And A New Group Joins The Online Media Scene in Arabia: Q&A with Hervé Cuviliez

19 Jan, 2010

As the trend of foreign capital continues to rise in the Arab region, some major players start to appear, shedding light on what the online Startup scene in has the potential to be. Today we introduce you, to Diwanee.Diwanee Logo

Diwanee Group in the words of its founders: “is a group of various companies dedicated to digital business”. It has come and brought with them, as they like to put it, all of their “Savoir Faire” appropriately expressing their sense of timing to start developing online projects in the region.

It must be pointed out that their colorful background of expertise ranging from Senior Executives and talented professionals in prestigious firms of the like of Tribal DDB, Condé Nast France, and Pixel Veggie, with a gripping sense of regional culture, is going to separate this group from the crowd, and we expect to see some interesting work from them in the future.

They currently hold 5 companies with a strategic alliance with Brightcove, an Internet TV platform/network that allows content makers to monetize their content with ad revenues.

Head shot of Herve CuviliezWe got some answers straight from Hervé Cuviliez, a Managing Partner in Diwanee, in addition to being Executive VP, Middle East & Africa at Tribal DDB and Managing Director at Kuv Capital. He  thankfully agreed to answer some questions we had regarding Diwanee Group, its plans in the region and more:

(Herve was a speaker in the last ArabCrunch demo 09 event.)

AC: How long has the group been established officially?
Hervé: Officially 3 months

AC: How long unofficially?
Hervé: One and a half year, Diwanee is the consolidation of activities we have previously funded in which we were detaining a majority stake. We have always asked our companies to create synergies and work together. Today, the creation of Diwanee is one step closer in our ambition to create a leading Internet group in the Middle East.

AC: Why the name Diwanee?
Hervé: Diwanee, which could be interpreted as a collection of great ideas. Our logo is a combination of the English and Arabic pronunciation “I”. We played with the double “ee“ in grey for the latin way of writing it, and the ‘ي’ in red for Arabic.

AC: What is your relationship with KUV Capital?
Hervé: Kuv capital is a financial company. Its job is to invest our partners’ money. Today, Kuv Capital is the sole shareholder of Diwanee, but in the future, we are planning to welcome new partners within Diwanee in order to accelerate its development.

AC: As VP of Tribal DDB, should we consider this an act of massive expansion in the region?
Hervé: Yes, One of our agencies Pixel Veggie represents Tribal DDB in the MENA region; we are planning to have a Pixel Veggie office in every MENA country.

AC: How did the acquisition of Pixel Veggie happen? Should small/medium web development firms be on the look out for acquisition in other MENA countries?
Hervé: We now own 82% of Pixel Veggie, our plan now is to acquire or joint venture with interactive agencies in every the MENA region. Our next move, which will take place early this year will be Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

AC: Tell us about your alliance with Brightcove, what will you get and what they will get?
Hervé: Online video is a major trend both on Internet and Mobile. Brightcove is the worldwide leader in online video service provider. So it was important for Diwanee to have a solid partner in this matter. We have our different teams trained by Brightcove, whether it is our sales or technical team. From our side, we help Brightcove to make deals with Media agencies in the Middle East. The next step is to launch solutions and services together.

AC: Products: please share with us some details about them:
Azia wa outourAzia wa outour.com: (Fashion & Couture wordpress blog in the Arab world)
Hervé: The blog is a temporary website. The full speed version will be live in January. We have a journalistic team in Beirut and correspondents in UAE, KSA and Egypt.

Click Mena LogoClickMena
Hervé: Click Mena is a media representative. The portfolio is a combination of really targeted audience websites such as Wikeez.com and major international portals having massive circulation in the Middle East like Dailymotion.com. Click Mena focuses on engaged users, we only represent online properties with active users (voting, publishing, commenting, active in the social community), and they are the most profitable for Brands. In other words, with Click Mena, Media agencies buy less traffic and get a better result.

Mabrook.me LogoMabrook.me:
AC: What is it about? When is it going to be launched officially?
Hervé: Our ambition behind Mabrook.me is to build the largest email database for marketers. It’s actually in beta version; we are actually testing the software. The major investment was the CRM software to manage the database, campaigns and results. We now accept media partners for data collection based on a revenue sharing.

AC: How many acquisitions and/or mergers have taken place in the region by your Group so far?
Hervé: This year, We have done 3 joint ventures (Azia wa outour, the 2 others are not launched yet) and we have develop 2 new companies (Mabrook.me and Spotlight). We plan to have the same trend in 2010.

AC: What size of Venture Capital are we talking about when considering websites in the region? 5 digits? 6 digits?
Hervé: We will be more around 5 digits it’s more than enough to valid a proof of concept and see if there is some traction

AC: We hear a lot of talk about Arab countries with good technical development professionals, and others with good management professionals, what’s your take on this matter?
Hervé: I have a mix feeling about this, we definitively find really good professional but they are used to work much on their own, using their own tools instead of using worldwide proven open source solutions. For example, we are using drupal for our publishing activities and we struggle to find good drupal developers. The bigger the investment on Internet will become the more companies will ask for widespread platform. When you are doing a 250,000 USD investment online, we don’t want to use a homemade CMS even if it’s a good one. We had the same trend in US and Europe; it will come for sure in the Middle East.

AC: We heard you have been evaluating a number of websites in the region for possible acquisition/funding; do you have any announcements to make?
Hervé: Not yet, we are actually reviewing some projects.

AC: Why Beirut as your main office location in the region as appose to Dubai as most other companies choose, or Amman for that?
Hervé: There is often a confusion about this regarding Diwanee. Business wise, we are not a Lebanon based company we are doing 70% of our business through our Dubai office and 30% in Europe. 0% in Lebanon. Most of our back-office team (developers, creative, journalists, traffic managers) is in Beirut, because there are talented people here but business wise and legally, we are an Emirati company. We have our offices in Dubai Media City.

AC: We heard KUV has been pushing for an Internet City in Lebanon, how is it going?
Hervé: Good and bad. Good by the interest that every people have in that project but bad economically because without any government help you realize there is no way to build a performing and affordable solution at the same time (the price of the land is the real problem in Lebanon). If you look every successful example in the world, they had a public help. But we keep on pushing and we will find a solution.

AC: Finally, What advice would you give to entrepreneurs in the Arab region? Where’s the money at?
Hervé: Talented people, talented people and talented people.

Its also worth mentioning Wikeez is one of Diwanee’s more well known properties in the online entertainment industry, which received $250,000USD seed funding back in 2008.

In conclusion, we here at ArabCrunch think that the interesting combination of firms and professionals forming this group will have a serious slice of the Arab world market in the future. Keep your eyes on these guys.

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  1. Rias A. Sherzad  |  January 19th, 2010 at 1:50 PM #

    This is indeed a very promising initiative for the Arab technology world. Besides the name – “Diwanee” means “crazy, mad, maniac, nuts (person)” in Persian (also in Afghan Dari and I think in Urdu as well) – the strategy behind this venture seems to be thought-through. Also the 5-digit investments seem to give way to a number of smaller investments instead of just a few big ones. I’m happy to see that a technology ecosystem is developing in the Arab world and getting curious to see what else they come up with.

    Rias A. Sherzad
    CEO, Founder Salam Business Club

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