Emokhalfa Takes on Cairo’s Traffic with New Violation Reporting App

Read the full article here


My first Wamda piece about the new startup Emokhalfa

Interview With Hala Deals Marketing Director, Mohamad Kaloub

When I look back at Egypt’s group buying site reviews that i did in last August, I figured out that a lot has changed in the group buying market since then. There is no question that Hala Deals is the fastest growing group buying site in Egypt in terms of its fan base, Hala Deals fans based has dramatically expanded from 2,000 fans in mid August to almost half a million fans on Facebook now!

The success secrets are revealed in today’s interview with Mohamad Kaloub the Marketing Director of Hala Deals.

Mohamad Kaloub, Marketing DIrector, Hala Deals

­­Tell us about your journey to becoming the Marketing Director at Hala Deals?

My journey started in Canada when I was in my first year of university studying Business at the University of Toronto. A good friend and fellow business major approached me with a business idea that I could not turn down; an event management agency that catered to the student population. We registered our business, incorporated the mother company as First Ad Solutions Inc., and named our first brand “X Productions”. After a few months, we decided to shift gears and venture off into Direct Mail. We created our second Brand called Consumer’s First. It was a digest that catered to local businesses who wanted to increase their awareness using a cost effective approach. After two years we realized that the print industry has become very saturated with many competitors offering similar, if not the same services. We conducted a market analyses and found that the print industry was in a decline, so we decided to diversify into the realm of Digital Media.

I have to say, the transition was not easy, but the potential reward ignited our drive. Three years later, I received an offer to join the board of Directors at Hala Deals. I was excited about the opportunity, yet skeptical of the challenges that we would be facing. This was a very difficult decision to make for the reason that First Ad Solutions was on its way to breaking record profits. However, I studied my options very closely and accepted the offer. In North America, I have seen businesses under this model fail miserably, and others rise above the crowd so I began strategizing an approach that would take Hala Deals from being a small start up to now one of the leading Group Buying sites in the region. Ever since I came to Cairo, I never once looked back.

Although you launched after other group buying sites you managed to have around half a million facebook fans in a few months, how did you manage to do that?

In today’s competitive business environment, no company can survive without a strong Social Media presence and we know that fact very well. It was integrated into the Marketing Strategy from day one and I am well aware of the return it has to offer. As this industry is constantly changing, it is crucial that we adapt with it, and the key here is to take the consumer along for the ride. Before Facebook came into existence, companies had it easy. They propagated their messages to the market in a one way stream with no care in the world for what the consumer had to say about their product or service. Little did many of them know, word of mouth; the most primitive yet most powerful form of advertising, would be the missing link. Now that these online social platforms have flourished, they will be neglected no more.

You can’t play a poor football game in a full stadium, but you also can’t play a great game in an empty stadium, you have to find the equilibrium and generate attractive content to your fans.

We were very keen on directing our message through a well established Facebook Fan Page, and this is where we allocated a chunk of our marketing budget towards. We launch various online marketing campaigns including Facebook Paid Advertisements and a QR integrated print campaign to enhance accessibility. This however is not the complete answer you are looking for, and this is why I want to top it off with a key point… content. We as human beings react to different things in many different ways, so the point here is to keep our fans happy with up to date content that’s fun, informative and interactive. Here is an analogy that sums this up: You can’t play a poor football game in a full stadium, but you also can’t play a great game in an empty stadium, you have to find the equilibrium and generate attractive content to your fans.

How is HalaDeal differentiating itself in the local market?

It would be a fat lie for me to say that we are doing something that no one else has done before. We are a clone of Groupon’s business model and that’s that, but it’s what we do within our organization that sets us apart from the competition. We are disciplined and creative in the marketing efforts that we run. We are establishing a network of businesses that would benefit from our services and vice versa. Unfortunately I can’t give you too much information on this topic, because if I did, we would be different no more.

What’s your value proposition for local businesses in Egypt who want to offer deals on HalaDeals.com?

