Interview with Kamal Nasser CEO of Conservus, Winner of Red Herring 100 Europe.

21 Jun, 2009

Post updated.

I am sorry for not posting much on AC during the last week because I was -and still- busy with multiple projects, however today’s post is about my recent interview with an interesting and successful Arab serial entrepreneur, Kamal Nasser, CEO of Dubai, UAE, based, Conservus International winner of the Red Herring 100 Europe in 2009.(Kamal Bio at the end of the post.)

Conservus provides digital targeted advertising medium known as the MyConservus Portal. The MyConservus Portal is an e-concierge service which highlights services available at a single location and provides advertisers with direct access to potential consumers while generating revenue from these advertisements. MyConverseuv is currently available in the hospitality sector and is growing into other sectors. In February 2009 Conservus was one of the three UAE based technology companies that got an investment from Intel Capital. The company is also one of Jordan based IV Holdings portfolio company.

Via skype, Kamal walked me through a demo that shows how MyConservus works in a hotel, the demo in this case was for Burj Al Arab.

The portal appears as a default homepage to the hotel’s guests, and it provides multi lingual information that you find in some other local portals such as a guide to Dubai, latest headlines, art and cultural, travel, fun and games. Though the difference is the portal also offers hotel related information and e-concierge services such as, ordering laundry and room service, accessing business center services such as printing and faxes as well as spa reservation.  And while Internet access in most hotels in the Arab world is paid, the access to the portal is offered free of charge to the hotel guests, and is being subsidized with paid ads. The information the portal offers to the hotel’s guests is useful, it assists a guest in deciding where to go around the city, check upcoming events, shop and use the travel section to do travel related reservations and get printed receipts.

Conservus portals’ competitive advantage is basically all about location – instead of being a general online portal that competes with others for eye balls, it’s the default browser page for the hotels guests, who in 5 star hotels are mostly in the higher income segment, and would be more apt to purchasing luxury products. Thus the type of advertising offered inside MyConservus Portal is much more targeted than other mediums in this segment. Kamal told me that the type of Ads Conservus offers are more effective for many reasons:“We provide a micro sites for the advertiser, it is not a banner and it is not site, it is a full page Ad, a landing page Ad.”  Kamal adds that the ads are related to the section; say in a travel section, you’ll get an Airline Ad. “The idea is to get a targeted audience to your Ad, It is also designed -in a way to make –the visitor- interested in your products.”

The Ads are flash based and interactive. For example in the Emirates Airline Ad Kamal demoed to me, users are able to check-in directly through the Ad and have the boarding pass printed in the business center in the hotel automatically “This is the most powerful targeted ad medium: because firstly it opens by default in front of a defined audience, second: they are based in pull-Ad concept, which means a user can only go to the Ad if they are really interested in the product, there are no pops or banners. 3rd, the placement of Ads on relevant sections.” Said Kamal, he adds “We are charging $3 per ‘engagement’, our rates are more expensive than the traditional CPM models because they are far more targeted and provide great value add to the advertisers in terms of space, content and functionality”.

Here is the full interview where Kamal provides more insights about his company and the other communities portals they are going to launch soon. (Many Thanks to Kamal who offered me his time.)

AC: What are your main products?

Kamal: Adaptive explicit portals, portals that are targeted to specific audience and carry information relevant to the geo location as well as the psychographic and demographic of the users in that particular location, our main 3 products, hospitality portals, enterprise and community life style.

AC: Do the enterprise and community life style portals have similar features to the hospitality portals?

Kamal: The hospitality portals carry information relevant to guests in a hotel, the enterprise portals carry information relevant to the trade conducted in that particular environment allowing people to interact within their community. And the community life style portals carry information relevant to those communities such as bringing on the nearby schools, retail, restaurants, and blogging within the community, finding activity partners, marketplace and other.

AC: who can use these portals?

Kamal: Only people within the community.

AC: The community portals are kind of like a social network?

Kamal: They are a lifestyle tool for the residents providing them with their everyday needs and requirements from service providers aggregated by Conservus to service the relevant communities. These portals are free to use for people living in that community. They also serve as a means to network between the residents: not only to get to know each other but to exchange services and other.

We are launching very soon the Dubai Media City  (DMC) community portal and this one will serve to network between the business partners, it’s more of a B2B utility.

AC: What will be in Dubai Media City portal?

Kamal: This is a very interesting portal, companies can post tenders, business and job opportunities, individuals can share a forum to network and discuss their common interest subjects in addition to accessing all DMC services to include booking a conference room, ordering courier service, food etc. you will also be able to download all government forms, and post events and other, available strictly by subscription to DMC partners, a great tool to network between likeminded people and companies.

AC: So they will be free to DMC current companies?

Kamal: Yes, not to advertise of course, but to use.

AC: What is the expected launch date for DMC portal?

Kamal: We’re expecting it around mid July inshallah, again the design of this portal is very different to the hotels, and it is unique in its design concept.

