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A business selling DIY kits that enable people to create their own paper art, in Jordan and beyond.

Laith Abu-Taleb - WARAGAMI

When Laith Abu-Taleb attended the Creative Enterprise Programme (CEP) in September 2017, his business, WARAGAMI, was already selling its first product – kits enabling customers to create their own paper art – in several stores in Jordan.

Laith and his co-founder, Aisha Salman, were looking to expand their business and determine what new products would best meet their customers’ needs.

WARAGAMI 'animal faces' paper art kit

WARAGAMI 'animal faces' paper art kit

A gap in the market

Laith and Aisha began practising paper art as a hobby at university. “People loved what we were doing, and started asking us to create workshops on how to make paper art,” recalls Laith.

However, the pair soon ran into a problem. With no local stores selling paper art supplies at the time, they were ordering materials online from the US and India, which could take up to two months to arrive in Jordan.

“Once we finished university, we said ‘there’s no startup in the Middle East offering all the tools you need to create your own paper art – let’s be the first one’.”

Laith Abu-Taleb

With reams of passion but little knowledge of how to run a business, the pair joined Oasis500, an incubator for tech and creative startups. Through Oasis500, the founders raised US$50,000 (around $35,000 cash and $15,000 in-kind services like office space). This gave them the kickstart they needed.

Understanding your customer

WARAGAMI was registered in September 2016 and its first product, WARAGAMI themed kits, launched in May 2017. Combining the Japanese art of origami with the French art of quilling, each kit contains bilingual instructions (in Arabic and English) and all the tools needed to create your own paper art.

WARAGAMI paper art kit - Creative Enterprise Programme case studies

WARAGAMI 'animal faces' paper art kit

CEP helped the founders get clearer on who their customers are, and what their next product should be. “It was part of the workshop to work on a customer persona: who are you designing your product for? What are their needs?” says Laith. “Our customers are the parents, our users are the kids. So one of the challenges we have is to create a product that could [appeal to] these two different age groups.”

“We started by saying, ‘what would people love to buy for their kids to develop their skills?’. We found out that people like to buy puzzles, Lego and something that could challenge their kid to improve their skills.”

Laith Abu-Taleb

Using these insights, the founders began working on their next product based on the customer persona created at CEP. Launched in spring 2018, the new kit is more portable and affordable, and features a new type of art – 3D origami – in five different themes.

WARAGAMI maintains a relationship with its customers through a ‘Reward Yourself Map’, included in every kit, where users are invited to colour in a flamingo (the company’s logo) after finishing each shape. When the map is completed they become a ‘WaraGamer’, enabling them to sell their creations via Waragami.com. The idea is to boost young people’s entrepreneurial skills, while providing a second revenue stream for the business.

The company has also delivered more than 300 paper art workshops to date (its third revenue stream). These interactive sessions aim to boost interpersonal skills, such as how to sell yourself in 30 seconds, storytelling and time management.

The growth stage

Paper art mouse

WARAGAMI kits are now sold in 27 stores in Amman, plus two in Irbid, and online via Waragami.com, Dumyah.com and Amazon. The company has its own mobile app and is preparing to launch a YouTube channel, in Arabic and English, on how to create paper art.

In the 10 months since launching its first product, the company has generated around 15,000 Jordanian Dinar (around US$21,500), is providing an income for the founders, and continuing to grow.

As well as planning to expand into stores in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a third product – a kit combining technology with paper art – is scheduled to launch in summer 2018. Laith, who was named EY Student Entrepreneur of the Year in December 2017, would like to see more training programmes centred around creative businesses, and believes that having access to the knowledge he learned through CEP earlier – particularly around how to build a customer persona – could have enabled his company to launch more quickly.

“I wish I’d had this training before launching WARAGAMI, because I would have been able to decrease the time it took to go to market,” he says.