SME profile: Babyarabia is like Mumsnet, but it's in Arabic and made for the Middle East

Short film producer Mo Fadlallah’s vision is to set up an Arabic version of influential parenting website Mumsnet.

His start-up website, Baby-arabia.com, which features a mix of free-to-view articles and videos in English and Arabic offering advice and information on birth and parenting went live earlier this year.

The 47-year-old Lebanese-Briton has spent most of his working life producing Arabic television and videos. He says the concept fills a much-needed gap in the Middle Eastern market.

But unlike Justine Roberts and Carrie Longton, who founded influential UK-based Mumsnet in 2000, or Mona Ataya who set up the Middle East based Mumzworld in 2011, Mr Fadlallah has no personal practical experience of parenting.

“People come up to me and they say, you’re a guy in your 40s, you’re still single and you’ve got no kids. Why are you launching a website about parenting and child development?” Mr Fadlallah says.

“I’m building Babyarabia to be a leading authority on baby and child development in the Mena region. It’s quite remarkable that for such a massive space it’s an area where content is desperately needed, especially in Arabic.”

Mr Fadlallah says that although there are plenty of magazine articles about parenting in Arabic, the subject is squashed between pieces about women’s fashion and celebrity gossip. The home-grown websites in Arabic focus on marketing baby-related products rather than offering advice.

“We know that digital penetration in the Arab world is very, very high,” Mr Fadlallah says. “People spend a lot of time on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, getting information online and these days it’s all about online videos.”

“At the same time there’s a real need for good quality content,” he says. “I read an article that said that 13,500 women in the Mena region still die each year because of pregnancy or pregnancy-related issues. There are 17,000 autistic children in Bahrain alone. They say about 20 to 25 per cent of the population in the Middle East has issues with diabetes. If I can put the right information out there and connect with a new generation of men and women at some point it will start to get through to them about what to eat, exercising, nutrition, health. I feel there is a gap which Babyarabia can fill.”

Certainly, a quick look at Baby-arabia.com gives little away about how the site is likely to make money. Articles include advice on what to eat in pregnancy and breastfeeding, birth plans, information on toddler behaviour and how to deal with tantrums. Only in the TV section is there any sponsored content with online videos sponsored by corporates such as Lego.

“For most businesses you’re looking at a two- to three-year time period before you start generating revenue. For me it’s all about year three onwards,” Mr Fadlallah says. “That’s why we’ve focused so much on building up content. It’s all about eyeballs and numbers. Once you can drive numbers to your site then it becomes easier to monetise.

With 3,000 new Facebook followers being generated each week, Mr Fadlallah says Babyarabia is well on its way to getting the kind of traffic it would need to lure advertisers. The website is also hoping to generate more traffic through sharing content with other Arabic websites, including AlArabiya.net and medical website thumbay.net.

Mr Fadlallah plans to produce 500 Arabic videos for Babyarabia each year. So far, he says, the videos he has produced for Lego have been viewed more than 500,000 times and new advertising campaigns have been agreed with corporates including Johnson & Johnson and Baby Gap.

“Our offering to sponsors is very attractive because it’s not just about banner ads,” Mr Fadlallah says. “We can create video content for you that you can use on your website. Everyone’s looking for quality content.”

But, until now, any cash generated has been more than offset against the company’s start-up costs, which include setting up the website, outsourcing the video content, outsourcing and translating the articles and marketing costs.

To run the business and provide working capital for its crucial first 18 months, Mr Fadlallah says he has raised more than US$250,000, to support the growth of the business through its first 18 months, from family and friends.

“It’s a very expensive process setting up a business in the UAE,” he says. “Yes you don’t pay tax but the charges run very high to around $7,000 to $10,000. There’s a lot of administrative work, too.”

Having already set up a production company, Integrity Media, in Dubai in 2009, Mr Fadlallah says he found it relatively simple to navigate the city’s complex rules about setting up a business. But the financial stress of setting up a new business weighs heavily on him.

“I’m going to look at women and say I know what you go through when you first get pregnant,” he says, joking. “I’ve had morning sickness, I’ve had back pain, I’ve had stress and binge eating. Because that’s what you go through when you launch a business. Whatever money you raise you have to be so careful with spending it.”

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Non-oil growth slows in Saudi Arabia

Economic growth in Saudi Arabia’s non-oil private sector slowed again last month as the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to its lowest level in seven years on the back of austerity measures.

