Archive for the ‘Incubator’ Category

Name of Project: Kharabeesh (Scribble)

Country: Jordan

Key Players: Wael Attili (CEO & Co-Founder)

Type: Arab Web Entertainment Network

Founding date: 2005


Facebook Page:

Twitter Handle: @Kharabeesh

Key Decision: Getting into online entertainment instead of licensing to traditional media

Revenue model: Licensing, Advertisements, Sponsorship and Selling products (games)

Next Steps: Online kids animation channel and another for political cartoons

You do animation that can take four hours in the making, upload it in 10 minutes to the web, get Arab audience to see it and if you win their hearts, you win their money. This is the founding formula of Wael Attili, Founder of Kharabeesh.

With three founders growing to five later and a small team, Kharabeesh rapidly became a boom in the Arab animation industry. Based in Jordan with an Arab focus, the small production house that started in 2005 evolved later into a large animation network based on social media and multi-platform devices.

Wael’s academic background in architecture has no relation to his current work which is a native-born online entertainment network that would serve Arab users wherever they are. But, isn’t this the case with most Arabs involved in creativity? It usually starts out of passion not academia. Besides, this kind of study is lacking in the Arab world.

Kharabeesh started by doing short clips that can be streamed on mobiles (Multimedia Messaging Service known as MMS). Then smart phones hit the market and Wi-Fi connectivity was getting better so they came to think of producing short animations.

The initial plan was to produce a digital funny show that can be sold to websites, media portals and also mobile suppliers. The content available back then on the web was either ripped from TV or English content, originally from the United States, but, there was limited digital Arabic content despite the high demand.

So the idea was to produce the content and supply TV channels and mobile suppliers and they would be attractive since the animations would have a socio-political taste in a provocative tone that expresses the youth breaking any taboos or red lines.

However, the interest expressed by TV channels in Kharabeesh’s content particularly in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, did not mean they accept the content as it is. The channels asked to put some red lines that are not to be crossed. “They wanted to please the advertisers, but had we complied, we wouldn’t have done something unique”, Wael explains.

At one point, the team questioned their content and were not sure they’re doing something that can be successful. But, since traditional media won’t take their work as it is, they decided to take it to the web. Content would be available for more than 300 million Arabs and social animation proved to be the new age of entertainment.

Then came the Arab revolutions which placed Kharabeesh in another category. Kharabeesh produced a video on the ousted Tunisian President, Ben Ali, on January 22nd and it got more than a million view, it was their biggest record.

“Traditional media wouldn’t agree to show something like that in a million years but we found the alternative and it was all ours”, Wael adds. Arab revolutions changed perceptions of people about the Internet and as a result, the Arab world is living now the Internet renaissance era.

Competition for Kharabeesh doesn’t come from traditional media even if they have an online presence which Wael calls “immigrant online networks”. But, it’s the native-born online networks that compete together like Telfaz11 of Saudi Arabia, Gomhoriya TV of Egypt and Aramram TV of Jordan.

The desired impact for Kharabeesh is to have teams all over the Arab world producing animations in all Arabic dialects telling Arab tales. Kharabeesh already has teams in Egypt, Tunisia and Dubai.

The Jordanian brand wants to prove that an online entertainment industry is a working business model and that it can attract advertisers. They have tried to enter the Gulf, US and European markets but so far, they had failures. “Failure has been part of our life but what we’re doing is experiment, fail and then develop. No one plans for success”, Wael says.

Kharabeesh has been going after partnerships seeking monetization channels but they were failures also. Yet, they were able to create success stories out of failures  and that’s what counts. The failure to sell their content in their very beginnings to traditional media turned them to an online business that depends on low-cost production, wowness of short snappy stories and the creativity in implementation. This combination now became the trending style of online Arab entertainment or the school of thought.

Initial costs were paid by the team and Kharabeesh stayed for a while self-funded without generating any income. They even went for a pay per service model doing animations and graphic designs for events but they stopped believing they are getting far from their goals. Now, their revenue model includes advertisements, licenses, sponsors and games.

Kharabeesh today produces between 40-50 videos per month aiming for doubling this number soon. What’s next? Kharabeesh is now preparing to kick off an online kids animation channel and another for political cartoons which is expected to attract a wide audience given the political developments in the Arab world.

Get to know more from Wael here


This research was done based on Skype calls with founders of and co-founders of booming digital media start-ups in the Arab world. Interviews were conducted in February and March 2012 originally for Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York (CUNY).


Selfish Selflance!

