Our Middle East ‘new media’ company has just turned two years old — this is our revenue story and what we want to do next

Augustus is officially two years old this month. As we stand today, we have 15 full-time employees with two offices in Dubai and Riyadh. What started out as a business license to run Lovin Dubai, morphed into an incorporated media holding company with grand ambitions. The is how our business has performed, in a market (MENA) where total ad spend has dropped approximately 35% since 2015.

  • 2016 — First year
  • Revenue $213,222, net loss $117,078
  • 2017 — Second year
  • Revenue $916,107, net profit $301,664
  • 2018 — Third year
  • (Forecasted) Revenue $1,780,381, net profit $607,966

How we got here is not a straight line, not a typical startup growth curve, and it is all very fragile, some of our failures are as follows

  • Hiring senior industry professionals that didn’t last the pace
  • Trying to be both a publisher and a social media agency, both worth it at different times but something had to give
  • Becoming a sales house representative for a globally recognised software as a service company and not making one sale in 12 months

We learned from those mistakes and phased out the people, social media accounts and agreements that we not growing the business. We also did some things right:

  • Approaching the media publishing industry from the outside
  • Hiring people based on our company values and trusting them with responsibility (only two of our employees had a job when we hired them, and not in the media industry)
  • Appointing a board of directors that were active in their own industries and vested in the long-term growth of the company
  • Avoiding VC money or significant capital investment to retain the flexibility to experiment
  • Taking an approach to set standards that allow us to grow with regular reporting, due diligence and putting processes in place (HR, Finance, Admin, Client Service, Content delivery), that are the hopefully the foundations of what is to come

What we are trying to achieve. Our vision ‘to establish and maintain a new order in media advertising’ includes reward those consuming advertising and introducing new formats, innovations and best practices that are widely adopted throughout the industry. We believe that our business model in the UAE has had an impact in the industry particularly with publishers adopting similar models to us, and hope that this continues.

Our mission ‘to become the new media company of choice in the Middle East’ can be measured by consumers choosing our brands. Since launching Lovin Dubai, it has amassed a following of 1.5 million on Social Media and Lovin Saudi is on a similar trajectory.

We are working on a three-year business plan, 2018 to 2020 that includes further expansion in the region and the introduction of a new media brand, an Arabic online TV station. It will launch on social media in September 2018, with the first show live in January 2019.

The media industry is ever evolving. The trends are often dictated by user behaviour and consumption habits, and these have many influencers. It stuck me a poignant this year when Sir Martin Sorrell said the ad industry has enough creative and talented people to reinvent itself. Many people question whether the agency model is broken, and they look to the next thing, rather than embracing the change. We have time on our side and intend to use it. We will continue to grow the business organically. Feeling your way through the changes, and having a conviction to act on what you see is important to evolve and to keep pace.

Being a ‘new media’ company means being in a perpetual state of change. When we started Augustus just two years ago, there was a trend for a publisher to have a content studio, we resisted calling ourselves a content company, and now publishers are retreating from the lofty goal of taking on agencies. What remains true, is that media brands still resonate with people. Those at the top of their game provide ongoing insightful commentary, however, their narrative evolves at the same pace as the industry. While it’s important to listen and understand, it’s also important not to go all in on the latest trend for the sake of pivoting, rather to stay on your own path.

Two years in, since Augustus launched in August 2016, and since I left my last employer a few months previously, we are confident in where we are going but aware it is very early stages and can be taken away in an instant. We are still in a very fragile place, we are a media publisher in a region where media publishing is different (for the better in my view) than elsewhere, and an economy where one of our markets is coming out of a recession, and in an industry that faces many challenges. We are also in a people or services business, and having the right team and culture also has a fragile air of magic about it.

The part I am most confident about is that ability of people to shape the future of media and advertising. And concerning us, I am confident about our culture, direction and spirit, helped largely by the current crop of exceptional talent and the direction the markets we are working in are headed.

Richard Fitzgerald, MD and founder of Augustus, publishers of Lovin Dubai and Lovin Saudi

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