Our value proposition is very simple; Brand Awareness through mass marketing. We are an online Marketing Solution that caters to local businesses who need their names heard. We feature their product or service on the website and allow our online and offline marketing tools to do the work. Our weekly campaigns receive over two million impressions and these figures are constantly increasing. When we inform our prospects that this can all be done with minimal if not zero cost associated, it’s a done deal. The key is to focus on long term gain as opposed to short term reward. It’s not about the profit that you will acquire through the deal, but the long-term client that will feed your bank account for years to come. It’s the power of customer retention that needs to be highlighted in every sales pitch. We have found that the Egyptian Merchant does not want to be sold on ANYTHING; they require an emotional engagement first and foremost. They need to trust you, and we build that trust through friendly consulting and honest business; we strive to find the needs of every business and tailor a package that works for them.

It’s the power of customer retention that needs to be highlighted in every sales pitch. We have found that the Egyptian Merchant does not want to be sold on ANYTHING; they require an emotional engagement first and foremost.

How do you guarantee customer satisfaction and that vendors honor their commitments towards the customer?

To get businesses to honor their commitments towards the customer, they first need to be convinced with the package that they are offering, and that is why we work very closely with each merchant to ensure their satisfaction. As I always say, a happy business owner equals happy customers. Having said that, you can never guarantee customer satisfaction and whoever tells you otherwise is naive. Every customer is different and that’s how God made them. Some will be satisfied with a refund along with a sincere apology, and some may ask for a Ferrari to make up for a hair strand on their plate, and I wouldn’t blame the latter, I like my food hairless.

Some will be satisfied with a refund along with a sincere apology, and some may ask for a Ferrari to make up for a hair strand on their plate, and I wouldn’t blame the latter, I like my food hairless.

The point I’m trying to make is that a company can do everything in its power to keep their customers happy but for some, this may not be enough, and that’s why it is our absolute top priority to minimize dissatisfaction amongst our customers. They pay our salaries and cover our overhead, and with the popularity of social media, we cannot afford to receive any negative feedback. We strive to ensure that our Customer Care Team is well equipped and trained to resolve any conflicts that may arise. As a new business concept in a fresh market, we will encounter many questions, but it is always a pleasure to walk the customers through the steps and ensure that their experience is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

What are your target demographics (age-gender-interests)?

Our consumer base varies, but our marketing campaigns target mainly internet users aged between 18 to 35 years old. Many of our buyers are females but we do our best to offer deals that cater to both genders.

What are you expansion plans locally and regionally?

The great thing about this business model is that it is easily duplicated once you have set a strong foundation.  We have been working very hard to build a framework that we can expand around and believe that this has been accomplished. We have expansion plans that we are going to execute in the near future, but due to confidentiality reasons, we cannot disclose when and where exactly.

What are the new things that you are introducing to HalaDeals in 2012?

Very sensitive questions, so I’ll be very brief. Our goal is to be different, but still offer our fans a great service, so we will be introducing a new addition to our business model that will allow customers to enjoy a bigger bang for their buck (More Value). We call it G2.

What are your different CSR activities?

We blocked our website for two days during the violent protests near the end of November. This was to show our respects to all that have been killed during the crises. Profit isn’t everything, we have a conscience and we truly did feel for Egypt.

Hala Deals prides itself in its efforts to support non-profit organizations in various fields and has been very active in doing so. Diversity is the key to a stable and strong line of networks. It is important not to conflict with the relationships that we have established. We are proud sponsors of organizations that promote causes such as fitness, health, education, entrepreneurship and will continue to venture out into different sectors to ensure strong brand presence. Our partners include such organizations as EMSA, IFMSA, Under-ground Bands, ITLC, Cycle Egypt and AWTAD. EMSA stands for “The Egyptian Medical Students’ Association”. They are a non-profit organization that raise awareness on wide spread diseases and illnesses to the general public. They are also involved with educating parents about the prevention of pneumonia with learning aids such as coloring books for the children. IFMSA, also known as “The International Federation of Medical Students’ Association” is responsible for organizing and funding events that support causes for different types of disabilities.

