CairoScene sits down for an exclusive interview with the bold dynamic crew who won our hearts with their hilarious take on Gangnam style, and entered our homes with their viral online shows before anyone believed they would be a thing.
It was 2012 when their video Egyptian Style – a parody of the ubiquitous hit Gangnam Style – went spirally viral, racking up 2.6 million views, ranking as the 7th most viewed video on YouTube, and catapulting them to the centre of spotlight. Their hit series, Mish Impossible later became their trademark show, along with seven other online series they produced through their media hub, Disalata. But for Mohamed El Bassiouni and Ramez Youssef, the road to success was never a steady one.
“Five years ago, going to a certain brand and telling them 'We have an online show and we want your money,' would get the immediate 'Are you crazy!?',” says Ramez Youssef, half of the dynamic duo behind Tayarah, a.k.a the revamped version of their brainchild Disalata. “Now the same clients who sponsor our shows are some of the ones who had said no,” El Bassiouni laughs.
The visionary entrepreneurs, now running a company that has been labelled as 'Egypt’s first online hub' met coincidentally at the beach. El Bassiouni, a construction engineering graduate who worked for his own real estate business, co-founded Disalata as an online platform for people to present their shows with Youssef, who is an architectural engineer designing lights at Philips, and later moonlighted as a stand-up comedian. “I am a very ‘yes’ person, so, when we said online TV I said ‘yes, let's see!’,” says Youssef.
A few months later, their show Mish Impossible proved a success. “Making the first video was a leap of faith – it was pure instinct,” says El Bassiouni. “We believed in our work and our ideas. At that time, the idea of an online show didn’t exist, so we were the first ones to explore it,” he says. “We had a vision that with the revolution, there is something happening simultaneously online,” adds Youssef, an ingenious artisan of satire in difficult times.
“Since we started, we knew that there was a lot of dramatic stuff happening, and a lot of people are specialised in this drama – so, we wanted to be the special ones who highlighted the one percent of good in the country at the time,” he says. “We took it upon ourselves to take the good, small stuff happening in Egypt as a way to give back to our country when everyone is trying to bring it down. If you have a country that is facing all these challenges, and yet, you can still find people who are smiling, doing their part - for example all these Egyptian entrepreneurs - it means that there is still a very healthy environment to grow and do well. I think having these kind of stories, in the context of these five dramatic years, is a miracle – we wanted to be a part of this miracle.”
And it is precisely that Egyptian ability to use sarcasm as a form of escapism that El Bassiouni and Youssef emphasise. “Culturally, we’ve seen a lot and we’ve faced a lot, and so, we escape this drama and negative energy by being sarcastic,” the former says. “You see that we do that whether there is a plane crash, or the stock market is going down. You can actually read the five years of the revolution through the jokes we've created. It's our own way to document time and to face reality,” Youssef adds.
And judging by their outcome, positivity breeds results. A year after Mish Impossible was launched, the passion they had imbued in each one of their videos crystallised itself in the arrival of the first sponsor knocking on their doors. “It was a year after we had started, and a major international beverage brand came to invest, so, it was a big milestone for us,” says El Bassiouni.
But in 2014, the power duo took a bold turn and decided to rebrand their media hub, which was reborn as Tayarah. “Back then, companies saw what we were doing as very odd, but they gradually started approaching us to make their own videos. This is why Tayarah made their own way into the market, and was perceived as one of the biggest platforms in creating digital content,” the entrepreneur explains, as he introduces their biggest milestone so far: the incorporation of superstar Hend Sabri as a partner.
They had started working from cafes and aree now managing a team of over 20 in their vibrant office in New Cairo, and that’s how Tayarah measures its growth. “We couldn’t afford to get an office until we had our first sponsor, so it took a year to get established,” says El Bassiouni, who invested his entire savings in the company, driven by his conviction in digital media as the next generation’s channel to drive change. “We didn't have in-house producers, and we went on to build two editing rooms and have everything produced inside the company, which is very cool for us,” adds Youssef, as he comments on the proud addition of Alaa El Sheikh a.k.a Al Mowaten Al Masry a.k.a Omm Esraa to the team.
However, the entrepreneurs stress that the road to success was one plagued with failure. “For us, it is important to fail. You can't achieve anything without failing,” says El Bassiouni. “We actually have criteria for failure – we have a lot of unbranded shows, so we measure through how much traction they get,” he adds. “From an entrepreneurial perspective, it still remains difficult today. I still have my morning job in design and architecture, and we have never managed a company before, so it’s been and still is a challenging journey for us,” Youssef concludes.
Production and photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb
Sign up for the daily Startup Digest.