Local Heroes: The Entrepreneur Osama Natto

osamanatto

I wanted to change the conversation on this blog, with the launch of a series of Q&As with people I know who are in the region and who are from the region and who are pushing for positive change. First up is Osama Natto, a Saudi gentleman who has worked in a range of roles. Today Osama’s focus is very much on encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation in the Kingdom. He’s touched thousands with his can-do attitude, his belief in local talent, and his love of technology.

I hope Osama will inspire you as much as he does me. If there’s someone you know who deserves a blog post, then please do drop me a note. In the meantime, enjoy the read.

Osama, tell us about your career and the choices that impacted your career?

I started working at a very young age in my father’s hardware shop in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. I used to clean the shelves and place price tags on products. I started with 10 Saudi Riyals a day, which around two and a half dollars. Working at the shop instilled in me workmanship, discipline, and how to be practical. It also built in me the sense of financial independency. I opened my first bank account as soon as I was legally old enough, and I started my first investment. When I joined the King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals I continued to work part time in odd jobs such as lab attendant, teacher assistant, and applications programmer at a shipping company. I also worked freelance as a tutor and research assistant to students. When I was a freshman I noticed a recruiting brochure at the dorm room of one of the senior students. The brochure was for Procter & Gamble. On that day I said to myself, “I will work for one company, I will work for five years only and that company will be Procter & Gamble.” And I did stick to my promise.

So, what made you become an entrepreneur?

My decision to become an entrepreneur was made when I was in my early teens. I was fascinated by success stories of Saudi businessmen such as Alwaleed Bin Talal and Abdulrahman Alzamil. I had my own ventures that made money when I was still in school including selling fireworks during celebration seasons, video production for family and school events, and selling custom made jewelry.

What made me become an entrepreneur is freedom. There is no price on personal freedom. Freedom in decisions, freedom in time, freedom in lifestyle, and financial freedom. This does not necessary mean being wealthy, but instead not being dependent on someone or an organization to make a living.

What entrepreneurial lessons would you share with others?

Dream big, look at what is holding you back. Most of what is holding us back are internal factors that can and will be overcome once we understand them. Focus on products that have an impact on people regardless of their age, geographic location or ethnic background. Stay away from service-based businesses as they tend to consume you.

How do you foster innovation, and why does it matter in this region?

Fostering innovation in the region is a bit challenging for many reasons. Understating of innovation, the innovation process, the availability of facilities and resources to foster innovation. Our region needs innovation the most due to the dependence on natural resources and the growing number of population compared to the availability of jobs. Only through innovation can we create new products, new markets and hence new jobs. There is an entrepreneurship movement in the region; what I would like to see is an innovation movement. My current venture is more about innovation and less about entrepreneurship. I want to build the innovative products that the world needs. I want to bring the Arabs back to innovation. Our Arab ancestors innovated many concepts and products which still serve as the basis of many innovations today.

What inspires you?

Nature and beauty inspire me.

How is technology changing how we work in the region?

Technology helped to a big extent to get rid of the borders. Anyone in the region with a computing device and a connection to the internet can create something and sell it to the world. Technology not just gave us access to the consumers around the world, it provided us with research and data available at our figure tips. With technology, you have access to unlimited talent and resources at affordable prices.

On my previous venture, I had millions of dollars and a team over 60 people working with me. In my current venture, I wanted to try something new so I started with $400, built a product by using resources from around the world and sold it to people from around the world by using my laptop and any internet connection that is now widely available and, in some cases, free.

Will Saudi’s telcos, government charge Saudi consumers to use social media?

Saudi is a country that isn’t well understood by many, especially by communicators. However, for all of the stereotypes the Kingdom has the capacity to surprise. Take for example a piece published by Saudi Arabic-language newspaper Al-Watan on the 15th of December. If true, the short story was a good piece of investigative journalism. To summarize for non-Arabic speakers out there, a number of telecommunications companies have met with the Communications and Information Technology Commission, the national regulator which oversees the telecommunications industry, to discuss levying on consumers a charge for social media services (the full story in Arabic is below).

Saudi telco operators have apparently met with the national regulator to discuss levying a social media charge on consumers, according to this piece in Al-Watan

Saudi telco operators have apparently met with the national regulator to discuss levying a social media charge on consumers, according to this piece in Al-Watan

The Kingdom has the most active social media base in the region; Saudis are avid users of services such as Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube. Saudis have taken to social media to call for boycotts against the telcos for what they describe as poor service and high costs. Quite understandably, this report didn’t go down too well with Saudi consumers. A new hashtag was conceived, named fees/charges on social media (#رسوم_علي_مواقع_التواصل).