Our involvement with underground artists comes from our core motivation to support up and coming creative talent that are primarily driven by the need to perfect their art. We strongly believe that these activities will promote positive messages to the always evolving Egyptian youth. The “International Transport & Logistics Club” is a university run organization that aids students in discovering their hidden talents with many options offered to help them find jobs in the field of business. Cycle Egypt is an organization that welcomes bikers who want to pursue an active lifestyle by hosting weekly events where a group of participants ride their bikes through a predetermined rout.  AWTAD is the newest addition to our network of partners and it is a privilege to be involved in an organization with a very clear mission; to mentor young entrepreneurs and provide them with a support system that will help them in reaching their goals to becoming a successful business man or woman.

I would also like to mention our two day Website Block during the violent protests near the end of November. This was to show our respects to all that have been killed during the crises. We did not stop operation within the company; we just didn’t sell. Profit isn’t everything, we have a conscience and we truly did feel for Egypt. Hala Deals’ CSR goals have not yet been achieved, but we have a division that specializes in these efforts and we will continue to offer our love and support to the community.

Get in touch with Mohamed Kaloub through linkedin

Visit website

Or visit hala deals facebook fans page at: www.facebook.com/haladeals


Interview with TripAdvisor Commercial Director Business Listings EMEA, Karen Plumb

Karen Plumb, Commercial Director Business Listings EMEA, TripAdvisor

Karen Plumb, Commercial Director Business Listings EMEA, TripAdvisor

Travel review web sites and hotel reviews on online travel agencies are among the most influential forces most frequently cited by travelers when shopping. User generated content is so important and it is here to stay, it helps people to make their decisions,  TripAdvisor definitely takes the lead with more than 50 million unique monthly visitors, 20 million members, and over 50 million reviews and opinions. The sites operate in 30 countries worldwide containing 1 million+ hotel, restaurants and attractions in 90,000 destinations.

In this interview Karen Plumb shares with us in the power of TripAdvisor and the value it can bring  to businesses. Also Karen gives us insights about the new partnerships TripAdvisor is having with local search sites and directories to empower businesses.

Mohamed: Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Karen: I have a background in hotel marketing, having worked at both InterContinental and Thistle Hotels, where I held a variety of international eMarketing and International Marketing roles. I have also worked before in an online company at CheapFlights running the consumer email product and the hotel website, CheapAccommodation.com. I love working in the online travel environment and TripAdvisor is a great place to be.

Mohamed: How do you encourage users to post reviews? Do you run any sort of incentive programs that strengthen customer loyalty?

Karen: TripAdvisor has added badging to the site to recognize and acknowledge the contributions of our active community of reviewers. These badges serve as just one more way users can determine which reviews are most relevant to their trip-planning experience.

The first badge is given after three reviews and users that have contributed over 50 reviews receive a gold badge and a Top Contributor designation.

In our management centre, we provide owners with tools and widgets to encourage guests to write reviews following their stay.

Mohamed: Independent travelers value TripAdvisor as a research tool to find the best hotels that fit their needs and meet their budgets. Are you thinking about building a tool that would allow users to compare hotels to help them in the decision making?

 Karen: TripAdvisor is constantly searching for new ways to improve its websites to continue to help travellers plan and have the perfect trip. Users can search for hotels by relevant categories and read reviews by like-minded travellers to find the right hotel to suit their needs. Each review is also broken down into detail with travellers rating hospitality businesses on a number of factors, allowing users to make an informed decision during their holiday planning.

Mohamed: What’s your value proposition for the hotel owners? What types of hotels would benefit most by having a commercial business listing on TripAdvisor?

Karen: Whilst being listed on TripAdvisor is free for properties we offer the  Business Listings product to enables accommodation providers to add direct contact details on all TripAdvisor website domains as well as TripAdvisor’s mobile website to convert our highly qualified traffic into direct bookings.  . Accommodation providers can add their phone number, email address and website homepage to their listing as well as posting a special offer to gain additional attention

The benefit of a TripAdvisor Business Listing is that it is on a page where viewers come to look at guest ratings, reviews and photos of a specific property. According to a Forrester survey in 2007, 87% of consumers looking for hotels are influenced by reviews and want to read them before they book. If a hotel has put in the hard work to earn good reviews from their guests, a Business Listing will allow the hotel to capitalise on them.