Posted: March 10, 2012 in Biz, Incubator

I recently joined Freelance Professionals group on Linkedin and the next day, I received a message telling me about a group of business entrepreneurs who are looking for new digital businesses to invest in. It is simple; you submit your business idea and with it, copyright and ownership automatically shift to the receiver. If your idea was picked for a bet on a winning horse, the ‘funders’ would bear all costs and risks. When it bangs, they get 80% of the profit and you end up with only 20%!

Market? Planet Earth.

Selflance is the name of the website but you’d rather call it selfishness!

The website looks new to me. Nothing reflects better than their Twitter account which has 0 tweets, 0 followers and 0 following.

I’m thinking here who would accept this *BEEP* kind of offer! Will it be wanna-be-wealthy-and-quickly young people who mistakenly call themselves entrepreneurs? 20% is still a good percentage of a successful project that is generating income. A kind of project which you have to work on theoretically and do the math then ship the bill to the payer without having to worry about the results. Then you think of another project and so on ..

Or maybe young, hard-working, fresh and motivated entrepreneurs who strongly believe in what they do and the message they want to deliver, can find this helpful? They would play the think-tank while the so-called businessmen play the investor part then be the cashier in the end!

Even if both types might be in this, the latter might be of more interest to the greedy gang! (should be the name of the next get-funding-for-your-entrepreneurial-project show). Why? Coz the motivation would be of great benefit if correctly exploited. What’s better than having people, who have faith in what they do, work for you? They are willing to do whatever it takes to get their project on the ground. Not all projects of course would be lustrous enough and here comes in the smarty capitalists who know which project to pick. This is how some greedy business figures, represented in what’s called venture capitals, look at young entrepreneurs.. as their next apple.. young and fresh caring more about motivation and social message than actual profit.. perfect equation!

Have a look at their sort of application where you submit your proposal (known as dream to some), is this how we’d like to build our start-ups? It is not clear which projects they are working on right now, if any, but they say they will disclose them soon #DoubtIt

Name of Project: 18 Days in Egypt

Country: Egypt

Key Players: Jigar Mehta, Yasmin el-Ayat

Type: Storytelling and documenting the 18 days of Egypt’s revolution through crowd-sourcing

Founding date: 19 January 2012


Facebook Page:

Twitter Handle: @18daysinegypt

Revenue model: No revenue model. They are a non-profit.

Documenting the Egyptian revolution through an interactive storytelling website is their goal. 18DaysinEgypt is the new media battlefield that was launched a few days before the first anniversary of 25 January 2011, an unforgettable day in Egypt’s recent history.

The Founders are Jigar Mehta, a Knight Journalism fellow at Stanford University where he worked on developing tools for collaborative journalism and Yasmin el-Ayat, interaction designer and software developer based in New York City & Cairo. She studied Computer Science at the American University in Cairo (AUC) before doing her Masters degree from the Interactive Telecommunications program at New York University(NYU).

The initial plan was to collect critical moments in the lives of Egyptians through what they have been filming on their mobile phones and cameras as well as their tweets and Facebook statuses on their path to freedom. These moments exist already on the Internet, but, there was a need to centralize the documentation for future reference. The main goal was to provide a platform for people to tell their story without interference, but the founders came to realize that the context in the videos uploaded on YouTube was missing creating confusion. They then decided to ‘storify’ the documentation and connect it together through combining different social media fragments creating stories out of them.

Social media remains till now the free dynamic medium available to young Egyptians to document their diaries and document Egypt’s history as well. A year old report shows that the number of Internet users in Egypt prior to January 25 was 21.2 million people but they have reached to 23.1 million after this date, an increase of 8.9 percent, or 1.9 million users. The report was published by the Egyptian tech company Techno Wireless.

Slogan reads "You lived it, documented it. Let's write our country's history".

The technology used so far in the website is a collaboration between the founders Mehta and el-Ayat with Emerge Technology to create a new web-technological platform called GroupStream. This new platform is the storytelling springboard that empowers citizen journalists, photographers, filmmakers and the culturally active with the ability to upload tweets, pictures and videos into a storyline.

Navigating through their website, it can be easily observed that this is quality documentation. It needs, however, to expand.  Right now, the aggregation of online content used for documentation is done manually but the team is trying to provide algorithms for the aggregation to be done automatically which will be a lot easier.

Since many people may not be connected to the Internet especially outside Cairo, the documentary project established a fellowship program to build bridges between the online and offline worlds. Selected Egyptian fellows spend between 3-6 months travelling all around Egypt, connecting with people and collecting the documentation that young people have recorded but could not add to the web. Most importantly, they teach media skills.

