- Aims to be global app for Muslims to lead an Islamic lifestyle
- Projects US$19.3mil revenue in 2026, aspires to a Nasdaq listing
Malaysian founders will do well to learn from serial entrepreneur Mohd Izzairi Yamin on how to be strategic in identifying a cofounder.
With the ambition of a Nasdaq listing and achieving unicorn status, Izzairi did his homework well for his current startup, TheNoor, which aims to be the preferred companion to the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world as their Islamic lifestyle super app. It is a US$2 trillion (RM8.9 trillion) opportunity.
Having took years to hit around 30,000 downloads for Zepto Express Bhd, his six year old last mile delivery startup, and suffering through the pain of burning cash for user acquisition in his earlier startups as well, he says, “The hardest thing about building any startup is to get market traction. You burn through money to acquire users. It is tiring and I did not want to go through it again.”
Which is why, for his early 2020 idea of building a syariah compliant lifestyle app for Muslims, he wanted a cofounder who could solve the customer acquisition and marketing challenge for him. Enter Malaysian celebrity and social media powerhouse Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor with close to 9 million followers on Instagram.
But that was not what attracted Izzairi to approach her. He had two other personalities in mind as well. But what stood out to him about Neelofa was her business acumen. “I looked at the financial performance of her businesses and many were grossing RM50 million to RM60 million a year. That is quite an achievement,” he said.
[RM1 = US$0.223]
A business partner knew Neelofa well and a meeting was organised during the lull after the first pandemic lockdown in Malaysia in May 2020. “She gave me one hour but it stretched to two. I told her we would get two rewards if we pull this off. One in this world and the second in the hereafter,” he said, smiling.
Two weeks later Neelofa was in as cofounder and CEO. She even wanted to invest but Izzairi didn’t need her money. “I want your brand and marketing reach. But this cannot be hard sell,” he cautioned.
Brainstorming sessions followed. “We didn’t know at first what we wanted to offer,” Izzairi, admits. The idea of the super app came while the app was being built, bolstered by a growing belief in the founders that they wanted no less than “change how Muslims lived their lives” and for this change to be guided by Muslim shariah compliance. This is reflected in their mission statement, “To ensure Muslims around the world utilise TheNoor app for their daily habits to embrace the Islamic Lifestyle”.
There were various apps in the market, locally developed and international that were trying to meet the same need but Izzairi and Neelofa saw gaps and wanted their app to be the best.
With praying five times a day, a compulsory commitment of being a Muslin, TheNoor aims to bring users closer to their religion through continuous learning and exposure to the teachings of Islam through a fresh and accessible, AI-powered interactive and individualized method.
A variety of in-app features, which include real-time location detection to discover close-by mosques and Qiblah, prayer time schedules, seamless Zakat payment tracking, built-in Faraid algorithm to calculate and allocate estates, aim to help more Muslims live a faith-based holistic lifestyle.
The Neelofa halo effect
“I know how hard it is to get users for any app but when I saw that Izzairi had brought in Neelofa as a cofounder, I was convinced,” says Dalia Ali, the first investor, who invested the single largest amount in the late 2020 pre-seed round of Noor Luminous Sdn Bhd which raised US$379,000 from a group of angels. Noor Luminous owns and operates TheNoor.
A board member of Noor Luminous, Dalia met Izzairi when both were working at fintech startup, Max Money and saw first hand his execution capabilities. Izzairi, whose LinkedIn profile states “Execution defines who you are”, was brought in as chief technology officer and made a director in early 2018 to revamp the tech platform and provide leadership. Within a year he had reduced the tech team’s burn rate by 80% and doubled new product development. He was given shares in the company in early 2020.
“I knew Izzairi could deliver on the tech side and probably would have invested anyway but his bringing on Neelofa erased any doubts I had,” Dalia says, speaking to DNA at the official launch of TheNoor’s equity crowdfunding (ECF) campaign on Fri, Aug 19.
It is using Syariah compliant ECF platform, Ethis Malaysia to raise RM5 million at a pre-money valuation of RM42.9 million. The public can invest a minimum of RM500 for 20 shares.
As to why they didn’t take the venture capital route to raise funding, Izzairi says they did get some term sheets but “we were not comfortable with some of the terms. The VCs wanted too much control.”
The app’s track record, as measured by downloads has been impressive. Since its launch in Jan 2021 and up to June 2022, the app registered 5.9 million total downloads with 2.8 million registered users. Current monthly downloads average 3,000, according to Izzairi. The first three days it went live in a soft launch in January this year already saw almost 300,000 downloads with 160,000 on the first day. This was with zero marketing spend.
The early months also showed the power of Neelofa’s brand, especially when due to a mistake in geolocation tracking that send multiple hits per user to google’s api, they were hit by a massive bill from Google Cloud for the first three months itself.
“We begged for forgiveness and Google Cloud was gracious enough to offer us credits to offset the mistake and furthermore they came in as our official Cloud partner as they wanted to be associated with Neelofa,” says Izzairi.
Limit to Neelofa’s influence among fans
As strong as her brand is, Neelofa’s influence with her fans goes only so far. During the ECF briefing Izzairi acknowledged that most users have not explored the many features of the super app, a critical aspect of the monetisation model.
Izzairi and Neelofa, who was present at the briefing and press conference and let Izzairi handle most of the questions, are hoping that the burst of publicity from their ECF campaign will create more awareness of the many features of TheNoor, besides its spiritual aspects.
Adoption and monetisation of the various features, for example the remittance service, which Izzairi claims is doing very well, are key to the startup hitting its ambitious revenue projects that sees it hitting RM86.5 million revenue with RM49.9 million profit before tax in 2026 and with that Nasdaq listing in sight.
For that to materialise, Izzairi will have to execute almost flawlessly here and Neelofa will have to be the embodiment of the ideal TheNoor user and not just a promoter if its services.
Watch this startup.