Mohamed: Recently you have expanded in many new countries in the Middle East and have announced partnership with Yellow Medya in Turkey. How is this going to help both the hotel owners and the end users in Turkey?

Karen: Yellow Medya will be integrating TripAdvisor onto all of its platforms, including online and mobile. By doing so, users of Yellow Medya platforms will have access to TripAdvisor reviews and opinions for accommodations, restaurants, attractions and all hospitality businesses currently listed on TripAdvisor websites.   In addition in the coming months Yellow Medya are helping TripAdvisor populate our database to ensure that every tourism business in Turkey is represented and can benefit from the global coverage TripAdvisor can offer.

Yellow Medya will also be offering a TripAdvisor Business Listings Programme, encouraging accommodation businesses in Turkey to adopt the Business Listings product.

We believe adoption of Business Listings within the Turkish hospitality industry will help businesses gain more visibility in front of our large community of travellers.

Mohamed: What is the most requested feature by the users that is not ready yet on TripAdvisor? What are the new things that you are introducing to TripAdvisor in 2012?

Karen: Earlier this year, TripAdvisor launched a new integration with Facebook that instantly personalizes the site for each person who visits, surfacing trusted reviews from friends, most popular destinations among friends, and an interactive social map.

Now when travelers come to TripAdvisor websites, while logged into Facebook, they will see the activities their friends have shared first, helping them to make more informed decisions when planning their own trip.

In addition our award winning mobile site and apps are becoming increasingly popular enabling travelers to research their trip whilst on the move.


Want to learn more about this subject? Visit TripAdvisor for Business Blog where there are lots of information on how accommodation providers can get the most out of TripAdvisor.

About TripAdvisor:

TripAdvisor® is the world’s largest travel site, enabling travelers to plan and have the perfect trip. TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travelers and a wide variety of travel choices and planning features (including Flights search, TripAdvisor Mobile and TripAdvisor Trip Friends) with seamless links to booking tools.

Interview with Matthieu Houle, Director, Mobile & Platform, YPG

Mattieu Houle:  Director, Mobile & Platform,  Yellow Pages Group in Canada (YPG)

Matthieu Houle: Director, Mobile & Platform, Yellow Pages Group in Canada (YPG)

Matthieu Houle, Director, Mobile & Platform at YPG gives us insights about the mobile local search industry in Canada, and expectations about where this industry is going and how the mobile usage of  YPG products will surpass web usage by 2014.

Mohamed Salah: Tell us a brief introduction about yourself

Matthieu Houle: I am Matthieu Houle, Director, Mobile & Platform at Yellow Pages GroupTM in Canada (YPG), responsible for its mobile properties, with more than 3 million downloads to date and representing 30% of our search traffic (www.yellowpages.ca/mobile). I am also responsible for YPG’s Developer Platform, YellowAPI.com which now has more than 1,000 developers signed-up.

With 15 years of experience in local search, media and advertising, I joined YPG in 2000 where I held various positions in Marketing, Business Development and Operations.

I began my career inCosta Rica where I lived for six years and co-founded a design agency and two quarterly publications: a local surf magazine and a golf magazine.

Mohamed: 30% of all YellowPages.ca online searches come from your mobile apps. How did you achieve these numbers and when do you think the mobile searches will surpass the web searches?

Matthieu: Part of our success was the early adoption of the mobile platform. Our executives saw the strategic fit and as of 2009, we’ve invested significantly in mobile development in terms of resources and created a director role dedicated to mobile – which I currently hold. We launched this initiative in 2010 with a mass media campaign, that really kick-started our presence on mobile.

Moreover, there is a natural fit between our service and the context of mobile users. I often say that Yellow Pages Group is “built for mobile”. For instance, Smartphones are the ultimate tool to discovering local merchants.

And finally, we have excelled at execution. Making the apps fast and simple to use was ultimately the key to our success and what drives our thinking moving forward. We have the right internal and external partners to achieve our strategy.

