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..

H

Admitting Failure

Posted: February 17, 2012 in Biz

As Jeff keeps repeating in class; in every problem .. failure, lies an opportunity.

Each one of us will have his hard times but it’s up to us to turn this hardship into opportunity .. and hope.

It is very challenging for me to preach about this when not so long ago, i was hit hard by the depressing events in Egypt reflecting badly on my project. But amid this, i found this great touching video at TEDx by the founder of Engineers without Borders. Title? Learning from Failure.

David, the Founder, just speaks from his heart at this video. You have to watch it as no words can describe it. But then, see how it evolved into? he learned not to be ashamed of his failure but to discuss it out loud to learn from it. And loud for David took him and his team to publish his failure publicly a year after the other to be called the annual failure report.

Has he gone too far with exposing his failures? one could argue. But, maybe coz his org. is listed as charity and not business, he could care less. Still, it is something to learn from.. at least on the managerial level for biz. Each start-up of ours can have its annual failure report to discuss internally. The quick you admit failure, the sooner you succeed.

 

Copyright?

Posted: February 17, 2012 in Biz

Apple VS Samsung ..

Now, this has been going on for some time now (this is the latest) and the ‘legal battle’ never ends about patent violations. But, where does copyright lie in the Biz world? (Excuse my crawling business side).

The way it looks to me is that copyright involves some kind of product (which is the case in Apple & Samsung never-ending conflict), but what if it’s a biz model? what if i come up with a brand new biz model and some other people copy it and i screw it in competition ending up in losing it all? this cannot be fair (I know biz is not about justice but there has to be some kind of protection in this, correct me if i’m wrong).

It has been nearly a year since online selling deals have been flourishing in Egypt; you go to a website, sign up for an account and start purchasing their deals getting bet. 50% – 90% discount. I would guess it’s a global biz model but whatever ..

So, the first website of that kind was Offerna then came DarenDeal which just swept the online market then followed other sites like Cobone etc. It’s easy to tell that Offerna is not as widespread as DarenDeal although the former was the first to introduce this biz model to Egypt which makes me wonder if there are laws that protect the ‘model’ itself from infringement and not only the product.

The same argument applies for media start-ups. It even goes far than that with digital innovation (as in Mobile Apps). Bottom line is: What protects my innovation?

Am I Quitting Journalism?

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Biz, Fellows

I will not be stealing Brianne’s blog idea when i say that the business model canvas was the most useful ‘text’ to me in the first week of school. The 9 building blocks, as stated in the amazingly easy to digest “Business Model Generation” book, simplifies the cores of any new biz for an easy plan ahead.

Watch this video

It’s only been one class and i feel i’m learning a lot already about the vague world of business (thanks to the well-designed syllabi for EJP), but (and there’s always a BUT!) ….

Am i quitting journalism?

I’m learning new stuff and moving on to the next stage in my career where i run my own media organization but where is journalism in my life?

It’s been one year already since i started working on that project and today i find myself hardly working as a freelancer. I look at my archive for the past 6 months and see scattered stories that could have been done in one month altogether.

My start-up is a local news portal for Upper Egypt. And since i’m from Cairo and not from the targeted area, i will be doing everything from assigning stories to copy-writing but not producing my own stories. Hell, is that what i’m looking for?

I’ve been thinking it’s only a matter of time and when the project is up, i can still freelance. I will have a good team and good structure by then. Do you think i’m kidding myself?

Through the past year, i had to find a job with a secured fixed income that would also leave me time to work on my start-up. Apparently, this job cannot be journalism. So, i went for the other side >> PR/Media officer. Throughout the past year, I had 3 job offers declined; one at Yahoo News, another in a Japanese daily newspaper (Cairo office) and the third is at a newly rising Egyptian private news channel, considered to belong to the most independent TV network in Egypt.

I could never believe i declined this third offer. Not in a million years.

But I did .. for my project. Coz i know i wouldn’t have time for it if i join the team of a daily live talk-show.

I will be extremely happy seeing the success of my project, seeing i make a difference to this deprived area in Egypt and most of all seeing i make a difference in the lives of fresh media graduates in this marginalized region and the sense that i’m giving back to the community after all these years of opportunities and connections .. but .. where will be journalism in my life then? where is my name in a newspaper or a website?

I have no clue.. yet..!

H

Life-Changing Experience..!

Posted: February 5, 2012 in General

That was a description of my last program i attended in the US back in 2010 with the amazing World Press Institute . I always thought that it’s just a way to promote the program but hell, i could never foresee that it will be such for me!

During the program, we visited several media outlets in dif. forms but what really got me was the hyper-local journalism models like the Bay Citizen and Chicago News CoOp.  We’re definitely missing this sort of journalism back home in Egypt. And then, when i got back home, i decided to work on my dream project >> a local news portal for Upper Egypt (Wiki: The terminology “Upper” and “Lower” derives from the flow of the Nile from the highlands of East Africa northwards to the Mediterranean Sea) .

The project’s name is Mandara. This time, i know there will be a lot happening .. we’re only done with 3 days of orientation and i sense ideas and tips are flying in the air beside the great networking we shall benefit from of course.

I’m lucky enough to live another life-changing experience! And now i shall get to my readings for tom. is the first day of classes!

H