x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE young gun toys with success

The Life: A young entrepreneur tells The Life how he launched the Middle East's largest urban art exhibition last year from his bedroom.

Mohammed Abedin, owner and founder, designer and enthusiast of Ninjas, with his Mega toy. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Mohammed Abedin, owner and founder, designer and enthusiast of Ninjas, with his Mega toy. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

The young entrepreneur Mohammed Abedin organised the Middle East's largest urban art exhibition last year.

He didn't do it from a large office with an experienced events team, but from his bedroom and entirely on his own.

The event was held last May at the Dubai International Financial Centre and displayed work from 100 local artists. It included popular DJs, rappers and dancers all working for free. The invitation list alone exceeded 7,000.

"I launched it all from my bedroom and didn't spend a fil in marketing," says Mr Abedin, 23. "It was crazy."

Mr Abedin positioned his event to "go viral", a dream of many start-up companies that is tricky to pull off.

His motivation was not purely altruistic. He was promoting his creation Mega, a 20cm faceless doll he describes as a "3D blank canvas". Largely due to the success of the event, he hopes to soon begin selling the doll around the world.

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The Mega doll has a disproportionately large head, robot-like ears and a slouched posture reminiscent of a grumpy teenager. It is white and ready to be doodled, painted or sketched on.

Before the exhibition in May, Mr Abedin contacted 100 local artists to put their stamps on Megas he provided. He then displayed their creations at the event.

"Immediately I had 100 brand ambassadors talking about the product on Twitter and Facebook," he says. "In over a month and a half, you can also imagine the traffic that went through the DIFC, but you also had the right people walking through."

The entrepreneur was quickly contacted by small retailers and galleries, and this interest gave his confidence a boost. On a whim, Mr Abedin decided to call Virgin Megastore.

The retailer bought 900 dolls to sell in its Dubai shops and has since purchased another 1,000 to sell the product in other GCC countries.

The Mega is a good fit for Virgin's young, trendy customer base, says Almir Smajlovic, the senior marketing specialist for the Middle East at Virgin Megastore.

"It's like a 3D canvas for people who are artistic and like to design toys," Mr Smajlovic says. "It's sort of like [the popular US product] Kidrobot. It started as a vinyl toy and now it is a huge brand."

Last August, Mr Abedin and five of his artists held weekly events in Virgin's store at the Mall of the Emirates. The painting sessions became events, with Time Out Dubai encouraging people to go there just to see the art being made.

Virgin and Mr Abedin are now set to launch a Middle East-wide competition to market the product. Budding artists will be able to buy Mega, customise it and send in pictures of their creations.

The partnership will announce a winner at the Film and Comic Conference at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre on April 29.

Through his website, foo-dog.com, Mr Abedin is also looking to develop consulting services and sell a Mega clothing range.

But it hasn't all been plain sailing. Days before the exhibition, Mr Abedin's shipment of dolls was delayed from the maker in China. He had the 100 customised dolls on show, but none to sell.

Being a shrewd marketeer, Mr Abedin told customers he was sold out, which added to the product's reputation on social-media sites.

It was also at this point, having spent all his savings and awaiting payment from Virgin, that Mr Abedin applied to the Khalifa Fund, which supplies financing for small and medium-sized businesses in the UAE.

"They saw that I had out my own money in," he says. "I was 'skin in' and I now have a loan for four years but pay nothing for the first year."

He declines to say how much the fund provided.

Mr Abedin plans to fly to London next month to negotiate with a distributor and says he has already signed a deal in the US.

"It's being called the Mega invasion," he says.

 

rjones@thenational.ae

 

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