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The Weather Business

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June, 2013
Mohammad Shaker documents how he turned a childhood passion for weather into a efficacious multi-platform weather provider for individuals and businesses alike spanning the entire Arab world and earning him the prestigious Emerging Entrepreneur of Jordan award by Ernst and Young last April. Whitney McNamara reports.

Before Mohammad Shaker was a businessman, he was a teenager with a passion for weather and an entrepreneurial spirit. “[Weather] has been my passion since early childhood. I just love the weather, and why it is raining or why there are thunderstorms or snow. These kinds of questions reflected my passion on the subject from a young age.” He reflects, “It is unusual for our community to talk about the weather, let alone start a business around it, but I decided to follow my passion.”

 

Shaker’s interest in weather led him to create a website in 2006, when he was in high school, in which he documented the weather forecast in Jordan. Despite it being created for the audience of his family and friends and considered a hobby, the website gained tremendous success and heavy traffic. When it was time for Shaker to go to university, he sought out degrees in meteorology within Jordan, but found local programs lacking in anything that spoke to his passion for weather. Instead, he practically followed in his father’s career path and majored in pharmacology. Despite a completed degree in the subject, the keen entrepreneur eventually turned back to the weather in 2010. “I wanted to continue my work on the website and spread it to the Arab world so I looked for colleges [with specializations in meteorology] and found UK Met Office College, one of the biggest in the world teaching about weather.”  In order to be a better authority on weather studies, Shaker completed two certificates from this university: Aviation Technology and Advanced Weather Forecasting. 

 

He changed the web address of his previous site, jo.weather.jo into Arabiaweather.com, to be more inclusive of the region. He states, “The aim was to create a multi-platform service company giving weather services and solutions for individuals and industries.” Time spent in Germany working with meteorology specialists, says Shaker, “gave me a lot of experience on how to monetize the weather as a business”. 

 

One Weather Forecast, Two Business Models 

As weather service is thought primarily meant to serve the average citizen curious of weather conditions for driving conditions, likelihood of outdoor events, dictation of proper attire for the day or pure curiosity, Arabiaweather.com first provides its forecast to its individual consumers, or what the weather enthusiast calls the business-to-consumer model. Thus far, the site’s heaviest traffic comes from Jordan, from existing followers, and from Saudi Arabia, where Shaker says “most people are looking for tomorrow’s weather”.  

 

The entrepreneur explains markets with quickly changing weather are some of its greatest followers. “In Saudi, tomorrow clear skies and next day there is a dust storm. Sometimes, in Jordan, we can see the four seasons in one day.” Saudi is also an attractive market, not only because of its “active” weather, but also due to its sheer size. “It is a very big consumer market,” he says. The business-to-consumer model is delivered via its website and smartphone application, which was made available mid-March and already has 40,000 downloads.  

 

On the other side of the weather-forecasting business is the all important business–to-business model.  Shaker explains, “There are multiple markets that need the weather data.”  While targeting businesses was always in the pipeline, multiple industries began calling Shaker with weather enquiries before he had formally started seeking them out.  “Some agriculture companies started calling because weather information is very vital for them.” Agriculture companies were quickly succeeded by local media and aviation companies. While the calls at first came from Jordan-based companies, soon requests were coming from throughout the MENA region because of the company’s position in the area and its reputation for accuracy. Shaker says, “Until now there are no other companies doing what we are doing [in the Arab world].  Arabiaweather now provides weather data and solutions to over 12 different industries from the energy sector, marine and offshore industries, transportation and construction, agricultural and water management to industries with more obvious needs, such as media and aviation. Shaker explains the unique needs of each industry, citing previous requests: “In Qatar, there was an energy plant that was damaged. The company wanted to tell the government that it was because of the dust storms. The insurance company requested to know all about the dust storm on that particular day.” Mentioning the monetary benefits of staying ahead of the weather, Shaker says, “If there is a flight from Amman to Dubai and there is a thunderstorm in Dubai, forcing the flight to convert, this will cost the airline $50,000.”

 

Challenges

Pioneering an innovative multi-platform weather service specialized in the Arab world with in-house-created algorithms for accurate forecasts did not come without its challenges. While financial backing is a challenge for most start-ups, it was especially true for the weather-forecasting company. In order to get the data to forecast the weather, it must be purchased from various satellites and centers around the world, which raised the website’s initial expenditures significantly. Another challenge was, as Shaker puts it, “finding human resources. Most people in Jordan are not studying meteorology”. It was important to the business owner to keep staff local so graduates were taken who, for example, had skills in graphics – and an interest in weather, naturally – and were trained on how to specifically design graphics for easily digestible and clear illustrations for the website, including 3D images. The website also calls on meteorologists from other countries such as Syria, Egypt and the UAE. 

 

The reigning challenge that Arabiaweather.com faces, however, is the culture that trusts foreign information over local. “The culture is still a big challenge for us. Most industries and individuals trust weather sources from outside the Arab world, even if our service is much more accurate.” Shaker acknowledges this is a problem with many local companies working on a regional or international level, stating, “It is important we penetrate the culture first, building trust among people so they do not outsource their weather services to an international site.”

 

Five-Year Forecast

Despite the challenges, it is clear that Mohammad Shaker has been doing something right. He was named Emerging Entrepreneur of Jordan in 2012 by Ernst and Young last April. To be considered for the award, the company must have been in existence for three years, be financially sound with marked profits, use local staff and possibly the two most important factors, have an impact on the community and potential for the future.  

 

As the company grows exponentially each year, Arabiaweather.com is using what it knows best for its advertising: active weather. Shaker elaborates, “When there is a big storm approaching Saudi Arabia, for example, we provide heavy content and news through all our platforms and on social media. Sometimes, we send warning tips out because we know that is when people will be checking.” In addition, the business-to-business model does not only increase business directly by providing multiple media outlets with up-to-date weather, but also showcases the company; free advertising that frequently attracts individuals to the website. Gratis advertising aside, Arabiaweather.com has budgeted nearly $100,000 per country for the next six months to the business-to-consumer model alone, illustrating the entrepreneur’s confidence in the potential for the weather website, which already gains one million unique visitors a month. As a result of its already heavy penetration into the Saudi market and its potential, the next six months will be focused on the development of its services there - an editorial website and application content as well as more localized weather. 

 

The site is not only growing geographically, but becoming increasingly specialized as well. The weather company currently provides accurate weather for over 5,000 locations in the Arab world and is focusing on building that database for unique weather every five kilometers. Understanding the shifting and growing trend of how people get and respond to news, Shaker keenly observed that as social media platforms become more interactive, the concept of “social weather” is one he is considering for the future. “People would be involved in reporting the weather. It is not just about the temperature, but taking pictures and images, and having discussions and getting people to be the weathermen.” Overall, Shaker says that Arabiaweather.com “will prove that weather can be a success story”. 

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