How did VIBE Media start? Tell us your story.
Vibe officially started 2012 March – Going back to the beginning, I actually wanted to set up a restaurant. I gathered a group of investors, friends and family. I had set up several meetings but nothing really went through. However there was this one person who is now a GM of a food company in Saudi who was one of the people that were interested and he said something very interesting to me – “Hasan, you’re not really in the restaurant business. You like food but you what you actually love is concepts and branding. What you like is people, so why don’t you start out in that business.”
This is how it started. I started offering marketing consulting and freelancing for businesses off of a laptop, on my own. I became a consultant with marketing skills but then realized I don’t have hands on skills. I realized that and started working at a creative agency in Bahrain that later on. It didn’t do so well but I was part of its mistakes, and I learned what and what not to do. There was a lot of over promising and under delivering internally and externally, this was commonplace across the board . And across the board locally, the wrong people were prioritized. I go back to David Ogilvy’s saying, the father of modern advertising “In most agencies, account executives outnumber the copywriters two to one. If you were a dairy farmer, would you employ twice as many milkers as you had cows?”
Basically, stop focusing on the people do the talking and let the people weaving the magic behind the scenes do the talking – that’s what I learned. For example, if you’re going to build a tech company, you build it with engineers that have various skills that you can build in the process. You can’t build it with a bunch of sales people. I started learning the skills that I needed myself.
My educational background was International Marketing. I studied in a high school in Bahrain but then went to London for further studies. I studied in Regents Business School in London. I knew that I had a passion for design, technology and media. I came back to Bahrain and did a few jobs but still felt like I wasn’t doing the right thing, or you can say nothing really unlocked my passion. Perhaps it was actually a cultural problem. It really bothered me – I felt like I entered Dinosaur land at the time. I came in with all these ideas, and I felt like I had to take a step back and see if this land was fertile enough to sow something new.
Who pushed you then to take the step and start your own business?
My mother was an entrepreneur and she had a bunch of small businesses. She saw how adamant I was. She told me “You’ve been doing this for a long time. You want to start your own thing and you’re being stubborn so I want you to meet me at the CR office to start.” No one as an adult would admit to having their parents take their hand and guide them, but she was my inspiration, she took me to get a CR and finally start my own business. She was someone that learned business from scratch. She was self-taught.
I managed to get a CR and a space. There was definitely help from family, it was maintained at a minimum, rent and expenses subsidized for a short period. My first office was in a building that they basically owned which I rented, briefly for a few months, then Vibe moved to a retail shop in Isa Town Mall. Once there most people don’t say this but you need help to start, and it's okay to ask for help. The first people that will be supportive are friends and family, and your first clients will include that circle of friends to start. Initially it starts from your own personal network. The first person on the list of friends that I was keen to be a part of this venture was Ali, we're very close, we’ve known each other since we were twelve years old and he was the first person I thought of building a business with. He was in, he came into Vibe’s second office at Isa Town Mall. Everybody gets a break from someone, and I got a lot of help which was the support that I needed to get. In the beginning, I admit that I was so stubborn – Most of the time I had to be dragged somewhere because I was always keen to do it on my own.
How was the set up in the beginning?
Once we set up, there were no employees. It was just me, and coincidentally we were right next to the Bahrain Polytechnic. Our first interns were from there, and I evangelized a vision that I had. A lot of the young trainees were unprepared in terms of hands on skills in creating work. So they trained for free and eventually worked for a profit share couple and very modest pat, they bought into the vision and the good vibes. I met the first interns at a comic book convention which was IGN. They came over and brought their friends, and then their friends brought their other friends. They all started hanging out in the office, and that’s how it happened.
I realized that we had a major issue - the skill sets that a lot of these interns had were not hands on skills. They had the concepts and theories which was good but you can’t create anything or design. The hands on experience did happen later though but at the time, there was a major gap. More recently, I was part of a group of creatives industry professionals that had given the Polytechnic feedback for their syllabus, I think this is a fantastic part on their efforts to align the industry with academic learning. You stressed to me that this wasn’t like any regular internship for someone who wanted to join, explain that.
It wasn’t a regular internship – we told them that you were going to benefit the most because you will leave with hands on skills. These were skills that nobody can take away from you. Once they do client projects, they see the results – they’re ready, they’re skilled. Plus, we want a team to start, stay and grow with us – we built the process for them and for us to grow into a stronger team to do more in the future! Ali came in a few months after the move to our Isa Town Office, those were the formative years of Vibe’s culture. Something that plays a central role in our story.
Did you turn this into a program or a process for those who joined your team?
We turned it into a boot camp let’s say. The interns now are developing their own internship program. We are in phase 2 today. Let’s go back to Phase 1 – It was simple problem/solution situations. I made a very basic program which is one I went through when I was in the living in the Philippines for 8 months. I didn’t train them myself, MOOCs, learning courses taught by industry experts in software, creative, and business skills. You have all these amazing tools and powerful tools and information out there, for example someone from Southern California top film schools teaching you film!
Tell me more about the Philippines, what did you do there and what did you bring back?
That’s where Vibe’s got its name. Those 8 months were great, it was a very fruitful time. I wasn’t working, and I was essentially finding myself. I actually happened to go to Palawan and Puerto Princesa during that period, and I did the same learning courses there that I had my team do when I got back.
