Chat with Omar Christidis the Founder & CEO of ArabNet
What is the one thing Mr. Omar wants to change in this world?
I would love to see entrepreneurs have easier access to corporate clients. Today decision-making within companies is really centralized at the very top of the organization. In many place if you can’t access the CEO or a senior level person, it’s very difficult to make a partnership happen or to make a deal go through within the region. This makes it very difficult for small and medium business to succeed in the Middle East. I would love to see more transparency in the way companies do their dealings, and to see them open up opportunities to young people. The region has a tremendous percentage of young people and I would like to see those young people given the opportunity to rise within the corporation, and rise quickly, and not be limited or judged by their age.
What is the story or motive behind ArabNet?
I founded ArabNet in 2009. I consider myself an accidental entrepreneur. I had actually lost my job. I was living in New York City working in finance during the financial crisis. It was the worst possible time to be working in finance in New York City. 5 out 8 of my friends lost their jobs at this point. And after I spent all my savings, which didn’t take long in New York, I packed my stuff and moved back to the Middle East. I started looking what was available. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I knew I was passionate about the digital sector. I started looking for opportunities found that there wasn’t enough information nor enough platforms to connect with people working in this industry. That is where I saw the opportunity to start ArabNet. The vision of ArabNet is very clear. It’s to grow the Arab Web and mobile industry. Everything we do falls under that statement, whether it’s the events we organize, the developer tournaments that we do, the content that we create for the internet, otherwise our participation and support for the entrepreneurs through our competition and our other initiatives. Our goal is to help grow this sector, and as the sector grows, we can grow with it.
You’re entering the 5th year of ArabNet. What has changed ever since ArabNet’s first inception in 2009?
The greatest thing that has changed since ArabNet was launched was the tremendous interest in the digital sector. When we launched in 2010, and did our first event, the digital realm was something that only geeks, bloggers, and techies cared about. That has transformed radically. Today digital is on the CEO’s agenda because the ramification it has across everything from product delivery to marketing, recruiting, and customer service. We’re seeing the largest corporations in the Middle East invest a lot of their time and resources into building out their presence. Whether that’s retailers going online and exploiting ecommerce, or banks investing in mobile apps, and the newest technology for their branches. Whether that is schools and universities looking at learning management systems and tablets in classrooms, and tablets in hospitals. This transformation is really key. The other thing is when we started, the amount of resources and investments available to entrepreneurs were relatively limited. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in funding in the Middle East. Sources of funding going from small funds that had 10 or 15 million dollars each, doing small deals, half a million or a million dollars. Today there are hundreds of millions of dollars available for entrepreneurs. Funds that are much larger in size, people are raising 40-70 million dollars, and are interested in doing much larger deals. This opens up a lot of opportunities for Arab entrepreneurs.
ArabNet is already the talking point for digital professionals and entrepreneurs. What is the he vision or how do you see ArabNet in the next 5 years?
We’re really excited to be launching the first proper edition of our magazine in the upcoming summit. The ArabNet quarterly will be an industry reference that reflects the cutting edge topics and debates that we have in our event. We’ll help keep industry professionals and executives from across industries who are interested in staying on top of digital transformations and innovations. We’ll keep them up to date with what’s going on in digital business. Beyond that, as Dubai grows into not only a capital for business in the Middle East, but also a capital for business in emerging markets. Our ambition is to have the ArabNet digital summit be not only the most important event for digital business and entrepreneurship in the Middle East, but rather the key event for digital business and entrepreneurship in emerging markets.
What’s the highlight of this year’s ArabNet Digital summit in Dubai?
One of the key themes we’re exploring at this year’s summit is actually around innovation and hardware. The cost of hardware is decreasing rapidly. Opportunities for entrepreneurs to innovate in hardware and especially fund their innovations have been dramatically increased by crowdsourcing platforms. We’re already seeing things like roadie Tuner, Instabeat, and other Arab Hardware companies win awards at a global level in terms of innovation. One of the topics we’ll also be discussing is how 3D printing have the potential to revolutionize industries. And beyond that, interest in e-commerce continues to grow in the Middle East. We’re seeing the region’s biggest retailers begin to establish e-commerce presence. We’re also seeing the growth in the pure e-commerce like souq.com which recently raised 75 million dollars for expansion. It is valued at over 400 million dollars, potentially to be the first billion dollar Arab dot com company. In addition to this, digital marketing and advertising are a key topic that we’ll be discussing at the event. We have a full track of workshops. The AdTech Academy focused on helping agencies, clients, and industry professionals build their skills in digital marketing. We’ll also be discussing the future of the agency as the lines continue to blur between media agencies, creative agencies, and publishers. We’ll be discussing what the agency of the future will look like with some of the leading CEO’s and managing directors of agencies in the Middle East.
On What basis do you judge ArabNet’s YOY growth and claim it has been a successful this year?
We measure our growth across multiple matrixes. Of course the number of attendees is a key matrix for us. We want the event to be bigger and more diverse. People coming from different countries, allowing people to do business with different markets. Another is the profile of the speakers. Having decision makers, industry experts from global and regional leading companies. As well as having top sponsors, both for ArabNet’s success financially as a company, and also for having these companies there with us engaging at the event, do business with all the other players in this industry, and grow the business for everyone .
Omar Christidis is the Founder & CEO of ArabNet, the leading events & media company focused on the Arab web and mobile industry. ArabNet organizes the leading conferences for the digital sector in MENA including the ArabNet Digital Summit, the premier international gathering for Arab digital professionals and entrepreneurs. The Summit was held for the fourth time in Dubai in June 2013 and brought together more than 800 attendees from 35 countries and received more than 9,100 tweets and 42,800 hits on the live-steam. In 2012, Omar was selected by GulfNews Magazine as one of its “30 under 30″ list. He is a graduate of Yale University and the Co-Founder of the Yale Arab Alumni Association.