The Saudi PMI fell to its lowest level since the survey first began in 2009 as global falls in the price of oil and a biting austerity plan stifled growth.

The index, which measures the economic confidence of business managers in the manufacturing and services industries, dropped to a record low of 53.2 last month from 55.3 in September. A figure above 50 means businesses in the country are expanding, while below 50 signals a contraction. The index is sponsored by Emirates NBD and produced by data company IHS Markit.

At the end of September, the Saudi government issued a royal decree reducing ministers’ salaries by 20 per cent and housing and car allowances for members of the advisory Shura Council by 15 per cent. Lower ranking civil servants had wage increases suspended and overtime and annual leave capped.

The move is part of the government’s National Transformation Plan unveiled earlier this year, which aims to reduce public sector wages to 40 per cent of spending by 2020 from 45 per cent in June.

“The decline in the Purchasing Managers’ Index in October was not unexpected, given the additional fiscal measures that came into effect last month including public sector wage cuts,” said Khatija Haque, head of Mena research at Emirates NBD, based in Dubai.

According to the index, which is regarded as one of the earliest indicators of an economy’s performance, both output and new orders rose more slowly, while jobs’ growth neared stagnation. The rate of expansion in purchasing activity held up slightly better, as firms acted on forecasts of stronger sales growth. Those projections may have been linked to an expected upturn in demand following price discounting. Charges fell for the second successive month amid muted cost pressures.

Managers reported a slowdown in both the amount of work that they did and the amount of new business they won – both of which rose to the least extent since the survey began.

The number of new jobs cre­ated also slumped to a six-month low with the vast majority of surveyed companies (97 per cent) reporting no change since September.

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ADFG's Scotland Yard deal sweetened by Brexit vote's effect on pound

Abu Dhabi Financial Group (ADFG) has saved more than US$100 million on its purchase of the Metropolitan Police headquarters in London thanks to the fall in value of the British pound since Brexit.

ADFG said that it completed a £370 million deal to buy the New Scotland Yard office block from London’s Metropolitan Police on Monday.

The deal, which was originally struck in December 2014, was seen at the time as a bullish move from the Abu Dhabi based investment company.

ADFG, which was created in the depths of the global financial crisis in 2011 and is currently developing two prime central London sites, said that it had paid a 10 per cent deposit on the property in 2014 but had not transferred the remainder of the cash until the deal completed and the police had shifted to their new headquarters on October 31.

The delay – which coincided with a 20 per cent fall in the value of the pound following Britain’s Brexit referendum in June – means that ADFG effectively netted a saving of US$109.89 million on the deal.

In December 2014 the British pound stood at US$1.55, making ADFG’s £333m payment worth US$516.15m – but since the referendum it has slumped to around US$1.22, equating to just US$406.26m.

ADFG said that it had appointed its London property development arm Northacre to redevelop the building as 485,000 square feet of apartments, 146,000 square feet of offices and 37,500 square feet of shops.

Planning consent for the Squire and Partners designed development, renamed the Broadway, was granted earlier this year and is set to complete in 2021.

ADFG has also recently been linked with the ministry of defence-owned Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge, which is currently home to the Household Cavalry.

“The fall in sterling since the EU referendum undoubtedly creates attractive opportunities in the prime Central London real estate market for overseas investors. The London property market has long been an area of strategic focus for ADFG, and we continue to assess opportunities to complete high-quality deals which will enhance our premium real estate portfolio,” said the ADFG chief executive Jassim Alseddiqi.

He said that ADFG had noted a surge in interest for its No 1 Palace Street apartments in the months after the Brexit vote.

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Damac Properties has awarded the China State Construction Engineering Corporation a Dh554 million contract to build part of its second Paramount Hotel project in Dubai.

China State, the world’s third-largest construction company, said it had been awarded the main work contract to build 27 floors of serviced flats of the Paramount Residences, at the Paramount Tower Hotel and Residences, on Sheikh Zayed Road in Business Bay.

The Lacasa-designed tower, which is scheduled for completion at the beginning of 2020, will eventually have 64 floors and will also include an 867-room hotel with a sky lobby, private cinema and rooftop pool.

The development is Damac’s second Paramount-branded hotel, which it is building in ­Dubai.

