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

The Art Of Punishing The Customer For Buying A Coupon In Cairo

Coupons might save some cash in your pocket but you will end up paying someway or another the price of choosing the cheap option… This might be from your time, your comfort or your convenience … Here is my personal experience on this:

City Stars Cinema Ticket for 9 LE:

I bought 3 tickets from coupon for one of their most selling offers in Cobone site probably one of the best selling offers in Egypt,  city stars cinema ticket for 9 LE instead of 30 LE. They have made around 3,000 sales from that offer.

Here is how the process begins; very smoothly i ordered the cinema tickets from Cobone.com, the voucher said that tickets must be collected in person from coupon office, i thought this is not the case when you pay online, and that it is related only with the pay on delivery option so i went to the cinema with my wife and tried to give the coupon to the ticketing window… who looked very strangely at it and asked me to see the manager who told me i can’t use the voucher as  is but i have to replace it with a real voucher from Cobone office… Okay my mistake…

I went to Cobone office after a couple of days and replace the tickets, they told me a hint that i can’t use the vouchers on the weekends.. although the voucher itself said that you can use on weekdays and weekends… i said okay no problem for me…

I went again to the cinema this time with the nice looking coupon that looks like the cinema ticket, not as surprised with the voucher as the previous time, the ticket window guy sent me to the manager again, who sent a guy with me to the ticket window again to replace the voucher with real ticket, which didn’t look real at all… It looked like this:

So i entered the cinema with this strange ticket after a strange look from the cinema door man… and another strange look at the ticket from the guy who shows you your way to the seat… but above all the strangest look it took on that very very weird unfortunate day was the look of the guy who issues the ticket at the parking lot, as you have to present him the cinema ticket to give you a 5 LE discount of the city stars overpriced parking… I spend 5 minutes to convince him that this is my cinema ticket… but i wouldn’t blame him to take all this time to accept that fact.

I don’t blame Cobone on this… they actually offered me what they wrote in the offer… but i blame myself for buying this offer… I still have one more cinema voucher remaining which i am not planning to use because using it is completely inconvenient for me.

Euro Deli 50 for 100 LE nightmare discount voucher:

How Euro Deli my favorite order in restaurant in Maadi became a nightmare for me after buying the 50 for 100 LE Euro Deli Voucher from Offerna and how Offerna wiped out the bad experience with their great customer service.

First thing i must say Euro Deli is one of the best options to order from at work not just for the quality of food but fora number of different reasons; There is NO added cost, NO delivery fees, NO taxes, so if you order a 12 LE sandwich, you will only pay 12 LE… and they would deliver your order even if you just order that sandwich alone! ideal budget deal and is also good if you are ordering food alone. Read more reviews about Euro Deli in Maadi on Dalili

So when i saw their offer it was like Great! why don’t i save 50% on my daily orders! but the voucher said you can’t use it for delivery so you either go and eat there or pick up your food. So i bought one of these vouchers and went for lunch with my wife and we ordered, 2 soups, a sandwich and a main dish, the total cheque was for almost 100 LE.

The ugly part is when you show the voucher, when the waiter takes it form you and goes to the restaurant manager and then the managers comes to you and says:

“I am sorry sir but the voucher can’t be used by 2 people, only one person must use it to order a full course of appetizer, salad, main dish and desert. So we are sorry again we can’t accept your voucher for the order you’ve just made. Actually this is not the first incident, sir. 3 or 4 customers came before and we had the same argument with them”

Nothing from the above terms and conditions was ever mentioned on the voucher which you can check online yourself in the above link… My response was very simple, since i don’t wanna argue, and i like this restaurant i would move my fight with Offerna instead of Euro Deli.

I called Offerna customer care which were very understanding and supportive and they offered my an immediate money back… Whether somebody can come and bring me the money, or i could add the points to my balance on the site or even they can refund my credit card. I choose the later option. What i loved about their customer service is that they wanted to know what the restaurant manager said and they never argued with me about whether he is right or wrong but just offered my my money back… Which i find great.

Anyway i think i will refrain from buying any vouchers for quite some time after the above disappointments. Let me know your customer experience with other deals that you’ve bough. Are you experience troubles redeeming them? which sites are you buying your deals from? How do you find value of money of these deals?