From their earliest founding days in 2012, to their recent merger and New York Stock Exchange listing, Eddy Maroun and Elie Habib continue to oversee a modern-day Lebanese success story. Their company, the widely-recognized Anghami, is the first legitimate content streaming platform in the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) and has risen to host more than 70 million global users today.
Characterized by a focus on regional listeners and know-how to optimize user experience, Anghami relocated their headquarters from Beirut to Abu Dhabi earlier this year. As regional investment and incubation hubs in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and beyond continue to offer startups the critical resources they need to grow, Lebanon’s struggling technology infrastructure is proving unable to keep up. Read on for our conversation with Anghami’s co-founders as we explore how the move will help them realize their lofty growth targets.
It has obviously been a very exciting time for you two, and for technology in the Middle East as a whole. How have your merger announcement and stock market listing changed your daily routines?
It’s a different mindset – going public has its challenges from a compliance and performance perspective but also raises the profile of the company and allows for more growth and access to capital while remaining independent. We remain focused on growth and performance while bringing onboard leadership with skill sets that would help in being more prepared for chapter two.
In recent years, Souq was acquired by Amazon, and Careem was bought by Uber. Anghami’s merger seems to fit a similar trend. What do these consolidations indicate for the future of tech startups targeting MENA customers?
The current M&A [Mergers and Acquisitions] scene is a natural result of years of private and public investments made in tech. With our Nasdaq listing via a SPAC [Special Purpose Acquisitions Company], we believe we brought in an additional option for similar businesses in the region at a certain stage to explore an important alternative to fuel growth rather than just being acquired by a global player.
What general advice would you give other entrepreneurs who wish to pursue a SPAC merger in order to grow their businesses?
Make sure you get the right SPAC partners as in the case of Anghami. The SPAC market is highly liquid and offers an attractive exit potential for shareholders – you need to make sure you are merging with the right partners – it’s still an IPO [Initial Public Offering] with all what it takes even if fast-tracked – but clearly has its advantages.
With the company on track to becoming publicly traded, it’s natural that your profitability metrics will be scrutinized. Can you comment on Anghami’s strategies to produce new revenue streams and expand user growth beyond the MENA region?
As mentioned in our SEC [the United States Securities and Exchange Commission] filings, Anghami plans to double down on its core market and increase its penetration in MENA, which is still at an early adoption stage with massive growth potential.
Anghami also is planning to expand into new emerging markets like South Asia. We have strong partnerships that enable us to penetrate these markets. Besides, Anghami plans to produce its own original content in partnership with local and international artists/labels. This will create a stronger brand equity as well as generate a new revenue stream.
Finally, Anghami is still innovating and reinventing traditional media such as radio with its Live Radio – that is monetizable in various ways, also by selling online tickets and promoting virtual concerts. Digital concerts generated 600 million US Dollars (USD) in 2020 and are expected to generate 2.2 billion USD in 2021. We believe that this trend will become global and Anghami is on the forefront to capture it given its reach, tech and billing infrastructure.
Anghami’s algorithms process more than 56 million user data points every day. Can you explain to our readers why this enables such a competitive advantage in the music streaming space?
There are three major benefits. The first is music recommendations. Given the data we collect and being specialized in our regional tastes and Arabic genres, Anghami understands its users better and can better recommend songs to users via playlists, weekly or daily mixtapes, or next plays. Then, there is content production. On top of the data, we’re present in every major city in MENA – we identify the trending artists and music genres our users are engaging with the most. Accordingly, we can tailor our content creation to match those trends and deliver higher ROI [Return on Investment] reaching 60 percent as demonstrated through our Anghami Originals releases. The final benefit is specifically targeted ads for brands. The extensive data collected allows for better ad targeting and for moments that only music can identify. Brands witnessed anywhere between a 30-50 percent increase in brand visibility and awareness after an ad campaign on Anghami.
What privacy policies has Anghami adopted to help reassure users that their data is not being misused?
We adopt appropriate data collection, storage and processing practices and security measures to protect against unauthorized access, alteration, disclosure or destruction of your personal information, username, password, transaction information and data stored on our site and app. Sensitive and private data exchange between the site/app and its users happens over a SSL [secure sockets layer]secured communication channel and is encrypted and protected with digital signatures.
Anghami moved its headquarters from Lebanon to the UAE recently. Can you comment on the factors that lead to that decision?
Abu Dhabi is well established as a business platform in a developed ecosystem with a solid infrastructure and deep access to growth capital – we believe that it is more suitable for our next phase of growth – it is also a cultural fit with our Arab roots and represents our core audience. Our Beirut offices will remain a major hub for talent scouting, content creation, and a creativity lab.
We are all quite familiar with the multiple compounding crises affecting Lebanon. Can you share some ideas (or a wishlist) of changes that you believe would help Lebanon become more business-friendly in the future?
Lebanon needs less politicians meddling in its affairs and putting their personal interests ahead of those of the country. Still, we’re confident that this cloud will fade away soon and Lebanon will rise again thanks to its amazing people and the Lebanese diaspora that have been the historical backbone of the country.
Can you tell us more about your partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO), specifically the mentorship initiatives with the local startup community? What needs to be done for similar programs to be developed in Lebanon one day?
Lebanon needs a complete reform – it’s more urgent than anything else. Initiatives like Kafalat andIDAL [Investment Development Authority of Lebanon] are good examples to promote investments and incentivize the private sector.
What vision do you guys have for the future of the music streaming industry? In other words, how will the platform evolve, will AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) become a bigger part of the user experience?
Anghami is evolving from a music platform to a new medium digitizing and revolutionizing many traditional experiences with tech and content. While the pandemic accelerated adoption in many areas, virtual concerts also gained traction and we aim to provide more immersive experiences within and this could be via AR/VR. Same with our Live Radio which allows users to become radio hosts and interact with others in just a tap. The emergence of podcasts, audio shows, and audio platforms has opened new avenues for beyond just music streaming. This has demonstrated its viability and driven the growth of the music industry, which suffered from piracy in the past decade. On top of that, its technology is helping reshape the whole music ecosystem starting from streaming to the latest NFT [non-fungible token] craze.
Hani Daou is a Lebanese electrical engineer based in California. After graduating from the University of California San Diego, he held roles in optical system development with Silicon Valley giants like Intel and Apple Inc. Hani recently rejoined MultiLane, a high-speed test equipment vendor based in Lebanon, in order to bring global attention to Lebanese innovation and contribute to local hi-tech job creation. As a passionate writer he regularly produces publications relevant to the hi-speed data communications industry in addition to topics related to the multiple crises affecting Lebanon.