Why is It called Vibe? Explain how you started your own personal branding for Vibe.
I came up with the name – I actually drew it out on a tablet at first. I wanted something positive, energetic and good vibes. This process took place in my aunt’s house in the Philippines, I had the place to myself and I’d been up on the laptop facing a large window for what could’ve been an entire day. I remember it was sun rise and it kicked in – I want to call it ‘Vibe’ , I wanted to build something with a positive vibe, that was the energy of the moment. The concept kicked in while I was there. I was in a happy place, and I was surrounded by good people – that helped jumpstart my vision for the brand. After that I went to Bahrain, managed to pull some cash from different places to set up the initial stuff I needed. I managed to get my first 5 Macs courtesy of Tamkeen which is in practice was very helpful. It’s something that I wish more people took advantage of – it was an opportunity. Not every country has this, the subsidies are a gift for startups and future entrepreneurs.
We set it up, got interns and then interns became permanent team members through the internship program. Now, we are the stage where we are turning interns into leaders. A lot of ups and downs of course but we learned a lot together and built something together.
How many are you at Vibe right now?
With our new intern, we are 11 now! In terms of the core team, we have 4 lead creatives. My golden number would be 220 employees, I’m banking that the next CEO and slew of decision makers will be women and relatively young but very switched on, mature leaders. I'm currently training and priming team members for leadership roles.
If you could explain what you do at Vibe in one line, what would that be?
We are a design and media company that creates solutions and media content for SMEs. We actually have a shorter line – we empower clever SMEs. These clever SMEs are actually the first people that approach us because they understand what we do. Most of our clients are entrepreneurs from the younger part of the demographic curve because they understand the products we provide but that is not always the case, we have older and larger businesses keen on taking us on to develop their marketing. So we’ve set our sights on reinventing ourselves to become a more mature brand and business that resonates resoundingly positive energy nonetheless. The future will be bright.
“I go back to David Ogilvy’s saying who was the father of modern advertising “In most agencies, account executives outnumber the copywriters two to one. If you were a dairy farmer, would you employ twice as many milkers as you had cows?”
What sets you apart from other agencies out there in Bahrain?
Just to put things into perspective - in 2014, we had just started figuring things out. We have a millennial mindset, we learn things off of the web. We taught ourselves new skills we needed and developed agile workflows that we’ve improved upon. The magic was getting people who were passionate to come together and let them do their thing, culture was key – it is as simple as that. You are always learning but you build that community of people with a shared vision to execute it together.
We’ve built a knowledge base for the long game (growth). Most companies in Bahrain don’t even have a knowledge base. We aren’t just an agency executing client work, we offer skills and we have a process for these skills. We want people to grow with us in the future.
“Most people don’t say this, but you need help to start! It’s okay to ask for help.”
How is working with new startups? You at VIBE help them create their ‘first’ of everything? You create their brand basically as they start.
You know how you have Bridezilla? Well, we have startupzilla. We would have startups come to us in the beginning stage trying to start their brand and launch for the first time – our team would endure this scary process with them and help build their image they’re about to reveal to the world.
It is a difficult process, and you could only see the work done and be happy once it's all out it is all over. We as a team step back and reflect on the brand we’ve helped create and then set them free. We get attached, we believe we’re giving businesses something very meaningful, an identity. Our new members who have to work with new startups for the first time learn a lot because the process can be quite tumultuous. Ali would call it a “Baptism by fire”.
“The magic was getting people who were passionate come together and let them do their thing – it is as simple as that. You are always learning but you build that community of people with a shared vision to execute it together.”
How does the team at VIBE complement each other. That’s very important when you start a business.
First, we are T-shaped people. A T- Shaped person is someone who instead of being an expert in one thing or a “jack of all trades, master of none”, they are an expert in at least one thing but have a broad capacity of many other things, what sets our organizational culture apart is it is current and alive, built with the millennial mindset. This flexibility allows our team to do what they do best, but also learn and participate in other projects. As we grow, we take the best from everything and try to apply in different projects. Even if someone who has no tech skills wants to join us, we teach them! We have an intern who is a copywriter and learning the tech skills right now. We aren’t ‘Agist’ as well, we have people from 26 and older.
For dramatic purposes, we actually pair two different people to work together. Someone for example who has poor design taste to sit with a team members that excels in that. In directly – there’s a learning process there. We even pair two people with different creative styles so mix the flow and energy to perhaps produce something unique.
Any future plans for VIBE in terms of expansion or adding new services you think will benefit the market?
We are expanding our product line. We started off with Graphic Design, then we started doing Visual Identity and we’re reaching out to solve problems that need more insight and more data. Now, we’ve started naming companies, full branding, websites, social media and not just content but moderation as well. Eventually we will move into creating mobile applications. We have a strong cultural identity, we tend to see ourselves as distinctly different from creative boutiques and traditional network ad agencies. Vibe is a distinct marketing hybrid that is yet to be defined. Something new.
“For dramatic purposes, we actually pair two different people to work together. Someone for example who has poor design taste to sit with a team members that excels in that. In directly – there’s a learning process there. We even pair two people with different creative styles so mix the flow and energy to perhaps produce something unique.”
Thank you Hassan for having coffee with us and we will make sure to follow your journey. We are sure it will be epic - KEEP GOING