“It’s early to tell”, Mehta said about how Egyptians are reacting to the project. He wouldn’t reveal traffic statistics.

Cost-wise, a $100,000 grant was secured from the Tribeca New Media Fund and $20,000 was successfully raised through a Kickstarter campaign. The recent funding will be directed especially to fund 20 Egyptian journalists going outside the capital to document the revolution in other cities. You don’t see media caring to report or document what’s happening outside Cairo everyday. This is related to the one big problem of centralization that Egypt faces. So, it’s good they’re reaching out beyond the capital.

What is not good and questions the results of the project is that the founders seek no revenue. “We depend solely on grants”, Mehta said bluntly as 18DaysinEgypt partners with a NY-based NGO. It is true that the project is somehow limited to a certain period (18 days), yet, there are millions of social media fragments to look into. If serious documentation will be done (which is the case right now) and on a large-scale, a sustainable approach must be guaranteed but it cannot be with a complete interdependence on grants.

Since technology is the main keyword in the project, it apparently consumes a big portion of the secured grants. Currently, the founders are working on developing a more interactive way of watching 18 days documentation. A new online documentary program is expected in Autumn 2012.

How do they envision their project in 2-3 years? Ideally, Mehta says, the fellowship program will have been well-established to continue the mission of training journalists in Egypt. The ‘ideal goal’, as Mehta describes it, seems to be still in-the-making but, from the way it sounds, it looks like the founders are not planning to stay there for long.. for Mehta at least.

This research was done based on Skype calls with founders of and co-founders of booming digital media start-ups in the Arab world. Interviews were conducted in February and March 2012 originally for Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York (CUNY).

Name of Project: Bassem Youssef Show

Country: Egypt

Key Players: Tarek el-Qazzaz (Funder) , Dr. Bassem Youssef (Presenter)

Type: Political Satire digital show

Founding date: 8 March 2011

YouTube Channel:

Facebook Page:

Twitter Handle: @DrBassemYoussef

Key Decision: Selling exclusive rights to ONTV channel for the show to be produced in HD studios and broadcasted on the privately-owned satellite channel

Revenue model: Licensing and Advertisements

Next Steps: innovative plan for the show on the web in 2013 (undisclosed)

While digital entrepreneurship is thriving in Egypt and believed to be the endpoint of many innovative projects,  some innovators took it the other way round. One example is Tarek el-Qazzaz, Founder & Managing Partner of QSoft Ltd in Egypt, who does Internet to TV production. Tarek, uses the web as a potential for later conversion into other offline mediums as he did with the Bassem Youssef show, the first political satire show in Egypt that is John Stewart style. Launching in March 2011, it was a big hit in Egypt in the aftermath of the overthrow of Mubarak’s regime and what looked then like the transformation to democracy.

Tarek found in his friend, Bassem, the skills that make him a different taste of media. Tarek decided to take it first to the internet where they built their Facebook page and YouTube Channel back in March 2011. It was a pilot work producing 5 or 6 episodes, getting audience’s feedback and testing the market for the next step. Four months later, the team moved from Bassem’s apartment, where they shooted the videos, to HD Studios in Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) for a 3 Million EGP deal (nearly $500,000) with ONTV channel. The channel ranks the first news channel watched in Egypt according to Ipsos market research in November 2011. The Initial cost of producing the show digitally was less than $12,000.

The “extremely successful” deal, as Tarek describes it, includes all related costs from production to salaries of the team behind it. There’s no hidden formula for the success of this show as it’s driven by two apparent factors. The first success factor is the talent that Bassem possesses (he still practices medicine), his hard work and endless eagerness to develop new skills and improve this show. In other words, Bassem continually strives to improve his skills, something that is lacking among Egyptian presenters.

The second factor is having an institutional back-up through QSoft that plans ahead how to take the show to the next level. The company’s focus is internet production but the goal is cross platforms. Even when the show moved to TV, the episodes published online still attracted its own advertisements. Viewership jumped from quarter a million on the web to 2.5 million when the team moved to ONTV.

Measures of this success, Tarek says, can be summed up in the following: a) subscriptions to the Facebook Page and YouTube channel, b) sentiments and the number of likes, positive feedback received and also includes measures of interactivity, c)number of comments, d) expectancies of the audience and last but not least the number of views.


Competition was not big for the first Egyptian political satire show. Although there was another similar in-a-way show called “Monatov” that even had more views, yet the level of interaction in terms of “likes” and sharing the episodes was not even comparable to Bassem Youssef’s. Monatov, presented by a young actress, was only done out of fun and did not have a vision which is why it soon came to an end.

