PR stunt kick-started our business, says Cobone founder

Cobone.com founder Paul Kenny tells entrepreneurs how he generated traffic for his website by creating 'PR noise'
PR stunt kick-started our business, says Cobone founder
By Staff writer
Wed 27 Jan 2016 04:29 PM

Paul Kenny, founder of the daily deals voucher site Cobone.com, has admitted publishing a fake press release about Cobone.com’s breaking the record for e-commerce in the region in September 2010.

Kenny was speaking at a panel discussion, titled The Challenges of Starting, Growing and Exiting a Business, held this morning at the Frioul Restaurant, Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

The event was organised by Club Fit for Business and Creative Zone.

On 22 September 2010, Cobone.com, one of the few e-commerce start-ups at the time, announced that buyers had rushed to claim the latest offer of a AED 10 meal at Vapiano restaurant before the deal closed.

“In less than 12 hours, the site saw 1,000-plus people take advantage of this unique opportunity to dine 90% off at the popular Dubai bistro,” the published press release stated.

“We were second to market. GoNabit [an online group buying website founded by Dan Stuart and Sohrab Jahanbani] was first,” Kenny revealed to the audience as well as to StartUp after the event.

“When we launched, everyone was saying: ‘You are the same as GoNabit,’ which we were but I said we weren’t. 

 

“So I had to find a way to differentiate ourselves and the way I was going to differentiate ourselves was similar to Richard Branson’s strategy to make a PR noise.

“So I went to at Vapiano, which is an Italian restaurant, and bought a thousand pizzas at a huge discount and they sold out by 12pm.

“I put a big sold out sticker on the site and an hour later I released a press release saying ‘Cobone.com breaks e-commerce record in the Middle East.’

“And the truth is that everyone started reading and asking ‘Who is this company Cobone.com?’ ‘What is e-commerce?’ ‘What’s a record?’ You know it created a lot of interest in the business and instantly people started recognising us as a different business.

“I remember that a day after you could do a Google search to see we were on around 483,000 websites. First, e-commerce in the Middle East was never covered. Then what is an e-commerce record? What is Cobone.com?

“So you got a ball rolling of media interest from that point.”

Kenny launched Cobone.com in 2010 at the age of 25. “The whole journey was hell but fun as well,” he said at the beginning of the panel chaired by David Moleshead, founder of Envestors and a fellow of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland, and also featuring Edward Brookshire, president of CorporateRewards.com LLC.

Kenny had had a three year long corporate career in Dubai before launching Cobone.com in 2010. The decision to become an entrepreneur was due to the fact that “he wasn’t making money for himself,” he said.

“A lot of our customers never paid online before,” he shared with the audience about launching an internet company without a payment gateway in 2010.

“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was 25…I just had this blind ambition to build this company.”

In 2014, Kenny sold Cobone.com to the Middle East Digital Group, which owns Expatwoman.com.

“I played the PR game and I enjoyed it,” Kenny told StartUp after the event.

“It brought a lot of value to our stakeholders, to our customers, to our staff because, you know, some people would say to their parents: “We are in the newspaper.’

In 2013, Kenny founded Emerge Ventures to focus on investing in high-impact early stage regional technology companies.

After becoming a father in April this year and spending eight months out of the UAE, he says he is now looking for new opportunities.

“I was a full time dad, which I loved, but I came back in September, October and I want to work now.”

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