Turkey’s TAV construction is currently working on Damac’s US$1 billion four-tower Damac Towers by Paramount resort, also located in Business Bay. The project, comprising a 540-room Paramount-branded hotel and 1,400 serviced apartments, was originally scheduled to be completed this year, but the developer said that it now expects construction work to be completed at the start of next year.

Damac has also announced plans to build Paramount ­hotels in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and two more in Dubai at Akoya and Jumeirah Waterfront.

Under the terms of a 2013 deal between Damac and Paramount, Paramount does not invest into the projects but lends its brand to them.

Damac, which is known for offering buyers luxury cars and boats as inducements to purchase Dubai property, has set itself the target of becoming the world’s largest serviced apartment operator.

In August, it reported that second-quarter profits were more than a third lower than during the same period a year ago and that revenue was down 25 per cent. However, the company’s founder, Hussain Sajwani, said its total profit this year was likely to be in line with the Dh4.5 billion it achieved last year.

Separately, Damac yesterday launched Akoya Relax with an offer to buyers of its villas of free service, maintenance and property management for five years. The villas start at Dh1.6 million, Damac said.

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CSCEC to build part of Damac hotel project

Damac Properties has awarded the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) a Dh554 million contract to build part of its second Paramount Hotel project in Dubai.

CSCEC, the world’s third-largest construction company, said it had been awarded the main work contract to build 27 floors of serviced flats of the Paramount Residences, at the Paramount Tower Hotel and Residences, on Sheikh Zayed Road in Business Bay.

The Lacasa-designed tower, which is scheduled for completion at the beginning of 2020, will eventually have 64 floors and will also include an 867-room hotel with a sky lobby, private cinema and rooftop pool.

The development is Damac’s second Paramount-branded hotel, which it is building in ­Dubai.

Turkey’s TAV construction is currently working on Damac’s US$1 billion four-tower Damac Towers by Paramount resort, also located in Business Bay. The project, comprising a 540-room Paramount-branded hotel and 1,400 serviced apartments, was originally scheduled to be completed this year, but the developer said that it now expects construction work to be completed at the start of next year.

Damac has also announced plans to build Paramount ­hotels in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and two more in Dubai at Akoya and Jumeirah Waterfront.

Under the terms of a 2013 deal between Damac and Paramount, Paramount does not invest into the projects but lends its brand to them.

Damac, which is known for offering buyers luxury cars and boats as inducements to purchase Dubai property, has set itself the target of becoming the world’s largest serviced apartment operator.

In August, it reported that second-quarter profits were more than a third lower than during the same period a year ago and that revenue was down 25 per cent. However, the company’s founder, Hussain Sajwani, said its total profit this year was likely to be in line with the Dh4.5 billion it achieved last year.

Separately, Damac yesterday launched Akoya Relax with an offer to buyers of its villas of free service, maintenance and property management for five years. The villas start at Dh1.6 million, Damac said.

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Emirates Reit owner Equitativa to build up assets in Abu Dhabi property funds

The company behind the UAE’s first real estate investment trust (Reit) in Dubai is pressing ahead with plans to launch new property funds in Abu Dhabi and looking to expand its model to Saudi Arabia.

Equitativa Real Estate, the umbrella company that owns the Reit manager for Nasdaq Dubai-listed Emirates Reit, said yesterday that it was looking to purchase assets to put into four new property funds which it intended to list in the UAE.

The company, which recently set up an asset management branch in Abu Dhabi’s new fin­ancial free zone Abu Dhabi Global Market, has established four new funds; Hospitality Property Fund, Logistics Fund, The Residential Reit and Sportativa.

Equitativa said that the new funds, which are expected to focus on purchasing hotels, warehouses, homes and sporting assets, would not compete with Emirates Reit, which currently specialises in owning and operating a portfolio mainly comprising offices and schools in Dubai.

“Through Equitativa we have started new Reits in Abu Dhabi,” said Sylvain Vieujot, chief executive of Emirates Reit Management, the company which manages Emirates Reit. “The idea for all the Reits we are doing is initially to start building a portfolio, earn a track record and once we have this to look at the market.”

Last week investment man­ager Abu Dhabi Financial Group revealed plans to manage Dh375 million Goldilocks Investment Company, which rather than being traded on the country’s existing exchanges, is expected to be traded on a new platform currently being set up by ADGM.

