Rafiqi: your new friend Online connections become real life interactions

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Even the most social of us encounter times when our entourage of friends simply don’t want to go on a Sunday hike or can’t be coaxed into attending cultural events. Instead of missing out on all the activities you enjoy, you can turn to Rafiqi, an interactive mobile app available on Android and iOS that was just launched this September.

Co-founder Rawad Fakhry explains: “Rafiqi is a location-based mobile app that allows users to discover activities around them, or suggest their own, to find new people for their next outing, be it a football match, a dinner or any other activity.” The app’s co-founder, Ahmad Wehbi, adds: “The app covers different stages of the interaction from creation/discovery of activities, all the way through [to]individual/group chat where users can plan their next outing. We focus on turning online connections into real-life interactions.”

The idea was inspired by a friend of the co-founders, who liked unconventional hobbies such as playing the nay (a Persian musical instrument) at dawn, and had a hard time finding people who shared the same interests. They began noticing many others were like their friend. “Many love to go camping, play a ball game, learn dancing or watch a play, but give up on their plan because they can’t convince their friends to join,” says Wehbi. “Rafiqi seeks to connect these people with others interested in their same activity, thereby encouraging them to first do the things they love.” Or, as Fakhry puts it: “Fancy meditation at 5 am? Use Rafiqi and find your partner.”

The app is free to download and activities fall under specific categories: nightlife, sports, outdoor, hangout, culture and dining. You can input details about the activity and express interest in joining activities posted by others. User locations are displayed to show activities within the same vicinity. The concept and ease of use seem to be attracting substantial attention, with 2,700 downloads and 2,200 active users in just September alone.

“Our vision is to let anyone enjoy any activity from anywhere. Whether you’re a man or woman, young or old,” says Fakhry. Wehbi adds that the app is great for activity enthusiasts and “expats, tourists or others interested in discovering new activities and meeting new people around them”.

Rafiqi only exists in Lebanon at the moment, but the plan is to expand to other markets, starting with Dubai. The co-founders aim to stick “as close to users’ [needs]as possible” when updating the app. In fact, it has already changed significantly since its launch and Wehbi promises it “will keep evolving as we continue to grow and learn from our users”.

Wehbi stresses that user safety is important and a key driver for the design of the interaction model the app offers. Fakhry says: “Most apps developed today [include]trust and security issues cannot be 100 percent avoided. However to counter those concerns, Rafiqi users login only through Facebook (so you can check users’ profiles, pics and info) and we will later provide user ratings as an additional layer of security.” The app also encourages group activities in public settings, and a new feature will soon let users report suspicious activity or profiles.

The team behind Rafiqi have complementary skills. Ahmad Wehbi is an ex-consultant for McKinsey & Co. in Dubai, with a degree in entrepreneurship; Rawad Fakhry specializes in tech support and is also a business analyst; co-founders Wael Hourani, an Android developer, and Jad Feitrouni, an iOS developer.

Rafiqi was part of the Speed@BDD accelerator’s first batch of startups and received seed investment from it. An early stage startup, the current focus is to grow the active user base before seeking a second round of funding.

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