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A smartphone app for the inundated multitasker
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BEIRUT: Few things are more annoying than filling out bureaucratic paperwork and standing in line at a government office only to discover you’re missing something – except for doing it over and over again.

This was the frustration that led Bassam Seif, Leah Dunia and Nadi Chemali to create a tool to help others ease the stress of everyday tasks. Kactus, which they conceived around a year ago, is an iPhone and iPad app that gives users to-do lists.

“We came up with the idea when we were struggling with government stuff – like applying to the Order of Engineers, whose website wasn’t updated,” recalled Dunia, who experienced the same problem when she applied for a visa to travel to China.

“It was three visits for one procedure,” added Seif. “We thought: let’s do this for other people.”

Here’s how it works: Users log onto the app through their iPhone. There, they will find seven categories of lists: governmental formalities, cooking recipes, university procedures, emergencies, outdoors, visa procedures, and health and well-being. Within those are more than 350 lists, giving users details about how to achieve their goals or complete their tasks, allowing them to cross each one off as it is completed.

In its promotional video, Kactus creators describe a person who plans to do several things in one day: bake a cake, apply for a visa, register for university classes and pack for a weekend trip. The fictitious character does what others would often do when overwhelmed with tasks: he panics and procrastinates. Kactus seeks to remedy unproductiveness by turning a foreboding day into a time-managed and thus achievable set of tasks.

“We want to be the marketplace for ‘to-dos’ to help people with any procedure, from baking a cake to applying to university. Anything related to time we divide into steps,” says Seif.

Though they named the application after the prickly plant, its logo is without spikes as a reference to easing users’ pain. They also chose to spell it with a ‘K’ to differentiate it from the plant for online search engines.

To continuously engage the users of Kactus, the app’s team of seven adds about 20 lists per day and responds to feedback – they get approximately 10 comments and suggestions on a daily basis – within 24 hours. One of the lists gives instructions for how a man should dress for a job interview. A user asked them to include instructions for how a woman should dress, which the administrators promptly added.

“When we started getting feedback, we knew it would work,” Seif said.

The three co-founders, all in their mid-20s, have known each other since their childhood, when they were scouts in Jounieh. Eight months ago they quit their full-time jobs to start their own company, which they believe can turn into their long-term careers.

The first six months were spent under the startup accelerator Seeqnce with $78,000 in seed funding, and the past two months they have been on their own, spending their waking hours developing and promoting their app.

Their efforts seem to be paying off. Last month Kactus was ranked the No. 1 iPhone app for productivity and placed in the top five in the Middle East and North Africa. So far it has more than 10,000 users, mainly from Lebanon, which are increasing weekly.

They have yet to monetize the app, which has so far been completely free for users. But once they’ve built a solid community, they will start charging for certain lists, such as fitness. To grow the company, they will also rely on user-generated lists, which they expect to begin at the end of June.

In the coming year, they plan to expand into the Gulf Cooperation Council, and then eventually go global once user-generated lists gain traction. “It’s a new concept, not just for the region,” said Seif. “It’s a global concept.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 09, 2013, on page 2.
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