The Cofounder and CEO of the fast growing media company STEP Group and acclaimed STEP Conference says focusing on the community allows you to enhance perspectives and provide valuable experiences
Can passion help you focus on the big picture? Certainly, passion allows you to keep in mind your audience and deliver an impressive experience.
Ray Dargham is the CEO and Cofounder of STEP Conference, the key tech conference in MENA. He’s also behind a new media phenomenon represented by YallaFeed.com and STEP Group.
‘I think being agile, being resilient, understanding how to shift and evolve and change over time is important.’ In order to create meaningful experiences for two types of communities, he dismissed challenges, focused on the big picture and managed to take advantage of the opportunities.
STEP Conference unites talents and supports development. In the online world, YallaFeed and StepGroup educate and emotionally connect with the audience.
Ray and his team make each experience highly enjoyable, while keeping in mind its useful purpose: ‘there is a lot of things that our audience gets from it when they emotionally connect with the experience.’
Want to use your passion wisely? Learn to do that now and remember to share it with your friends and spread the passion.
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Moustafa: Hello everyone and welcome back to Passion Sundays, the best way to end a week and start another. Our guest today is the co-founder and CEO of one of the fastest growing media companies and the coolest conference around, STEP conference – Ray! Thank you very much for being with us today!
Ray: Thanks for having me!
Moustafa: I really appreciate it! I mean, you guys are doing phenomenal work around here. I’m interested to know where all this success started.
Ray: It started five years ago in basically an art gallery. So we started with wanting to create a different experience for attendees in a workshop setting, in the conference settings. So ok, let’s try to have a setting be an art gallery. I was still studying at the time so… And the experience really is what made the difference and that’s what’s been kind of the main fundamental factor in addition to community. What we have been able to do in the past five years is mix community with experience and with that we have our super fans that really enabled us to get where we are today and triple and quadruple year on year. I mean, we went from, like I said this small room to 4-5000 people attending the conference and another 3-4000 attending the music.
Moustafa: All started in an art gallery.
Ray: All started in a small space, yeah. And this was in Beirut and we moved to Dubai and we did the first event in a place called Make Business Hub, which was a co-working one, the first event there. And then we kind of also growing year on year after that. But again, the focus has been the community, the experience that we give to people, keeping the bar high and every year introducing something new, something different that we really love. And I think when you walk around here and you talk to people, the first thing they tell you is that the buzz, the energy is what they love about being around here.
Moustafa: Love it! So this all sounds great when it’s good. And the story sounds inspiring from being in an art gallery to where you are today. But I’m sure somewhere along the line it has been up and down and going all around. How do you find passion in those times?
Ray: It has. I mean, it’s also basically many times many businesses are defining your business model, where the company is heading and what kind of impact you are trying to make on the audience, on the region, etc. So across the way obviously there have been many bumps that we had but also really like two years ago to kind of establish that group, which we have at STEPGroup.com and YallaFeed.com to the company, which made us a new media company. When I say a new media company it’s the kind of BuzzFeed, Vox, Vice you see in the US. That’s what defines a new media company here. What we’re building here is a sort of a model for the region. Essentially this is a business. But if you ask me as a young Arab connecting with my fellow Arabs the leading factor there is to really be able to change their perspective or enhance their perspective instead of changing it because they really lack the knowledge of many places. There is information out there but it’s stuff they connect with, stuff they relate to. And I’m talking about the 15-25-year olds kind of crowd, that is basically half Saudi. It’s a lot of that needed to kind of restart the Arab dream.
Moustafa: So STEP is about restarting the Arab dream in a way.
Ray: More like that. Yeah, in one way or the other, like down the line the vision that we’re trying to do is like that. It’s about the impact that we make on people through the day-to-day content that do to help them become more aware, to change their perspective, to become more ambitious in one way or another. And not in a direct way. So it’s more like – if you read the content on STEPFeed it’s funny, day-to-day enjoyable kind of content but there is a lot of things that our audience gets from it when they emotionally connect with the experience.
Moustafa: Passion is purpose in my book. And the reality is that what you’re doing – you’re serving a purpose and that makes you passionate.
Ray: Of course!
Moustafa: What I like though, is that you seem to be very disregarding to the challenges in a way. So in a way you’re like ‘I’m dealing with what I have to deal’ but you immediately transform the discussion from the challenge and focus on the big picture.
Ray: (Laughs) There’s a lot of challenge if we are to talk about challenges. In a region where… see the region, the Middle East… you can be in the US and have the chance to make it global, to grow faster, etc. But being in the region allows you to have an impact on an entire 300-400 million people economy and audience. But the challenges are huge right now. Given the economic situation, being in Saudi, being a startup as well, having to present triple figures to growth year on year in the same time. You know, looking at that, in an economy that’s kinda shrinking, right? This is one of the challenges, among many others. I mean, as a startup from day one luck is never on your side. Because how many startups are the ones that succeed? But I think being agile, being resilient, understanding how to shift and evolve and change over time is important. But the region gives a great opportunity. Dubai – Dubai is the opportunity in the region. If you ask me, if Dubai wouldn’t exist I would probably not be here, to be honest. Dubai has given us as Arabs the chance to, you know, breathe and have some hope and be able to see that light at the end of the tunnel, you know.
Moustafa: I love it! So basically in a way what you’re saying is that because of you seeing first that big picture, focusing on that big picture and grabbing the opportunity of the existence of a certain space that would allow you to do, that is for the better.
Ray: Yeah, you have to. At the end of the day, you have to have a proper business model, a certain market share that’s clear where it’s coming from, but that’s never clear from the start, it sometimes is, but I’m telling now. It seems that it was all set up. But no, it took time to put things together. How this relates to that. And how we become a new media company and not until a year ago, we became focused on what we’re doing, where we’re heading.
Moustafa: It’s ok to be unclear sometimes in your passion. A lot of times you see the purpose.
Ray: Of course! You have to. As an entrepreneur you always have to kind of look ahead and kind of try to move things around to get there.
Moustafa: Move things around to get to your passion.
Ray: Yeah. To your passion.
Moustafa: Amazing. Thanks very much!
Moustafa: Thank you! Thanks!
Moustafa and Ray: Passion!
Moustafa: What do you think? I would really love to know your opinion. So if you found this episode as useful as I did, leave your comments on the blog below and do share it with your friends. And if you’d like more tools, tips, techniques and exclusive interviews that I only share on my website, go to Moustafa.com. And until next episode, live passionately!