Asking UAE DNA founder Cristina Magallon to answer her own questionnaires at the website www.uaedna.com. If you want your business story published and driven to social media sites within UAE, this is the website to do so.
They call her the Social Media Genie of UAE with a massive following on her UAE DNA Linkedin page (over 90,900 followers) and a Twitter handle @DriveSocMedia with also 90,000 followers! That may be a very small number to some but Cristina did this in a span of only three years and she ain’t Emirates or Etihad or Mubadala as she would shyly say. How she did it? Read on.
Tell us what is UAE DNA.
It’s an online library of business stories all across UAE, from small ones to the big ones. We write about people. Most business write-ups are about the businesses per se. UAE DNA features the owners themselves to get their point of view strait away. We also write about people of interest and people with influence or the ‘game changers’ in the economic structure of the country.
When we get invited to events, we interview the people that are behind the success of these events or a certain brand. That I think makes us different from most.
We have a very exciting regular feature at the website too. The “Just Ask Influencer Interview Series’ is our way of closing the gap of common people to the Influencer and allows them to ask any question.
How did you start your business?
We started UAE DNA on July 17th, 2015. That was on EID holiday.
I started UAE DNA so that business owners can have a platform to tell their start-up story because I believe that this is how a consumer starts their relationship with any business. The writing part is easy but what good is any writing if no one reads it? What we have is the social media engine to drive an article or press release or ads so that it gets maximum views. It is good advertisement for any business. We primarily focus on LinkedIn and Twitter. We do have other social sites too like Facebook and Instagram posting but it is on LinkedIn and Twitter that we got so much interest from our followers.
In today’s world of connected consumers, every one is influenced by someone and that is where we come in. You have to understand that people have developed immunity against traditional forms of advertising, and trust the people they know more than any marketing campaign.
You are considered on of the social media influencers in UAE, how did this happen?
Any business happens by chance. I just wanted to do content and social media for brands since I have an experience handling accounts like Aeropostale, Giordano Middle East and Aldo while I was in the Philippines. I was outsourced but I couldn’t sell myself as Cristina Magallon when I got in UAE three years ago. Brands prefer to work with other nationalities whose native language was English.
I have to give social proof that I was good in what I do, so I created UAE DNA and just wrote about people and moved it to social media. That’s when the numbers came in, and that’s when I got speaking engagements here and there. You suddenly get coined as an ‘influencer’.
This term ‘influencer’ or ‘influence’ has been thrown around loosely. I have really never considered myself as one as my platform LinkedIn is totally in a different ball game. But yes, because of my number of following on my pages and the quality of connections I have, brands do approach me.
I follow a few influencers in UAE and I admire them tremendously. But there are also those that are in your face saying they are influencers. The problem is not with being influential, but branding yourself as an ‘influencer’. I find that tacky, not to mention narcissistic and egoistic.
Anyone who genuinely wields influence doesn’t need to say they do. To self-appoint yourself as an influencer is an invitation for ridicule and even doubt to who you really are.
Why did you decide to go into this line of business in the UAE?
I do social media for small and medium enterprises in UAE. I met many of them for consultations and we would end up somehow with them telling me their start-up stories. I was fascinated.
Some were funny and some were also really heart warming. The difficulties and challenges that owners go through in putting up a business in UAE and how to sustain it. Some would even cry telling me their journey as entrepreneurs! It was very moving. It is always good to read or hear inspiring stories and I don’t know if anyone knows the real story behind every businesses in UAE.
It was about time to tell these to everyone. And I found out that a lot of people also have the same interest as mine in wanting to know these stories. You will be surprised how many people are really interested to know about other people! Not their business, not their success stories, but their journey in getting there.
What were the highs and lows of setting up your business? High and Low Moments
The highest point perhaps was when we tested the website. It got really high hits on online views. We tested it on 10 budding entrepreneurs and they all got positive hits on the website meaning many people read it. It was great to know the outcome and that is us helping these business owners tell their stories.
The website is very new. The greatest challenge was to let the business owners write their story in their own words and fill up the questionnaires we would send. They would rather have a face-to-face interview with us although this too can be arranged. Since UAE DNA is relatively small, the logistics was impossible as there were requests from all around UAE.
