[00:00:00] Rashid Al Awadhi: I think there was a statistic that said that the digital economy is 4% of the overall GDP of the country. And that was a few years ago, I, I think about four or five years ago, and that’s when His Highness, the Prime Minister and the ruler of Dubai established a ministry called the Ministry of AI, but also digital economy.
[00:00:28] Bumper Intro-Outro: Welcome to Endless Coffee Cup, a regular discussion of marketing news, culture, and media for our complex digital lifestyle. Join Matt Bailey as he engages in conversation to find insights beyond the latest headlines and deeper understanding for those involved in marketing. Grab a cup of coffee, have a seat, and thanks for joining.
[00:00:50] Matt Bailey: Well, hello and welcome to another edition of the Endless Coffee Cup podcast. I’m your host, Matt Bailey, and I’ve got a great guest today. One who, we have gotten to know each over the past couple of years, working on a project in the United Arab Emirates. I’d like to introduce you to Rashid Al Awadhi. Rashid, how’re you doing today?
[00:01:12] Rashid Al Awadhi: I’m great, Matt. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:01:14] Matt Bailey: Oh, you’re very, very welcome. Rashid, I, from the day we met, you have had some of the greatest stories about how you got into social media, how you got into, you know, YouTube and, and just listeners, I have to tell you, so Rashid and his brother are both foodies and I mean, you had to be one of the first in the region to have a YouTube channel where you guys were traveling the world.
[00:01:43] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah. So, so it actually all didn’t start on, on content. It all, it all started because my brother and I had a dream, and the dream was to open up a restaurant. And that dream came about when we were super little, because my father was in the business of toys, and he was the agent for a number of different brands in the region over here and specifically Hello Kitty.
And I remember when we were young, yeah, we, we’d actually go, he, he had a store in the first mall in the whole country in Dubai and every weekend, yeah, he’d take us to the store, and we’d go meet at parties at Carl’s Jr. And we’d come up and we, we’d play inside the store with all the toys and there were like Smurfs and there were Hello Kitty, and there were, and the snorkels and there were the Trolls and all this stuff, but it was, it was great.
Needless to say, we were the first people invited to every birthday, by the way, ’cause we brought the best gifts for everybody. But I remember when we were young, my older brother and I, Mohammed, we said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if the restaurant was actually attached to this toy store?” And ever since then, I was, when I was probably, you know, eight, nine, ten, my brother was three years older, and that dream kind of stayed with us. As we went through college, we actually built a concept for a restaurant, and we never got a chance to do it.
We, we graduated from college, we came back, we both got jobs, both of us in multinational FMCG companies. And, and that, that dream was still, still alive, but we had a, a little bit of an issue like here in the region, specifically in the UAE, the, the concept of an SME sector, a small business, it didn’t quite exist. There wasn’t anybody that, that gave you money. Like, there was no banks that would loan you any SME money.
[00:03:35] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:03:36] Rashid Al Awadhi: ‘Cause nobody did that. You, you know, you were either somebody who already had money and did your business, or you went and, and worked for somebody. And I’d say we were probably one of the first SMEs to get funded through an entity called the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid SME program. And we, we ran some money after we tried everything to open a restaurant, we, we, we got some, some, some funding, opened up a restaurant, and then here we are, this is 2008 after eight years of working on this concept. And the concept was very cool. It was the first globally branded shawarma restaurant except the shawarma restaurant was, you know, the ingredients, the way that we were making it was like, like five-star hotel.
And it was, everything was, anyways, we, we got some money. We started, we were about to open the restaurant, and then we realized, we were like, “Wow, how are we going to compete with big brands? We have no money for marketing. We don’t understand the game of marketing.” But the game of marketing in 2008 and 09 required a lot of money for traditional media. And it just so happens that Facebook and Twitter suddenly appeared in the UAE.
[00:04:45] Matt Bailey: Yep.
[00:04:45] Rashid Al Awadhi: And we said, “You know what? We’re going to use this to our advantage.” We were one of the first few people on social media, on Facebook and, and Twitter. And what we did was something very simple, Matt. In 2008, we found this app called the Twitterfall. We put a screen in our restaurant, and we put hashtags related to our restaurant, and we encouraged everybody that came in to write about their experiences. Now, that meant when you come to, to the restaurant, you could see what everybody was thinking. It was good, great. Even the team could energize and everything. If it was not good, we immediately addressed everything. So, it’s kind of a check and balance for operations.
[00:05:25] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:05:25] Rashid Al Awadhi: But we’ve got such a big community on the back of that. In those days, Matt, we had 3,000 Twitter followers in Dubai and, it was actually globally. And that was, that I think that would probably equate to something like 3 million in today’s world.
[00:05:42] Matt Bailey: Right?
[00:05:42] Rashid Al Awadhi: 3,000 Twitter followers in 2008. And I kid you not because we were actually invited to speak on a panel with the gentleman who was running social media for President Barack Obama. So, he’s the one that actually was heading social media, former U.S. President Barack, he was heading the whole campaign, and we were on this panel with him, talking about how we, you know, we wrapped shawarma as a famous community, and you know, the person who comes to the restaurant seven days in a row becomes the mayor of, you know, our restaurant called Wild Peeta.
And it was, it was just, it was just amazing. We, we continued to build on the community, and it was just a fantastic experience. So, we, a lot of people from around the world actually reached out to us and said, “Wow, you guys are doing something that, that’s, that’s very, very unique.” And I think that was kind of the first steps that we took into social media marketing. And I think, I want to say that we were one of the first people in the world that actually used it in that manner.
You know, we actually, by the way, my brother and I never used our real names. You know, we had names with the restaurants. So, he was Wild Peeta, I was Gourmet Shawarma. That’s how we introduced, you know, one another. It was, I mean, super, super, super exciting in, in, in those days to kind of build this from, uh, from scratch.
[00:06:56] Matt Bailey: Oh, absolutely. I, I, you know that early to be that innovative with how you were using it really just, you, you know, I, I mean, I look back on how people use Twitter, and it was a lot of a formulation there. I love how you explain that because it was just so organic the way it came around that, “Hey, we found this app. Well, here’s what we could do with it.” And just developing it from there. I love just the, the organicness if that’s a word…
[00:07:26] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah.
