OLN Founder And CEO Rudolf Jabre On Building A Successful Digital Business
In a region where the importance of (and indeed, the need for) online Arabic content continues to be stressed upon, digital publisher OLN (Online Lifestyle Network) seems to have caught on to this trend pretty early- the company, which was founded in 2011, started out with just one Arabic portal, and has since grown to encompass eight different verticals that reach millions of users in the region, with its portfolio including the popular women’s website nawa3em.com, as well as oln.tv/LIVE, describing themselves as “the first social TV in the Middle East.”
With an 80-person team based out of Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, Doha and London, OLN is led by founder and CEO Rudolf Jabre, whose 15- year experience in the digital space makes him well-suited for his position at the helm of the almost continuously evolving company. “Since OLN’s 2011 launch, we knew that digital publishing is the way forward for content consumption in the Middle East,” Jabre says. “The demand for premium content from both advertisers and readers grew hand in hand. Our main challenge was to drive the shift towards video consumption. We have produced 17,000 videos in three years, which was a bit risky in the beginning. However, today, we are very happy that we took this direction, as it was the main audience growth driver.”
And the numbers speak for themselves: the OLN website proudly declares that it today enjoys a total of 110 million video views a month, and 10 million unique monthly readers across all of its platforms. “OLN has been evolving since day one,” Jabre notes. “We first started as a digital publisher, then we started to move into video as a main medium, and today, we’ve launched our social channel. In every phase, we were keen on following digital publishing trends by offering innovative content solutions for our readers and advertisers.” And OLN’s continued focus on staying ahead of developments in the online realm has stood it in good stead over the years- for instance, in 2012, the company managed to get private equity and venture capital firm The Luxury Fund onboard as what Jabre calls a “unique strategic partner” for the enterprise.
“On the revenue side, we have assigned DMS (Digital Media Services) as our network media representation, who have helped us in not only growing our revenues, but in also analyzing our audiences through the latest technology and platforms.” Jabre explains that OLN’s business model today is mainly based on ad placements, video advertising and branded content- which is, once again, an indication of how the company has stayed in tune with the times. “As a video-focused network, the shift of budgets to new digital formats has been affecting our growth positively,” Jabre explains. “We have seen the trend, and we quickly adjusted to be a part of the change. OLN today is a digital agency, a digital publisher, a creative agency, a production house, a branded content agency, and a social TV broadcaster. We have been keen on extending our revenue streams through different verticals, making sure that we are up to date with digital publishing business models.” OLN’s forward-thinking approach when it comes to existing (and thriving) on the digi-sphere is particularly noteworthy when you consider that the industry at large is still -for the most part, at least- struggling with adapting to changes in this sector.
This thus explains OLN’s current focus on the social TV phenomenon, with Jabre essentially believing that it is going to be the next big thing in this space. “The practice of publishing stories on social media and other platforms not owned by publishers is increasing every day,” he says. “This practice not only affected digital publishers’ audience reach, but also pushed them to new revenue streams such as branded content and live video. We are heavily investing in OLN LIVE as a platform, as we launched a full social channel with a full grid of 20 shows. We believe that live video is the next evolution in digital. It has an immediate effect on audience and prospective clients- you can now interact in real-time and respond.”
According to Jabre, content marketing and live video will be what governs digital publishing in the future, as more and more brands move their ad placement campaigns to programmatic channels. Jabre’s statements make it clear that this entrepreneur has an eye almost always looking toward the future, and making sure his business is ready for the changes that it may entail. In fact, Jabre claims his entrepreneurship journey itself has been driven by his “passion for digital,” and having seen the vagaries of this sector over the years, he has focused on building effective systems at his organization that achieve results, regardless of the changes in the ecosystem. “As your goals (especially in digital) will always change, you need to have an agile and effective process to adapt quickly and lead,” Jabre explains.
This is the principle he credits for OLN becoming one of the leading digital publishers in the Middle East- aided by a hardworking team that believes in these values as well. According to Jabre, the key to OLN’s sustainability as a business over the years has been in finding synergies across departments in his organization, and then positively exploiting multiple talents in order for the company to grow. “Instead of just hiring new people, we made sure that we train our existing talent and help them be part of the company’s expansion,” Jabre says. “This strategy not only motivated our staff, but also made our growth more cost-effective.” And judging by the size and scale of OLN today, Jabre seems to have hit on a formula that works- and that’s something for the rest of you digital entrepreneurs to take into stride for your own businesses.
Rudolf Jabre, founder and CEO, OLN
1. Define your goals “Before you start running, you need to make sure you are on the right track.”
2. Stay in tune with trends “You need to be agile, as trends and technology are in constant change.”
3. Keep an open mind “Never stop learning- attend seminars, and read books.”
4. Lay out a framework for success “Focus on creating effective processes and systems, as they are key to progress and success.”
5. Assign deadlines for yourself “Spread your dreams into a timeline, and make sure you achieve them by the set due dates.”
SITE CHECK - THE OLN PORTFOLIO
- nawa3em.com inspires women to stay in sync with today’s changing world, offering a personalized interface and relevant content mixes.
- gheir.com serves to become a woman’s ultimate escapade to luxury and the world of fashion.
- chababs.com targets the youth and all their favorite topics, with up-to-the-minute news feeds on technology, sports, gaming, music, fashion, etc.
- ra2ed.com is an online men’s magazine featuring the latest in business, sports, technology, lifestyle, etc.
- oln.tv is a digital TV network streaming the widest orbit of video content covering through 20 segments with more than 17,000 videos.
- justfood.tv is a lifestyle cooking platform with a video library consisting of 2,500 videos.
- tv.kooora.com one of the biggest sports video on-demand platform in the Middle East, created through a joint venture between Kooora TV and OLN TV.
- oln.tv/LIVE is trailblazing social TV platform in the Middle East with more than 500 shows already produced.
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.