By Hala Khalaf
Social media – and its growing power and prestige – has become the best way for CEOs as well as small business owners to control the narrative of their companies. Arabian Business takes a look at two young men who have risen through the ranks to become prominent personalities in the region.
Can the popularity of a social media account label someone as the king of business?
Certainly, there are the required foundation blocks for success: hard work, ambition, dedication, passion, consistency. Social media bigwigs Saygin Yalcin and Mohamed Beiraghdary have it all.
They’re young entrepreneurs that have proven the adage that all you need to succeed is a good idea and determination. But both agree that there’s one more element — a crucial, unabashed ingredient — for a successful recipe, and it’s pure, old-fashioned luck.
Fortune played a big role in bringing them large numbers of followers, and it’s the big numbers that have labelled these men “influencers”.
As the outreach of the region’s YouTubers, Snap Chatters and Instagrammers — who are effectively and easily creating and sharing engaging content — becomes more of an industry, the proliferation of new players on the scene represents a potential minefield for brands looking to reach new consumers in the market.
The exceptional success of Yalcin and Beiraghdary, both of whom have global outreach and have become brands in their own rights, means that they can now command serious influence.
They are even more influential in the region than the ads placed in magazines and the commercials playing on some television channels. In this new world of constant connectivity and digital presence, they are the next power players.
The numbers speak for themselves. Beiraghdary runs the car and luxury lifestyle Mo Vlogs YouTube channel, which boasts more than 3.5 million subscribers. Yalcin barely needs an introduction. The founder of SellAnyCar.com and Sukkar.com is everywhere. He is closing in on half a million YouTube subscribers, has more than 250,000 followers on Instagram, more than 270,000 followers on Twitter and more than 600,000 followers on Facebook. He has every social media outlet covered.
And why not? Social media influencer marketing has become a huge industry because influencers offer one of the most powerful tools in marketing: word of mouth.
Brands, therefore, have no qualms investing in a passionate blogger with thousands of active and involved followers, and would even make that blogger — as opposed to an unknown model — the face of the brand in advertising. The returns for a brand mean that paying upwards of $5,000 for a sponsored Instagram post becomes the smartest move.
Yalcin, 32, is a German of Turkish descent and one of the most successful entrepreneurs to call Dubai home.
“This growth of social media and the rise of influencers through social media, it was born ten years ago, and it has become significant approximately two to three years ago, so I feel like I’m pioneering something new,” he says.
Being a pioneer holds a lot of appeal for Yalcin; his hobby is figuring out a need in the market and starting up businesses based on that need, only to watch the business erupt into unprecedented success. The luxury lifestyle that came along with that success was worth showing to the world, and because of who he is and what he’s achieved, the audience was already out there.
“The most powerful social media networks right now are YouTube and Instagram,” Yalcin says. “Twitter is okay, too; Elon Musk is a great example of someone who controls his own voice and image and does it on Twitter. He can even control his own scandals and fix them with just a few tweets.”
But to succeed, the focus has to be on one or two social media platforms at most.
Pick your favourite social media platform, and focus on it, Beiraghdary says. The 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit picked YouTube, which is a platform he’s always been passionate about after spending his childhood watching videos and even launching a gaming channel during his teens. Then, in 2015, he set up the Mo Vlogs channel, where he features expensive supercars and his day-to-day adventures in Dubai and London with family and friends.
“At this stage, I have a lot of followers all over social media,” Beiraghdary says. “But my focus is on my YouTube channel. When I create content, I create it with YouTube in mind.”
It’s a formula that works. With 3.6 million subscribers, more than 800 million hits since he started and an average of 2 million hits per day, the revenue reaches about $1m a year from advertising.
Having focus allows you to excel in your medium of choice, Beiraghdary says.
“There are so many opportunities to succeed online now, to use the online world to create a business,” he says.
But for that imagined business to get anywhere, you have to put in the hours. The behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating online content, says Beiraghdary, is so much more than followers can imagine.
Yalcin, on the other hand, hasn’t limited himself to one social media platform; he’s active everywhere. His situation, however, is unique; he had already established a name for himself as a CEO and an entrepreneur long before social media came to the forefront. For Yalcin, creating a digital persona was simply the next logical step on the road to success.
