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Deals | This IDG-backed startup aims to replicate the Toutiao success in burgeoning Middle East market

OneMena(泛阿网络), a Beijing-based app and mobile services provider that targets the Middle Eastern market, has recently raised an undisclosed amount in Series A led by IDG Capital with participation from Tencent-backed Kuaishou, China’s most popular short video-streaming app by MAU. The startup plans to use the fresh funds to expand in Arab markets.

Sequoia Capital invested in OneMena’s angel round in 2017. The latest funding round piled up the total amount raised by the startup to US$20 million.

Founded in early 2017, the startup provides app tools, news, content, and information services to users in over 20 Arab countries. Its current app matrix includes Toutiao-like news aggregator Anawin, KooraCafe, a football-focused news app, Hayaa, a healthcare app for women, and TeflyLife, a digital photo album for parents.

Mena is the abbreviation of the Middle East and North Africa, an area with a population of 436 million people according to data compiled by the World Bank. One in five people lives in MENA region aged between 15 to 24, according to data provided by UN.

By mid-2017, 63% of the people across MENA region are mobile phone users, that’s 365 million people, as per a report by GSMA, a trade body that represents mobile network operators worldwide.

All those factors make this area an emerging mobile internet market. OneMena thinks there are two voids in the current market to be filled: lack of good content and entertainment.

The startup plans to develop different products dedicated to male and female users. Its period tracking app Hayaa has become the top healthcare app in the Middle East, according to it.

As a Beijing-based company, OneMena is well equipped with the technologies and operations knowhow well learned from competitive China market.

However, as a foreign species, localization is the biggest problem that OneMena faces.

There are many differences between China and the Arab world in terms of religion, culture, custom, and online behaviors. The startup has to cater to local tastes, otherwise, even a small mistake may stall its development.

To tackle that problem, OneMena is relying on user-generated content and recruiting local talents to man its regional branches in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to push for progress in content, product and marketing.

According to the startup, the Arab market is relatively easier for foreign startups to enter when compared with the US and European market.

OneMena claims 10 million and 5 million MAU across its apps. And when it comes to profit-making, it turns its eyes to traffic monetization.

The startup currently has a team of 200 and almost half of its employees are local hires. It has opened offices in Beijing, Xi’an, Cairo, Riyadh, and Dubai. The General Manager of its North Africa and Middle East unit, MA Qiang, has been in Egypt for 17 years and has established the Arabic edition of two Chinese weekly publications China Weekly and China Newsweek.

An industry insider told KrASIA that the Arab world is a relatively untapped market for startups. However, the underdeveloped mobile infrastructure and lack of certain basic mobile services, such as mobile payment, will be capping the potential for local startups and raising the monetization question mark for them.

Writer: LU Yurou

Editor: Ben Jiang

36Kr Global Writers
36Kr Global Writers
The tech ecosystem is roaring. Unicorns valued at billions of dollars have emerged worldwide, while venture capital and strategic investors are constantly on the lookout for the next big thing. 36Kr Global is committed to establishing ties between global stakeholders and providing the most vital information about China’s tech scene and capital markets.

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