[00:07:26] Matt Bailey: …of how you developed that.
[00:07:29] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah. Yeah. You know, Matt, the, the thing with, with us also, the other thing that we did, you know, I mean, social media is all about this community that you build that engages with you. And I think from a very early stage, we focused on that a lot. We were also, I believe, the first restaurant in the world that said, “Hey, Twitter followers, what would you like on the menu?” And we have the list of stuff, and what they chose, we put on the menu. We said, “Hey guys, we’ve got this wall. We don’t know what to paint it, you know, what color to paint it. What do you think?” And we did that, and…
[00:07:59] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:08:00] Rashid Al Awadhi: And we kind of did that throughout everything. The packaging was done by, like that, the, the decor was done like that, the menu was done like that. And the community felt very empowered, and they felt like that was their six. And what happened after that, Matt, is people started to organize events at our restaurant.
Like we’d look in the restaurant and there’d be like, like six people playing Scrabble and we’d be like, “Oh, hey, what are you…?” They’re like, “Yeah, we’re the Scrabble Club, you know? And then we decided that this is going to be our venue and we’re just going to be here.” You know, people were organizing, like, comedy nights and open mic nights and things were just happening organically because we built a community.
[00:08:38] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:08:38] Rashid Al Awadhi: And I think that, as a concept, if you take that, that is, it is so powerful to do that even today. People kind of lose, uh, uh, track of, of that. You know, they, they forget that that’s the whole point of having a social media channel or channels today.
[00:08:58] Matt Bailey: Right. Absolutely. It’s, you know, if anything today it’s just so formulaic. And I feel like there is a lot of “following the headlines,” that I just read that, “People were doing this, let’s do the same thing,” without that focus on, “What’s best for us? What would work for our community and how do we serve those closest to us?” I, I think you’re absolutely right.
[00:09:20] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah. And then, you know what happened after that is we, we basically, we, we had to work so hard on that restaurant, and we were just like super tired and we, we, we, we want to take a break and we decided to, to travel. And, and as with everything that we did, we, we went online, we went on Twitter and we said, “Hey guys, where do you think Mohammed and I can travel to for two days that’s within a four-hour radius, you know, we don’t need visas for?” So, it was in 2008, a long time ago when we couldn’t walk into, to every country…
[00:09:55] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:09:55] Rashid Al Awadhi: …and get a visa on, on, on arrival. And, and it turns out the only country that we could do that was Sri Lanka.
[00:10:00] Matt Bailey: Oh.
[00:10:02] Rashid Al Awadhi: So, we literally hopped on a plane, we went to Sri Lanka and in those days we had, we had two phones and, and when we went there, we just started to take photos of everything and videos of everything and posted on social media. So, we were doing this daily kind of vlog style content in 2008. And I know there were people that did that before us, for sure, but we were kind of taking pictures of everything, we were in the taxi when we were talking to a taxi driver, and we were just uploading everything onto our, our channels and, it was an amazing experience.
And when we got back, people said, “Wow, we absolutely loved that trip. We actually felt like we were on the trip with you guys. We’ve never had that experience before.” And my brother and I then sat and thought, “You know, this is actually an idea. There could be an actual travel show about two Emeriti guys, dressed like this and travel around the world, connect with change-makers and everything they do.
So, which country they go to, where they stay, what they eat, who they meet is all a result of Q and A’s with their community. And we actually took that concept to a company called twofour54 and then Google came on board as the first sponsor of the show. Yeah, Robert Kyncl from, from, from Google said, “You know, I love the concept. I’ll give you some money.” We had to get Continental Hotels on board and Dubai TV came on board and said, “I want to distribute this.” And we ended up doing a two-year travel show. We traveled through 24 countries, and it was brilliant.
And not, when we did that, that was, we, we had the concept in 2009. We actually start shooting season one in 2012 or 2000, yeah, 2012. And in 2012, the concept was have this hashtag on screen. You know, if you’re listening to music, write on screen what that music is.
[00:12:00] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:12:00] Rashid Al Awadhi: We took tweets and we put them on screen. And I dare say, if we look back at 2012, if, if anybody was doing that at that time, which today it’s customary, right? You watch any show…
[00:12:12] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:12:12] Rashid Al Awadhi: …and you’re like there’s a hashtag, there is, you know, whatever. We had a QR code on screen. And could you imagine people in 2012 saying, “What are you guys doing? Why do you have all this stuff on screen?”
[00:12:23] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:12:24] Rashid Al Awadhi: And it was because we were trying to always engage our audiences. We always were aware that people are consuming content on multiple devices and we’re trying to move people back and forth from their phones to TV. And we were just trying to engage on, on different levels, you know, if you like this music, by the way, we have a playlist which you can, you can go to. This place that we’re going to is, is actually on Foursquare and you can, you can check it out.
So, we were just innovating as much as we could with, with content. And I remember also telling the, the network that we’re, you know, the, the crew is, you know, the camera guys, the videographers, and we said, “We’re taking a videographer with us on travel.” They said, “Why?” Because we said, “Well, we’re going to do, we’re going to do live content on social media.” They said, “Wow. Okay. Are you sure?” And we said yes. And we actually had a social media manager in 2012 as part of the crew. Once again, something very unique and…
[00:13:16] Matt Bailey: Absolutely.
[00:13:16] Rashid Al Awadhi: …in those days, no shows, no shows did that. But once again, it was all about the community, Matt. You know, everything goes back to what do you do? It’s not just about producing that content. It’s about producing content that creates conversation and engagement and, and continued conversation. That was always the goal.
[00:13:38] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. And, and when I look at your content, it, it’s fantastic because, you, you know, I, I look in you’re, you’re trying on costumes in Rio. You’re in the Philippines doing survival with the, you know, the survival guys. You’re, you’re wrestling luchadores in Mexico, which probably has to be one of my favorite. So yeah, it’s not just you’re, you’re going and seeing things. The, the participation in the area that you’re in, in the people, the change-makers as you said.