I refer to Mary Meeker’s forecast indicating that mobile usage will be equal to online usage by 2014. In my opinion, that forecast for local search is on the conservative side.

“Mobile usage will be equal to online usage by 2014. That forecast for local search is on the conservative side.”

Mohamed: How is the traffic usage divided between your mobile apps (iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android, WP7, Mobile Web, SMS Search)? Did you think about developing a Nokia app?

Matthieu: Applications represent roughly 75% of our mobile searches while the remainder is mobile web. Out of the app traffic, 70% comes from the iOS platforms and in large majority from iPhones.

“Out of the app traffic, 70% comes from the iOS platforms and in large majority from iPhones”

InCanada, Nokia doesn’t have a strong penetration as it has in other parts of the world so we have not yet create an app for this platform. Moreover, SMS search numbers are negligible.

Mohamed: How do you interact with your mobile users? How did their feedback shape your applications the way they are today?

Matthieu: User feedback is a critical input when we plan our releases. We acquire feedback from many different channels, including social media, customer service calls and emails, and even from employees. In my opinion, the most valuable feedback is derived from reading the reviews section on the app stores which is an excellent source of feedback. You know that if someone takes the time to write a review, it’s very likely that at least 100 people are thinking the same thing.

Furthermore, we also follow a more formal user testing protocol when we launch major updates but I find that the value added through this process is a validation of ideas and our execution…

Mohamed: What is YellowAPI all about?

Matthieu: The essence of YellowAPI is to create more value for our advertisers by allowing virtually anyone to create amazing local experiences.  Developers are building new applications and experiences right now, in areas that we would not have imagined or we would not have taken the time to develop.

YellowAPI is all about contributing to the eco-system in a way that contributes to our business model. Overall, it is about enabling developers to tap into our curated data without having to pay for it. We believe it’s a win-win for everyone.

Mohamed: It is well known that the most valuable asset for Yellow Pages is its data. Have you faced any challenges about the idea of exposing the Yellow Pages data to third parties through the API?

Matthieu: Exposing our data is very different than giving it away. The key reasoning behind this is that each time a business profile is exposed through a partner’s app, we can report that value back to our advertisers.

Mohamed: How many partners are using YellowAPI today? What’s your monetization model for the API?

Matthieu: We have more than 1,000 developers that have signed-up on the API in less than a year, representing about 30 apps and websites.

The monetization model for the API is quite simple: by adding more value to our advertisers, we support our product value proposition. Although we don’t sell pay-per-performance, once you have a good understanding of the ROI-to-Revenue relationship, you can pay partners based on performance in a way that makes sense for both parties.

Mohamed: What are you working on right now? What’s in the pipeline?

Matthieu: We’re always improving our flagship apps. That’s a big part of the pipeline. Expect more social features and more content in the next few releases of 2011.We’re also working on a new app that will hit the iTunes app store in Q4… Which I think will have a tremendous success. Stay Tuned!

On the YellowAPI side, it’s all about adding more data and more tools to help developers come up with the best apps possible!

Mohamed: What is the most valuable thing you have learned so far being in the local search, media and advertising industry for the past 15 years?

Matthieu: I believe that if you focus on making things simpler and more useful, for consumers and advertisers, great things will happen. In the end, our role is to add value to both sides. Try to avoid PowerPoint Ivory Tower syndrome and recognize it when it happens and go back to the basics.

Mohamed: A few years ago, everyone said that going mobile is the next big thing. Today, what do you think is the next big thing?

Matthieu: I would say that the next big thing is still mobile. But not exclusively with “branded” applications. I see an explosion of hyper local, vertical, social mashups that will give consumers the best tools to make the best shopping decisions. Imagine a developer with the next big “local” idea, building the app with the content from Yellow Pages companies across the world…That’s where I want to be!

 I see an explosion of hyper local, vertical, social mashups that will give consumers the best tools to make the best shopping decisions”

Twitter: @matthieuhoule

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/matthieuhoule

Learn more about Yellow Pages GroupTM in Canada (YPG)


Learn more about YellowAPI