x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Award-winning Dubai teenagers early starters in tech entrepreneurship

Two teenage media entrepreneurs reveal the secrets behind their recent wins at the du Social Media Awards.

Karam Raed and Nabih Kayali have started an award winning website on technology, held at their campus.  Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Karam Raed and Nabih Kayali have started an award winning website on technology, held at their campus. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

“I lived in Syria for a year and a half during the war,” says Nabih Kayali, an 18-year old tech entrepreneur from Homs, who now lives in Dubai. “It was horrible. My friends were dying and people were getting arrested. Coming to the UAE was my only way out.”

Over a year later and Nabih’s story could not be more different.

He and his university friend Karam Raed, 19, from Iraq, are the faces behind hereisdubai.com, an online tourist guide intended to promote Dubai and campaign for its successful Expo 2020 bid, which recently netted two prizes at the du Social Media Awards in Dubai.

Winning for its work supporting the Expo, and a People’s Choice award voted on by several thousand young people across the UAE, hereisdubai.com highlights the “splendour and beauty” of Dubai’s tourist spots.

“We wanted to give all categories and all classes reasons to come to Dubai,” says Nabih. “We wanted to be a local city guide which leads people to new attractions by posting in Arabic and English.”

The best thing about Dubai, adds the student, is the lifestyle. “I’m addicted to everything — the streets, the cars, the nightlife — there’s always somewhere to go”.

The teenagers launched the site a year ago and have already racked up 45,000 followers on Twitter, received 50,062 likes from Facebook users and attracted 162,000 followers to their Instagram profile — a collage of skyscrapers, cityscapes and culinary marvels.

In the run-up to the Expo 2020 decision, the pair posted a new fact about Dubai daily on Keek, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, inviting their followers to express support for the Expo bid with the hashtag #hereisexpo.

“We shared our page, advertised, posted it [and worked] 24/7 to target tourists in Dubai, and specific [groups of tourist] – Saudis, and GCC tourists,” says Nabih on the success of their venture.

But despite their knowledge of the Dubai lifestyle, they admit they have little spare time to enjoy it themselves:

“We’re working and studying full-time — our time is full,” says Karam.

The pair’s success — their site already attracts advertisers — could have been built on their many similarities.

They met in Grade 12 of Al Noor International School in Sharjah and now both study at the University of Sharjah; Nabih is in the second year of a pharmacy degree and Karam studies business.

They also both left their native countries during turbulent times.

While Nabih left Syria during the current conflict, Karam was born in Mosul, Iraq, but left in 2003, two months before the outbreak of war.

“When I came back to Iraq after the war, some days were difficult. Mosul is not a secure city. There are bombs every day,” he says.

For Nabih, the realities of war are also with him every day.

“My grandfather and grandmother are still in Syria. We keep in contact — but sometimes we can’t contact them.

“When we call them they tell us it might be the last time they call us, the last time we hear their voice. They say: ‘Please forgive us if we did anything. It’s heart-tearing, so sad to listen to that.

“We want Syria to be like the UAE,” Nabih says.

Now the young Syrian wants to use his fledgling venture to prove he can succeed no matter what.

“I’m doing this to show [my family] I’m a man. To show the people I love that I can do it, he says.

“I’m not like other students who go to clubs and concerts. I’m a grown-up.”

In the future, they are looking to expand their project while continuing to pursue their studies.

As to someday working for a US tech giant like Google or Apple: “That’s our dream”, Nabih says.

Young people should “learn more [and] discover more. From the internet you can learn anything.” That’s Karam’s advice to students looking to become tech entrepreneurs — and he taught himself to code aged 15.

And for companies who want to get a decent following online? “They must have passion — if they believe in something, do it,” says Nabih. “Once we have the belief and the passion, we can do anything. Whether in the media, in medicine, in anything. For [companies it’s] the same — when they have the passion.”

abouyamourn@thenational.ae