Following the $250,000 investment in UAE-based Play:Date, an application that helps parents build their child’s social circle, we had an exclusive chat with Shamim Kassibawi, founder and CEO of Play:Date.
During this exclusive interview, we asked Shamim about Play:Date’s current challenges, future plans on how to use this investment to expand their services, and how their team managed to navigate through COVID-19 and work from home.
Can you tell us a bit about Play:Date and how did come up with the idea?
I’ve been in Dubai for about 12 years now and as an ex-pat, a lot of us are away from our families and sometimes struggle to make friends right away – both parents and kids.
I stay with my sister and have often noticed my niece or nephew playing on their own – thus, feeling left out. Furthermore, I noticed a difference between the oldest and youngest sibling – the younger one is much more social and confident– this is a result of the younger one having many friends as compared to her elder sibling.
I realized this was an untapped gap and hence decided to build Play:Date, a platform where everyone could have a candid direct relationship, whether it was kids making friends or parents meeting other like-minded parents.
Kids and parents are the core of our business, it is solely the main factor that drives us. My number one goal is to create a convenient way for parents to build their kids' social circle and provide families with an affordable experience through vouchers, giveaways, and experiences that can be enjoyed together as one.
What’s your masterplan for the future of Play:Date?
The future looks exciting, with lots of plans in the pipeline!
In addition to the cash injection from Modus Capital, we are currently raising some more capital to grow the business and also finalizing some internal strategies.
I would love to see Play:Date grow; every child has a friend and have access to all forms of kid-friendly entertainment activities, without the family worrying about money. I would also like to see more women in tech and more mothers being accepted into the workforce. At Play:Date, we have an internship program for mothers who have had time off and want to get back into the corporate world. We also ensure 80% of our team are women.
Another long-term objective is to really provide mothers, and women in general, a working environment that is best suited and convenient for them. An office where they can work flexible hours, bring their kids, and keep them at a nursery/daycare at Play:Date HQ. That’s my dream!
What are the top 3 things you were looking for in potential investors?
Guidance, advice, expertise - these were qualities I was looking for in an investor.
When the opportunity to work with Modus Capital came along, we decided to move ahead quickly as they are not your typical venture capitalist’s that are solely focused on investing, instead they actively assist entrepreneurs by supporting with strategies and high-growth prospects. Additionally, I was keen on a firm that had a presence not only in the region but also in the US, as it is currently our biggest market outside the UAE - Modus met all these requirements.
In your experience, what's the biggest challenge in scaling your ops?
Personally, it has been technology. For someone that has a purely PR & Communications background, wrapping my head around the technical software-related aspects was difficult. However, the solution for this is to constantly educate yourself, adapt, and of course, have the right partners/team -you need to have the right people to guide, support, inspire and value you.
Is tech changing how we raise kids in the future?
Times have changed and for us to grow as a society, each one of us have to adapt and move ahead. We see couple’s meeting each other online, we find like-minded friends in a new city online and millennials are even finding jobs online – all via apps.
So why not find friends for your kids? We aren’t telling parents to encourage an online friendship for their child but instead asking them to filter through profiles, identify a kid with similar interests, and then set up a play date for them.
How did COVID-19 affect your operations?
We had to think of Covid19 as an opportunity to get creative and ensure we stayed positive. Our strongest aspect of the business at the time were the events, which used to fill up within 48 hours, the events were stopped immediately.
We had to move ahead and launch our Play:Date product seeding concept during Covid19; it was good for us as a business as it really pushed us out of our comfort zone, it wasn’t something that was planned for Q1 of 2020.
On our first round, we delivered gift bags to 50 UAE homes for Mother’s Day; we wanted to give all the mothers locked up some love and we’re super happy to have made it happen within a short time frame. We also ran the same campaign with 200 UAE homes during Ramadan/Eid season. We were proud to have brands like Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever join us for this gifting round.
Product seeding is key to brands, at times when marketing budgets are being cut, we wanted to give brands an opportunity to reach UAE homes and at the same time spoil our UAE families - 2 birds, one stone! We also hosted several online activities for families through Instagram live, we wanted to spread a little bit of love during the lockdown.
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Play:Date—as the name suggests—is designed to help parents organize play dates for their children with like-minded friends and parents based on the compatibility of their children’s interests with other children in a safe environment.
The mobile app allows parents to engage with each other based on the interests and personalities of their children, further expanding a parent’s network within the community. The app features various vouchers and offers, exclusive to Play:Date members, giving brands access to a direct channel to connect with their customer base for continued exposure and brand recognition. The app also hosts regular playdate tours at various play areas, and virtually during Covid-19.
About Modus Operations
The Modus Team —at the helm of operations— is a group of expert product managers, designers, and full-stack developers working with UAE startups to invest in their growth and make an impactful mark on the MENA tech industry and beyond.