Chances are you haven’t heard of Paul Warren yet.
But if everything goes to plan and his idea becomes the next big thing, he could one day join the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Kevin Systrom as a founder of one of the world’s most successful tech companies.
And the best bit for the UAE is that his app, Unboxd – a sort of a Snapchat for video reviews – started out here.
Unboxd, which was incubated in Dubai at the tech coworking space Astrolabs but is now based in New York, allows users to make a 16-second video review of anything and map it to a product or place.
“So for example if you really love your toaster you make a little 16-second thing saying so, then you do a little search and map the product to it and anybody who then watches your toaster video can then buy it,” says Mr Warren, 28, from the United States, the cofounder and chief executive of the company. His cofounder is Erik Duindam, from the Netherlands – the company’s chief technology officer and a former lead developer of large start-ups in Europe and the Middle East.
“Similarly, if you were to go to a restaurant and make a short video of your food and recommend your favourite thing, you map the restaurant to it and then people can watch your video and book the restaurant or go there directly,” says Mr Warren. “It is sort of interactivity through video play.”
There is nothing like it in the UAE or anywhere else, says Mr Warren, who is also the chief executive of Unboxd’s parent Nuntio Technologies, adding that from a practical perspective it is “sort of a leader in the mobile shoppable video space”. Shoppable video is marketing content, which is lifestyle related while also placing emphasis on the product or service – something consumers prefer to watch rather than video ads.
Mr Warren came up with the idea for Unboxd when he lived in Dubai while working for a boutique consultancy that was helping the government of Azerbaijan transition to a tech economy. But he moved the business late last year to New York to be closer to content creators in the US. The app is currently still in testing, and he is still deciding where best to launch it.
“The goal with the product generally on that side is to look for where people like to use it most. And then follow these sort of trends in content or location as we push it forward,” says Mr Warren.
It is gathering traction among users in New York as well as here in the UAE, in the same way his company Nuntio’s GoSnaps app did.
GoSnaps uses the same technology as Unboxd, allowing users to watch videos people are uploading to explore an interactive map. The app, an offshoot of the popular Pokemon Go, was a success all over the world, topping the charts in some countries, including Japan, but engagement was much higher in the Middle East. Users in Saudi Arabia and the UAE spent on average twice as much time in the app in terms of activity than anywhere else, says Mr Warren.
That should come as no surprise given the widespread use of smartphones in this region. The UAE has one of the highest smartphone penetrations in the world.
Ahmed Bakr, a research analyst at Euromonitor International, says consumers here are well aware and ready to acquire new innovations and services that will meet their needs and make their life easier. And Unboxd, he adds, is targeting a very promising gap in the market.
“Providing live reviews for anything, and getting rewards for that is an eye catching idea. Currently, the UAE app market is not as populated as it is in developed regions, which gives huge potential for stronger and faster growth,” says Mr Bakr.
“We have witnessed apps such as Careem that successfully established a very solid reputation and built a huge consumer base in very little time. Unboxd might face some challenges from existing platforms that provide consumers the opportunity to review products or services. However, the challenge comes along with great potential, as on one side, the market is not yet saturated, and on another side, consumers are willing to try and acquire new innovations and services.”
That said, the way Unboxd enters the market is important, he says. For apps in the UAE, the go-to market stage is critical.
Mr Warren says the app can be localised, and having worked here and watched the way people use apps, he knows his audience. And that is all that matters when it comes to plugging a new product.
“Crossing your first mile and building your awareness bridge will ease the rest of your growth journey,” says Mr Bakr. “Whether it will be done through local partnerships with products, restaurants, or services, or through massive digital presence and definite targeting, strategies vary, and consumers remain the only judge.”