I firmly believe that the best way to do that is to understand and understanding is based on facts, not based on how I feel. My mission is to create something outstanding, and it could fit the market needs, to measure that I need data.
You founded Tajawal and brought it an immense success. Was it successful because it was data driven?
It is data driven now, but I probably took a decision, way ahead of our need to invest in a data team. We started implementing things knowing that we cannot live without them if we want to be successful. I think this is the key to why they are now successful even after I left there: improving numbers, including the effectiveness of marketing, the efficiency of every dollar and I think this is thanks to the data platform we have got, and we took this decision in 2016.
This interview was conducted by Omnia Al Desoukie and written by Sharvari Alape.