A few weeks ago (quite a few really, more like months now), I asked female entrepreneurs in the Middle East to step up to the plate and be interviewed. I didn’t really expect much of a response, which, according to my wife, makes me a chauvinist, but I’m really not. Geekdom was a male thing!
New York, are you ready?
We’re building Momentum: an all killer, no filler event this November.
You see, I was wrong because, entrepreneurship, dear readers, is alive and kicking amongst the women of the Middle East. I received quite a few responses, and am still open to receiving more, so feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to be featured.
For now, however, let me get back to the reason I’m writing today. I had the opportunity to interview one of the leading entrepreneurettes in the region, Delphine Edde, who, with her husband Herve, established Diwanee, the company behind websites such as Wikeez, Spotlight, Mabrook, Azia wa Outour and Click Mena.
So, without further ado, sit back and enjoy the show…
Tell us a little bit about you
I am Lebanese, 35 years old, I was raised most of my life in France and North America. I worked 10 years in the online business : advertising, marketing and publishing.
I moved back to the Middle East in July 2008. I am a mother of 2 baby boys and we all live in Beirut.
I travel a lot to Dubai and France, but most of the time my husband, Hervé, does all the traveling …
We are partners in Diwanee, our company.
Tell us a little bit about your company, how you became involved (or how you launched it), and whether or not this is your first initiative?
Hervé deals with Financial and corporate issues, Patrick takes care of all the sales and business development, Ivan is our technical Genius and I manage the publishing & marketing activities.
Diwanee, which could be interpreted as a collection of great ideas, is a group of various companies dedicated to digital business.
We began with an online advertising agency and expanded into an integrated group with activities ranging from e-marketing, community management, publishing and media representative.
We are 4 founding partners, and I am the only woman!
How easy was it to launch the company in the region?
Legally speaking the process is quite the same as in Europe. Our model is more interesting here as we can benefit from a region where the language is common as opposed to Europe where countries are very different in terms of language & culture.
Our business is based in Dubai, our production center is in Beirut and from these 2 places we can serve clients from Morocco to Saudi Arabia.
Did you require external financing? How easy was it to access it? Or was the company self-funded?
For most of our activities we are self-funded but our model is to partner with experts in each field.
As an example we just launched a new fashion& beauty media site in partnership with the magazine Azia Wa Outour: the first free of charge, luxury magazine ever created in the region. It is still a bétâ version but your readers can check it on http://aziawaoutour.com and share your comments with us!
Where do you see the company in three years?
Bought by Google :-) !!
More seriously … we really wish to develop our activities in the Middle East and maybe beyond.
Our plan now is to acquire or joint venture with interactive agencies in every the MENA (Middle East, North Africa) region. Our next move, which will take place early this year, will be Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
We are also looking into the Maghreb area and I wish to get to know the Digital market status in Iraq a bit better.
There is a side project we’re working on and I hope in 3 years it will be real: the Beirut Media City. We want to build a place for entrepreneurs, with all the infrastructure, a whole environment dedicated to technologies and talented people working there!
Why the Middle East? Do you find it more difficult to do business here as a female entrepreneur?
We needed a change from Paris, and new experiences. When we looked closely at this region it reminded us of the online development of Europe a few years back: very high potential, lots of new projects, a growing population … We thought that we might have a useful experience from abroad and help develop the region in that field.
To be completely honest, we love Beirut as a city to live in but the infrastructure is not helpful at all !
I don’t think being a woman is more difficult here, things are changing : if you believe in your product, you’re professional then people will take a serious look at you, whether a man or a woman. I have to say though you’re more looked at and people are used to be managed by a woman. You have to adapt and gain their trust!
Have you always thought about running your own business?
Yes! I like the freedom it gives you and the excitement of new projects; regardless my 10 years of experience in big companies before, like DDB and Condé Nast, where you learn a lot.
Do you have a mentor? How has that helped you in your career to date?
Not really, I met lots of great people throughout my career but no one as a mentor.
Our team of 4 partners from different backgrounds helps me to stay on top of things in many different fields and I like the intellectual stimulation it gives me.
What next for you and for the company. Anything interesting you’d like to tell our readers about?
I told you about the regional development, and 2010 will see new projects developments related to mobile for Diwanee: games and content applications.
We are always looking for talented people in the region, passionate and curious about Internet and its new models.
If the readers are interested they can always contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, a light-hearted question: is there a website that you wish you’d founded?
It is based on a very simple idea, and get more than 50 million visitors each month!
I might start my own how-to in Arabic soon … watch out!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, and I am a fan of howto, so I’ll look forward to your Arabic version :)
Read next: Dik and the Legend of the Green Fairy