Yahoo! Middle East is a result of the acquisition of Maktoob.com by Yahoo! in 2009, with the aim to become an online destination of choice for consumers in the Middle East. Combining Yahoo!’s popular products and services with Maktoob’s compelling local content, this partnership extends Yahoo!’s current offerings by adding capabilities to deliver relevant Arabic-language content and services, and eventually Arabic versions of Yahoo!’s popular Yahoo! Messenger and Yahoo! Mail services.
Journalist Rima Abdelkader conducted an interview with Samih Toukan, the man behind maktoob.com, for the Dinar Standard. Below are extra from the interview.
How did you get involved in the Internet sector? Is this what you envisioned yourself doing at an early age?
The first business I started along with Hussam Khoury was a management and technology consulting business. That evolved into web and Internet development and then the idea of Maktoob came along; to create the first Arabic email, which then became the largest Arab online community. I really wanted to create an Arab success story and I found the Internet a great medium to be able to reach Arabs all over the world.
How did you come up with the idea for Maktoob.com?
What does it stand for? Tell us more about it.
The idea was to build the first Arabic email and spread the usage of Arabic language on the net. This core then became the largest Arab Online Community with over 16.5 million users and with full-fledged services ranging from news to sports to blogs to entertainment etc.
What does Yahoo!’s recent acquisition of Maktoob.com mean to Arab-language speakers, and to online users around the world? What was your initial reaction when the deal went through?
When the deal went through, I was proud. Proud for Maktoob, proud for the Arab world. It’s the first time a global media company is interested to partner in such a way with an Arab home-grown technology and media company. This is a turning point for the industry and it’s going to mean more investment and growth for Arabic content and services in the region. It’s a message to all entrepreneurs that it’s possible to make it in the Arab world with hard work and innovation and a message to investors that the Arab world is a promising investment environment.
Do you think the example of Maktoob can be repeated in the Arab world? Can locally grown Arab companies become attractive to global industry giants or was Maktoob an exception?
I think that the example of Maktoob can definitely be repeated in the Arab world. I am more than positive than locally grown Arab companies can become attractive to global industry giants. Matter of fact, Arab minds are what’s behind many of the world’s astonishing ideas and inventions. For example, Abbas bn Firnas is the one who thought about the idea of flying. Not to forget the compass and the subject “Algebra” were inventions belonged to Arabs. Not to brag about the past, but I truly believe Maktoob was not only an exception and that the Arabs are capable of accomplishing anything if given the enough willpower and patience to do so.
What does it take, in your opinion, for the Arab employee to join the global work community? What skills and traits need to be developed?
In my opinion , it takes the Arab employee to join the global work community a high level of education, you can’t accomplish anything without knowledge. Creativity is a must to be acknowledged. Also, patience and willpower. Because an employee might not get his big shot from his first couple of tries so he has to be patient to keep trying until he gets there. And definitely responsibility. If anyone is going to work for a global community he must have a high level of responsibility and respect. Toward his managers, towards time, and towards his fellow employees.
Do some research on Yahoo’s acquisition of Maktoob. What lessons can be learned?
The lessons that can be learned from Yahoo’s acquisition of Maktoob is that a homegrown business can be developed into a huge success story with the right amount of devotion. And, that nowadays investors are appreciating the value of web-based companies. We should always have hope and try to achieve our dreams.. maybe one of us might be the next huge Arab success story.