The regulator has moved to deny the initial story – Al-Watan carried a denial piece the day after. However, partly due to a lack of trust in both the telcos and the regular, many Saudis online have expressed their belief that the news is true. The report prompted many Saudi influencers to share their own views online on the quality of service offered by Saudi telecommunications firm; below is a vblog by Saudi Gamer.

Globally telcos have been seeking solutions to redress the challenge of revenues lost to social media channels or applications which offer lower or free services such as messaging and calling. The issue is going to get worse, according to London-based research and analytics firm Ovum. The telecommunications industry will lose a combined $386 billion between 2012 and 2018, the firm predicts, from customers using over-the-top (OTT) voice applications such as Skype, or Whatsapp.

Some operators such as Verizon are looking to become content producers as well as deliver the content through the pipes. However, charging consumers for accessing social media would be a short-term but unpopular option for telcos to use as they seek to fill the revenue gap. How much it may impact online consumer behavior and advertising is anyone’s guess. We may find out next year.

The need for clear communications – Saudi’s drive to balance the books

lazy-saudis

Saudi’s social media scene has been on fire over the past week due to a number of controversial issues regarding government officials. This is a news story from the Times on a comment made by a minister regarding Saudi inefficiency.

This week has been an interesting one for Social Media watchers in the Kingdom. Thousands of Saudi nationals have taken part in online campaigns/used popular hashtags relating to three high-level government officials who have either made controversial statements or who have been accused of using their influence on behalf of family members (you can see media coverage on two of the issues from Saudi Gazette here and Arab News here). The campaigns follow a decision a month ago to cut benefits for Saudi government employees. The decree, which was made in light of low oil prices and a rising Saudi budget deficit, is biting hard; this week Reuters reported that the Saudi central bank had asked retail banks to reschedule property loans for those affected by the cuts.

One of the campaigns began after a government document was leaked online, with personal details including name, position and salary. It’s only logical to assume that many government officials in the Kingdom are angry at seeing their pay cheques shrink; they’ll become even more angry when they see what they feel to be others not doing the same. In this environment, it wouldn’t be hard to also imagine officials being able to take a picture via their smartphone of a document which may reveal an embarrassing situation and then sharing it via social media (or, more likely, dark social).

I had the pleasure of listening to a senior Saudi journalist this week. He made a pertinent point when he said, “We can spend billions on consultants. We could have spent millions on a PR agency to convey the message behind the cuts and why they were necessary.”

In times of hardship, good communications becomes even more important. Saudi’s citizens need to understand the logic behind government decisions. They need to feel that they are engaged and are part of the debate. And they need to see government’s leadership doing just that, namely leading by example (as I’ve said before, actions are much more powerful than words in shaping perception).

We may see more issues coming to light in the Kingdom over the coming months, and more skeletons being revealed in government closets. When it comes to the government’s engagement and communication with its people, the transparency, clarity and consistency (or lack of) will either help get many Saudi citizens on board, or it may alienate them further. I for one hope it’s the former, rather than the latter.

 

Saudi Telecom, Boycotts, Social Media (راح_نفلسكم#) and Stock Price Impact

Forgive my wordy headline, but there’s a lot to get into this story. Before anything else, let me spell out the context. Saudi and Saudis love social media, but they haven’t been enthused by the efforts of the telecommunication providers in the country to block free call apps or services offered by the likes of FaceTime, SnapChat and WhatsApp. To add insult to injury, consumers have claimed that the Kingdom’s three telcos (Mobily, Saudi Telecom and Zain) have rolled back unlimited data services.

So what have the country’s social media-crazy consumers done? Yes, you guessed right. They’ve taken to social media to call for a boycott. Under the hashtags (which basically means we’ll bankrupt you) and  (boycott telco companies), the idea is simple.

Starting from last weekend, Saudi users have begun to switch off their phones. The hashtag and others have gone viral, and users have taken to Twitter to demand action against the telcos, including physical boycotts of stores.

The ultimate mark of consumer sentiment is cartoons, and Saudi’s most prominent cartoonist Abdullah Jaber stepped in to pen his own thoughts on the issue (the below translates as the Telco company on the right, saying to the consumer, “why are you angry?”

Saudi Telecom in particular has been hit, both in terms of its social media following (the carrier has lost almost 150,000 followers on its Twitter account), as well as its share price which dropped by several percent on Sunday morning after trading opened on the Saudi bourse.

stc-followers

Saudi Telecom’s Twitter account @STC_KSA lost over 140,000 followers in the space of two days as boycott calls spread (source: Twitter Count).

stc-stock-price

Saudi Telecom’s stock price was also hit on Sunday, with an initial fall of 8% (source: Google Finance)

There’s a further dimension to this story, with some online accounts in the UAE calling for similar action to be taken against the two telco incumbents (see the hashtag  and ).