Mr Vieujot said that it was too early to decide on which of the UAE markets the company would float the new Abu Dhabi- based funds.

“There are many opportunities to float them in the UAE,” he said. “There are several markets here. The situation can change between now and then, so we don’t have any fixed plan on the specific markets.”

Equitativa also said that it was considering establishing a new Reit in Saudi Arabia following the government’s decision earlier this year to allow real estate investment trusts to operate in the kingdom, potentially opening up a huge and lucrative market to investors.

Yesterday the Saudi Capital Market Authority issued the country’s first rules regulating the way in which Saudi Reits operate.

“We are looking very carefully at this market in terms of regulation, in terms of potential partners for us and also in terms of the market itself which is a bit on a turning point at the moment,” Mr Vieujot said. “We think it can be very interesting but until today we have not done anything in Saudi.”

The news came as Emirates Reit reported that third-quarter net profit edged up 4 per cent compared with a year earlier, despite a slowing Dubai office market.

Emirates Reit reported that net profit for the three months to the end of September 2016 rose to US$11.3 million, up from US$10.9m a year earlier.

The Nasdaq Dubai-quoted company reported a 22 per cent boost to net rental income for the period to US$8.9m as the real estate investment trust rented out further office space at its biggest asset, Index Tower in DIFC.

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Equitativa to launch Abu Dhabi property funds

The company behind the UAE’s first real estate investment trust (Reit) in Dubai is pressing ahead with plans to launch new property funds in Abu Dhabi and looking to expand its model to Saudi Arabia.

Equitativa Real Estate, the umbrella company that owns the Reit manager for Nasdaq Dubai-listed Emirates Reit, said yesterday that it was looking to purchase assets to put into four new property funds which it intended to list in the UAE.

The company, which recently set up an asset management branch in Abu Dhabi’s new fin­ancial free zone Abu Dhabi Global Market, has established four new funds; Hospitality Property Fund, Logistics Fund, The Residential Reit and Sportativa.

Equitativa said that the new funds, which are expected to focus on purchasing hotels, warehouses, homes and sporting assets, would not compete with Emirates Reit, which currently specialises in owning and operating a portfolio mainly comprising offices and schools in Dubai.

“Through Equitativa we have started new Reits in Abu Dhabi,” said Sylvain Vieujot, chief executive of Emirates Reit Management, the company which manages Emirates Reit. “The idea for all the Reits we are doing is initially to start building a portfolio, earn a track record and once we have this to look at the market.”

Last week investment man­ager Abu Dhabi Financial Group revealed plans to manage Dh375 million Goldilocks Investment Company, which rather than being traded on the country’s existing exchanges, is expected to be traded on a new platform currently being set up by ADGM.

Mr Vieujot said that it was too early to decide on which of the UAE markets the company would float the new Abu Dhabi- based funds.

“There are many opportunities to float them in the UAE,” he said. “There are several markets here. The situation can change between now and then, so we don’t have any fixed plan on the specific markets.”

Equitativa also said that it was considering establishing a new Reit in Saudi Arabia following the government’s decision earlier this year to allow real estate investment trusts to operate in the kingdom, potentially opening up a huge and lucrative market to investors.

Yesterday the Saudi Capital Market Authority issued the country’s first rules regulating the way in which Saudi Reits operate.

“We are looking very carefully at this market in terms of regulation, in terms of potential partners for us and also in terms of the market itself which is a bit on a turning point at the moment,” Mr Vieujot said. “We think it can be very interesting but until today we have not done anything in Saudi.”

The news came as Emirates Reit reported that third-quarter net profit edged up 4 per cent compared with a year earlier, despite a slowing Dubai office market.

Emirates Reit reported that net profit for the three months to the end of September 2016 rose to US$11.3 million, up from US$10.9m a year earlier.

The Nasdaq Dubai-quoted company reported a 22 per cent boost to net rental income for the period to US$8.9m as the real estate investment trust rented out further office space at its biggest asset, Index Tower in DIFC.

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Alpen Capital has become the latest investment banking name to set up in Abu Dhabi’s new financial free zone.

The investment bank, based in Dubai, said yesterday that it had received approval from the Abu Dhabi Global Market to establish a branch office.

The Alpen Capital Abu Dhabi branch office will be located on Al Maryah Island in the new Abu Dhabi Global Market financial free zone, which declared itself open for business last October.

