According to Alia Adi, founder of the Middle East’s only online food network, an entrepreneur requires no more ingredients than a video camera, a YouTube channel, and savvy business nous. The startup chef shares her groundbreaking story with Vision
“Usually you try to grow a business,” says Alia Adi, the Dubai-based chef and entrepreneur behind the enormously successful Arabic-language YouTube cooking channel Basmaty. “Mine did the opposite!”
If you consider the fact that Adi’s team, which started with four people in 2011 producing around 100 Arabic-language cooking videos a month from their studio in Damascus, to just Adi toiling away on her own in a kitchen in Dubai by 2014, then that’s an accurate portrait. “90 per cent of my team had to leave Syria so it just wasn’t doable anymore,” says the 38-year-old, who was raised in Switzerland before moving to Syria in 2007 to work for the family’s olive oil business.
The viewing figures, though, tell a different story: one million views of their YouTube channel per month and 185,000 subscribers. A recipe for Turkish cheese borek alone has notched up almost 1.9 million views. War may have thrown a significant stumbling block in Adi’s path, but Basmaty’s popularity has stubbornly continued to grow.
Following her move to Dubai in 2012 and several years of single-handedly producing the channel’s content, Adi has now, with the help of In5, a government-backed incubator that assists entrepreneurs in Dubai, taken her channel to the next level: Basmaty World is an online food network that houses cooking content from all over the region. “These are food content creators that are present on any social media,” says Adi. “They don't necessarily have to have a YouTube channel.”
It made a huge difference to go through an incubator rather than having to register on my own in the Freezone
As well as providing Adi with financial support in setting up the business, In5 offers other benefits: “because everyone within it is a startup, you get to meet lots of other entrepreneurs,” says Adi. “It made a huge difference to go through an incubator rather than having to register on my own in the Freezone. They give you support for three years and then you get discounts in terms of the licences and visas so that was a huge plus.”
Basmaty World has a slick look, and features cuisine from all over the globe. It is currently the MENA’s only online food network, and, as well as offering its contributors technical and creative support, provides them with much-needed numerical punch when it comes to monetizing their content. “There are so many talented people who are creating good content,” says Adi. “The issue is when they go and try and sell to advertisers on their own, they’re not as strong. They might have thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers but often it's not enough. Going as a network, where we have different channels – all the audiences add up together and that way we’re stronger.”
Prior to the network’s set-up Adi also spent a year in London, before deciding that Dubai was where her future lay. “My market is here in Dubai,” she says. “Everything I do is in Arabic and my clients I deal with are here - everyone I deal with is here. It’s the best location in the region for startups, there is no doubt about it. There are people from so many different countries and you get the opportunity to meet so many people on a creative level.”
On her success, Adi is pragmatic: “I started my channel at a time when there was a huge gap in the market. The views really grew organically and very quickly because any time anyone searched for an Arabic recipe video I would come up first because there wasn't much else on YouTube then.”
She is even is about to make her first hire: a video editor. “I am very happy to be delegating that part!”