Home Is Where The Apps Are

By Rohit Nair Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Samantha's spent 11 of her 30-something (you never reveal your age, do you?) years in Dubai, studying and then working for several titles as a fashion editor and journalist. And as someone in her position knows very well, you simply cannot have a bad hair day.

Appearance is everything and you have to look the part before you can play the part. "There's so much emphasis on appearance in Dubai, especially for women, that there's always pressure to look your absolute best. It's not just for me, or anyone in my position, but even lawyers, PR, property and real estate. You have to always look immaculate," she says.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy to do at home and, sometimes, you need to go to a salon, but if you've tried booking an appointment, you'll immediately see why BEEM is going to be your lifesaver.

"Today, it takes you at least half an hour to schedule an appointment. Salon attendants don't answer the phone, and when they do, they still mess up. In my opinion, it's one of the worst-managed, in terms of customer service," she says. "My friends were always saying, 'I'm having a beauty emergency! I'm having a beauty emergency!' and that's where the idea for BEEM comes from -- BEauty EMergency," Samantha explains.

"I knew that there had to be an easier way to go to the salon. There are so many women here; surely, there must be a system."

But it turned out there wasn't and Samantha knew that something had to be done about that. "More so," she adds, "because I knew that if I didn't do it, a bunch of snotty businessmen would come along and I would get an email from some PR announcing the launch of some app for women made by men. I wouldn't have that." So, Samantha quit her job and decided to work on BEEM as a start-up. With no technical expertise. And practically all the money she had, which wasn't much. "I don't have rich uncles," she says laughing.

It wasn't easy, especially for a woman in a sea of men, who dominate the app development market.

"This one time, at a conference for entrepreneurs, some guy thought I was one of the hostesses! It hasn't been a pleasant experience," she says. "I basically had to teach myself -- I was poring over tech magazines just to educate myself on the semantics and the lingo so I wouldn't look like a complete fool when I spoke to my technical team and I could explain to them what exactly I wanted," she says. "You can't be a founder of a company and not know what you're working with. So I learnt, and it was really difficult, but I pushed through it."

BEEM started 14 months ago and went live just this past September. Already, it has over 600 downloads, which doesn't read like much, but for a start-up, that's big.

"I was very adamant on making the app a certain way and we did a lot of research before we even started -- we studied a lot of female-driven user interfaces to find out what kind of responsiveness they have, whether they tap or swipe and, if they swipe, how they swipe; we took everything into account to make BEEM simple for women to use."

All you ladies have to do is pick what treatments you want, with your available time slots, and BEEM locates salons close to you to book appointments. Also, in case you're wondering, BEEM only works with the "best of the best" in Dubai -- the tried and tested. "My goal, from day one, was to work with only the best salons in Dubai, the ones I've personally gone to and used.

They only use the best products, have good customer service and well-trained staff," Samantha says. "We even created a four-minute window in which the salon has to reply to a request to ensure quick service. If they don't reply within that window to an appointment request, they lose the customer and we divert the request automatically to another salon."

Right now, BEEM has about 28 locations and Samantha also has plans to take BEEM to Abu Dhabi. "We also offer home services through our salon partners for that added level of discretion." For Samantha, that's the best part about the app -- the discretion. "There are things you don't want to announce over the phone, not to anyone. BEEM gives you that privacy. I don't need to convince women that they need this app. They need it and they know they do," she says.

"BEEM is my trailblazer," she replies, when asked what it means to her. "It's a tool for intelligent women, designed specifically for them, without being patronising or dumbing things down, to help them maintain a lifestyle that this city demands of them, and do it in a smart way. BEEM's my baby and I'm proud of it."

App:

BEEM (Available on iOS); Free Founder: Samantha Hamilton-Rushforth

What does it do?: Helps you book your beauty salon appointments effortlessly __________________________________________________________________________________________

When Armenian expats, Rafael Harutyunyan, 25, and Ashot Mnatsakanyan,27,moved to Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago to continue their studies at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, they had, no doubt, some difficulty networking and meeting new people.

"The idea of Jeltee was born from our own personal frustration with matchmaking and social apps. We were not happy with the way people, including ourselves, interacted on the apps and websites that were popular at the time. You connect to someone online, but instead of pursuing a real face-to-face meeting (which is what you signed up for in the first place), you get caught up in an awkward, futile online conversation which may last for ages and usually lead to nothing worthwhile," says Ashot.

At this point, you might think that these guys are just copying Tinder's MO, but Ashot and Rafael -- who now run Jeltee out of their BROgrammers company office in Abu Dhabi -- are quick to make the distinction.

"Our mission with Jeltee was to create a platform that would not only connect people, but also encourage them to meet in person to experience something real and exciting," says Rafael. And Jeltee itself? That comes from the Hindi word jaldi, meaning quick or hurry up -- fitting for a place where everything has to be jaldi jaldi.

"We wanted to revitalise real world social interactions, especially after we noticed how much time people spend communicating online, forgetting about the awesomeness of a real encounter. They often get stuck in the virtual world and sometimes feel awkward to meet in real life," says Rafael.

"In real life, you see people around you; you don't know their names, but you feel a connection, and when those interests are mutual, you start a short conversation, after which you decide to hang out again." Jeltee basically does this, without the awkwardness.

If you're 18 and above, you sign up and then look for matches. Jeltee doesn't share users' names or other information, so chances for online stalking and privacy issues are in check. Once you've found someone who shares similar interests, and a match is made, you have 24 hours to break the ice, after which the app deletes your chat. This way, people are forced to meet up in person, especially if they want to remain friends. Inappropriate behaviour is quickly nipped by a daily profile moderation system and reports of abuse are taken seriously. "This is a very important part of our work as we strive to keep our platform clean and free of spam or any form of inappropriate behaviour."

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