The team of writers can’t go and face them. They (the business owners) have to write it on their own or ask their staff to do it and the team of writers from UAE DNA will just proofread and edit their thoughts before publishing it.
That was the challenge – on how you can make business owners write their thoughts when given the questionnaires.
What was your best day at work?
The best day perhaps is when we see our articles of good use for these businesses. We really just want to help them be seen online with our social media support. One post can fetch up to 15,000 to 20,000 or more views in a day. That’s just from a single posting. I can say that the social impressions are very impressive and that means it is showing up on feeds.
The most rewarding perhaps is when the person you feature would message you that an investor read their story and would like to invest in their business. That perhaps is the ultimate reward, that you were able to bridge in scaling their businesses especially the start-ups.
What was your worst day at work?
Worst day would be perhaps when we start pitching business owners to tell their stories and they see a little start-up like me and already would conclude it won’t work. Sometimes, they make you run after them on schedules or would really make you feel YOU ARE TOO SMALL for their time. They crush dreams but all the more I am determined to make it succeed. I think 90,900 readers on LinkedIn alone and are high net individuals at that is not to be taken for granted.
How did you manage to fund or finance your business?
There was very little funding involved.
The idea came three years ago when I set foot in UAE. I met NETAQ eSolutions owners Ali Bin Yahia and Mohammed Al-Kaff and I pitched in my idea. I really wanted partnership with them since I didn’t have the money and capital to do UAE DNA and run it.
I think I was bugging them all the time to do UAE DNA with me. They somehow saw that I was very persistent. I was just relentless to have it done. After my 2nd year in UAE, on EID 2015 (July 17,2015 to be exact) – they gifted me with UAE DNA.
Now we are looking for investors or partners to funds and to scale it up and improve it. We already have the following on LinkedIn and Twitter, now we need to improve the website.
Yes, gift. Although it was my whole concept and idea, Netaq made it happen because they have the resource to do so. I of course met them a few times to lay-out exactly what I want and from there – they just did it. I dropped to my knees crying and thanked God and NETAQ for giving me this opportunity.
I remember to this day Ali Bin Yahia calling me and said over the phone. “Your website is LIVE!” I just kept jumping with joy. I think I was screaming, jumping, laughing, crying – all at the same time. They gave me the website and all. It was amazing.
So Netaq gave you the website and designed it, then what?
The first four months was just filling up the basic web content and figuring out how to ask business owners write their stories with us. There were a lot of upgrades in the design to make the website work. We were constantly working on the website and testing it.
We finally published our first article on October 2015 with Yunib Siddiqui of Jones The Grocer as our first business owner. It was a hit.
Who has been your greatest influence in setting up this venture?
I couldn’t have done this without NETAQ eSolutions. First, they believed in me and that was all that mattered. To start UAE DNA, they designed the website and also they make sure of the website is well maintained.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs when setting up their businesses?
If you really want something, go for it. And never give up. Also pray. Pray really hard.
Describe any amusing or strange experiences, or interesting moments (an incident that happened that you will never forget) that took place while establishing or running your business.
This is perhaps a story I told a million times. I was looking for business owners to start the ball rolling for UAE DNA. With a few friends help, I was endorsed to write to Yunib Siddiqui to be featured.
I was almost certain my mail would end up in the waste basket. Well, he is Yunib Siddiqui of Jones The Grocer!
But he replied to my mail. I almost couldn’t believe it. And at my first try! Now I know why this man deserves to be UAE’s Entrepreneur of the Year. He helped someone he never met, me. He helped a struggling start-up.
And he didn’t even mind to be on our test run. He is just amazing. Really a very good person. And he was the lucky charm.
Describe any challenges you experienced and how you overcame them.
Scaling the website to make it more interactive. We are now in the process of scaling it – like countless meetings with web developers to make the website interactive.
Outline the reasons why your business succeeded and any particular factors that influenced your success.
I really don’t know if I can say we are successful. I guess it is too early to say that. We are still working on it.
If the numbers on our social media are growing, it is perhaps because people are interested to know more about the human thoughts of that certain person who made it happen.