“We are in an era where PR 1.0 does not work anymore,” Yalcin says. “Relying on coverage from traditional media like CNN, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Arabian Business is not enough to control your voice as an entrepreneur or your company’s voice. You have to become a personality that people can trust.”
Becoming a social influencer, he says, “is how you can direct and control messages to your potential consumers, and I feel it’s the only way to go for future company building as a CEO”.
In September, Yalcin launched his YouTube channel, which already has close to half a million subscribers. He’s begun partnering with other successful media influencers on collaborations that reach hundreds of thousands of followers. He’s just returned from a trip to the US with Beiraghdary where they held a “meet and greet” with fans.
The CEOs out there who are unaware of the importance of social media and social marketing are the ones that will retire soon, Yalcin says.
“They will die out. They don’t get it or understand it and can’t possibly gain a competitive advantage. Putting themselves into the equation and becoming a personal brand themselves allows them to steer their companies the way they want them to be seen, and it saves a lot of time and marketing and gives you power. CEOs can’t hide behind their companies and logos. They need to be in the front lines.”
And if Yalcin chooses to present himself as the jetsetting, powerful entrepreneur living it up in Dubai and entrenched in a luxury lifestyle, then one look at his social media accounts will solidify this image of coveted success.
“I stand for business and the lifestyle of a successful entrepreneur. My focus was educating about the basics of entrepreneurship, but what made it more successful was showing the rewards of entrepreneurship. But the fact is, this isn’t the core of my business. It’s the part that plays the supporting role.”
If hard work and luck is one thing both Yalcin and Beiraghdary have in common as influencers, another shared factor is their portrayal of the luxury lifestyle. They’re showing a side of life that everyone desires, but so few get to enjoy: designer duds, expensive cars, five-star hotels, fine dining, private jets, penthouse apartments and decked out mansions.
“It’s a niche that we’ve managed to identify and build upon,” Beiraghdary says. And it’s maintained through personal relationships, because the number of social media influencers, working across all platforms, is a number that’s constantly growing. The competition is fierce in an industry that’s new and commanding international attention.
Yalcin likens it to creating a company from scratch.
“Like with any business, you need to add value. You need to identify a need and address it. And you need to identify what you stand for and maintain it.”
For Yalcin, there’s a term for the kind of fame that he and Beiraghdary have managed to achieve as social media influencers.
“We’re called business celebrities. But we look at it as creating a face for the company, showing the person behind the business. And people love to have a peek.”
Saygin Yalcin: The Entrepreneur
It’s crazy to think that someone as gifted at launching start-ups and selling them as successful businesses was once well on his way to becoming a plastic surgeon. Thankfully, a then 19-year-old Saygin Yalcin quickly realised, during a voluntary internship at a plastic surgery clinic in Germany, that it “wasn’t really my cup of tea”.
“I remember the nurse telling me I would be the worst doctor ever, but that I’d make a great businessman.”
Yalcin, now 32, wasted no time in switching from science to enroll in business college in Germany, his home country, and soon after continued his education in Mexico and the US. After receiving his MBA, he dabbled a little in fashion and launched an online company selling women’s handbags and diamond rings. Once he sold it to one of the largest online fashion stores in Russia, Yalcin headed to Dubai to seek his fortune, age 24, with nothing but a backpack on his shoulders.
“I had the idea for Sukar.com and for the first six months in Dubai, I worked out of a small restaurant in Al Barsha,” Yalcin says. In that restaurant, his business plan began to take shape, and fundraising for his idea began to grow.
Sukar became one of the region’s first and largest private shopping clubs, gaining 100,000 users in its first two months and expanding quickly throughout the Middle East. Two years after its launch, it was purchased by Souq.com in 2012. Yalcin became a partner in Souq.com before it was sold to Amazon, and he’s also a partner in the Jabbar Internet Group as well as a board member on various businesses in the region.
“We have 14 offices in Dubai alone,” he says.
In 2013, he founded the Arab world’s first online car buying service, SellAnyCar.com.
“I believe in the business model. When I chose Dubai to launch Sukar, I looked at the online penetration rate and it was booming here,” Yalcin says.
“I believe that if you present a great product or service to a great audience that you will almost always have a great successful business.”
