The explosion of social media over the past decade has opened new avenues of interaction between celebrities and their fans, including through international apps, like Cameo, which provides fans with a variety of coveted personal experiences. Among the apps introducing the concept to Egypt is Minly, which clearly stands out with its ability to provide interactions tailored to each fan’s request. The brainchild of a versatile and especially talented team that includes Tarek Hosny, Mohamed El-Shinnawy, Tarek El Ganainy and Ahmed Abbas, Minly is well on the path to great success. The Minly team of four sat down with our Editor-in-Chief, Yasmine Shihata to discuss their exciting new app and how it is expected to bring some needed joy to fans during these difficult times. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Why do you think an app like this is good for what we’re going through right now?
Hosny: It was obvious that 2020 was a difficult year for everyone. We started to see a lot of negativity in Egypt, which made us see the merits of working on a project that benefits everyone. Minly is a win-win business model, that also brings positivity and good vibes to the suffering world around us. The idea is really simple. When someone is going through a difficult time, a great way to brighten their day is by having that person share a special moment with their favorite celebrity. At the same time, celebrities like to make their fans happy. We brought in really successful producers and tech wizards on board to build an app that would bring a shared experience between customers and their favourite stars, with no one coming in between them.
How did this dream team come together?
Hosny: Each one brought something special to the table, but Ahmed Abbas has a lot to do with bringing us together as a team. We also have BC Venture Capital from New York funding us. They started discussions with Tarek El Ganainy and Abbas, and then El-Shinnawy and I came in as co-founders. Previously, El-Shinnawy was in a very successful entity called FixingBudget that works with the biggest media companies around the world, and I was with Shahid. It’s been a fun ride; this is the moment of truth, though. We’re bringing a very different product to the market. But as I said, I hope that it brings positivity and a lot of great shared experiences to the market. Hopefully, the app succeeds and achieves its great potential to expand in the region.
What makes Minly special, compared to its competition?
Hosny: A lot of people have been doing this and it’s somehow turning into a trend. Even though it all happened fast, we covered all aspects and all sides and we made sure that when we launched, no one would be able to come close. The whole point was to build a team that covers all aspects of this business. Each of us brings his special skills and experience. Producer El Ganainy gives us the depth of the celebrity and someone like El-Shinnawy brings his amazing tech background. We are super organised and we knew how to come together virtually at such a short notice. We made the app as unique as possible and not part of the trend and hopefully everything goes as planned. Now, we’re starting with the shout-outs and many other things will follow soon!
You’re a team of very successful individuals, how do people like you find the time to build a startup?
El Ganainy: There’s something very important that we want to make clear here; Tarek Hosny and Al-Shinnawy are the two pillars of this company. Tarek is the CEO and Al-Shinnawy is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). My role, as well as that of Abbas is to give as much support as possible to the two of them in order to make sure that we go where the competition is not going. Hosny and Al-Shinnawy have an amazing team with them on the marketing, managerial and technical levels. So basically, they’re the ones who are doing everything. Our role is to use our expertise to give as much support as we can to drive Minly forward.
Tell us more about what makes this app different from what’s on the market right now…
Al-Shinnawy: Having the two Tareks and Abbas on board, along with the strong team that was just mentioned. Also, technology is the angle we’re taking to differentiate ourselves. We all come with valuable experiences, including having worked with top notch Hollywood studios like Pixel, etc. So, we’re very familiar with the startup DNA; it’s in our blood. I am a builder at heart, that’s why I started this project. It’s something we’re very proud of, given that we’re going through a pandemic. Working remotely and building a team in this very virtual environment was new to all of us. To build something like Minly was a huge achievement.
Abbas: The driving force for us is radiating positivity and helping people ease up and cope with whatever they’re going through. The user experience is what we really are focused on. Creating a platform where we can add more experiences and help people create one-of-a-kind memories is something special. Connecting fans with their favourite celebrities is definitely one of the ways to create everlasting memories.
For people who have never used apps like this, can you explain how it works?
Hosny: You basically download Minly and get to see the marketplace. You’ll see the pictures of the celebrities on the app and you can choose from them, or search by name for the celebrity you like. You can also browse by category for singers, actors, and so on. In the future, we’d like to introduce new categories and sort out the names by genres, specific movies and their casts. Then you basically request what you would like the celebrity to perform for you. For example, if it’s your birthday the celebrity can sing to you. Of course, we make sure that all requests follow our rules and guidelines, before we submit the request to the celebrity. We have strict guidelines to protect the stars from bullying and sexual harassment and things like that.
What is the average price that Egyptians can expect to pay for these shout-outs?
Hosny: We made sure that the prices are in a range that is affordable to everyone. Of course, different celebrities come with different prices, based on so many factors. But we made sure that it’s as affordable as possible, so as to be accessible to as many people as possible.
So customers can basically request the celebrities to say or do anything within the guidelines?
Al-Shinnawy: Yes, you can ask whatever you want and, of course, the celebrities have the luxury of either accepting or declining. It’s all quite fun. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Egyptian Food Bank, so celebrities understand that they’re doing this for a good cause, as well as for the fans. They do it from the heart, since their intention is to make their fans happy.
Which celebrities are included? And how do you make sure things go smoothly with the celebrities?
El Ganainy: We spent a lot of time dissecting the whole thing from the very first push of the button to the very end. I think that, aside from the things that we’re going to learn along the way, we planned everything ahead and we’re very prepared to manage celebrities’ expectations, given that there are other providers in the region. It’s not a new concept.
Al-Shinnawy: What we’re trying to do is add moments. We wanted T.V. presenters, footballers, athletes, actors, singers and people from every field. For example, we’ve been testing shout-outs with Mostafa Fahmy, who has a huge segment where he connects with his fans. On the other hand, there are people, especially the younger generation, who are bigger fans of Mahraganat like Abbas who seems to have forgotten his German side and is super excited about including them! And then we have the sports stars for sport fanatics, etc. Actually, each one of our team has his own ideas of who we want on the app. We’re all so excited about this. But all jokes aside, we have someone for everyone. Basically, we try to provide a diverse collection of very different contributors. It would be very difficult for you to go on the app and not find someone that you really love.