That is so inviting because you’re, you’re experiencing things that, you know, people have heard about, maybe they’ve seen, and, and now you’re there and taking part in it. And so, it’s a, it’s a very exciting video when you watch. It’s, it’s non-stop what’s going on and what’s happening.
[00:14:25] Rashid Al Awadhi: It, it was an amazing experience. I think there was a few, few other goals for us, now, I mean, one of them was, you know, when we were scrolling through, you know, TV channels around the world, we would consistently see people dressed like this in the kandura in a negative way when we looked at global…
[00:14:47] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:14:47] Rashid Al Awadhi: …global news and media, you know, and we thought, you know what? You’ve probably seen people dressed like this on screen, but have you seen people in real life dressed like that? And that was kind of the reason why we dressed in that manner. And I’ll tell you this, every guest that we met, we, we, we had some conversations with them, but never with a video on. And when we got there, we’d actually roll the video and meet them for the first time with us being dressed like this.
[00:15:15] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:15:15] Rashid Al Awadhi: So, imagine us being in a little town in Chile, you know, and meeting people for the first time dressed like this. And, you know, obviously like apprehensiveness the first time they meet us, and you know, just like shyness and quietness. But as soon as we start talking, and as soon as we talk, talking about the things that we love, that we share, everybody was like, “Wow, you know, we’ve never met somebody dressed like that before, but we never imagined that you guys have the same interests in terms of music and food and art and, and culture and things like that.”
So, I think that was very important for us to kind of, kind of change that stereotype a little bit and actually, we’re from the UAE, but this was the easiest way to represent overall Arabs. ‘Cause you know, when you look at somebody like this, you know straight away that you’re, you’re, you’re Arab. So, that was a, that was a big goal for us as, as well, uh, Matt.
[00:16:05] Matt Bailey: Well, you were truly ambassadors, you know, ambassadors, as you said, not just for the UAE, but for the Arab region to go represent and, and, you know, it’s funny because this hits on the theme of a number of shows we’ve done on just multiculturalism or communication, is once you get to know someone in a different culture, and once you start to share a meal, a conversation, immediately those barriers just start to go down. It, it’s hard to apply a stereotype when you’re getting to know someone and you, you know, you, you and your brother were truly ambassadors breaking down those barriers. And, and that’s one of the things I think that makes those videos so fun to watch.
[00:16:47] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah. Yeah. We always call ourselves the global Bedouins and you know, it’s, it’s, it’s on the premise and there’s a, there’s a Bedouin proverb that says, you know, when you break bread with somebody, that person is no longer your enemy. You know, they’re your, they’re your friend. And we certainly felt that. I mean, we traveled to, to 24 countries like this. I’ve been to a further 30 countries dressed like this. And I tell you, I never felt anything but love from everybody.
[00:17:15] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:17:15] Rashid Al Awadhi: Generally, you know, people are, are curious. They, they’re, they’re looking and they’re watching and they’re like, “What is that? Want to ask you, you know, like what, what is that, you know, on your head and why?” But generally, everybody was super courteous, and we were even in the U.S. actually after the Boston bombing. And, you know, we were in Austin, Texas, a fantastic city, one of my favorite cities in the U.S. And everybody was super nice. I mean, we never…
[00:17:42] Matt Bailey: That’s great.
[00:17:43] Rashid Al Awadhi: …honestly, I never had an issue and I, I, you know, I would say, but you know, we’ve been to Argentina, we’ve been to Chile, Costa Rica, the U.S, Italy, South Africa, you name it. No issues. Japan, Korea, Thailand, Australia, never one time were we ridiculed, never one time were we belittled, not at all. And it’s amazing. There’s a lot of goodness in the world, Matt.
[00:18:07] Matt Bailey: It is amazing and yeah, happy that you found that and, and happy that it comes across in the videos and, and that’s just such a great message, such amazing stuff, that what you’ve brought together there and, and I can’t help but think, now, I, you know, I, as I was telling you before we started the, the interview here, I’m watching you while you’re at the Expo in Dubai. And I, like I said, I was there for about six hours. I ate at the, at the African pavilion and…
[00:18:36] Rashid Al Awadhi: It just…
[00:18:37] Matt Bailey: Oh, I, I, I, I couldn’t eat enough. I, I, I knew this was like my only night there, and I…
[00:18:45] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah.
[00:18:46] Matt Bailey: …and so I’m watching you there. I’m like, I wish, I wish you to, made these videos before I went, so I could know exactly where to go. How does this tie into the Expo in Dubai? I mean, what an exciting place.
[00:18:59] Rashid Al Awadhi: It’s, it’s my god. I, I’ve probably been there over 15 times now. We just, we just shot the, the, the new global campaign for, for Expo, which is phenomenal. And my god, it such a great feeling while, while you were there, you know, Matt, I keep saying 192 countries. So, if we consider, a lot of people consider 197 being every country in the, in the world. You’ve got 192 here. I know that it takes most people 7 to 10 years to be able to hit all 197 countries. I’ve seen people do that. Imagine that you can actually do all of that right here in one place. Okay, so, so that’s, that’s number 1. That’s amazing.
[00:20:00] More than that. Imagine you are walking into a different culture, and you can walk into 10 or 20 different cultures every single day. How amazing is that? The opportunity for you to see what people wear, what people eat, or, you know, how people speak, you know, how they are it’s, it’s just unbelievable. And whoever doesn’t take advantage of that opportunity is really, really missing out. And I love how they package it in a way, I know a lot of people think that Expo is an entertainment destination. I know that a lot of people before they go there, they say, “Is this like Disneyland? Am I going to go on rides?”
There’s certainly entertainment, but there’s so much to learn and get out of it. Such an amazing editing, uh, destination. And, and I love that. You know, I love, you know, going to the world, but if you’re not going to the world, then come to the world over here in Dubai. And, and I have to say that, you know, Dubai historically has always been this, right?
