How we cracked the Arabic speaking world

Gary Knight, CEO at WOLF, explains how he and his team successfully took a UK based tech start-up into the Middle Eastern market
Gary Knight
Image from WOLF

Rewind three years. We’re about to enter a global pandemic where parts of the world will close for business and travel would be grounded. Without knowing how the lockdowns would pan out and change consumer behaviour, you’d be right to suggest launching a tech brand for the Arabic-speaking world, from our HQ in London, came with risk.

However, we did it and we did it very successfully. In three years we have seen huge growth, attracting more than three million users since launch.

Cracking the Middle East didn’t just involve market and consumer analysis – we needed to immerse ourselves into the region’s life, understand the cultures, human needs and social environment. 

As traditional growth markets in the West face financial uncertainty, the Middle East has become a business opportunity to watch. According to a report released in 2021 by the UK's Department for International Trade, more than 6,000 British companies have already registered in the UAE, for example. 

So what is WOLF and how did we do it? Fundamentally WOLF is a 24/7 online community full of social channels packed with live interactive entertainment and people making friends in a virtual world.  The audio app allows users to create an avatar version of themselves to entertain and engage with others on a virtual stage, while not necessarily needing to appear as their real-world identity. The concept of virtual avatars works particularly well in the Middle East region where socialising is different to the experience of consumers in the West, and can be free to reinvent themselves and find a place within an online community as that persona.

Driven by Vision 2030, a unique transformative economic and social reform blueprint aiming to open Saudi Arabia up to the world, commitments are being made by several countries in the region to diversify and invest in new sectors, outside of oil, with technology and entertainment being key priorities. The Middle East is also quick to adapt to changes and will introduce new legal frameworks and authorities to help expedite areas of growth. 

On top of that, the Middle East has a thriving, young (a third of the population is aged between 15-29), educated, technologically minded population that wants to spend money, and a rapidly growing content creator and influencer scene, where a huge amount of creativity is taking place. We wanted to embrace that and thinking about our own passions for live on-stage entertainment, we saw an opening in the market.

We succeed by listening to  and collaborating with our users. We invest in understanding what they want. We consistently audit our ‘product-market fit’ and make sure what we as a business are offering meets the needs, and wants of our users. 

We know that if we are to continue our success, it’s vital that we have the right team behind us on the ground, who listen to our users and get the offering perfect for them. This necessity has led us to increasing our resources locally and opening hubs in the region. In doing so we have learned valuable lessons for international recruitment. 

Hiring talent that live and work outside of the UK can present some payroll complexities. For example, the tax requirements will depend on the tax rules of the country the employee lives in – not yours – so you have to be up to speed with regulations. 

Understanding local cultures, values and priorities is key when looking abroad for your hires.  Cultural nuances can be a crucial factor in how you approach a prospective employee, how you communicate with them and in the longer-term, how you work with them. A lack of cultural consideration could cause a misunderstanding that could inadvertently detract a strong candidate away from your company. Luckily, English is widely spoken by Arabic professionals, and we have found them incredibly hospitable and friendly to work with.

In terms of the future, there will be more opportunities in the Middle East. The number of mobile internet users there reached over 300 million in 2021, with predictions being made that it would reach 50% of the population by the end of 2022.  The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar will also be the first to adopt 5G in the Middle East, with the UAE planning 5G coverage in 90% of the country by 2023. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia aims to be the leading hub of technology in the region, investing in digital infrastructure, such as data centres, metaverse infrastructure and fibre optic cables, creating exciting opportunities for businesses. 

This landscape lends itself to e-commerce, fintech, telecommunication services and of course, digital entertainment, which is where WOLF sits very comfortably and where we are enjoying expanding our operations, teams and user base as a British company in the Middle East.

Written by
Gary Knight
May 9, 2023
Written by
May 9, 2023