AC: What are the business models for the enterprise portals and life style community?

Kamal: We make revenues from mainly advertising and sometimes in certain cases revenue share with service providers. For example: you want to rent a car or order a food and laundry, we’ll get a service charge from the service provider, without increasing the fees.

AC: And the paying process?

Kamal: Depends on the product or service. In some cases, the user deals directly with the trader to pay on delivery. Otherwise we do provide a payment gateway and shopping cart facility.

AC: Conservus Hospitality portal is based on revenue sharing with the hotel?

Kamal: Yes.

AC: Is it the same for the Enterprise and Community Portals?

Kamal: (yes) in this case with Dubai Media City Authority.

AC: and in other cases?

Kamal: With the developer. Example Emaar, Nakheel, Dubai Properties etc. we offer them the option to participate by including their facility management services and updates, against a revenue share.

AC: Is there anyone doing what you are offering?

Kamal: We have created this concept and are the only company deploying such portals in the world, we have exclusivity with all these chains for many years and it is exclusive in the property by default, technically speaking you cannot have 2 portals opening at the same time or in the same property.

AC: So there are no other competitors?

Kamal: no.

AC: Can you mention to us some of your current customers?

Kamal: -Our Customers span from London, UAE and New York- such as Jumeirah Group to include Burj Al Arab, Al Qasr, Emirates Towers, Bab el Shams, Dar Al Masyaf, Jumeirah Beach Hotel,  Mina A’Salam, Jumeirah Living Carlton Tower and Lowndes  in London, Essex House in New York in addition to  Fairmont, Raffles, Monarch, Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Starwood, Movenpick, Grand Millennium, Habtoor Grand, Sheraton, Le Meridien, Four Points and others on their way.

AC: How many offices you currently have ?

Kamal: We have franchisees/agents in Europe and USA, and will soon have an office in Asia.  Dubai is the headquarter, we moved into a new office this month in Dubai Media City.  We also have an office in Johannesburg, South Africa which we have had for the past three years.

AC: These agents are based in revenue sharing?

Kamal: Yes.

AC: When you sell to advertisers, you sell directly or through and ad agency?

Kamal: 80% direct, the rest through agencies.

AC: When did you start Conservus?

Kamal: 2005, launched 1st portal with Jumeirah in August 2008. We spent three years developing the Framework of the system to manage all this data, and the other types of portals.

AC: what programming languages do you use?

Kamal: PHP open source.

AC: You are the only founder?

Kamal: Yes.

AC: How did u came up with Conservus idea?

Kamal: This is what I do for living, creating new ideas.

AC: How many Employees do you currently have?

Kamal: 21.

AC: Who provided the initial funding for the startup?

Kamal: Myself.

AC: How much did you invest?

Kamal: Cannot disclose numbers.

AC: What challenges did you face in starting Conservus and in your past startups?

Kamal: Each had its own challenges especially when you are introducing something new and not copying someone else.

AC: In Conservus what were they?

Kamal: Getting the hotels to understand the concept; getting the advertisers to consider it to be an effective medium; driving user traffic to the portals; aggregating relevant content and some other technical challenges. Not to mention another great challenge – being able to sustain the company and its funding without revenues for a considerable period of time during the development stage.

AC: How do you see Conservus in the coming 5 years?

Kamal: Growing to solidify its position as the most powerful targeted advertising/marketing medium in the world with the main objective of making the portals become indispensible tools to their users.

AC: Conservus is currently profitable?

Kamal: Conservus broke even last year and we are on the path to be profitable this year, in spite of the adverse market climate.

AC: Any advice for Arab entrepreneurs?

Kamal: There’s no reality without a dream! Persevere and don’t give up, the more problems and challenges you meet in the beginning the more solid you will come out as a result.

Kamal Nasser bio: a Brazilian born Lebanese is a serial entrepreneur who has a long history of successful entrepreneurial projects, around the world, He started his career in the travel industry owning and managing his travel agencies and charter airlines, he acquired and managed Air Ecosse the airline of Scotland, merging it with another airline and securing a successful buyout.

His first involvement in the world of technology was in 1988 introducing the First electronic travel agency in the UK based on Videotex technology, moving on to develop Computer Telephony Integrated solutions introducing VoIP, un-PBX and calling card platforms and services in Europe.

In 1992 he produced and designed ‘Kidoke‘ a 16 half hour children animation musical program to be broadcast for 10 years on 48 TV stations worldwide.

In 1997 he established Ve-Mail Corp. in the U.S.A. specializing in voice enabled cross media integrated solutions, introducing the first Unified Messaging platform in 7 languages, bridging the internet to the telephone, gaining 16 US patents. He raised $30 million partnering with Intel and the Gartner Group as well as JP Carey venture capital for the development and launch of the company which was acquired in 2002 by Globaltron Communications.

Conservus is his brainchild, he is the chief system architect and chief executive officer who managed and brought the company from a concept to where it is today.

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