Ayrat Kasimov, HalalGuide: ''There were attempts to clone our project, but competitor failed after two years''
The founder of the Muslim startup about scandals with Halal and lambs from the Internet
A native of Perm and resident of Kazan IT-Park Ayrat Kasimov created for the Muslims the guide to Halal places, delivery of Halal products, job search, and even collecting donations based on the own platform HalalGuide. Realnoe Vremya interviewed Ayrat and asked him about whether this project gives a possibility to earn, who helped to launch it in London and South Africa, why one should not laugh at ''Halal chicken eggs'' and the consequences of tough competition in the field of Halal certification.
''I started to think how to improve the life of Muslims, using modern technology''
Ayrat, how did you come up with the idea to digitalise different aspects of life (food, sport, work and even charity) in the Muslim format?
I think that is largely due to the fact that I am an observant Muslim. Besides, I am a graduate of the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas with IT specialization, and when I started to work and apply my skills and knowledge, I realized that for Muslims, for Halal industry this area is new. I started to think how to improve the life of Muslims, using modern technology. The first thing we did was an online directory of mosques, Halal cafes and restaurants, and over time we moved forward.
What is your traffic?
We have a peak in the month of Ramazan (Ramadan). This year, it has been up to 900,000 hits a month on all resources.
''We have a peak in the month of Ramazan (Ramadan). This year, it has been up to 900,000 hits a month on all resources.'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
By the way, what is the situation with international markets?
We have people in Canada, London, Thailand, we are also opening in Singapore, Malaysia, Senegal, South Africa. Italy and Sweden — we are still looking at. We have a representative who wants to work from us in the USA – it is a very good market, for which we are only preparing.
''In this situation, back-door games start — someone finds pork, for example''
Ayrat, what investments has the project required at the initial stage, and if it is not a secret, who helped with the financing?
Business angels and our savings. At that time, I was working in Gazprom, then Transneft — all the money went on the team and project realization. I think, abour 10 million have been spent over 7 years. Not to say that it is a lot. At first, the project required more, then there was some decline in the development for 2-3 years.
When we were not so active, the service was already gaining popularity — people knew about it, they were searching it, used it, also word of mouth worked. Now, of course, we have to ''fight'' a little, to show what have changed, been corrected, how the service has been improved — many still think we have just a database, but, in fact, we have a huge service that has penetrated all spheres of Muslim life.
''The first thing that was criticised was the centres for Halal certification. Before that, the whole market was based on the fact that if there is a certificate, then they say it's Halal, but if there is no certificate, then it is not Halal.'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
On your official website, in the brief history of HalalGuide you wrote that in the process of creating the project you faced with many difficulties and lots of criticism. Who criticized you and why?
The first thing that was criticised was the centres for Halal certification. Before that, the whole market was based on the fact that if there is a certificate, then they say it's Halal, but if there is no certificate, then it is not Halal. Users see a different picture. They want to go somewhere where it is permitted, and, if it is needed, to give other people some tips, ideas — and we gave them the opportunity to work more for the audience.
Then the problems started with that there are places with alcohol (alcohol contradicts the principles of Islam), but the entire cuisine is Halal (for example, in the restaurant Rubai, the network of restaurants Uryuk), and at the same time, they have certificates for the products from suppliers. At the same time, there is also Uzbechka, where there is no alcohol and, like everyone says, the food is Halal, but there is no certificate. This provoked a certain resonance, but we note all such moments and tell about them. Yes, we had to improve the service a little, but here it was necessary to be informative and convenient.
By the way, what can you say about how to obtain the certificate of Halal in Russia — are there many cases of fraud?
This theme is being very actively discussed in the media. Recently there has been a case in Brazil, which is a major exporter of meat to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. By the way, 98% of their Halal production is exported despite the fact that inside the country (I discussed it with locals on the Internet) even in Ramadan and in the mosques they eat not Halal — they have no opportunity. So, in Brazil, they found fake meat that actually was not Halal. The whole story began to grow like a snowball, and gradually there began appear people who made money on this.
The certification centres, in the first place, certify producers. There is also the possibility to certify cafes, but for establishments it is very cheap and not in demand (for people it is in demand, of course), so the certification centres more aim at producers.
Today in Russia there are five certification centres. The competition is, of course, noticeable. Plus the fact that it is a voluntary certification gives an opportunity for new players to enter this market. In this situation, back-door games start — someone finds pork at someone's products, for example.
By the way, recently there has been a scandal. There was an accusation that it was found pork in products, and we were asked to announce it. We called a certification authority, which was ''pressed'', but because it was Ramadan they did not decide anything. We decided not to wait and we asked the money on the tests for confirmation of the information. We were sent the required amount at 15,000 rubles (the cost of checking of one product for PCR of pork costs 1,300 rubles), as individuals we did tests, but pork was not found. On the one hand, we are glad that pork was not found, but on the other hand, it is sad that these ''games'' take place.
Ayrat, how has Halal Guide changed over 7 years of its existence?
I would say, two and a half years — strong growth, which is now noticeable, it began in Kazan, when we entered IT-Park. Then we started to think about that all our services should be based on real needs of people. A simple solution became an online consultant on the website.