Bassem Youssef quickly became a “brand that carries itself” as Tarek puts it. The show was built from scratch creating a production team that did not exist. Based on the skills, people were hired as full-timers or even volunteered in the crew. It officially became an internship hub too giving internship certificates and recommendations.

It is worth noting that Bassem Youssef Show was the first business for Tarek, but, he knew how to play it well. Seeing the first episodes spread virally, friends of Tarek would come to him and say: This is your lifetime opportunity, invest all you can in this show. However, Tarek was smart not to throw in a lot of money. He just threw enough.

“Balancing between how much you should spend to accomplish which result is very important. If we spent 2 million EGP to get 500,000 views, it will not be economically viable”, Tarek added.

But, Tarek was not only looking for the business side of it. He had a message to deliver. The team negotiated the deal with many interested Egyptian TV channels even the pan-Arab news channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. Many of the potential buyers were only in for the humor while the team was looking for a complete uplift for the show. They even surveyed their Facebook fans on which channel they would like to see the show on and not surprisingly, ONTV was the first choice.

As Tarek gets ready to handle the digital side of the Bassem Youssef brand next year with a new innovative plan, he is taking another digital production of his company called “Amira fil Matbakh” (Amira in the Kitchen) to catering business. The cooking show, which started in December 2011, got more than 50,000 fans for 5 episodes and it’s Tarek’s latest market hit.

This research was done based on Skype calls with founders of and co-founders of booming digital media start-ups in the Arab world. Interviews were conducted in February and March 2012 originally for Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York (CUNY).

As 2011 will remain unforgettable in the political history of the Arab world, so will it be for the tech companies that have found an expanding market in the Middle East which rapidly became a rising digital market. The latest statistics show that there are nearly 122.6 million internet users in the Arab world according to Internet World Stats of 2011. The total population of the 22 Arab countries is estimated at around 208.8 million meaning approximately 28% Internet penetration. This growth in Internet usage means more opportunity for media innovation.

Increasingly, a number of innovative start-ups have found ground in the Arab market. Their aim is to increase Arabic content on the Internet which makes less than 2% of the global available content (Source: Sindibad Business) while the Middle East represents nearly 5% of the world’s population.

To improve the Arabic content online as Arabic language is expected to become the 4th most used language on the web by 2015, Sindibad Business suggests the following:

1. Reduce the internet service prices, so everyone can afford it.

2. Investors should be giving out a lot of funds to support projects in the interest of content development and promotion of whether that content on the Internet or in books or movies

3. Freedom of speech and expression, that will definitely boost the Arabic content on the Internet and other media.

4. Arab programmers should offer more assistance on the technical support issues faced by users.

In addition to media innovation, e-commerce is also vigorously expanding in the region. Recent statistics show that 61% of Arab Internet users research products online before buying, while 43% had experienced buying online . Games are the primary product bought online followed by computer software then electronics. The results are based on a survey conducted in November 2011 by of 1000 Internet users across a range of countries in the GCC, North Africa and the Levant. More conclusions can be drawn from the info-graph.

But there’s no doubt that in last year, that witnessed the Arab Spring, the concept of freedom of expression has been revamped. Dozens of entrepreneurial projects related to digital media are now on the rise. Some platforms are innovative in their ideas or the way they work things differently, some are merely trials of media organizations to adapt to the new technology while others desirably aim for an alternative voice to the existing controlled media. They operate from a “by the people, for the people” belief counting on the dire need of independent media in the Arab world in these challenging times.

Not all of these start-ups have a clear business plan and thus it cannot be guaranteed that they’re having a sustainable approach. However, it should be taken into consideration that some platforms were started by amateurs and not business professionals.

The fact that they are amateurs does not discredit their skills or professionalism in what they’re doing, but it puts them on a different scale of comparison. Many of those were carried away by the history in-the-making in their homeland that they wanted to contribute to in some way. The good thing is that they’re reaching out to ‘formalize the deal’ and get what it takes to build successful businesses.

Radio elta7rer is one example. The digital radio started by playing Arab revolutionary songs during the Egyptian yet-to-be revolution (the 18 days that ended with Mubarak stepping down). The team has been working on a voluntary basis and now they’re looking for a sponsor to take the radio to the next level.