Dubai has, has always been a microcosm of the world. I mean, I’ll tell you this. My, my family, every single member of my family speaks five languages. Every single one of, member of my family has been so connected to global culture. I kid you not. I mean, I, I traveled around the world and I’m rarely ever culture shocked. You know…
[00:21:10] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:21:11] Rashid Al Awadhi: And I guess, you know, my, my family’s done a lot of travel to my father and grandfather, but generally this is a city and a country where you potentially will bump into six, seven different people from six, seven different countries and six, seven different cultures. And I’ll tell you the five languages I speak, I use four of them almost every single day.
[00:21:33] Matt Bailey: Yeah. That’s something that struck me when I was there is just how international the city is. And you’ll meet people everywhere from every culture. It’s just absolutely amazing to be in that much of a, you know, to use the American term, a melting pot.
It, it truly is. And to see, you know, the roles people have and where you meet them and, you know, I love just, you know, going to the mall and walking down and just taking it all in. It’s just such a, it, it, it’s, I would say for someone, if this is one of the first trips you take, it might be a little challenging, but welcome to the world.
[00:22:15] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah.
[00:22:16] Matt Bailey: I mean, that’s how I feel when I’m there. It’s just welcome to the world. Everybody’s here, and, and then going to Expo, like you said, and visiting some of the different countries. And I love it when some of the countries would have a restaurant right there in their building and you can get a taste of something that’s unique to their culture or their country.
And then also seeing how the different countries represented themselves through exhibits, through the people, through the message that they were bringing. It, it, it was really a phenomenal, phenomenal time. Like I said, I hope to get back out there again.
[00:22:54] Rashid Al Awadhi: Hey Matt, and, and, and you said it, you know, I, I think really the premise for this is to tell everybody, you know, let’s connect, let’s talk, let’s learn about each other and let’s move forward from this point onwards, thinking about how we’re going to do things together, going forward, no matter what that is. And that is the message of, of Expo.
[00:23:15] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:23:16] Rashid Al Awadhi: You know, it’s come over here, let’s shake hands, let’s, let’s hug, wear masks, but hug and let’s figure out what we want to do when it comes to, you know, opportunities and whether that is in the space of blockchain or Bitcoin, or whether it’s in the space of sustainability, or whether it’s in the space of, you know, driverless transport or mobility or, or anything like that. And I want that.
You know, people are very, I see a lot of people there, and I see a lot of thought to, “Hey, what else can we do together?” And I think that’s, that’s, that’s very, very powerful. You know, I’m kind of sad, you know, we have two and a half months left and I’m sad that that’s, you know, it’s no longer going to be here at least in its entirety.
[00:23:57] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:23:57] Rashid Al Awadhi: So, part of it is going to stay, as I understand, but uh…
[00:24:00] Matt Bailey: Oh.
[00:24:00] Rashid Al Awadhi: …but yeah, it’s amazing. It’s amazing. I hope you come back soon, Matt.
[00:24:04] Matt Bailey: Yeah. I got to get there. Two and a half months. Oh no. Well, on that subject of, of opportunity, you are now the executive director of New Media Academy and we’ve been working together almost since day one, and why? Why, I mean, let me set this up.
My impression of Dubai from a couple of trips is I feel like when I go to Dubai, there’s no fear of big things. That there is a, “You know what? This needs to be done. Who’s going to do it and how are we going to do it and how are we going to do it so that it competes globally?” That’s my impression of Dubai and the, and the Emirates is there is this, “We’re going to get better and we’re going, not just an acceptable level of getting better. We want to make an impression.”
And there’s just no fear of failure, it seems like. It’s just a, like you said, thing, “We’re going up, we’re going up and we’re going fast.” So, how does that roll into the, the creation of New Media Academy? And, and obviously I think they tapped you because you’ve got that background in social media and how powerful it can be.
[00:25:21] Rashid Al Awadhi: Well, first of all, Matt, it’s been an absolute pleasure working with you, and I really appreciate everything you’ve done. We honestly could not be here today without, you know, having you onboard with us as part of the, of the team. So, you know…
[00:25:34] Matt Bailey: Thank you.
[00:25:35] Rashid Al Awadhi: …I want to really, really thank you very much for everything you’ve done. We’re a year and a half old and we’ve achieved some, some amazing, we’ve got an amazing community, we’ve got, you know, over 3.5 million followers on our social media channels, we’ve trained over 40,000 people in, in different forms of, of training between short and long courses, and we’ve created, I think over 7,000 pieces of Arabic content in the last year and a half, which is just fantastic, and it’s been, it’s been phenomenal.
Look, this, this, this all is about the belief from our leadership, that the real resource in the country, I mean, we’re, we’re a very small country born out of the desert, you know, next to the sea and the belief that the real resource is, is the people. And we have to continue to invest in people because people will be the drivers of everything that we…
The strategy of, of, of the country, like, like, like you talked about is around the digital economy, which is, you know, where, where the world has already had it and where, you know, we’re, we’re somewhat behind, but not for long. The reason we exist today really is, is three reasons, primarily the digital economy and how do we make sure that the people that will be driving the digital economy in the near future, how do we prepare them to, to do that?
So, and, and that’s basically the first division that we have under New Media Academy. It’s our learning division. And this is where we look at really reskilling and upskilling the current workforce, but also as you know, we’re in constant thought about how do we prepare future generations to be ready to go when they leave high school or when they leave university, you know, so that they, they, they come into the workforce and they are ready to power the digital economy. So, that, that’s a lot of what, what we do and, and there’s a lot of work to, to be done.
I, I think there was a statistic that said that the digital economy is 4% of the overall GDP of the country, and that was a few years ago, I, I, I think about 4 or 5 years ago, and that’s when His Highness, the Prime Minister and the ruler of Dubai established a, a ministry called the Ministry of AI, but also digital economy, the Ministry of AI and Digital Economy to power the digital economy. And at the, at the core of that, you know, technology around AI and things like that with the goal of doubling the representation of the digital economy in the GDP over the next, you know, 5, 5 to 10, 10 years. Now, naturally when you’re doubling that, you require a huge amount of, of skillsets. And so, that’s one of the things that we do.
