Creating Digital Platforms for Muslims

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Be Inspired, Featured Change Maker Article

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Sometimes when browsing an innocuous website, an ad pops up. One that you’d rather not see. One that is super awkward. #awkwardMuslim. We caught up with Maruf Yusupov who is solving that problem for bloggers, advertisers, and people like you! 

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I was born in Karshi, Uzbekistan in a poor single-parent family. One of the main lessons I learnt from the very beginning is that if you want to achieve something, you are on your own. You should go and learn what is needed and take action. This is what I did. I had no other option.

I was studying Economics in Tashkent around 2000 when I first got to know computers closely. It was “love at first sight”. (Pssst! Don’t tell it to my wife!) I really wanted to study computers – this new technology, however, I couldn’t find a proper degree in my country. 

So, I applied for a scholarship in Denmark and received it. Hence I came to Denmark in 2003 to study multi-media design. After my studies, I started working at small to medium design agencies here where I started to learn more about web design, and also web development, web analytics, digital strategy and online marketing as well. 

I was also doing some side projects, such as e-commerce sites to train and improve my entrepreneurial skills.

At the end of 2012, I decided to leave the corporate world and do something on my own. It was also the time when my old school friend finished his IT degree from Sweden and was looking for a job in Denmark. 

I still remember that after Jumuah, we used to eat and ponder upon what we should do. One way was to find a 9 to 5 corporate job where we both knew we’d get bored after a while. Or we could create something we were both passionate about – create something meaningful and solve a problem. 

We went back and forth for a while. Soon we discovered we both were very passionate about Islam, how we live and its current negative image in mass media. We wanted to create a company that can improve the overall image of Muslims and Islam around the world, encourage them connect and unite towards a common good. 

This is how Ummaland – Social Network for Muslims was born in 2013. Alhamdulillah, it is still growing and now have over 345,000 Muslims on the platform. However, we still have financial challenges to expand it. This is where Halal.Ad comes into play. More on this you can check the next question.

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What inspired you to start Halal.Ad?

I used to advise some Islamic organisations on digital strategy. One of them is Understand Quran Academy. 3 years ago we were exploring advertising channels besides Google and Facebook. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a dedicated platform similar to Google AdSense.

So we created one. Halal.Ad – Ethical Halal Ad Platform for Muslims by Muslims. An Ad Network that helps Muslim Entrepreneurs and non-Muslim brands reach out to millions of halal conscious Muslim Consumers online in a faster, affordable and more effective way.

 

What have been some successes and challenges that you have faced with Halal.Ad along the way? And how did you celebrate/overcome them?

Halal.Ad was launched in October 2015. Alhamdulillah, we have already served over 22 million halal ads. We believe it is a great achievement for a young startup just in 5 months. However, we do have some challenges as well. Since we are bootstrapping the whole project, of course, if we had more money, it would help us hire more people to speed up the process. 

Besides, we are trying to get Muslim brands and companies with large advertising budgets in 2016. Hence we are exhibiting in all major halal expos around the world. Starting from MIHAS 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from March 31 to Apr 2.

 

When you’re not working on Halal.Ad, what do you do with your time?

If you ask the same question from my wife, she may reply that I don’t do anything except Halal.Ad these days :) But I beg to differ. I am a father of 3 lovely kids, alhamdulillah. These 3 “monkeys” occupy most of my free time.

 

What is your 5-year goal? 

We have major milestones. They may seem different, but in the end they end up all the same. Here it goes: 

1. Relaunch Ummaland to connect and unite billions of Muslims around the globe towards a more spiritual, productive and fulfilling life, inshaAllah.

2. Help millions of Muslim brands, products and services reach out and impact billions of Muslims worldwide in a faster, affordable and intuitive way via Halal.Ad, inshaAllah. 

 

Who inspires you the most?

Ordinary everyday people who are doing extra ordinary things. People who find joy and serenity in their life and work due to the adversity we all live through. I am truly inspired by them. There is a great lesson for all of us to follow their footsteps, I guess. Chill. Enjoy Life. 

Do you have a morning/evening routine, what is it?

I try to get most of my productive work in the morning. As to the evening, it is the time to work out while listening to TED or some useful podcast :)

 

Do you have any message you’d like to leave for our readers? 

I’d love to see you guys at one of the upcoming events we’re attending: MIHAS Malaysia March 30-Apr 2 and (possibly) Halal Expo in Australia, Melbourne & Sydney Apr 3 to Apr 9

Advice: Live The Deen as a way of life – the fine balance between here and hereafter striving for the excellence

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If you’re a blogger, own a website, or want to advertise something, make sure you check out the Halal.Ad website! You can also catch some of the Ummaland action here. And connect with Maruf via his LinkedIn page.