It all started with ice cream.
Bilal Memon’s cousin was memorising the Quran at the Madrassah (Islamic seminary). He told Bilal it was a lot of fun out there and that he got a lot of ice cream frequently for memorising the holy scripture.
Bilal also wanted to have fun and eat ice cream too, so he convinced parents to let him go to the seminary for the memorisation course. However, when he got to the school, he realised that no ice cream was given and that the schedule and teachers were quite rigorous.
However, he decided to give it a shot. Despite all the hardships, he successfully memorised all the 114 Surahs (chapters) of the Quran by the time he turned 11.
“Fast forward to over a decade, as life moved on and as I grew up, my priorities changed; education, career, family, friends, etc, took priority. Gradually, I forgot what I memorised and the motivation to revise Quran became weak and thus, I had forgotten the Quran that I memorised as a young child,” says Bilal.
But he was determined to memorise it again. “With six months of hard work, I achieved the goal once again. During the process, I also learned its translation and adapted my life to its teachings,” he adds.
As a techie and a startup enthusiast, Bilal then started exploring the possibilities of leveraging technology to make Quran memorisation easy for the common Muslim. And it led him to the launch of Quran Companion — an app designed to make memorising the holy scripture fun, easy, social, accessible and convenient for an ordinary believer.
“Memorising the Quran is actually an easy process, although the popular notion is that it is a hard and time-consuming process. Technology has made it even easier,” says Bilal, who has worked as an Associate at TechStars prior to starting Quran Academy, the startup behind Quran Companion.
“Quran Companion is a social-led gamification app that uses scientifically-backed learning techniques and games that make memorising more effective, easy, fun and social,” he adds.
Bilal has observed that despite a busy life, people find enough time to play online games such as ‘Candy Crush’ and update their status on social sites on a regular basis. “I want people to make use of their free time in a more productive way to learn and memorise the Quran,” he adds.
While there are many memorisation apps in the market, most of them focus on repeating an audio recitation and lack the motivation factor, says Bilal. “Our app tackles this issue through a set of unique features that make it like the Fitbit for Quran memorisation. The app has features such as Progress Analytics, Challenges, and Social features to keep you motivated at every step towards your goal.”
For instance, one can track his progress and see the number of verses/chapters he has memorised in a given period of time; how long he/she took to memorise it; how many chapters he has memorised etc.
Additionally, another unique feature includes guided lesson plans. They app gives you daily assignments like a class teacher without you needing to think about how to organise your day-to-day memorisation. “As a user, you can also take up Group Challenges whereby you can choose up to 25 people to join your group, and race towards the same goal,” he explains.
The startup banks on in-app purchases to earn revenue. It charges a one-time fee for premium access to all features. At the moment, users can download the app for free. After seven days, they can try out all premium features inside the app for free. After that, they can purchase the app and use the premium features free for life.
“Now, if they don’t buy the app, they can always read the Quran, listen to audio recitation, and view the translations in multiple languages for free forever,” he notes.
The startup is also moving to a subscription model soon. “At the moment, early adopters can pay a one-time fee for lifetime access to our app. Those that pay the one-time fee when we launch subscription, they won’t be charged for it,” he adds.
Bilal says the app’s Android version has clocked around 15,000 downloads across 109 countries — including India, Pakistan, UAE, Singapore, UK, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Australia, etcetera — since its launch in May this year. It is launching the iOS version this week.
The startup has a team of five, including him, spread across Pakistan, Malaysia and the US.
Incubated at Startup Chile and MaGiC Malaysia, the startup plans to raise US$200,000 in funding to grow its user base and improve technology.
With a Bachelor’s in Finance & International Business from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Bilal has earlier founded several startups and currently advises startups globally across various sectors.