Startup Spotlight: Dubai-Based Hayi Wants To Enable Better Engagement Within UAE Neighborhoods

Born out of a need for a platform that can provide people with a safe and exclusive connection with their neighbors/local communities, Hayi is a free-to-use and app-based hyperlocal social network for neighborhoods.

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Chris Darnell and Rene Morgan, Co-founders, Hayi

With fast-paced, busy lifestyles becoming the norm in many households across the UAE, it appears to have become something of a task to find ways to better communicate with one's neighbors. While there are no specific statistics to prove a considerable reduction in the level of interactions within neighborhoods, it is a societal change that has been palpable for many of us who have lived here long enough.

It is to address this issue that Hayi, a free-to-use and app-based hyperlocal social network for neighborhoods, was launched in 2020 by Chris Darnell and Rene Morgan. Born and raised in Dubai, Darnell and Morgan recognized the need for a platform that would provide people with a safe and exclusive connection with their neighbors/local communities. "We wanted to solve the growing communication problem within the neighborhood ecosystem where neighbors are disconnected, community managers struggle to update their residents digitally, and local businesses are unable to take advantage of hyperlocal marketing," Darnell says.

Image courtesy: Hayi

One might wonder how an app like Hayi is different from your typical WhatsApp groups or a group on any other social media platform, and the difference lies in who can access the platform and the content available on the app. Hayi's main feed offers a neighborhood noticeboard for people of a particular neighborhood to get recommendations and share relevant information. It also enables other features, such as private messaging and searching for neighbors, based on shared interests. The safety of those on the app is guaranteed through a process that uses geo-fencing, which is a location-based service in which an app or software program can create a virtual, geography-based boundary, to verify that only residents of a particular neighborhood are on the platform.

Perhaps the biggest competitor for Hayi, at the moment, is San Francisco-based global app Nextdoor, which works along the same lines of encouraging greater community engagement amongst neighborhoods. But Darnell says Hayi caters to more than just initiating more community-based interactions. "Hayi aims to go a step further by also connecting residents with their respective community management," he says. "Community managers across the region can register for free and get access to a social network in order to manage the digital communities that they own. They can then share relevant updates and notices that will be received by the community in real-time."

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Currently connecting 6,000 verified neighbors across 20 test neighborhoods in Dubai, Darnell believes this shift to a digitally-connected neighborhood is the right way forward. "This smart city approach aims not only to digitize the entire neighborhood experience, but to also offer a free solution to improve the ways in which management and residents communicate with each other." But coming this far did not happen without facing hurdles. "Our biggest challenge to date has been in setting up a strong tech team," Darnell says. "However, thanks to our Chief Technology Officer, who used to work for Careem, we've been able to assemble a fantastic team of developers through his network who synergize well with the company and the vision."

Image courtesy: Hayi

The global coronavirus pandemic too posed its fair share of challenges for the startup, but Darnell believes it posed some advantages as well. "For us, social distancing measures have only exacerbated the need for stronger and more connected communities within the UAE," he explains. "Having a solid founding team that you can trust is key in navigating through all the highs and lows of the journey together and will help you move faster than going alone." This would also explain why Hayi has chosen to become a part of the in5 community of startups in Dubai. "in5 has been home to many successful tech startups, which is why we wanted to establish our base in the same environment," Darnell says. "in5 also helped us throughout the entire company formation process, which can be a headache when tackling it alone. in5 offers continuous support to its startups, and the network alone is invaluable in forming new relationships, collaborations or ideas."

With plans to expand beyond the UAE into the many untapped neighborhoods across the MENA region, Darnell is optimistic about the future of Hayi. "Since the concept is yet to be explored in the MENA region, there is a tremendous opportunity to secure early market share across key markets, which has become increasingly more valuable with our global competitor Nextdoor recently announcing its IPO plans at a US$4.3billion valuation," he adds. "We have raised initial investment and are actively looking for follow-on funding to help expand on product development and expedite growth across our first market of the UAE."

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