The second thing that we do is unlike the rest of the world, influencer marketing is stagnant in, in the Arab world. And lots of reasons behind that, you know, I believe there was a time when there were some content creators who became influential as a result of platforms, kind of, you know, incubating them within their, within their platforms. I, I don’t think, you know, we diversified their revenue, well enough.
[00:28:48] Matt Bailey: Ah.
[00:28:48] Rashid Al Awadhi: I don’t think we worked on grounding them well enough to become actual brands, to have a specific positioning, to represent other brands. I, I don’t think we did all that, and as a result, we’re not growing at the same level as the global trend, which is, I think it’s doubling every year, Matt, right…
[00:29:06] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:29:06] Rashid Al Awadhi: …the, the, the influencer marketing…
[00:29:08] Matt Bailey: Right, yeah.
[00:29:08] Rashid Al Awadhi: …um, economy. So, we actually established an incubator for social media influencers. And what we do is, our, our model is quite, quite simple. We scout about 1,000 people in the Arab world every year, we shortlist 300, we take 50 and we train them for 6 months using some of the top content creators in the world, all our investment, and then we take 10 of those 50 and we sign them to a 3-year exclusive contract where we continue to invest in them and help them become influential content creators. And out of those 10, what we expect is 1 of them turns into unicorn and pays for everything backwards. You know, that, that’s the model that we, that we work on. So, we start people from scratch. We like to look at talent.
[00:29:55] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:29:55] Rashid Al Awadhi: We like to scout talent and we like to invest in them, and our goal is to create sort of the, the professional content creator, the person who is creating by themselves and is earning money by themselves without a need to have a job. And, and I’m so happy that, you know, Ahmed AlMarzooqi is the first, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll call him the MVP, which makes so much sense, you know.
[00:30:00] He’s, he’s MVP in, in, in, in kind of both ways ’cause he’s a guy that had a government job, who, who had 60,000 followers on Instagram, came to us and said, you know, “I love this industry, but I don’t know how to film. I don’t know how to scriptwrite. I don’t know how to edit. But I want to grow. I want to become an influential content creator.” And today he sits at 800,000 followers on multiple channels. He is the most sought-after content creator. He’s in the space of economy, which is harder than…
[00:30:46] Matt Bailey: Oh.
[00:30:47] Rashid Al Awadhi: …some of the other, you know, sectors and things like that, but he’s done amazing and he just…
[00:30:51] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:30:51] Rashid Al Awadhi: …quit his job a couple months ago, and it’s earning more money than a high paying job in the Capitol, which is, which is fantastic.
[00:30:59] Matt Bailey: That is amazing. And especially his content is the economy, is economic issues, and I find that so fascinating because so many times people think influencers and they think fitness or what, you know.
[00:31:11] Rashid Al Awadhi: Fashion or beauty.
[00:31:12] Matt Bailey: Fashion or travel, whatever.
[00:31:13] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah.
[00:31:13] Matt Bailey: But no, it’s, it’s the economy.
[00:31:15] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah.
[00:31:15] Matt Bailey: I, I love that. And so, I’m fascinated watching, you know, some of his videos, but also knowing some of the creators that have come out and, and how exciting it is when, you know, I’ve had a hand in doing some of the training…
[00:31:29] Rashid Al Awadhi: Absolutely.
[00:31:29] Matt Bailey: …and now I see like Maitha who in our first class, she wouldn’t even turn her camera on to talk. And now I see her, and she’s got her finger in the camera and she is, and, and yet what she’s doing for young Arab women in, in self-esteem, in social situations and, and she’s being recognized by the UAE leadership for what she’s doing. I, oh, I just, I love seeing the growth and, and what’s happening for these influencers.
[00:32:04] Rashid Al Awadhi: And, and, and Maitha is just phenomenal. Maitha, you know, was sitting at 3,000 followers. She’s now at 300,000 followers and we just did some numbers for her, by the way, which I’ll share with you, Matt. So, so she was actually working for a government company as well, and she left that job the first day she came to your training program and today, a couple days ago, we sat with her and we did a review of, you know, all her KPIs and everything. And she’s actually earned double the amount that she was earning when she was working for that government company.
[00:32:36] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:32:36] Rashid Al Awadhi: She was in shock. She’s like…
[00:32:38] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:32:38] Rashid Al Awadhi: “That’s how much I’ve made?” And I said, “Yes, and that’s just the beginning. That’s just like a year worth of your work.” And she is phenomenal. She’s a superstar.
[00:32:46] Matt Bailey: Oh, she’s just, you know, just a transformation of her from her first video to where she’s at now. She’s so comfortable. You can see that competence when she’s delivering.
[00:32:56] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yes.
[00:32:57] Matt Bailey: And, and that’s the training. I, I, I have loved, you know, what you’re doing as far as we, we’ve got this group of people we’re starting with, but we’re going to train this amount, and we’re going to try and find here. I mean, you’re teaching people how to shoot video, how to edit video, how, you, you know, really preparing them that even if they don’t make the cut to the next level, they have skills and knowledge and the ability to continue on their own, even.
[00:33:25] Rashid Al Awadhi: Absolutely, Matt, both of those guys, so both Maitha and Ahmed now have studios in their houses. So, they have a full setup, they both shoot their own videos, they both edit their own videos, they both do their own sound design and their color grade and everything like that. So…
[00:33:41] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:33:41] Rashid Al Awadhi: …they’ve learned every skill necessary, and I think, you know, the biggest thing with them is they’ve got the will. They, they want to make it. They want to be great content creators, and, and that’s, you know, that, that’s the best part of it. You find people like that it’s, it’s not difficult to, to, to make happen. And it was very important for us, you know, I always talk about, you said it. You know, there, there’s influencers in the space of fashion and beauty and sports, and, and that’s amazing.
In the Arab world, and this is something that we’re trying to do, right? We’re encouraging people to become influential in areas or sectors where there is no influence. So, today, I’ll give you a simple example. The UAE is investing heavily in climate change, heavily.
