09/07/2016 12:00:00 AM
A15: A Coevolution Story
Since we first started operations in 1996 and until this very moment, startup culture has been an integral part of who we are as an organization.
Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast
At A15 we promote and live up to the ideal that every member of our organization is an entrepreneur. Today, many of our employees have become entrepreneurs, leading companies, they founded, within our portfolio. This disruptive culture and the drive behind it have been the cornerstone of our successes over the past 20 years. Another factor that has a big impact on our organizational culture; is our conviction and belief that there is a significance to the problems our businesses address and that through them we deliver the solutions to meet consumers’ needs. Our team is on a mission, help create and grow companies that solve real problems for real people.
I personally believe that this winning culture is the reason behind our past success and will continue to be at the heart of all our ventures and success down the line. We here at A15, pride ourselves in having the same entrepreneurial culture that we seek so desperately when we look to invest in new and exciting companies. This desire to create positive impact and disrupt existing markets and business models. Because we feel that we come from the same background as our entrepreneurs and because we believe that we are made from the same material – the majority of A15’s management team were either entrepreneurs or worked for startups in the tech industry – A15 we will always be an entrepreneur friendly organization regardless of how many times we pivot or change our investment strategies. Peter Drucker once said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast;” we’ve been eating a hearty breakfast of years.
Our Origin Story
To understand where this came from we’ll have to take a look back at, let’s just call it our origin story. Since our early days in 1996, we had a plan, an idea that revolved around empowering and growing the internet ecosystem in Egypt. We started as company that sold internet access called Link Egypt and a company that developed software to interface with the internet called Link Development; all of our investments at that time were made to benefit the core business, which is selling more internet access. Soon afterwards, we realized that even if everyone had online access they wouldn’t stay online for very long, because at that time, there was not much to do online in Egypt. That’s when we started thinking of our core business as an internet service provider (ISP) and software developer as the sun within our solar system and we needed to create more value for our customers through companies that can provide additional services to them, companies we then came to think of as the planets that revolve around it. Each of A15’s new investments or businesses from that time onwards grew to be interdepended and intertwined with all the other members of our ecosystem; this is called “Coevolution”.
The core question we asked ourselves everyday was “what would make a client choose us as their ISP and not the other company down the street?” We delivered better prices, better speed, better customer care service and free email inboxes…etc. But more importantly, we launched a number of now well-known online services and portals through Link Development. The premise behind this strategy was, if we offered the internet user rich online content and top-notch services, this will increase the adoption of internet in Egypt and even though at the end of the day they might not all use our company as their ISP; they will eventually use us and other ISPs as their gateway to our other companies. We even made the “LINKdotNET” internet page accessible to everyone, even different ISP users because at the time people needed a destination. LINKdotNET eventually became that destination. Through this landing page, Egyptian internet users could find everything they needed from general and political news to sports news, food ordering and free email inboxes.
Through this landing page people started using more and more of our services. This wasn’t just in Egypt, LINKdotNET also grew regionally and sold and implemented its ISP technology in Saudi Arabia. The development of this one-stop-shop landing page by Link Development that hosted Link Egypt’s services and the creation of content to support its growth, also spurred the creation of Link Data Centerwhich started off as a hosting provider for in-house products. By 2015, Link Development was generating revenues in excess of 100M EGP with a team of 500+ employees and with offices in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and today Link Data Center offers its services not just to A15 portfolio companies but to several other companies outside the A15 ecosystem.
With this in mind, our investment strategy was designed with the aim of either building, investing in or acquiring online services and publishers including: music content (Mazika), online food ordering service (Otlob) , sports content (Yallakora), news content (Masrawy), lifestyle content and tickets for outings (Yallabina) as well as online gaming (El3ab), job boards (Career Middle East) and rich branded content (MSN Arabia which was developed in house under license from Microsoft) and finally classifieds (Mobawaba).
This strategy and direction not only secured our place as market leaders of online content and services in Egypt but also maximized the online advertising inventory of our digital assets, which led to building the first digital advertising agency in the region – Connectads. Slowly but surely, this strategy started bringing together the different parts of what we now like to call the A15 ecosystem.
After Connectads came ArpuPlus, which offers “value added services” to operators’ mobile customers. Our same approach and business philosophy, which revolved around leveraging our leading position as an online content and services provider allowed us to seize the opportunity of growth in Egypt’s Telecom Industry. We effectively replicated the same online advertising monetization approach but this time with operators to create ArpuPlus. Naturally, being part of “Orascom Telecom” as at that time, gave us the right relationships necessary to grow this business. Relationships we continue to leverage to help other companies that become part of the A15 family.
From Company to Ecosystem
All of these businesses were the parts that eventually became the A15 ecosystem and it all started with LINKdotNET. Despite the fact, that these businesses were all small parts within this huge organization and ecosystem with a focus on selling internet as a service; each one of them and at the right time in their lifecycle became a giant in their own right. For example, in 2003, we spun off ARPUPLUS as a separate company to serve mobile operators offering mobile value added services in more than 10 markets producing revenues in excess of 200M EGP.
Following the sale of “LINKdotNET” to France telecom in 2010, all the remainder of the products were all brought together under one roof “OTVentures”. In October 2015, OTVentures was sold to A15 to start a new age for the team that brought Egypt LINKdotNET. Today, that same team is helping entrepreneurs starting off on their path to create meaningful impact by helping them build real products for real people. Products that actually solve a problem. Products that work.
Next time we will share with you some of the most valuable lessons we learned on this journey.