Things have been looking up in the online world in Egypt, and that's not just because Waseem El Tanahi - mastermind behind Cairo360 - is so tall....
This week we caught up with online (and real-life) giant, Waseem El Tanahi – the brains behind Media Republic, Event Republic and, of course, everyone’s go-to website: Cairo360.com. Having recently revamped, the virtual guide to the capital has gotten better and bigger. Almost as big as Waseem. The online empire is changing the face of internet entrepreneurship in Egypt. We find out Waseem’s secrets to success and talk about Smiley, the best Khaleegi DJs in Egypt, their recent integration with Tazkarty.net and why he and his team are banned from the Hilton Residences…
Everyone knows Cairo360.com, but not a lot of people know about Media Republic and what it does…
Media Republic is the mother company behind Cairo 360. It has two distinct divisions. An ad agency which works with various local and international clients and also a publishing company, under which Cairo 360 comes. The site was in development for about year and during that time, because of my background in marketing and PR, we got a few people who asked us to act as consultants for their marketing department. You need a lot of cash to start up a business, even if it is online, so it made sense to split things up into consulting, which helps with cash flow, and publishing which requires a lot of cash.
Where did the idea for Cairo 360 come from?
I moved back to Cairo from London five years ago and didn’t know where to go out or what to do. There was no information online and that’s how the idea started. We wanted to find out about all the restaurants, cafes, bars and shops online and tried to buy the Time Out franchise but they didn’t see Egypt as lucrative market. So we created our own brand. Initially we were going to be print then we went online because we thought it would be cheaper. It wasn’t, but it was still a better idea!
Who was your competition when you started?
There wasn’t really much, just a few other sites without a lot of content, just phone numbers.
What was the hardest things about launching Cairo 360?
The knowledge. Not a lot of people understood online media at the time. Also, hiring good staff is always a challenge.
Ismail “Smiley” Roushdi tells us he’s actually the boss and you’re just a patsy…
Hahaha! I could never live without Smiley. There are people who call me and ask me questions about 360 and I just want to say “Can you ask Smiley?” Smiley’s awesome…without him there’s no 360.
What’s the best thing about Smiley?
The sound his head makes when you slap him ever so gently…hahaha! No, I think he works so hard because he is genuinely excited about his job.
Were you annoyed when CairoScene.com launched?
Absolutely not, we love working with you guys!
So Cairo360.com had a bit of a make-over. Tell us about the re-launch…
Well, it’s taken way too long! It was supposed to be done in time for our 2 year anniversary last March but it was delayed because we kept adding new features and changing it. It was a labour of love and we were really eager to get it out there. There’s a couple of amazing new features. For example, you now get to reserve for any restaurant or buy tickets straight from the site thanks to our good friends atTazkarty.net! We’ve also focused on increasing interactivity, allowing users to create their own content, and making the whole site easier to navigate.
How do you keep your integrity when you’re doing impartial reviews but also trying to get money from advertising clients?
It’s very simple. The time between launching and convincing companies to advertise with you, is the time you have to create a name for yourself. From the off-set we made sure we kept our integrity, telling the truth with every review. Yes, a lot of people were angry and had their lawyers call us and yell if we gave them a bad review, but over time, that’s been completely reversed. Now people call us and ask for advice if we happen to give their business a negative review. When potential advertisers see this kind of integrity and honesty coming from our editorial staff, it becomes a selling point for us.
Okay so, Regina – the club boasting ‘The Best Khaleeji DJs in Egypt’ – come up to you with 500,000 pounds for a month’s worth of advertising but they stipulate that you have to give them a great review. What would you do?
I’ve seen their billboard! For the interest of integrity, we’d give them a very honest review. Who knows, maybe it’s actually a great place!
5 million pounds…
For 5 million British pounds, I’d cut my little finger off, no problem!
What attributes do you look for in your reviewers?
The main thing is they have to get along with everyone in the office. The interview questions we ask are: Where are the last three places you’ve been out? What are you listening to you on your iPod? What were the last 3 films you’ve seen? We ask people to rate them.
What if all the answers are Glee?
That’s fine, but sometimes on the iPod question they say Quran. Which is absolutely fine, but means they missed the point of the question which is to see how up-to-date they are with pop culture.
Speaking of pop culture, tell us how Event Republic came about…
It’s a spin off from Media Republic, and it basically came around because we love partying. The first party we threw was just a house party in a hotel suite for our friends but we ended up spending quite a bit of money, about 20,000 pounds, from our own pockets. And things got a bit messy and we’re never allowed in the Hilton Residences again! So we decided to do it again… and charge everyone for a ticket. We knew that a lot of people, especially our friends, would find it weird to pay for a ticket, so we made the ticket price a donation to charity, and that’s where the first School Disco came from. Now we do it every year, alongside a few other events like the annual hip-hop party. We make sure our events are events we’d actually like to go to, but Event Republic does organise and execute corporate events for clients too.
Where do you see the online media industry in Egypt going?
It can only get better and can only be more developed. Not everyone will succeed but as long as things are happening, it’s better for the whole industry in the long term. If there are players out there who aren’t doing things right, it only makes people who are look better.
Apart from Cairo 360, who do you think are doing things right?
You guys of course! It’s a strange, because there are a couple of sites who do really incredible work, but just don’t do push their sites in the correct way. Though entry costs to online businesses seem low, it’s really important to have enough cash to keep going and maintain momentum and grow.
We know your brother, who owns web development company Bright Creations, does a lot of your technical work. Do you have issues working so closely with family?
Absolutely, but we’re very lucky because our companies are very distinct so we don’t step on each others’ toes.Being brothers, we do argue as brothers do about silly things, but we try not to do it in front of the staff. Although, one time, we were in a huge team meeting with all our staff and Mohammed (my brother) thought it’d be best not to start the argument in front of them, so emailed me instead. He didn’t realise that my laptop was hooked up to the projector and his email popped up on the big screen! We laugh about it now but it was so awkward.
What’s next for Media Republic, in terms of online?
We are closely looking at e-commerce but we don’t have any solid plans just yet.
If you owned a multi-million pound porn website would you tell anyone?
Yes! I would tell everyone I’m a multi-millionaire. I think you guys are obsessed with porn. Do YOU own a multi-million pound porn website?
We’re not telling. Anyway, so as traditional print media fades away, and the whole world moves online, we just have to ask you: what’s your favourite Pokemon?
I’ve never seen or played Pokemon. 360-mon?
Do you think your height has contributed to your success?
It contributes to a lot of un-comfy flights, but my success? I’m not sure…
What would you do if you met someone as tall as you?
I have met people taller than me. It’s awkward because I start feeling nauseous. I’m not used to looking up to people.
Check out www.Cairo360.com for everything happening in the city.