[00:34:24] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:34:25] Rashid Al Awadhi: And we do not have one person in the Arab world who is influential in the space of climate change. Similarly in space, you know, with the space program and, and the Mars program, and now the, the Jupiter, the, the Jupiter program that we have.
[00:34:38] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:34:38] Rashid Al Awadhi: We don’t have an influential content creator in the space of space. We, we don’t have that. Similarly with, you know, with sustainability, with law, with real estate, all of these sectors which are a big part of our GDP, there’s nobody to actually talk about all of this. And again, that’s one of the other drivers for why we’re doing what, what we’re doing. I’m, I’m super happy ’cause our, our second cohort right now, we’ve got, uh, a lawyer, we’ve got somebody in sustainability, we’ve got somebody…
[00:35:07] Matt Bailey: Ok.
[00:35:07] Rashid Al Awadhi: …in, in, in, in culture, we’ve got somebody in current affairs, we’ve got somebody in politics. I mean, really, really good. These are, these are people who we want to encourage, and these are people who we want to help to stand on their own and, and to, to, to create, you know, great content, which we could all, you know, engage with and, and learn from. And I think that’s, that’s the, that’s the core. I mean, I love, I love entertainment content and the Arab world, and that’s the third thing that we do, right?
There’s a, there’s very little Arabic content online. It’s about 1%, I think people say, of content online, where the consumption is actually 6% online. So, a huge demand for Arabic content. But when you break down that 1%, so much of it is entertainment, pure entertainment, which is great, but we need a lot more content that is valuable. We need content around literature. We need content around history. We need content on geography. We need content through our sustainability. A lot of that in Arabic. And I think that’s the other thing that, that we’re very passionate about and, and, and what we want to help to, to do in the region.
[00:36:06] Matt Bailey: I love that. I, I love that emphasis. Like you said, it’s, it’s investing in people, and it will be people that have those specialties, and I’m sure that they exist, and they need, now, that confidence boost that people want to hear this content or people want to hear my content. And so, I think that’s, that’s fantastic.
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[00:38:19] Rashid Al Awadhi: There are like 2,000 or 3,000 words, and we’re having to go in and say, “Hey, you need to continue to tell those amazing stories, but you need to tell them in 150 words because, you know, people don’t have that, that, that, that capacity to, to read something that long or hear something that long right now. So, that’s our biggest challenge right now, Matt.
We’re, we’re going to a lot of, you know, government entities and saying, “Let us help you digitally transform, not just technologically, but, you know, really systematically and, and, and mentally. This is, you know, we, we’ve got to become digital players, digital leaders, or, or, or netizens as, as, as people call it. And I think that’s, that’s the biggest thing that, that we’re doing with the training program that we have, right?
And, and you certainly see it, Matt, you know, when the people come in, you, you see the varying levels of, of people that are, you know, some of them are decision-makers in, in large government entities, some of them are kind of about to become the decision-makers. And it’s important that these people are digitally inclined, I should, I should say. You know, so, I think that, that’s our, our, our biggest task I would, I would say right now.
[00:39:31] Matt Bailey: That’s great. I, I love how the focus on digital is not just a, a bottom up. It is a top down. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid’s 10 principle that I, I, I love that because it’s the leader of a country saying, “Here’s my expectations for how our citizens will act on social media.” I, well, from the moment I saw that, I thought it was fantastic.
[00:40:00] And then you’re now in the process of implementing that into schools of teaching digital literacy, digital responsibility. I, I, I think, you know, as part, like you were talking about, that transition to this digital economy, I love that top down, “Here’s how we’re going to be seen,” and then integrating that into the school. That’s one thing, like I said, I love about the UAE. “We’re going to do it. Let’s do it.”
[00:40:22] Rashid Al Awadhi: Yeah. I mean, look, the thing with us is, you know, the Prime Minister, the UAE, the Vice President of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, he’s, he’s very adamant that, you know, this is, this is how the world communicates right now. He certainly is, you know, I think he’s one of the first leaders that used social media channels and content in, in that way, uh, to reach audiences, you know, so he set an example for everybody.
And now, you know, he’s structured these principles to tell people, you know, what, what he uses to kind of drive his, his content and his channels, and, and he’s a big believer and we’re, we’re, as a result, big believers in, you know, the, the concept that everybody needs to be great, a great content creator. Everybody needs to be a great storyteller because you need to take charge of what you want people to hear and, and, and see.
And for the longest time it wasn’t like that. So, I know this, this, this cheesy thing that people talk about and teach somebody how to fish, you know, and the, and they’ll take care of everything, and, and we kind of believe the same thing when it comes to content. And that’s how we’re kind of moving forward, right? So, for us, we have some immediate goals, which is to re-skill and up-skill, you know, people within the, the government who are going to power the, the digital economy on, on the digital space.
But our goal is if you’re a teacher, we want you to be a great content creator, as well. You know, if you’re an engineer, we want you to be a great content creator, as well. And it’s agnostic to what you’re doing. We just want to create people who are able to understand this digital communication in a way where they can really engage with that community that we talked about earlier, right? That, be a part of that community.
So, we’re, we’re very lucky, you know, that, that it comes, it comes top down and it’s encouraged every single day. “Hey, become better online,” you know, good practices, good skills, good engagement, you know, patience, awareness, you know, cultural sensitivity, all of this stuff. You know, these are the messages that we hear every single day, and it’s what we integrate into everything that we, that we do.
[00:42:29] Matt Bailey: That is fantastic. I, I, I love to see that and, and being a part of it and, and watching it every day is just such a, I, I can’t believe I, I, I get to play a part in this, just a small part, because it is just, it’s just amazing to see. Amazing to see.
[00:42:45] Rashid Al Awadhi: Huge part of it, Matt, huge part. He played a huge part in it, honestly. Like, we love everything that you bring, uh, you know, to the, to the team. We, we, we love it.
