Ahmed Saad, the chief executive and co-founder of social media monitoring platform Crowd Analyzer, was itching in 2013 to quit his job and start his own business in Egypt, but the lacking entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country was an impediment.
In search of alternatives, he decided to resign that year and move to Dubai to set up his start-up, buoyed by the welcoming environment for entrepreneurs.
“When we talk innovation in Dubai, people listen,” says Mr Saad, an engineer by training.
“Corporates in Egypt are not risk-takers because they don’t have this culture. So they would rather go with international products even if it is more expensive. They do not want to take the risk with a local company, but things are different in Dubai.”
In Dubai, Crowd Analzyer was part of the Turn8 accelerator programme, organised by port operator DP World.
The Dubai ecosystem has helped fuel the growth of Crowd Analzyer, which aggregates and analyses social media input in English and Arabic to help companies make informed decisions about their brands.
“We built algorithms that can understand the Arabic language with different dialects and that’s the main advantage,” says the 31-year old Egyptian.
Crowd Analzyer may be hitting a goldmine in the sector.
Globally, the social media analytics market is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of 28.6 per cent to $9.54 billion (Dh35bn) by 2022 from $2.23bn in 2016, according to MarketsandMarkets.
Companies want more market research on their brands as they seek to lower expenses and increase sales and social media analysis is one way to achieve that, according to MarketsandMarkets.
Already, Crowd Analzyer is attracting high-profile names as companies seek greater in-depth market research into their brands' appeal and value.
The company’s first client in August 2015 was Dubai-based e-commerce platform Souq.com, now an Amazon venture, although Crowd Analyzer only officially began operations in January 2016.
Now Crowd Analyzer has clients from 10 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and counts Etisalat, Huawei, Uber and PwC as customers. Mr Saad declined to reveal the exact number of the company’s clients.
However, revenues in 2017 grew threefold compared to 2016, and Mr Saad expects to grow the company’s revenue base by at least 150 per cent in 2018 over 2017.
But the company is not in a hurry to be profitable, despite making $1 million in revenues in 2017 alone.
“Being profitable is not really the target,” he says. “I can be profitable and not grow as much as we want.”
So now the company is focusing on raising $5m in series A funding, after raising $1.7m so far from a host of venture capital firms that include Wamda Capital of the UAE and Raed VC of Saudi Arabia.
The company is seeking both regional and international investors in this round.
“The main idea now is to make sure we are dominating the market quickly and then going global with our product because we are dominating the market anyway but we want to accelerate,” says Mr Saad.
“The Middle East was the proof of concept. We now have big enterprise clients in the Middle East and from here we want to offer the same level of services [globally].”
To help in its marketing efforts, the company has another product geared towards international small- and medium-sized enterprises that it offers for free. This product complements the regional Crowd Analyzer product, which targets big companies and could cost as much as $100,000 per year, depending on the package and services required.
For example, the International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva uses Crowd Analyzer, as does social media analytics platform Hootsuite in Canada.
“We created this small product because it creates gross marketing,” says Mr Saad, adding that the other smaller product of the company has around 20,000 clients globally.
“We want to convert the clients from the other product to Crowd Analyzer.”
The company, which currently has offices in Cairo and Dubai, is also inaugurating an office in Saudi Arabia and is eyeing opening a technical centre in Berlin by the second quarter of this year to tap talent there.
“The main challenge is to find the talent so we are going to hire talent in Europe,” says Mr Saad. “That’s the nightmare. It is really hard to find talent and keep it in-house, especially when you talk about software engineers.”