How Palestinian Startup Tawazon Capitalises on MENA's Wellness Trend
Mindfulness and meditation has become a multi-billion dollar global business and Palestine based startup Tawazon is manifesting a piece of the pie…
Once the reserve of global gurus and their deeply spiritual acolytes, mindfulness and meditation has become a multi-billion dollar global business with the practice deeply ingrained into the social media-fueled cultural zeitgeist.
The Calm app, with its celebrity partnerships that include the likes of Matthew McConaughey and LeBron James, was valued at $2 billion in 2020. Another leading meditation app, Headspace, merged with online mental health platform Ginger in 2021 to form a company worth $3 billion.
Meditation and mindfulness apps are expected to continue surging in the next few years. Valued at $1.1 billion in 2021, the global Mindfulness Meditation App Market is estimated to be valued over $6.8 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of over 44.5% during the forecast period from 2022 to 2030, according to a report by Data Market Centre.
The numbers in the Middle East are no less impressive. The Middle East and Africa meditation market is expected to reach $179.57 million by 2029 from $72.81 million in 2021, growing with a CAGR of 12.0% in the forecast period of 2022 to 2029, according to Data Bridge Market Research.
One company that is looking to capitalise on this growth is Palestinian startup Tawazon. Tawazon, which means ‘Balance’, is a platform that provides guided meditation sessions in Arabic. “There are thousands of mediation apps worldwide, but not so many in Arabic,” Suna Zoabi-Othman, founder and CEO of Tawazon, tells StartupScene.
Othman wanted to bring an Arabic meditation app to the region after experiencing and learning about the practice firsthand. ”I have a chemical engineering background so it was a bit too spiritual for me at first,” explains Othman. “I then began searching for scientific information and articles about mindfulness, and I fell in love with it. The connection between mind, body and spirit was very important for me. I learned how it affected adults and children, due to the change in brain waves, and I wanted to bring it to the Middle East.”
Founded in 2019, Tawazon expanded to Abu Dhabi after winning the Hub71 MENA Growth Competition and the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition in 2020. Today, the nine-team startup is looking to expand its market reach by integrating all Arabic dialects from across the region into the app, with the Saudi Arabian vernacular slated to be the first to launch.
While the number of downloads increased from 18,500 in 2020 to 250,000 in 2022, education and deeper integration into the Tawazon app is more important to Othman than top-level growth numbers. Ultimately her objective is to meaningfully support, impact and change her users’ lives.
“We’re now focusing on product market fit,” Othman says. “It’s great that we have 250,000 downloads. It shows that there is an interest, but we want to bring these customers into sessions inside the app to better understand their customer journey. We spend a lot of time trying to understand how they move inside the app and where they get stuck so we can improve conversion rates gradually. There is a lot of science behind understanding their needs.”
A surprising piece of data Othman came across from understanding her customers’ behaviour is that there is an increasing number of Arab men using the Tawazon app. “We thought it’s mainly women in the Middle East who are using our app, because interaction on our social media is mainly from women,” she says. “But it’s more like 60% women and 40% men using our app, which makes me very happy.” She is now thinking of creating more content tailored specifically for men, instead of only focusing on women and children.
One of the greatest challenges Othman faces is raising awareness about meditation in the region. While there is plenty of research to scientifically back the benefits of meditation - from lowering blood pressure, to reducing anxiety and depression, and sometimes even treating insomnia - she realises much more needs to be done to inspire and influence the region to integrate the practice into their daily lives. “It is usually difficult to sustain good habits,” says Othman. “We tend to maintain bad habits instead. So, we’re trying to understand how we can change that.”
THE FUTURE IS CALM
Tawazon’s goal is to have five million users by 2025. To reach this milestone, Tawazon is partnering with schools, organisations and government entities to help spread meditation and make it accessible for everyone. To date, Tawazon has partnered with more than a hundred schools in Palestine, thanks in part to the Palestinian Ministry of Education.
Affordability and accessibility also prey heavily on Othman’s mind and much of Tawazon’s mission statement is founded on the role tech can play in potentially changing lives for the better. “People who want to visit a psychologist usually pay anything between $60 to $100 per session, and this is not affordable,” Othman says. “Using technology makes it more affordable. We want to make it accessible, and we want to provide a variety of solutions to meet people’s needs.”
Othman is currently gearing up for a Series A funding round expected to take place mid-2023 to further scale the startup. This will be the startup’s second round of funding after raising an undisclosed amount in 2020 from Palestinian-based Ibtikar Fund.