[00:42:53] Matt Bailey: Oh…
[00:42:53] Rashid Al Awadhi: And, and this isn’t, you know, we always talk about, this is really going to, this is really going to be one of the biggest drivers of, you know, the achievement of, you know, our digital economy goals. It’s super, super important, unlike, I, I wouldn’t say unlike anything, but like many of the very large-scale things that were done in, in, in the country. It’s a super, super important, and I am very proud to play a small part in that, you know, as part of New Media Academy, along with, with all of, all the team and, and yourself, so, it, it, it’s amazing to see, you know.
And, and honestly, Matt, like everybody that I’ve seen that’s gotten through the programs and is now growing in their roles, is now moving to a larger role, is driving strategy, is driving, you know, the right strategy, the right digital strategy, I, I, I love seeing that, you know, it’s fantastic. It’s really amazing.
[00:43:46] Matt Bailey: So, where’s this going? Where do you see in 5 years, the impact of New Media Academy, as well as the, the impact in the Arab world of New Media Academy and this growing understanding of how to use digital communication?
[00:44:05] Rashid Al Awadhi: So, I think, wow, there’s a, there’s a lot of work to be done. You know, there, there, there certainly is so much that we, that we want to do, but, you know, on one hand, I, I’d like to see a couple of things, you know, selfishly one, I’d like us to get to a stage where if you’re in a leadership position, you have to be digitally trained, certified, and inclined. You know, for me, I think that’s super, super important. And I think that needs to happen very, very soon. Anybody who’s making a decision on strategy and who holds a budget should be digitally inclined. I think that that should be, uh, truly something that, that happens. So, so, so that’s number, number one on the, on the skills part.
Number two on, on the influencers part, again, selfishly, I would, I would love to see a time where the influencer role actually becomes part of an org structure of, or of the org structure of every government entity in the UAE.
[00:45:05] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:45:05] Rashid Al Awadhi: I would selfishly like to see that. And, and I, I think there is merit to us using the system that we have, where we created a social media influencer, agnostic of what sector and space, you know, to become, uh, self-sustaining to have, to, to have that person be an employee of a, of a company. So, that employee invests in these influencers in-house, because I think that has so much more value than going after somebody who’s outside of an organization and saying, “Here’s a sheet, please read this, you know, make sure you understand it…”
[00:45:38] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:45:38] Rashid Al Awadhi: “…and make sure you, you say it in the right way.” And they’ll usually do it right, but I think the future is, is not that. I think the future is there is no better person to influence stakeholders and audiences than somebody who’s in-house. So, I’d love to see that. We’re having, you know, some, some conversations there.
And then thirdly, I would love to see just a growth in the amount of Arab, Arabic channels that are just creating, you know, beautiful, globalized, localized content, glocalized, I should say, content. I’m, I’m starting to see that come up, not enough, I’d love to see more channels around cars, and we’ll see more channels around sneakers. I love seeing more content around coffee and love seeing more content around camping and adventures in our good quality content that’s not just for entertainment purposes, but, you know, that gives you a different value. There’s a lot of education in it.
You know, I, I selfishly want to, want to do that. And, and I guess the, the other, the other big thing for me, it’s a project that we’ve spoken about, Matt, you and I, it’s, it’s going into the schools and starting to digitally train people or kids from when they’re 13 years old to when they’re 18 so that they are understand and are more of a full stack digital professional when they’re, when they’re 18.
So, and they understand the concepts, at least, strategy, creation, distribution, engagement, analytics, so that when they’re 18 and they’re ready to go into what comes next, which again, a personal dream of mine is to have something which is a, a different version of a, of a college degree when it comes to digital. You know, something of, of a shorter…
[00:47:19] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:47:19] Rashid Al Awadhi: …magnitude that’s more of a shorter time span that’s more practical, you know, I, I, I’d love for that to happen so that we get people into the workforce to power the digital economy at age 20, and, and they are superstar digital professionals. I mean, that, that would be, that would be, I would love to when they see that.
[00:47:38] Matt Bailey: When we look at how education was developed and, and now we’re in this digital world, if we’re, we, if we are putting out 18 to 20 year olds with that kind of knowledge, they’re going to be competing on a global scale at an earlier age, because right now there’s people coming out of university with marketing, with communications and yet don’t understand the full stack digital, much less analytics and some of these other things. So, it’s, I love that vision because I do think kids younger and younger, we have a responsibility to teach them digital literacy, to understand also, you know, how to deal with cyberbullying, how to encounter these things.
This is equipping them for adulthood, for jobs, for those types of things, and the longer we go neglecting that type of education, we’re just doing them a disservice because we’re giving them a powerful technology and putting it in their hands. And many, I, I was reading the other day how many people under the age of 15 have iPhones and we’re giving it to them with no education of how to use this tool and, and here’s the potential for the tool for good and bad. If we don’t teach them that, we’re being completely irresponsible.
[00:48:56] Rashid Al Awadhi: Agreed. Agreed. And I, and I think, you know, really educating everybody that, you know, there’s a lot of, there’s a conversations around why you actually create content. And today, a lot of that is about reach, you know, and there’s this, there’s this thing about, “Hey, everything is that number. It’s about who you reach, how many people you reach, how many people like.” And I think, you know, we need to start reeducating people and telling them it’s all about the quality of engagement.
You know, we’re, we’re, we’re transforming people’s, people’s goals into, into that, and I think that that’s, that’s very important. If we do that from a younger age and get them prepared for when they join the workforce, I think, you know, things should be a lot more efficient for, for, for everybody. So, so yeah, big goals.
[00:50:00] I would love to see all that happen. Let’s see how much of that, well, at least, well maybe lately some of the stones for that to, you know, or the, or the bricks, some of these bricks for, for that to happen over the longer, long-term, but so much has to happen around us for, for that to actually come to fruition. But, you know, we, we will certainly play our part, you know, where we can.
[00:50:03] Matt Bailey: Yep. Yep. I love how you said that, it’s just getting beyond those vanity metrics and getting into, have you changed lives? Have you truly influenced someone or something? And, and I think, yeah, too many times we allow those vanity metrics to take over, and we, we think about mass reach rather than what have we done to make this better, to, to make the world a better place, to help somebody? It may be harder to measure, but wow, it’s so much more of a, I would say an important metric rather than the big numbers. That’s one thing I said is my first lesson of analytics is big numbers lie.
