Have you ever wondered what does it take for someone to finish a task? If you think over it, you’ll find yourself zeroing in on attributes like hard work, understanding of the task, determination, skills, dedication, etc.
Now pause, and think if the attribute ‘gender’ came across your mind. Chances are high that you didn’t think about it. That is because it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. A task, however easy or complicated, can be done if the doer sets her/his mind on it. If you choose to take it on, there is no endeavor that you won’t succeed in.
Echoing similar thoughts, is Jane Drury, the CEO and Founder of ME Digital Group, Dubai. Jane heads the firm with offices in UAE and Saudi with a completely female leadership team, and her teams across both locations are pretty much 50/50 male/female.
“We have over 30 nationalities working for MEDG with women being well-represented across most business functions. We don’t set out with any male/female agenda when hiring; we’re looking for the best person for the role,” Jane expresses.
Kick-starting Her Journey
Jane, a business graduate, started her career with Unilever as a commercial trainee, qualifying with CIMA. Her work saw her successively treading through marketing, financial and internal audit roles, in London and Milan.
In 1997, her family moved to Dubai. Initially, she found it difficult to find information that covered lifestyle for families, and as Dubai began to grow as an international hub, she was keen enough to spot the clear opportunity to support the ever-increasing numbers arriving. At the same time, the personal use of the web was just beginning to blossom. She then launched her first website, ExpatWoman.com in 2002; an information portal both to help newcomers and provide ongoing support for residents.
Expat public interest was immediate and exponential. “We were responding to new opportunities every month, creating new services, channels and verticals to meet the needs of both readers and advertisers – and ideally both concurrently,” adds Jane.
Today ExpatWoman(EW) is the leading information site for expatriate families globally. From a business point of view, it attracts the highest traffic for any consumer digital magazine in the GCC. The site is heavily content-rich and consistently reports 2 million monthly unique visitors, still primarily the Middle East focused. The UAE is the key market for traffic, and Saudi Arabia second. Her team also runs regional EW sites for all GCC countries and has sites for expats living in Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam.
Forming ME Digital
Parallel to the development of EW, in 2014 Jane set up ME Digital Group to house EW brands and further develop their digital interests in the region. The Group owns and operates an established and expanding portfolio of brands and web properties across the Middle East, with offices in the UAE and KSA.
The company operates in the online publishing industry, including the global expat community site, ExpatWoman.com, and in the E-commerce world through the region’s leading deal site, Cobone.com which it acquired in 2015. Cobone is the only English/Arabic daily deals site across the UAE and Saudi Arabia and was one of the first e-commerce sites to succeed in the region. It has a large, well-established following of e-friendly shoppers.
About the acquisition, Jane shares, “It is a very different business model to advertising, being essentially CPA or lead generating. It was a steep learning curve for our Cobone team but one that produced fast results.”
Gail Livingstone, Cobone’s CEO, with an enduring passion and collaborative approach, has delivered consistent growth, particularly in Saudi Arabia, which is an exciting market right now as that economy continues to open up. Jane further adds, “I would say the social change has been careful but consistent. For Cobone we’re open to exploring all opportunities. It’s still very new – a pleasure to see a lady driver; we always wave!”
Challenges are Hidden Opportunities
Scaling the business has produced many challenges along the way. Jane states, “Finding the right people for key roles is essential. We have lived by the mantra of continual change, and at times had to deliver on very limited budgets, but we were always moving forward.”
The ME Digital team feels that the market has been challenging through 2018 into 2019, but there is an air of optimism running through businesses in The Emirates and KSA, as the contemporaries consistently report a buoyant second half to the year and more bullish plans for 2020.
In the meantime, the demographics of the EW site have changed over the years, becoming progressively younger with around 70% of readers under 35. This is a reflection of Dubai’s growing fame as a sought-out destination. Also, the typical Dubai expat is no longer a mid to senior career male, supporting a non-working wife and children. Young people at the start of their careers actively seek to move to the region for the lifestyle and opportunities.
With changing dynamics, the business model now involves digital advertising, mainly sponsored content and banners. In Dubai, ME Digital has added offline advertising to the mix with some fifty ExpatWoman events hosted annually, meeting the needs of both consumers and sponsors. Jane shares, “The ExpatWoman Festive Fair in its 8th year, is our flagship event and bears testament to our reach with a footfall of over 10,000 who come to enjoy a fabulous free day.”
In recent years ME Digital has launched stand-alone sites to target niche interest groups – ExpatWomanFood.com, EWmums.com and fashion and lifestyle, ewmoda.com. Its latest investment is in the motoring sector, supporting Expat-Motors, a start-up providing a quality car buying/sales service, that fits with the ethos of its brands. It is moving into the fin-tech space and generally is open to adding more services to the mix that will serve its audience and those who wish to reach them. ME Digital’s offering overall will continue to evolve.
Life as an Entrepreneur
For Jane, the ME Digital Group journey has been long and winding. In a contemplative sense, she expresses, “Coming from a corporate background, life as an entrepreneur is very different, pulling you into all aspects of the business. I have found that nothing is lost and experience from many years ago can suddenly be found to be relevant and useful. It’s a continual learning process and the day that stops, it’s time to give up.”
For more information visit: http://www.medigitalgroup.com/