One Of A Kind: The Project's Saif Al Naji Is All About Setting Trends
You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.
Saif Al Naji -who’s arguably better known by the name he DJs under, Saif and Sound- is the entrepreneur behind The Project, an Abu Dhabi-based enterprise that creates and delivers “one-of-a-kind entertainment events and experiences.” Al Naji, who’s also an RJ currently working with Channel 4 Radio in the UAE, says that The Project came into being about six years ago, although, at the time, it was only set up to function as a management company for his bookings as a DJ.
However, as time went by, Al Naji noticed that there was a dearth of creative flair in the entertainment, events, and nightlife landscape, especially in Abu Dhabi, and he felt that, given his first-hand experience in this industry, he could put together offerings that would essentially plug this particular gap that he saw in the sector.
“I decided to take the risk, and expand what The Project was doing, and commenced on working on strategies to expand our deliverables and what we do,” Al Naji recalls. “One of the key focuses of The Project is to bring together the different elements that make up this industry, and create one-of-a-kind experiences. I personally do not believe in a traditional approach to anything I do in life, and I wanted to translate that in the work we do at The Project as well.”
Source: The Project
According to Al Naji, The Project has today evolved into becoming a one-stopshop in the UAE for anyone wanting to put together an event in the entertainment and nightlife space. “We do concept creation, execution, production, talent sourcing, public relations, social media, media relations…” Al Naji says. “The list can go on forever, to cover everything from A-Z.” Having worked with clients like Four Seasons, Rosewood, Marriott, and others, Al Naji believes that one of The Project’s differentiating factors from other companies like it in the field is the fact that they are emphatic about the customer’s needs at the forefront of everything they set out to do.
“At The Project, we make sure that we understand who our client is, and what sort of help they need,” Al Naji explains. “Then, we tailor-make our deliverables based on each client’s needs, and not just based on what we do.” He goes on to say that for every project he and his team takes up, a key component of the work they do is in researching what the market has to offer, not just from a local viewpoint, but from a global standpoint as well. “We look at both the successful events and concepts, as well as the not so successful ones that have been put together,” he says. “We the dissect the entire process until we come up with a winning equation that can cater to the UAE market, and the Abu Dhabi market specifically.”
One of The Project’s particular characteristics as an enterprise is in its team structure, Al Naji notes. “I keep saying that The Project is different from any event, entertainment and nightlife company, and because we are different, the employees and number of employees differ,” he says. “I work with a full freelance team, which, to me, I believe, is a great USP not just to my business and company, as much as it’s a benefit to my clients, and what I can provide them every time. I highly believe in young emerging talents, and I believe it’s very important to keep your pool of talents fresh and excited. We all have different interests, and the team is hired based on what every project and concept we take on board is about."
"|We are different in so many aspects, which includes my strong belief in getting the team to go out, and find their perfect spot. I do not believe in offices and having people sit behind a desk, and then expect them to be creative and come up with things differently from other companies. I have a solid team of four who are permanent employees, but my extended team goes beyond us, and sometimes goes up to 50-100 employees, and that really depends on the size of the investment and event we are running and putting together.”
When it comes to revenue streams, Al Naji says that The Project has a variety of avenues to make use of to keep the business running. “Clients come to us sometimes requiring concept creations to different venues they run, and then we provide the concept and execute it on the ground,” he says. “While other clients require us to create a concept that fits their venue, source talents, work on production (that includes AV, decoration, fitting out the venue, and other production aspects), moving on to marketing services such as market research, pricing, graphic design, marketing strategies, promotions."
"This can then move on to PR and communication, and that includes drafting releases, social media content creation and strategy, as well as execution, and finally on-ground services as handling the event from start to finish, and that would include handling the door, selling tickets or tables, and providing other services as required. Our segments within the market differs, but our main revenue stream is from working closely with F&B outlets within hotels and beach clubs. We do work a lot with the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) on city-wide events and performances. However, this does not cut it for us; we see ourselves as creators, and we are always searching for new segments as we are always hungry for new ideas and concepts. And because we are different from other events and nightlife companies, our clients profiles vary, and some of the names we work with include Flash Entertainment, DCT, FIFA Club World Cup, Marriott International, Al Futtaim, ADNEC, Cultural Foundation, and the list goes on.”
For someone who’s only 28 years old, it’s probably safe to say that Al Naji is one of the older entrepreneurs operating in this particular industry sector in the UAE, but that doesn’t mean he’s had it easy starting up either. “I have been in this business for quite some time now, and it was not the easiest roadmap, to be extremely frank,” Al Naji confesses. “I took the risk in starting up the company, although the market is saturated with event companies backed with massive financial support, but I decided to do this, and learn everything on my own. Which is also my motto with the team. I always encourage the team to learn skills, and to get things done on their own. I am a huge believer that when you know how things are done, you create better, and get things done better as well. With that mindset, we cut down on cost and capitalize on our profit, and we end up doing everything in-house, and gain experience as well."
"We do not want to be a moneymaking machine, but I want to make sure that the team understands what it takes to make things come to life.” So, what keeps Al Naji going even when the going gets tough? “Doing what you love is what keeps you motivated,” he replies. “I do not want to sound like a cliché, but doing what you love and running after your dream is such a rewarding process. You wake up every day looking forward to your day and what it brings, regardless if it’s another success or a failure, but it’s your dream, and you are running after it.
The Project’s Saif Al Naji shares his tips for entrepreneurs
1. Dream extremely big. “But also be realistic.”
2. Take one step at a time. “I understand you want to be the biggest entrepreneur, but you need to make sure your steps are firm and steady.”
3. Learn everything about your business. “For you to succeed, you need to know everything about what you do, and how it gets done.
4. Give to gain. “Don’t expect to earn money in the first year. Be prepared to earn experience, but almost zero income. To gain trust and experience, you need to go above and beyond.”
5. Learn from your failures. “If you don’t fail, then you are doing something wrong. Failure is a must. This is how you learn. But don’t ever give up after your failure.”
6. Learn, and learn again. “I am a firm believer of learning. And by learning, I mean learn about your client, as much as you learn about your work and business. Make sure to understand what your client or target market needs, and what you think they need.”
7. Listen more than you talk. “This goes without saying. Listen to your team, to your clients, to your target market, and to your intuition. “
8. Be involved. “Be part of everything you provide and do. Take part in what you provide. You can only do better when you are there, and on ground. If it’s a product you are supplying, make sure to be the first to try it, and if it’s a service, be the first one to experience it.”