Egyptian TV building, known as Maspiro, featured as a poisonous snake

Radio elta7rer, which means in Arabic Tahrir Radio (aka liberty radio), was founded by Karim Yassin. Online shows are expected to be added next April to discuss political, social, economic and entertainment issues. The goal, Karim says, is to find an alternative media for the Egyptian youth on the Internet that is about independent art, literature and heritage.

State-owned media, especially Television, has been spreading lies and rumors trying to undermine the Egyptian revolution. At certain times, it has spread terror warning Egyptians from going near Tahrir Square claiming thugs were going there with fire balls wanting to burn Egypt. Egyptian State TV, which is funded by public taxes among other country’s resources, has also incited against Coptic Christians in clear violation of media ethics (More on that here).

This research was done based on Skype calls with founders of and co-founders of booming digital media start-ups in the Arab world. Interviews were conducted in February and March 2012 originally for Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York (CUNY). Future posts will have different titles according to the case studies mentioned, but all will be under the category “CUNY Research”

Monetizing AND non-profit

Posted: February 25, 2012 in Biz, Incubator

The ongoing debate is For-Profit or Non-Profit and the pros & cons of each on the future of journalism.

Jeff Jarvis is all against non-profit considering it as ‘dangerous’ to journalism (see his argument).

I disagree.

I was in this dilemma nearly 8 months ago. I was on the same side with Jeff, but for a different reason. Since my team and I (the Founder) are young journalists and programmers, we couldn’t afford putting our life savings into the ‘un-known’. Another thing is: we strongly believed in what we’re doing and the message we want to send to the community and Egypt. Our project is a local media portal for Upper Egypt, called Mandara.

You can call me the “good intentions” founder.  I was never seeking money out of it. In fact, I am not till now. All what i want is to use my skills and connections to secure enough cash to turn my dream into reality. Not for me.. but for the people i’m doing this for.. they really need it.

Giving back to our community :) …. Call me naive?

And so, I was not looking for investments, big enterprises or venture capitals unless it was under CSR umbrella (Corporate social responsibility). I, and so my team, did not want Mandara to become business-driven in the sense that money alone will make decisions. We as independent journalists wanted our baby project to be free and not controlled by the bad capitalists (you’re right on that, Jeff).

What’s another model of funding? Foundations. A whole world out there called: philanthropy.

Our only problem with registering a non-profit in Egypt was that it takes a hell lot of time whereas a for-profit, you enter a building with the requested documents and get out with your company’s official registration. Non-profits in Egypt are mostly affected by the government when it comes to foreign grants as the Ministry for Social Cohesion has to approve the grant before the organization accepts it or else ….. (!)

Despite its restrictions, we went for that option. More safe in the time-being. There was also a third option; a non profit that is registered as a company and at the end of the year, you submit your papers showing you did not make any revenue and so you escape taxes (forged documents). A complex status that some people prefer to go for to escape the restrictions of a non-profit legal status and also have the freedom when it comes to international grants. This is not legal but it is some ‘innovative’ option to get around the law. It is risky, no doubt. Those were the same people on the target list in the latest crackdown on civil society in Egypt. The main issue there (for the Egyptian organizations) is: You took foreign grants without our approval and this is against the law.

Some donors are out there for their own interests, told me Mark from New Jersey. Mark is of a Syrian background and he’s starting an ambitious worldwide news portal. No one gives a penny without a reason, he believed, and so the grants are given to be reaped ‘somehow’. Maybe this is one component of Jeff’s argument that he didn’t elaborate about?

Well, it’s part of the game. But, in the end, it’s YOUR decision. There is no right decision, it’s always a matter of pros and cons, that’s what i learned in class. And Jeff acknowledges this too saying: It’s not just not-for-profit thinking that’s dangerous to journalism. It’s the unprofitable thinking of for-profit news companies.

I remember my Skype interview with Jeremy after i was notified i’m shortlisted for this class. One question he asked me was how do you plan to make use of the program for your non-profit when all what we’re teaching is about business and for-profit? I said: I don’t want to always depend on grants. I need sustainability and i have to generate my own revenue. And that’s what i’m planning for.. to run Mandara Media Foundation (MMF) with a business mind that will not set aside the ‘good intentions’. If i did not include the business component, i may end up where Chicago News Cooperative is today ..

I was reading Jeff’s blog coming across the failures of the Bay Citizen and Chicago News Cooperative. The same two examples that inspired me and triggered my start-up (how depressing this can be, huh!) are now replicated in Texas through Texas Tribune which i’m hearing it’s making huge success. Learning from the failures of predecessors is a bonus and i believe TT will do this. But, that’s another post ..

And the debate continues..