Is this type of online activism on a single economic issue going to become more common, particularly with the state of finances across the region? And what can communicators do about an issue that is about a product and a strategy that consumers don’t like?

As always, it’d be good to hear your thoughts.

What’s in a word? Coverage of Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi’s departure by newswire media and social media reactions

Another week passes by and we witness more remarkable changes in Saudi Arabia. Over the past weekend Saudi King Salman announced a raft of changes which impacted the Kingdom’s government structure as well as those who were tasked with leading the changes.

The headline grabber, in more ways than one, was the departure of the longstanding oil minister Ali Al-Naimi. Al-Naimi had been an ever-present in government, serving as the oil minister for just over two decades. There had long been talk of Ali Al-Naimi, who is now 80, stepping down. When the time came, it was still a surprise to many.

Rather than talk about the man, who is a legend in the oil industry and is held in high regard by Saudis, I wanted to briefly look at the headlines from the AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

AFP used the word ‘sacked’ in their headline, but then reverted to replaced in the copy. Interestingly, the piece which was on the AFP site is no longer present. The below is from the cached version on Google.

AFP Naimi coverage

Bloomberg, which has scored a number of scoops in the Kingdom recently with its coverage of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, went for the below title which . The news piece was diplomatic in terms of the wording used about All Al-Naimi’s departure, including the use of the verb ‘replaced’ to describe the change in ministers (Ali Al-Naimi’s successor is the Chairman of Saudi Aramco Khalid Al-Falih).

Bloomberg Coverage

Reuters also focused on the incoming minister and used the word replaced.

Reuters coverage

Last but not least, Wall Street Journal initially opted for the word ‘fired’ in their title. After a firestorm on Twitter, including attacks against its Riyadh-based Saudi correspondent (and Saudi national) Ahmed Al-Omran, the title was changed from fired to dismissed (the word fired is still in the url as you can see from the below).

WSJ coverage

The argument that the WSJ team put forward is that the wording was correct – one is appointed to a minister’s post and then one is fired. Fired effectively means the same as replaced, dismissed or sacked. The nuance was lost on many who took offence and reached out directly to Ahmed via Twitter to complain. In a rare display of understanding, the WSJ changed the title. Ahmed Al-Omran also apologized for any offense taken.

In a region where the international media has rarely been given much attention by the national population, the Ali Al-Naimi story underlined a possible change in attitudes brought about by social media and the need to communicate what Gulf nationals feel is a correct story or narrative to the outside world. For these reasons, this will not be the last time that the foreign media comes under scrutiny for the wording they use to describe what is happening on the ground here in the Gulf.

How do you make a whole country hate a child-focused health intervention programme? Ask Nido…

It’s not often that the first (and most popular) comment on a YouTube video is a request for ISIS to blow up a company’s headquarters. However, as I have learned time and time again, anything is possible when you combine the Gulf’s nationals with social media and an issue they’re passionate about.

To cut a long story short, a video for Nestle’s Nido brand been trending in Saudi. The video tells the story of an initiative by Nestle and the company’s consumers on the occasion of the powdered milk brand’s 70th anniversary, to provide 14 million cups of milk to 40,000 children for six months. The activation is a cause-related marketing exercise which involves the region’s shoppers. And you’d think everyone would love it; who doesn’t like seeing kids being fed and a corporation giving away its products to a good cause?

Well, here’s the issue. Someone behind the video/brand thought it’d be a good idea to boost the number of videos through paid media. For the space of how many days beginning from the 3rd of March, this video was everywhere. To the extent that it’s been watched over ten million times. Which is great, if you like big viewer numbers. However, people don’t like to be forced to do anything online, especially being forced to watch the same video over and over and over again.

The statistics sum it all up – 419 likes versus 9,663 dislikes. But it’s the venom in the comments, the hatred of how someone (please stand up) who has decided to spend a load of cash to promote the video has ruined the viewing experience of tens of thousands of Saudis who have had to sit through this content. Saudis complained en mass, even going so far as to tweet @nidoarabia and @nestle to ask them to stop promoting the video as well as reporting the video as spam. Peeved that their own content is being pushed to one side and having to deal with disgruntled YouTubers, Saudi content creators have apologizing endlessly. And there’s even been calls for a boycott. Now, that’s how you change beliefs and habits whilst also inspiring action Nestle!

The comments, many of which are hilarious, range from pure hatred of the brand’s blanket to many admitting they’re now beginning to hate drinking milk (and children…).

We've had enough of Nido!

We’ve had enough of Nido!

There were some Saudis even reminiscing for Marwan Taloudi, the man who spammed Saudis with his YouTube get-rich-quick ads.

YouTube is still a business after all, but if you’re going to get people to like what you do, then don’t shove it down their throats for days on end.

