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 How to sell your Middle Eastern media firm - 7 lessons from Flip Media acquisition

yousef-flip.jpgSo you have a media firm based in the Middle East and eventually want to sell parts or all of it to interested buyers. How should you run your business to suit a great acquirer?

I had the pleasure of sitting and chatting with Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, CEO of Flip Media, a firm recently acquired by Publicis Groupe, at their lovely headquarter at Dubai Media City.

These are the top 7 lessons you can learn from their acquisition experience:

1. Engage with an institutional investor early
In 2006 Flip Media sold a significant equity stake to HSBC Private Equity Middle East - just 3-4 years after their inception. While it may sound too early in the life of a firm, engaging with an institutional investor will teach you great lessons in corporate governance, due diligence, and audit requirements - and provide you with the discipline required to even run your day-to-day operations.

2. Don’t hide investors from your employees
Many companies deal with their investors as some ghosts that need to be invisible from the employees! Having your employees involved in some general meetings with your investors, as Flip Media was doing regularly, will keep your employees motivated and on-track with your goals.

3. Surround yourself with great advisors
Having fantastic advisors will help you more than you think. Flip Media used to have technical, financial and strategic advisors listed as its advisory board.

4. Utilize M&A advisors
While your institutional investor will help you in a great way, an M&A expert will certainly be helpful in advising you on the most suitable acquirer in your specific industry. Flip Media used the services of M&A advisory firm Results International for their exit.

5. Exit for the right reasons
You are not selling a stake at your company to run away or just become rich. Make sure you are selling for the right reasons and you will find the right buyer. Flip’s co-founders viewed the acquisition as a natural step in Flip’s long-term evolution, not an end-goal.

6. Focus, not expand, your product line before selling
Your common sense might suggest that an acquirer would appreciate you being active in 10 different product lines; and that may urge you to launch new product line hastily just to show how big you are! But in reality you are better off with a couple of perfect products and services. Flip had actually exited from some of their products, long before being acquired. (Like Brand Central, which was a marketplace for advertisers and publishers in the Middle East)

7. Focus, not expand, your regional bases before selling
For the same reasons, a buyer appreciates regional focus. For example Flip used to have offices in Bahrain and Qatar, but the strategy of serving them from their base in Dubai turned out to be more successful than having offices in those countries.

Of course these are the items that we understand to be the top lessons from the Flip Media story, not necessarily how Flip managers would summarize as top lessons. But after having seen hundreds of such exits for the past five years, we can assure you that you will find your acquisition process much easier if you move along the above lines.

 DubaiBeat Interviews Google’s VP of Search Products & User Experience, Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer is the Vice President of Search Products & User Experience at Google, leading Google's product management efforts on search products. She joined Google in 1999 as Google's first female engineer and led the user interface and web server teams at that time. (Marissa has been featured in various publications, including Newsweek "10 Tech Leaders of the Future", Red Herring "15 Women to Watch", Business 2.0 "Silicon Valley Dream Team", BusinessWeek, Fortune, and Fast Company.) She exclusively talks to DubaiBeat.com on the sidelines the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda here in Dubai.

Listen to the audio version here:

You are directing user experience and product management at Google after starting as a user experience developer in early days. Would you please tell us more about your work in Google?

I work in the Product Management function. Is it looking at how do things work, how do they look, how do they meet the user’s needs. I work on products that are related to search. So core web search, Image search, News, our Geo products like Maps, Earth as well as Toolbar, our new Chrome product, iGoogle, etc. We are looking at what information needs meet the user and how do we meet those needs as part of the user experience.

It is great to see you hear in Dubai. Can you please tell us about the background of your experience with the World Economic Forum?

I am really excited because I am here in Dubai for the first time I arrived just this morning. It is a really vibrant and thriving city and I have always wanted to see it. So it is great being here. I have involved with the World Economic Forum for the past few years. I’ve occasionally attended Davos in a faculty capacity and I am excited to be here taking part in the Global Agenda Summit.

