So you think that filtering is just wrong? And it has no outcomes for startups?
Almost every country has some kind of internet censorship and measures they would take, depending on their beliefs, cultures and laws. But we are not here to talk about the right or wrong and we are not here to explore the origins of these restrictions in our time but to rather explore the possibilities and opportunities that these restrictions provided for some startups in Iran.
First you should know that Iran is a religious country, yes the dominant religion in Iran is Islam but we have many other religions and some of them actually have a reserved seat in the parliament. And people are actually living in peace with different ideas or religions but the backbone of the culture is intertwined with Islam.
I remember the days that we used Dial Up to connect to the internet even back then we couldn’t access some websites with specific contents like pornography, some political news websites. but With rise of Web 2.0 situation changed dramatically, because users could actually interact and collaborate with each other in social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing and many other platforms. And with the increase of internet penetration, people suddenly exposed to so much information that they hadn’t before. You should pay attention to the fact that there was no transition for Internet users in Iran because majority of people started using internet with web 2.0 so imagine using the technology without having the proper culture for using it.
Basically what happened was that people start using social networks, blogs, forums, online video sharing websites and file and photo hosting services, and the contents were just didn’t match to our culture and general beliefs in our country. So websites like YouTube, BlogSpot, WordPress, Orkut, Facebook, Flickr and Rapidshare filtered by the government. But in those days there weren’t any good substitute for them. And it wasn’t just the filtering because many of the services didn’t support Farsi language in a proper way and they didn’t even have a menu in Farsi too. So when you think about it you realize that it was the time for Iranian companies and entrepreneurs to show up and do something about it. Many companies and startups emerged, like PersianBlog in 2002 which was the first fully Farsi blog platform in Iran. There were many startups that tried to implement the websites that were filtered in Iran but few of them actually survived and very few number could make a profitable business out of those startups. One of the most successful companies that could start these kind of startups is a company named SabaIdea. SabaIdea founded by Mohammad Javad Shakouri Moghadam which currently provides 5 main business services including Video Sharing (Aparat.com), Photo Sharing (Lenzor.com), Movie Streaming (Filimo.com), Blogging (MihanBlog.com), Social Networking (Cloob.com) and SabaVision which is First of its kind that was founded in 2005, when there was no online ad agency in Iran.
How SabaIdea started
Mohammad Javad was born on 1982. he started programming when he was 16 years old. Like many young talented people in Iran, he was studied at one the best universities in Iran (Amirkabir University of Technology) in the field of electrical engineering. He got married when he was 19 years. But after 5 semesters he realized that it’s not the path that he was interested in, so he dropped out to pursue his passion which was programming. For sometimes he made money by programming but soon he realized that he should start his own startup.
At that time Orkut was on the rise and Facebook had only 5.5 million users. and many Iranian started to using it. So he thought that why not develop an Iranian social networking website which could support Farsi completely. supporting Farsi was an important feature because many Iranian didn’t know English that well or they just wanted to have a social network completely in Farsi. So in January 2005, they launched Cloob which became one of the most popular Farsi social network in Iran. Currently in Alexa, cloob is ranked 31 in Iran.
MihanBlog with one million unique visits per day
MihanBlog was originaly created in november, 2005 but the original founders had problems running the website with that much users because the website wasn’t generating enough revenue to be self sustain. In May, 2006 MihanBlog was the third biggest Blog platform in Iran and had problems with capital so Mohammad Javad and his team came in and acquired MihanBlog from the founders. One of the main reasons that they acquired MihanBlog was that they wanted to expand their business and somehow connect it with their own services. At first they had problems to generate revenue from MihanBlog too because there weren’t any online advertisement platform in Iran back then so it just created an Idea to start online advertising agency in the future which was SabaVision.
They founded SabaVision in 2006 when there was no such a thing as online advertising agency in Iran and international online adversing agencies banned Iran because of the sanction like google ads. Mohamad Javad and his team built it because they were looking for a profitable solution to continue their core business. But since they had the chance of being at the edge of online marketing and advertising, it soon became their main responsibility to offer targeted display solution to their customers. Apart from being the first online advertising agency in Iran, they have unique advertising tools. Services such as Cloob, Aparat, Lenzor, Filimo, MihanBlog, which are provided by their parent company, SabaIdea, enables them to offer cross-channel advertising.
Aparat with 5 million video streaming per day
In 2011 Mohammad Javad and his team realized that they need to implement a service in order for their users to be able to share videos on cloob. But obviously they couldn’t do it with Youtube because the they couldn’t check the content (with inappropriate videos their website would be filtered too) so they startd to talk with some local service but at the end they came up with idea that they should develop the online video sharing service by themselves. They implement and launched Aparat just in 45 days and they’ve done it by themselves without buying any license or software from outside of Iran. Aparat has android, iOS and Window Mobile app too. In 2014, The Economist named Aparat the second most valued website in Iran, the valuation was 30 Million dollars. Now Aparat is ranked 5th in Alexa Traffic rank in Iran. Recently they launched their new service in Aparat, named AparatKids which is dedicated to children with contents suitable for Kids. Now Aparat has 20 millions unique visits per month.
Lenzor with 12 thousand uploaded photos per day
In December 2014, SabaIdea launched their photo sharing service named Lenzor. As I mentioned before multimedia content has problems in Iran because the government can’t control the content to be proper for the people in Iran. So they decided to launch Lenzor which is a photo sharing service. For a few months old website Lenzor is doing good but we should wait to see how it actually will grow.
Filimo with 500 thousand minutes of watched movies per day
And the last but not least is Filimo which was founded in January, 2015. With increase of internet penetration, an ideal situation was created for people to actually watch videos and movies online without any trouble. You can think of it as a Netflix of Iran. In the past year mobile broadband got improved to the point that you can get 20 to 30 Mbps in good conditions but normally you can get 4 Mbps on any operator in Iran. The Adsl in big cities got so much better too, with average speed of 5Mbps in most cities. So mainly the internet connection improved dramatically in the past few years and it provided the infrastructure for startups like Filimo. Currently there are 1000 titles in Fimilo and the number is growing every day.