Alpen Capital will join eight other financial firms which have announced plans to open in ADGM including the UK’s Aberdeen Asset Management; Australia’s Macquarie Group; and Abu Dhabi Financial Group and Bahrain’s GFH Financial Group, which are jointly setting up an Islamic bank in the free zone.

Afkar Capital, an incubator for asset management fund start-ups, was the first financial institution brought on board by ADGM, receiving its licence in January.

Alpen said the new office would be regulated by the Financial Services Regulatory Authority and would provide services including arranging credit, arranging deals in investments and advising on investments or credit.

“ADGM is on its way to establishing itself as one of the leading financial hubs in the region and we are excited to be a part of its growth story,” said Rohit Walia, Alpen Capital’s executive chairman.

Last month ADGM announced it had signed up 160 member firms in its first year of business including law firms, professional and corporate service providers and family offices..

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New borrowing in Abu Dhabi Emirati households falls to seven-year low

The proportion of Emirati households in Abu Dhabi reporting that they are taking on new debt has fallen to the lowest levels in ­seven years.

According to a survey conducted by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Economic Development (DED) in June, just 10.3 per cent of the heads of Emirati households questioned said that they had taken out loans during the previous three months.

DED said that the figure was the lowest recorded since its survey began in 2009. Two years ago the DED reported that the figure stood at 28 per cent.

The department reported that 86.1 per cent of household heads surveyed in June indicated that they had not resorted to borrowing at all during the previous three months.

However, it added that the figures reflected only the proportion of household heads with loans and did not include debt taken out by other household members or debts taken out more than three months before the survey was conducted.

The DED attributed the drop to government initiatives helping nationals tackle high household debt.

“The decline in the percentage of borrowers of citizen household heads reflects the continuing positive impact of the efforts and initiatives aimed at raising the citizens’ awareness and rat­ion­alising their use of loans,” the DED said in a statement.

More than a third of respondents who had taken out loans (37.2 per cent) said that they had used the money to buy a new car. Another 30 per cent said that they had used the money to buy a family home.

The DED added that on average during the period, households spent about Dh25,488 a month in June, up from Dh22,236 a month in February. DED put the increase down to the fact that Ramadan fell in June this year.

Last month Obaid Al Tayer, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs, said that the Government is working on a new personal insolvency law that would apply to individuals.

A Central Bank survey for the third quarter showed that UAE banks were less willing to lend to businesses and individuals, while at the same time borrowers, especially owners of small businesses and expats, had become less keen to tap debt at a time when uncertainty about the ­future growth of the economy intensifies.

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Borrowing in Abu Dhabi Emirati households falls to seven-year low

The proportion of Emirati households in Abu Dhabi reporting that they are in debt has fallen to the lowest levels in seven years.

According to a survey conducted by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Economic Development (DED) in June, just 10.3 per cent of the heads of Emirati households questioned said that they had taken out loans during the previous three months.

DED said that the figure was the lowest recorded since its survey began in 2009. Two years ago the DED reported that the figure stood at 28 per cent.

The department reported that 86.1 per cent of household heads surveyed in June indicated that they had not resorted to borrowing at all during the previous three months.

However, it added that the figures reflected only the proportion of household heads with loans and did not include debt taken out by other household members or debts taken out more than three months before the survey was conducted.

The DED attributed the drop to government initiatives helping nationals tackle high household debt.

“The decline in the percentage of borrowers of citizen household heads reflects the continuing positive impact of the efforts and initiatives aimed at raising the citizens’ awareness and rat­ion­alising their use of loans,” the DED said in a statement.

More than a third of respondents who had taken out loans (37.2 per cent) said that they had used the money to buy a new car. Another 30 per cent said that they had used the money to buy a family home.

The DED added that on average during the period, households spent about Dh25,488 a month in June, up from Dh22,236 a month in February. DED put the increase down to the fact that Ramadan fell in June this year.

Last month Obaid Al Tayer, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs, said that the Government is working on a new personal insolvency law that would apply to individuals.

A Central Bank survey for the third quarter showed that UAE banks were less willing to lend to businesses and individuals, while at the same time borrowers, especially owners of small businesses and expats, had become less keen to tap debt at a time when uncertainty about the ­future growth of the economy intensifies.

lbarnard@thenational.ae

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