I understand you are here as a member of the Council on the Technology and Education. Can you tell us about your role in the Council specifically?

We met this afternoon to talk about some of the challenges for technology and education. The tools that we need to help bridge the gaps we see growing in the world as well as how education practice need to change; even separate from the technology issues. It is really interesting I think as it is a pivotal problem and we need to solve it together.

And my last question: How did you find Dubai so far?

Oh it’s been really really fun. I’ve got to see a little bit today, places like Mall of the Emirates and Palaces. I even got to go and visit the Google office which was the highlight of the day as it was good to see the blend of Google culture with the culture here in Dubai.

Filed under interviews

 Interview with Dave Sifry, Serial Entrepreneur (Founder of Technorati)

David Sifry is a serial entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley. A blogosphere icon known most for founding Technorati, the largest blog search engine in the world. He is now founder and CEO of Offbeat Guides, a personalized travel guide website (Dave is a recognized expert on leadership development, blogs and the massive changes in the digital media environment, Open Source development, and the Linux operating system.) He exclusively talks to DubaiBeat.com on the sidelines the World Economic Forum's Summit on the Global Agenda here in Dubai.

Listen to the interview here (~5 min):


Filed under interviews

 Interview with Director of ITS, Dr. Daniel Sperling

Dr. Daniel Sperling is recognized as a leading international expert on transportation technology assessment, and energy and environmental aspects of transportation. He is the Director of Institute of Transportation Studies and Acting Director of Energy Efficiency Center. (He is a Professor of Transportation Engineering and Environmental Policy at University of California, Davis). He exclusively talks to DubaiBeat.com before attending the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda here in Dubai.

Would you please tell us a bit about the background of your relationship with the World Economic Forum and your participation in the upcoming Summit on the Global Agenda?

I was honored to be chosen by the WEF to chair the “Future of Mobility” Council. Some key issues my Council will address include:

· Rapid motorization and its impact on cities:
· Oil dependency
· Impact of mobility on global climate change:
· Role of innovation and emerging technologies, especially the use of “intelligent transportation systems”
· Safety, security and equity.
· Restructuring the mobility industries (responding to financial duress in the automotive and airline industries)
· Innovative and effective policies to improve mobility while protecting the environment
· Transport infrastructure challenges (including under-investment in transport infrastructure)
· Freight transport issues within cities and between cities and countries

What specific area is your focus and how do you say it can help improve state of the world?

I am a professor of transportation engineering and environmental policy at University of California, Davis and a board member of the California Air Resources Board. My research and policy responsibilities are devoted to improving environmental quality while also improving mobility. My new book, Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability (Oxford University Press) addresses these issues.

What do you think about the city of Dubai, the host for this summit?

I’ve never been there, but have heard many amazing things about the city, and thus look forward to the adventure with great enthusiasm.

- Interview with Journalism Professor and Blogger, Jeff Jarvis
- Interview with Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, Jim Fruchterman
- Davos in Dubai – this weekend

Filed under davosdubai08, interviews

 Interview with Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, Jim Fruchterman

Jim Fruchterman is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. An engineer turned social entrepreneur, he is a former rocket scientist, founded two of the foremost optical character recognition companies, and developed a successful line of reading machines for the blind. He now runs his own nonprofit technology company, Benetech. (He also won the 2006 MacArthur Fellowship, the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2004 and 2006.) He exclusively talks to DubaiBeat.com before attending the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda here in Dubai.

Would you please tell us a bit about the background of your relationship with the World Economic Forum and your participation in the upcoming Summit on the Global Agenda?

I was award the Schwab Award for Social Entrepreneurship (Prof. Klaus Schwab is the founder of the WEF) in 2003. I have had the honor of attending the Annual Meeting in Davos five times, as well as regional summits in Africa and India. My organization, Benetech, is one of Silicon Valley’s leading nonprofit organizations, with a mission of bringing technology to all of humanity. I am part of the Global Agenda council on philanthropy.

What specific area is your focus and how do you say it can help improve state of the world?

