Having secured US$2.2 million from global venture funds, Yela, a celebrity messaging and creator platform, is set to launch in the MENA region in August 2021.
Founded by Alex Eid and Marc Dakroub, Yela is a technology company that streamlines fan interactions with exclusive A-list celebrities, initially focusing on the MENA and South Asia regions and its global diaspora, but with global expansion plans.
The startup aims to spearhead the creator economy across the MENA region, providing access to high-profile celebrities via personalized interactions (video, audio, and direct text messages) with prices starting from $100. Yela has already onboarded Egyptian singer, composer, and actor Amr Diab, Lebanese singer and actress Haifa Wehbe, Egyptian actress and singer Youssra, Egyptian comedian actor Mohamed Henedy, and Egyptian actor Ahmed AlSakka to be a part of the platform.
According to the co-founders, direct to fan engagement presents an opportunity for celebrities on both a commercial and a personal brand level, and Yela is helping capitalize on that through its technology, data, and tools. “By attracting the biggest influencers of our time (celebrities), Yela is normalizing behavior around direct fan engagement,” says Marc Dakroub, Chief Product Officer, Yela. “Building a successful, premium brand associated with the stars can convert into endless opportunities. In the long term, we can expand the type of creators we have onboard to include persons of industry specializations that apply to a wider audience, allowing us move from the entertainment and gifting categories and into education and learning. Our strategy allows us to reach the largest audiences, in turn paving the way for a new norm and new business.”
The Yela offering.
Yela’s first pre-seed round of funding has been led by American investors Justin Mateen, a co-founder of Tinder and General Partner of JAM Fund, and Sean Rad, also a co-founder of Tinder and General Partner of RAD Fund. Other Silicon Valley-based investors include Graph Ventures, championed by Razmig Hovaghimian, who is a Board Member at Rakuten. In addition, investment has also come in from the UK through Samos Fund, Ascension Ventures, as well as from the MENA-based Hambro Perks Oryx Fund.
When asked about how Yela has managed to secure the backing of such high-profile investors, Yela CEO Alex Eid points to a number of different factors. “Yela is a premium proposition, offering exclusive access to A-list celebrities,” he explains. “Our target market is the MENA and South Asia. We’re differentiated [from the competition] in the region we cover, the type of creators we are onboarding, and the audience we are targeting. Also, the team is also made up of second and third time venture backed entrepreneurs, with a passion for the product. The creator economy is about normalizing this kind of engagement, and in turn, monetizing different content formats/experiences.”
Eid also notes that none of the current relationships with Yela’s investors existed when his team started working on the idea. “We told our friends and people around us what we were doing, and naturally, one conversation lead to another,” he says. “Our key differentiator is the speed at which these relationships develop and convert into meaningful outcomes.Having a strong focus on the subject matter you are involved in helps build credibility. Marry this with passion and unique insights, and you have a recipe to help you standout and attract the right stakeholders.”
Yela co-founders Alex Eid and Marc Dakroub. Source: Yela.
‘TREP TALK: Yela co-founder and CEO Alex Eid’s tips for entrepreneurs seeking to raise funds for their enterprises
1. Presentation matters “We all like beautiful things. Investors are no different. Make sure your pitch deck has the right balance of content and design. Easy to consume, and nice to look at. This also impacts the likelihood of it being shared with other interested investors.”
2. Know your material “It goes without saying, but investors want to believe that they are speaking to a subject expert. Whether it is financials, competitor landscape, or step by step workings of your product/service, investors want to see confident, compact, and articulated responses. Practice makes it perfect.”
3. Iterate your pitch “Every meeting or pitch will teach you something. Make sure, especially in the early stages, that you are updating your pitch in line with obvious or repetitive feedback. On average, I have updated my pitch deck 60 times between the start and the end of an investment round.”
4. Never leave a meeting without a next step or action “Whether it is feedback on your deck and business, an introduction to a relevant investor or founder, or a follow-up meeting date, do not walk away from your meetings empty-handed.”
5. Know your target investors “Not all investors will be relevant to your business. Run your round like a sales process. Research your audience and create target lists, meaning, don’t speak to growth funds if you are at seed stage. Find general partners who have a background or insight into your space that can help speed up the understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve, or point you in the direction of the right investor.”
6. Fundraising is a sprint “Be prepared to drop everything to do this full time; however, it is easier when you have a co-founder looking after the business day to day. You want to build as much momentum as possible. On average, I tend to book four meetings a day over the course of two months in order to be effective at closing [a fundraising round] fast. You do not want to stretch a fundraise over a long period of time, and risk becoming old news.”