When digital photobooth FishFayce came to the Celebration of Entrepreneurship (CoE) last year to capture photos of investors, entrepreneurs, and conference-goers, few at the conference may have realized that the service was a humble startup launched only two months earlier by entrepreneur Zeina Abdalla.
The Dubai-based company, which offers a modern twist on a classic photobooth, is now launching a new office in Kuwait as part of a plan to expand regionally, after becoming a favorite at corporate events in the UAE, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Greece, and Qatar this past year.
The hope is that expansion into Kuwait will tap into opportunities that can't be reached remotely. "A lot of events come together last minute, so it's important to have an on-the-ground presence," says Abdalla.
Another factor precipitating FishFayce's expansion was finding the right person for the job, who happened to be in Kuwait, only one of four countries FishFayce is looking to expand into, including Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. After stepping foot into Kuwait, they've received 10 inquiries in the first week.
Their word of mouth success has been due in part to FishFayce's being first to the market in the Middle East with an idea that has traveled the U.S. and Europe. The setup itself is simple- a standalone photography system placed in front of a backdrop allows its subjects to see photos, print them onsite, project them onto a large screen, and afterwards share event photos.
Abdalla and her husband initially built the photo system for their own wedding, after they looked around and couldn't find anything suitable in Dubai. But after friends began inquiring incessantly about using the system for their own weddings, she had a chance to test it as a commercial venture at a wedding in Spain, and then decided to leave her job working in PR to run FishFayce full time.
During the first year, Abdalla ran the company alone, hiring freelancers at events like CoE, where FishFayce asked each photo subject to pose with their own written-down ideas on what entrepreneurship meant to them. FishFayce continued to garner high-end brands like Burberry, Blackberry, Hérmes, and Sony Playstation as customers by focusing on highlighting their brands within event photos, in fun ways.
By taking this detailed approach, FishFayce has managed to build up experience and a reputation that Abdallah hopes will keep them ahead of the many competitors now cropping up, including a new one in Kuwait. Thus far, she's been able to stay one step ahead, becoming financially stable and hiring four employees this fall to help with photography and marketing, while continuing to outsource accounting and graphic design. FishFayce also plans to launch a new product that will cater to events where an entire photobooth might not be suitable.
Abdalla makes it all sound effortless, and yet it's clear when speaking to her that a capacity for thorough research and a commitment to quality has created her market lead. When setting up in Dubai proved to involve a bit of research, she located the best solution, registering the Fujairah Free Zone as a virtual office. She's also been unwilling to compromise on the talent she hires, even if it means that expanding takes longer.
A final element that cannot be ignored in FishFayce's fledgling success is also the fact that Abdulla has made the company more or less recession or turmoil-proof by catering to international corporations with a local presence. A photobooth may be easy to replicate, but the company's reputation and network is not.
For Abdalla, however, it's been eye-opening simply to realize that big companies are willing to take a chance with a small startup, she says. "It just goes to show that you don't know what will happen until you actually start something and give it a shot."