Startup Spotlight: Tunis-Born Reedz's Arabic Audiobook Platform Caters To A Growing Need For Condensed Content
Currently built as a freemium model that allows users to access some of the audiobooks, podcasts, and other content on the app, Reedz's premium version gives unlimited access to the entire library.
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Books are getting shorter. If you're an avid reader, this is an occurrence you might've already observed. But there are plenty of studies to prove that it's happening too. As per USbased research organization WordsRated, the average length of the New York Times bestseller decreased by 51.5 pages from 2011 to 2021, from 437.5 to 386- a total decrease of 11.8%. Now, I will leave it to you to find out the cultural and other reasons behind this phenomenon. This article, however, is about a startup whose foundation is deeply linked to this gradual decrease in the lengthiness of books.
Launched in the Tunisian capital Tunis in 2021, Reedz is a mobile app that offers audiobook summaries of global best-selling books in Arabic. "Through Reedz, our users can self-actualize and learn in a few minutes per day," Haithem Kchaou, co-founder and CEO of Reedz, explains. "With the rise of the new industry of bite-sized and condensed formats like TikToks and reels, classic sectors, like the music and book industries, are reinventing themselves to adapt to this new reality. For example, the average song currently lasts around three minutes 30 seconds, and is expected to decrease to two minutes by 2030. We can notice the same trend in the book industry, with the average non-fiction book going from 467 to 270 pages. We are part of this global trend, as we are driving the change in audiobooks in the Arab world. Though we love books the way they currently are, we firmly believe the books of the future will only last shorter."
Currently built as a freemium model that allows users to access some of the audiobooks, podcasts, and other content on the app, Reedz's premium version gives unlimited access to the entire library. The premium version also offers features like offline usage and a sleep timer. But Kchaou says he is far from done in coming up with the final iteration of the Reedz model. "Building a startup is also a constant pursuit of answers to endless questions," he adds. "So, we are planning to A/B test [a user experience research methodology that uses two or more versions of a given variable] a new business model that would be different from the current one. I think that, by definition, a startup should have a culture of innovation that encourages and supports new ideas, risk-taking, and creative thinking. In our case, we have trained an AI algorithm for over 3000 hours to summarize long texts and books."
Having reached nearly 100,000 downloads since Reedz's launch, Kchaou and fellow co-founder Chehir Dhaouadi decided 2022 was the right time to shift base to the UAE. The duo believe the UAE will prove to be a focal point in their aim to access, and cater to, the diversity of the wider MENA region. "The MENA region is culturally rich," Kchaou elaborates. "It has more than 63 dialects with several clusters like North Africa or GCC that have their own specificities and sub-culture. We have started developing more localized content in Tunisia and each country in our target market. The app and content get personalized depending on the country where it is used. We are also investing in artificial intelligence (AI) to automate the summarization process. We are witnessing a significant breakthrough in natural language processing (NLP), and we firmly believe our algorithm could summarize hundreds of books in a couple of hours."
Kchaou and his team's approach towards innovation has already opened many doors for the startup. For one, Reedz was accepted into US-based AI computing firm NVIDIA's inception program for AI startups. "Through their support, we are getting access to the best minds in NLP, perks essential to our development, and connections to international investors," Kchaou adds. "In the future, our algorithm could summarize thousands of books and long texts in hours."
Closer to home, participating in the MBRIF program has helped Reedz expand its services in the Middle East. "With its large network of investors, partners, and alumni, MBRIF has gained the reputation of being one of the best accelerators in Dubai, and rightly so," Kchaou says. "Their program is designed in a way that is tailored to the startup's needs, while being mindful of the founders' busy schedules. The optional sessions make it easier for founders to manage their time. The MBRIF team has greatly assisted us in our expansion here, and we are proud to be part of their network."
And while Kchaou is all praise for the UAE ecosystem, he notes that certain issues still need to be ironed out. "With its accelerators and incubators, the UAE has certainly established itself as a hotbed for startup activity in the Middle East, and it truly is the place for any startup aiming to scale internationally," he says. "That said, significant barriers, such as a high cost of living and the difficulty of opening a business bank account, must also be accounted for."
As for Reedz itself, having already raised a pre-seed round of funding through Egypt-headquartered seed and early-stage venture capital firm Flat6Labs, the startup is now seeking to raise a seed round as well. "During 2022, we managed to launch the product, and strike a partnership with five telecom operators from Tunisia and Egypt, allowing our users to subscribe through their mobile money," Kchaou adds. "Expanding to the UAE now will help us to be closer to our target market, and also give us access to a larger pool of investors for our upcoming seed round." Reedz thus has big plans ahead for 2023- here's wishing the startup all the luck!