We serve people with disabilities, as well as human rights and environmental groups. We believe that technology helps disadvantaged communities just as it helps those with great advantages.

What do you think about the city of Dubai, the host for this summit?

I’m quite looking forward to my first visit to Dubai!

- Interview with Journalism Professor and Blogger, Jeff Jarvis
- Davos in Dubai – this weekend

Filed under davosdubai08, interviews

 Interview with Journalism Professor and Blogger, Jeff Jarvis

jeff jarvis dubaiJeff Jarvis is a journalism professor at the City University of New York and writes the media and news blog BuzzMachine.com. A founding editor of Entertainment Weekly, he is consulting editor of Daylife, a news startup. He writes a new media column for The Guardian and consults for media companies. He exclusively talks to DubaiBeat.com before attending the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda here in Dubai.

Would you please tell us a bit about the background of your relationship with the World Economic Forum and your participation in the upcoming Summit on the Global Agenda?

I was lucky enough to get involved with the WEF when they asked for some help in opening up the annual meeting in Davos to the conversation on blogs and the internet. That led to the Davos Conversation Page, which in turn led to more videos at the conference (last year, with YouTube playing a central role there). As a result, I've been able to go to the last two annual meetings and I wouldn't miss them for the world. I come away with new perspectives on the world and with inspiration (much of which found its way into my book, What Would Google Do?, which is coming out in English in January). A few months ago, Prof. Klaus Schwab announced that the WEF would create its Global Agenda Councils and I'm lucky again to be included.

What specific area is your focus and how do you say it can help improve state of the world?

I am in a group devoted to the future of the internet, which is rather intimidating considering that the council also includes people who helped create the internet and some of its greatest institutions. I think the WEF stands in an excellent position to demonstrate to nations and companies the value of ubiquitous, broadband, open internet access leading to economic development, education, entrepreneurism, involved citizens, and free speech.

What do you think about the city of Dubai, the host for this summit?

I've never been to Dubai and so I'm delighted to be coming and don't know exactly what to expect except surprises.

- Interview with Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, Jim Fruchterman
- Davos in Dubai – this weekend

Filed under davosdubai08, interviews

 Five Questions with Financial Times Chief Columnist, John Gapper

John Gapper is associate editor and chief business commentator of the Financial Times. He has worked for the FT since 1987, covering labour relations, banking and the media. In 1991-92, he was a Harkness fellow of the Commonwealth Fund of New York, and studied US education and training at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author, with Nicholas Denton, of All That Glitters, an account of the collapse of Barings in 1995.

Recently in two columns and three blog posts on the Financial Times, you have covered Gulf states activities and progress. What is the big deal about the Gulf states these days? Is it all about their money?

Essentially, yes. I think it is about money and the oil boom. If it were not for that founding phenomenon, there would be a lot less interest in the Gulf. The fact that they are now investing heavily overseas, including in US financial institutions has provoked a lot of attention. However, I think there is also a lot of interest in the ways that Gulf states such as Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are trying to diversify their economies and defying the cliche of Arab oil states.

You have recently been in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. How would you describe the places? Do you see a bubble?

I think they are both exciting and exhilarating places. I would also say that I found the culture clashes between new and old worlds in Dubai amusing - things such as the ski slope and the hotel and amusement park booms. I suppose there is always the possibility that the whole thing is a bubble when properties in the desert are selling for a lot of money. To that extent, it is reminiscent of Florida or Arizona. I am sure there is some excess and froth. However, on the whole, I am hopeful that Dubai can build an enduring enough economic base to weather a fall in the oil price without completing collapsing.

Freakonomics writer, Steven Levitt, was in Dubai at the same time as you. He is suggesting Dubai is following a path in which rule of law is important, but democracy is not. What would you see as the ideal form of governance in such places?

I am a believer in democracy and human rights and the Gulf states lack democracy and have a spotty human rights record. Still, I am also something of an optimist that economic development eventually brings demands for democratic involvement and more rights - for both men and women. So I hope that will be the evolution in the Gulf.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi funds are actively buying stakes in US real estates and companies - a similar trend as in the past oil booms and by Japanese investors. Is this new round any different?