Yalcin is full of advice on how to turn ideas into profitable businesses, and how to turn a dream into a reality. It’s the basis of a course he teaches at the Canadian University in Dubai, while entrepreneurial advice is the focus of his hugely successful YouTube channel.
“There are two types of entrepreneurs,” he says. “One digs out the raw diamond from the mud and the other type is [the one] who takes that diamond and makes it into jewellery. I identify [myself] as the first type and consider that the Champions League of entrepreneurship: people that start from zero then make something out of nothing.”
Making an online social media presence for himself is just the next step for someone particularly attuned to the world of entrepreneurship.
“Using the power of the internet is crucial these days in taking any business forward,” Yalcin says.
“I look at it pretty much as creating a face for your company. People don’t follow brands, they follow the people that lead those brands. The CEO’s face is the most iconic product these days; admired brands are known by their leaders and founders and by the stories behind them and the inspiration they have given to other entrepreneurs, like the story of Steve Jobs and Apple, or Bill Gates and Microsoft, or Sir Richard Branson and Virgin. These are all companies that live by the story of the entrepreneurs behind them. That’s what humanises the brand.”
Mohamed Beiraghdary: The YouTuber
“I really enjoy YouTube a lot,” says Mohamed Beiraghdary. He’s been a fan of the platform since his early teens. Today, the 22-year-old Emirati-Brit — who splits his time between Dubai and London and is known as Mo Vlogs — has become one of the leading YouTube sensations of the region. And the reality of that still hasn’t sunk in.
“When I started the channel, my ultimate goal was 100,000 followers on YouTube because they give you the Silver Play Button when you reach that number and it’s what I aimed for,” Beiraghdary says. “Everything after that is a bonus now, it’s just fun. I’ve hit my goal and I get to do what I love.”
If there’s anything he’d point out as the secret behind his success, it’s exactly that: choosing to do something he’s passionate about. One year into pursuing a degree in math and business at a London university, Beiraghdary decided to drop out and “give YouTube a serious go”.
“I felt I could do more. There’s more opportunity online these days, and I wanted a piece of that.”
He had dabbled in YouTube before, and launched a gaming channel when he was 15. “It did ok, but it was while I was in school and younger, I wasn’t too consistent nor dedicated, I wasn’t focussed,” he says.
In the summer of 2015, Beiraghdary decided to put his all into his new YouTube channel, which he had created in December 2014. He wanted to create a vlog similar to the ones he always enjoyed watching with his family, and he needed it to become successful, to justify his decision not to return to university in the fall.
“I wanted to see how far I can get in summer, kind of testing the waters, to see before the next school year starts, if I’d be getting anywhere with it.”
He focussed on posting car videos and immersive reviews of luxury and supercar brands as well as limited edition and exclusive models that aren’t as easy to get a hold of by the general public. What started as a hobby quickly grew online.
“It’s because I had the time,” Beiraghdary says. “I had a lot of time over the summer when I decided to leave university, so I started doing it every day and making sure I posted every day. News sites began to share my car-related posts, news channels featured the blog, things spiralled more and more, and of course, there’s the luck factor.”
Luck may play a small role, but Beiraghdary carved out a niche for himself: featuring the elements of a luxury lifestyle in over-the-top Dubai while having fun with friends and family. He covered everything from a day at Wild Wadi to the purchase of a hot pair of sneakers.
“What I do is simple, I just video my life and put it on YouTube,” he says. “I don’t show everything, I show the best parts of my day. I feature whatever my age group is into these days. I chat with friends to come up with ideas. It’s all me, I do it all, from conception to posting the final bit of content online.”
It was a year into his vlog’s launch that brand partnerships became a part of his business model. “It’s because of the numbers, he says. His huge and ever growing number of followers meant that businesses could capitalise on his digital influence. As a result, he became a social media influencer overnight.
“Once you start reaching a bigger audience, you are responsible for what you say and how you present yourself. I don’t want to do things to please others, but at the same time, I’m aware of the numbers and I try to target my audience specifically.”
His future plans involve venturing into business; an e-commerce site featuring merchandise designed by Mo Vlogs is on the horizon, and Beiraghdary is hunting for office space in Dubai.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but you just have to enjoy it a lot. You’ll figure out what to do, and do it well if you are doing something you love. I was constantly on YouTube all day every day anyway, so it made sense to turn that into a business.”