First, we created a service for delivery of Halal food — it now passively generates a certain amount of money without any investment, only for maintenance of the call centre. We have also created our own recruitment agency HalalWork. I think it will also be useful. Now people post their resume, looking for work, they find a job.
Does the service have analogues? Were you afraid to lose to other major classifieds?
There are no analogues. Just yesterday a partner from London sent me an article that Saudi Arabia is now launching a new project for women to find job — they have serious problems to find a job, the situation at their country is more difficult.
In general, we have our own audience. They periodically tell us: ''Aren't you afraid that someone just checks ''Halal'' and so it will be convenient to look for?'' Just yesterday, I found that Tripadvisor put such check, I looked, but there were restaurants not Halal. How they check, on what basis is not clear. Services will appear, and it is easy to tick the box, but until there is no close work with certification authorities, users, I think, there will not be success.
''Services will appear, and it is easy to tick the box, but until there is no close work with certification authorities, users, I think, there will not be success.'' Photo: ansar.ru
''There were attempts to clone our project, but competitor failed after two years''
Does Halal Guide give profit?
It gives revenue but it is not so big — now it is 300-500,000 rubles per month. Now we are to zero, but I think that other countries will give us active growth.
Besides, we are entering the wholesale market, we begin to work closely with manufacturers. If to compare the cost of food delivery, in the same London the cost of an order is 10 times higher than in Russia, and given that we have all technical facilities located here and they are much cheaper, I think they will be more successful.
Did the clergy consider a purchase of the resource?
There were attempts to clone our project, but it failed after two years because it must be maintained regularly, and just copy and run — it won't work. We have already passed it. Already many competitors were drowned in the struggle with us. The clergy are not quite going in the same direction. Kazan is the most active in this respect in Russia, but the clergy is not.
There are niches in the Muslim business where the competition is very high — it is the media, certification centres, YouTube-channels, radio stations. We decided that we will not go there. Instead, we aggregate all of this — all the information from all certification authorities are available at our resource, all media can be read and so on. We want to serve as a site rather than to compete with them.
''As for Halal eggs, I think it more comes from China''
You have launched the delivery of Halal food – is the service in demand?
In general, the service is now growing in Russia. It is not at the same level, of course, as in Dubai, London, America, but I think in the coming years it will grow.
I have a friend living in Abu Dhabi, he is a kind of person who if something does, then, not in vain. He eats only delivery food – he orders food from restaurants. At first, I thought that he just earns a lot and is quite lazy, but having lived there for a month, I realised that it is much cheaper to order there than to cook — the prices are much lower.
''As for Halal eggs, I think it more comes from China because they grow eggs, recreate them from the elements — it is not chicken hatch them, which is not Halal.'' Photo: lfpvk.ru
Since we are talking about Halal products: what do you think about ''Halal Coca-Cola'', ''Halal chicken eggs'', ''Halal water''?
As for Coca-Cola, there is the question of carmine – it is unclear whether it is Halal or not. When we were in Istanbul, the certification center issued a Halal certificate to no establishment, no hotel because there was Coca-Cola. Halality just has not been confirmed yet.
Kamil khazrat [Samigullin] sometimes quotes the words of the famous scientist about the cigarettes: ''I won't say that cigarettes are haram, even if you offer me a million dollars, but I will not call them Halal as well.'' These things in the definition of Halalness are on dubious level. Actually, if to look from the point of view of health benefits, Coca-Cola is not the most healthy drink, even if it is Halal.
As for Halal eggs, I think it more comes from China because they grow eggs, recreate them from the elements — it is not chicken hatch them, which is not Halal. People do not know this and they treat it comically, ''How can it be – Halal eggs? Chicken was read nikah?''
Now the media are digging into this topic more than the Muslims themselves, and that's bad. Muslims must realize what they eat, they should know that, they need at places to find out whether they have certificate or not, but it makes no difference for them.
Ayrat, according to your assessment, what is the status of Halal products market in Russia? Is there a noticeable growth of production and emergence of Halal establishments?
Halal restaurants do not close, I do not know whether they are profitable or not, but they definitely do not close. Cafes open more than close — it's definitely a growth trend.
There is still such a factor that not only Muslims buy Halal. I think the trend that Halal is an eco-product will prevail over the religious aspect. Of course, the number of Muslims grows, they buy products in stores, but there are numbers that show the Halal eco-products will grow.
''If to consider that a mosque on Friday is overcrowded – why there is such a small number of qurbani — it is an interesting question.'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
There is also a figure that struck me last year, and we want to change it. The thing is that the number of qurbani, which was done last year, it is about 8-12,000. If to consider that a mosque on Friday is overcrowded – why there is such a small number of qurbani — it is an interesting question. We have now created an opportunity for Android to order qurbani, I want to integrate before Eid al-Adha and to announce.
In such cases, we always talk about statistics and numbers, not like, for example, Salaam Getaway in Dubai, which assesses the level of development of Halal industry in different countries by the number of publications in the media. Besides, we are introducing a loyalty system that allows us to talk about the average bills in a particular segment. In Kazan, for example, the average bill is 180 rubles, in Moscow — 1,900 rubles.
To be continued.