Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Nadeem and Faheem Bakhsh found it so hard to find things to do to keep them entertained outside of hanging out at each other’s houses playing video games or eating out. “And even when there were events or activities for entertainment or sports, we often didn’t find out about them until after they’d already happened,” says Nadeem, who later with Faheem and two other co-founders launched “Hala Yalla,” a tech solution their 10-year-old selves would thank them for.
Hala Yalla is what they call the “Super App” mapping out sports, entertainment and tourism events happening around the kingdom. The app lets users discover events, activities and experiences happening near them, book venues, buy tickets, organize or join sports and eSports tournaments. Hala Yalla also connects users with local guides to explore tourism.
On the other end of its business model, Hala Yalla also offers a channel for businesses like ticket distributors, event managers, and venues. This effectively makes the customer experience smoother by bringing businesses and consumers together into a single digital ecosystem.
A Change of Events
In 2012, the same co-founders, the Bakhshs, Youssef Shanti and Farrukh Bandey started UXBERT Labs, a UX consulting agency. This agency deals with client projects to earn money and reinvest it back into building their own products with a dedicated team. It took them a year to find out that the biggest opportunities was in Saudi Arabia’s sports and entertainment sector.
Founded in 2016, the earliest version of Hala Yalla actually focused only on the aspect of organizing sports matches (mainly football) with friends, discovering matches happening around you that needed players, and booking venues to play in. But once they started approaching venues to sign deals for bookings it became clear that there was a much bigger opportunity as the vast majority of sports venues were not designed for the digital world. “The more we looked into it, the more we realized that it wasn’t just sports venues,” says Nadeem. “Almost every venue that relied on bookings or tickets was still doing things offline,” he adds.
Today, the Hala Yalla Super App has over 1 million registered Saudi users, Hala Yalla and is all set to reshape the events industry in the kingdom. The Super App also offers, Kafu Games, an Esports tournament and community app; “Koora,” a football community and match organizing app; and “Agool,” an instant messaging app with soon-to-be-launched social network features making it Saudi’s very own social network platform.
Hala Yalla in the Time of Corona
“We were able to pivot very fast to eSports and gaming; a strategy that played a big role in helping us get through the lockdown,” says Faheem. Hala Yalla started off with running a series of ‘Stay At Home’ tournaments on the eSports arm of Hala Yalla, Kafu Games. Players of all skill levels competed in multiple tournaments of FIFA, Fortnite, PUBG, Overwatch and more for prize pools.
Soon after, they hosted this year’s Gamers Without Borders season, in partnership with the Saudi Federation of Electronic and Intellectual Sports (SAFEIS). One of the largest global eSports competitions, Gamers Without Borders raised $10 million for charities at the frontline battling the virus.
While they won’t replace real-world experiences, Hala Yalla can foresee that these virtual experiences replacing live music, classes, personal training, etc.) will continue to develop in a way that supplements how people pursue sports and entertainment.
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