And just cause I love you all, and I love Nido even more, I’d like to share the video with you. I hope you enjoy watching the most hated video in Saudi right now.

A big thanks to Osama Natto for the story and the content.

McDonalds Saudi and the Saudi national who was arrested – a lesson in virality and crisis comms

Last week Saudi’s social media space was alive with chatter and calls for a boycott. But this wasn’t for a global cause, a political issue, or a case of consumer activism. It wasn’t even about the color of a dress or the shenanigans of a Kardashian. Instead, it was about a Saudi national who tweeted a complaint about the drink he’d been served at a McDonalds restaurant and the rapidly escalating series of events which got him put in jail.

I’m going to try to keep this story as simple as possible for factual reasons.

A young Saudi national Abdulrahman bin Jumah was at a McDonalds outlet in Jeddah on the 19th of October and ordered a meal, which included a coke. Inside the cup, he claimed he found a cockroach. He then shared the image on social media to his followers (which I assume would have been less than the 3,216 followers he has now). As Abdulrahman deleted his Tweets, here’s an alleged image from another Saudi Twitter account who retweeted the Tweet.

This was the initial tweet from Abdulrahman on the 19th of October with the alleged cockroach in the cup

This was the initial tweet from Abdulrahman on the 19th of October with the alleged cockroach in the cup

Abdulrahman tweeted his experience and contacted the local municipality online at their Twitter account @JeddahAmanah. The municipality took swift action and closed the branch in question the day after on the 20th.

Simple enough? You’d think so (and restaurant closures are a fairly common occurrence in Saudi as you can see from this tweet announcing the closure of a KFC outlet in Jeddah. I cannot comment as to whether a restaurant closure would be common for McDonalds Saudi).

After a day however (I’m assuming here the 21st), the branch reopened and Abdulrahman tweeted his thoughts on the issue, namely that he was surprised that the branch could open so soon, and that he wasn’t looking for compensation but rather an apology for the experience. Again, these are screen shots as the original tweets were deleted.

Abdulrahman tweeted his surprise at how the restaurant could have opened so soon after its closure for an alleged health violation

Abdulrahman tweeted his surprise at how the restaurant could have opened so soon after its closure for an alleged health violation

Now this is where it gets murky as later on in the day Abdulrahman was accused of defamation by McDonalds Saudi Arabia. He tweeted his experiences as he was first accused of defamation…

Abdulrahman shared on Twitter the news that McDonalds had made an allegation of defamation against him. Defamation is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman shared on Twitter the news that McDonalds Saudi had made an allegation of defamation against him. Defamation is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia

And then arrested by the police. Defamation is a criminal rather than a civil offense in Saudi Arabia. After the below tweet Abdulrahman’s timeline supposedly goes quiet.

The Saudi at the center of the allegation was even tweeting as he was being held by police for defamation

The Saudi at the center of the allegation was even tweeting as he was being held by police for defamation

On the 22nd Abdulrahman tweeted an apology, four times, writing that the bug was not in the cup and that he was sorry for using social media when making the allegations against McDonalds Saudi. The second time he used two hashtags, McDonalds arrests the national and we are all Abdulrahman Jumah (ماكدونالدز_تعاقب_مواطن #كلنا_عبدالرحمن_جمعه#)

McDonalds Saudi also put out a statement online in response to many in Saudi who have come out to ask about the allegations or who have supported Abdulrahman stating that the case was caused by an intention to gain financially from the allegation that he’d made and that, following the apology, McDonalds Saudi had dropped the case.

McDonalds issued a statement

McDonalds issued a statement that the allegation was false and the case is now closed

Abdulrahman deleted all of the story’s tweets, except those in which he makes an apology.

Without knowing the facts in the case, it’s hard to know what really happened. Did Abdulrahman really find a cockroach in his drink or was it a case of extortion? However, Saudis on Twitter have not been kind to McDonalds Saudi and their involvement of the police. The hashtags used by Jumah are replete with angry responses to McDonalds Saudi. The case has also made the national media, albeit indirectly.

Makkah Daily's Abdullah Bin Jaber parodied the story in typical fashion by lampooning McDonalds for their actions

Makkah Daily’s Abdullah Bin Jaber parodied the story in typical fashion by lampooning McDonalds Saudi for their actions

McDonalds Saudi certainly acted quickly in terms of responding to the crisis, but did they respond in the right way? Has the issue done more damage than it otherwise would have thanks to the actions of McDonalds Saudi, or were they right in involving the police when they did due to their belief that they were being blackmailed?

What are your thoughts? What lessons can we take from this case? I’d love to hear from you.

PS Saudi social media personality Omar Hussein has also talked about the issue. For you Arabic-language speakers out there you can see his Facebook video below.