So, it’s, it’s the little numbers that tell the story. Hey, Rashid, I want to circle back, and I want to ask you, what are the top three meals you have eaten or the top three foods, because I want to end this, you were a foodie and I love watching where you are, what you’re eating, and, and every time I’m out there, you’re taking me to a new place.
And, and dear listener, it’s an experience to go out and eat with Rashid, because the whole way there, we’ll probably drive for about 30 minutes, and it’s a buildup. It’s a buildup of, of how we found this place and how many times he’s eaten there and what he’s had and, and it’s from this part of the world and, and this region, and so, you’re going to find this. And so, it’s a complete buildup and we get there, and I’ve never been disappointed. Let me put it that way. So, that, that, that’s mealtime with Rashid, which I absolutely love. So, I got to ask you, off the top of your head what are probably the top three dishes you’ve had in your life?
[00:51:40] Rashid Al Awadhi: Top three dishes. Ooh, that is, alright, I’ll, I’ll tell you, I, I think the one dish that I just absolutely, I think I cannot live without, and it’s the one dish that for some reason, I, I, I could eat almost every single day and I crave almost every other day is the shawarma. A great shawarma. And I’ve had, and I can tell you, I’ve had a shawarma in Jordan and it’s a place called Reem. And these guys make the traditional old shawarma, super small, it’s, it, it’s literally a 7 by 10 shot that has like 3 50 kg skewers of just beef, and they say it’s buffalo meat.
[00:52:24] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:52:25] Rashid Al Awadhi: I, I understand, and so they do a buffalo meat, uh, shawarma, but my god, I, I got to that, that shop and I ordered to me, ’cause I knew they were small, and the guy looked at me and he said, “Is that all?” And I said, “Yeah, do you normally order more?” He’s like, he did that. And I was like, I ate that 3, and then I was like, “Oh my god, can I have another 7?” And I actually ate 10 shawarmas. It was amazing.
It’s, and it’s, and it’s not a packed, it’s predominantly that, just that bread and that, that meat that is just unbelievable, and, and I had 10 of them, Matt. You know, I know they’re, they’re 4 inches, you know, long, but oh my god, that’s one of the dishes that, that’s super memorable for me in, in, in the world. So, so that’s definitely…
[00:53:08] Matt Bailey: That’s cool. Wow.
[00:53:08] Rashid Al Awadhi: …number, number, number one spot. And that’s, that’s one of my favorites.
[00:53:12] Matt Bailey: You are…
[00:53:12] Rashid Al Awadhi: That’s one of my favorite things. I’ll tell you what I, uh, I, I’m a huge fan of, of Thai food, and at Expo, there’s a restaurant called Long Chim, which is the first Michelin Star Thai restaurant outside of…
[00:53:27] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:53:28] Rashid Al Awadhi: And they don’t have this, this, this place here at Expo, and they have an oxtail soup, which I swear to god is one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten in my life.
[00:53:42] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:53:42] Rashid Al Awadhi: I mean, that thing is put in front of you, and it’s got like deep fried shallots all on top of it. It’s got fresh chili flakes on top of it. The soup is just so aromatic. It’s got coriander and, oh my god, honestly, like it’s one of the best things I’ve, I’ve, I’ve ever, I’ve ever eaten. The last thing, and I wonder if I’ve actually taken you to this restaurant, and if I haven’t, that’s next on the list for when you’re here, is something called the regarg. Have you had that? The regarg? And it’s the thin, crispy pancake that, that they, they take the dough, they drop it onto the, the hot plate. He likes spreads it all over and then he adds an egg on top of it, he adds, uh, cream cheese, and then the anchovy sauce on top of it…
[00:54:27] Matt Bailey: What? Okay, no.
[00:54:28] Rashid Al Awadhi: …makes it into a triangle.
[00:54:29] Matt Bailey: I have not had that.
[00:54:30] Rashid Al Awadhi: No?
[00:54:30] Matt Bailey: No.
[00:54:32] Rashid Al Awadhi: One of the greatest things you’ll ever eat. And, and that’s next on the list for when you’re, when you’re here. Again…
[00:54:36] Matt Bailey: Ok.
[00:54:36] Rashid Al Awadhi: …that is one of those things that I could eat all the time, so.
[00:54:40] Matt Bailey: What is that called again?
[00:54:41] Rashid Al Awadhi: It’s called the regarg and the regarg, regarg bread, they call it the regarg because it comes from the word rekik which means thin. And it’s a super thin, crispy pancake. Even when they, when they fold it, you could hear the crisp. Turns into a triangle, oh, it’s yummy. Fantastic. So, one thing from the UAE, and one thing from Thailand, and one thing from…
[00:55:04] Matt Bailey: Nice.
[00:55:04] Rashid Al Awadhi: …from Lebanon.
[00:55:06] Matt Bailey: Great, great. Well listener, I hope you can hear now when, when, when Rashid is explaining food, you hear that passion, that knowledge of, of, of, he knows what he’s talking about, so when he recommends a restaurant, I’m listening.
[00:55:19] Rashid Al Awadhi: Amazing. So, come back soon, Matt, ’cause I got to take you there to, to the, to the best regarg place.
[00:55:24] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. And sometime I’ll have to get you out here to the U.S. Now the Midwest, we’re not really known for high cuisine, but I would certainly take it as a challenge to try and find something around here that would certainly appeal to you. I’ve got a few ideas.
[00:55:40] Rashid Al Awadhi: Amazing. It would be my pleasure. I can’t wait.
[00:55:42] Matt Bailey: Alright. Rashid, thank you so much for making time today. I really appreciate you coming on the podcast and, and sharing, you know, life in the UAE and, and what’s going on, and also your thoughts on influencing. It’s been a treat.
[00:55:57] Rashid Al Awadhi: Thank you so much for having me. It’s absolute pleasure, Matt.
[00:56:01] Matt Bailey: Alright. Thank you, listener, for listening in on another edition of the Endless Coffee Cup, and I hope to see you again in a future episode.