“In Dubai, we lost a lot of money for 18 months,” said Jérôme Mouthon, founder of Moroccan ad agency Buzzeff.
Dubai, one of the most desirable markets for MENA entrepreneurs to scale into, is also extremely tough.
To get there, Mouthon had to take some risks.
Buzzeff launched in 2011 in Casablanca with a new advertising format: a video inserted between two paragraphs of an article on the same topic as the video, which only plays if the reader clicks on it. The advertiser isn’t billed unless the video plays all the way through.
They moved to Dubai in August 2012. In October, he rented an office there but had to wait until January 2013 for a commercial business license.
Turning a profit in Dubai took as long it would have in Morocco but the experience was more violent, Mouthon told Wamda.
“In Morocco, you can cut staff, lay low, and wait,” he said, because operational costs were low. “[In Dubai] you have to exist and [keeping paying staff].
Mouthon didn’t want to take on a local business partner so had to set up his office in the free zone Dubai Internet City, which forced him to rent an office that was too big and therefore expensive.
There were no taxes but a lot of permits to pay and additional costs and competition was huge. Expertise, from the many foreigners living in the Emirates, was extensive but that also meant they were expensive and he couldn’t “bullshit” his way in.
“In Dubai, you’re not in a small village in Algeria, everybody knows the web,” he said, and they had to be on the ground to convince clients face-to-face.
To raise their profile in Dubai, Mouthon began to spend more heavily on PR.
“PR in our countries is hyper important. There are still people who read newspapers,” he said. “When you manage to get an article in credible press and you share it... it helps hugely.”
Until now, Buzzeff’s team took care of PR themselves, but this year hired a Dubai-based agency. M
Finding El Dorado
Today, the company makes 70 percent of sales in Dubai and became profitable in 2014.
“If we hadn’t gone [abroad], we would have had tiny revenues. We would probably have gotten bored,” Mouton said, who can boast Chanel and Shell among his clients.
Buzzeff now works in various countries, all from their Dubai office. The company recruited a sales rep who split his time between Saudi and Qatar, and works with agencies in Nigeria. “Ideally, we should have an office [in Nigeria] but it’s expensive and it would cause security issues.”
Mouthon is looking to tackle French-speaking Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Ivory Coast, from its Moroccan office.
Dubai is a tough market to crack, but the lesson Buzzeff learned is that once you’re in, it can reap huge rewards.