I think it is somewhat different. I think the sovereign wealth funds of both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are more phisticated than the petrodollar investors of the 1970s and the Japanese bubble investors who mainly snapped up trophy assets abroad. I think Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both making smarter deals for long-term value and investing in enduring companies and franchises.

Giorgio Armani once suggested "Dubai is the new New York". Sitting at your office in New York City, what would you suggest Dubai do, or not do, if it wants a similar status as NYC?

Interesting question. New York is worried about London being the new New York as well. I think Dubai is doing a lot of things right to become the new New York - establishing a financial centre, trying to bring in culture and entertainment, providing places for outsiders to buy and live. But history counts for a lot. Even when New York went through its worst times in the 1970s, there was something about its spirit, opennes and freedom that kept people there. Those are the hardest things to replicate because they are spontaneous and cannot be decreed by government fiat.

Filed under interviews

 Five Questions with Booking.com Manager, Sabrina Costermans

“Five Questions” is a regular feature of DubaiBeat.com. Successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and companies tell us about their experiences and stories in a Middle East context.

Sabrina Costermans is the Middle East Manager of Booking.com. She joined Booking.com in 2002 at the company’s head office in Amsterdam as Account Manager Belgium/Luxembourg. In 2006 she moved to Dubai to set up the local office for the Middle East region where she is responsible for all aspects of new business development. Sabrina holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Tourism Management and Consultancy from the NHTV Breda, The Netherlands.

Tell us briefly what booking.com is about. Why would a Middle Eastern traveler come to your website for booking instead of asking the travel agency next door?

Booking.com has a wide choice of over 30,000 hotels that are bookable online generating an instant reservation confirmation. Travellers can choose from a wide range of properties whether seeking small guesthouses or 5 star luxury hotels, not only in key cities but also in many hidden regional destinations across Europe in particular. Furthermore, guests pay the hotel directly upon checking out - there are no upfront fees. In addition, there are over 1 million guest reviews left by previous guests that have booked and completed their stay via booking.com. This is a valuable tool for customers to help assess the suitability of a hotel for their needs.

Thinking as a hotel manager, why should a hotel in the Middle East be a part of your offering?

Booking.com has over 20 million unique users a month, thus offering hotels access to a whole new source of potential reservations. By promoting hotels on our own site and over 3,000 distribution partner sites, we can offer huge visibility to properties to help complement their own sales initiatives. Furthermore, hotels have full control over their rates and availability which they manage on our online hotel administration system. This provides them with the flexibility to open/close out room availability, set their rates which will adjust instantly across our site and all our partner sites whenever they are changed. Finally, there are no fees and guests pay the hotel directly upon checking out. Booking.com then sends a commission invoice to the hotel on a monthly basis for all stayed bookings, providing a win-win partnership.

A company like Google has initially selected Cairo for its Middle Eastern operations. What was your reasons to choose Dubai?

Dubai is at the hub of the hospitality industry with continuous growth and development at an astounding rate. As a result, Booking.com decided to focus its Middle East expansion initially on the Gulf States and Dubai was the natural choice of location for our office.

Based on your experience in Europe, what sort of partners, online or offline, would you be most interested to have in the Middle East? (Resellers, Sales Affiliates, Marketing Partners, ...?)

Booking.com has a varied affiliate partner programme, pursuing all types of channels varying from airlines, travel agents, tourist boards or destination guides. For example we currently work with: Via Michelin, Charles De Gaulle airport, Eurotunnel, Visit Britain, YellowPages (UK), as well as many small and medium sized companies. We currently work with over 3000 distribution partners.

Our last question is usually an unusual question: When was the last time you worked at the office in a weekend?

Office - Home … Home - Office …. There’s not much difference these days with an internet connection!

Filed under interviews

More from interviews ...

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  Five Questions with Jaxtr Co-Founder Touraj Parang

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