Did you ever think you will be what you are today?
Yes. I couldn’t imagine otherwise.
Outline your future plans for your business.
We want to be an online publishing platform for business stories across UAE. This portal will serve as a medium to advertise themselves that already has high profile individuals who follow us on our social networks. Our social media engine will make sure their stories are driven to be seen and be read. That is what we have that all others don’t.
Future plans would be to partner with PR and Marketing agencies who sees the potential of our social media influence.
We wanted to use LinkedIn as the medium of social influence because traditionally, it is only on Instagram and Facebook that brands want to associate with. From our experience though, LinkedIn has a very high response rate and to the right people.
I really want to work with entities that handle SME’s. You see, what we really do is branding a person with businesses in UAE online and push them with UAE DNA’s influence as there are so many businesses out there that do not have the marketing budget to spend a basic online campaign. The reason is simple, they do not know how. I would love to do social media trainings for them.
If they are up against those businesses who have the budget and resource to do a massive online presence, they can’t compete with those who have – and their business would be difficult and would even die. These SME’s need support because out of the 800,000 registered businesses in UAE, only 17% are using social media only because they have the money to do so. But anyone can really learn how even without cost.
Social media should be taught to everyone and every business. Since we are all interconnected in our businesses, we should help businesses maintain a digital footprint and give that chance to be searched online. We are in this age of technology and every business should have this knowledge on ‘how to’. Not everyone can attend a $2000 to $5000 seminars and studies on learning social media.
Outline any important lessons you learned along the way or ways in which you would have done things differently.
You cannot do a business alone. You will need someone to help you make it across.
I relied on my heavy network on LinkedIn and Facebook but that isn’t enough. Business mentoring is also needed. I am very lucky to get help from social influencers in UAE like Farrukh Naeem Qadri.
Continuous learning is also necessary to improve and grow. I am very fortunate to have used LinkedIn as my primary social media medium and I got a good following in there. LinkedIn is the dark horse of social media and is gaining momentum for brands in their marketing campaigns because the real people or professionals are there. These are the people that have the spending capacity when brands promote stuff online.
I would want to partner with an Educational Institutions with Degrees of Communications to help students publish their Business Story Content and develop their interviewing skills. We will give these students proper credits. And they can help write the history of the UAE business structure as well.
I would also want funding from an organization or institution to continue this accumulation of business stories across UAE. They can use UAE DNA for research purposes too.
Describe the defining moment that made you feel certain that your business is going in the direction you want it to go.
There is a section of UAE DNA we called ‘Just Ask Interview Series’. These are influencers in UAE that we try to close the gap from ordinary citizens like you and me to ASK ANY QUESTIONS from them. Not everyone really has access to these very high prominent individuals.
We featured Col. Khalid Nasser Alrazooqi, Head of Smart Government for Dubai Police and we got a hit of 600,000 plus views. Yes, 600,000! You do not ignore 600,000 plus views.
A total of 400 plus questions was gathered but of course we moderated it and I don’t think the influencer like Alrazooqi has the time to answer all 400 questions! Some were looking for jobs or asking some crazy favours. Basic questions like what is your favourite color to what do you eat for breakfast were thrown. This will also show the human side of an influencer. We sent Col. Alrazooqi 79 questions to be answered in his discretion.
With this kind of impressions, I know for certain I was in the right direction.
Explain why you set up your business in the UAE
Where else? Really, UAE right now where a business should be. It is very diverse and growing in a trajectory position. If people say that business economics is very hard right now, it is not only applicable to UAE as it is everywhere.
This is where UAE DNA comes in. We can help a businesses tell their stories and drive it online. All the more you need social media push to be competitive and be visible online in what they call ‘noise’ online. So if you are not making ‘noise’, no one will ever know about you and your business, No one.
What is the single most important decision you made that contributed to your business?
I really believe that everyone has a story to tell. If you share your business stories, that’s how relationships are created even to readers. They will admire your honesty and thats really how they will remember you – a good story.
Our decision to HELP other businesses was the driving force for us to put up this portal. It is still a working progress but I know UAE DNA will soon be a vehicle for every businesses we can help their stories be seen and read online on a 24/7 window – forever.