Since her youth, Endeavor Entrepreneur Dina Aly was driven with ambition to transform ideas into reality and always knew that her big dream was to run her own business. Today, she is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Matter, Egypt’s first award winning specialized branding agency.
The Beginning of an Entrepreneurial Journey
After pursuing an education in Business with a specialization in Marketing from the American University in Cairo, Dina kicked off her career in advertising in production and account management, handling multinational clients such as Coca Cola, Nescafe, Etisalat and McDonalds. Her advertising career played an instrumental role not only in giving her unique industry insights and developing her growing interest in branding, but also connecting her with Matter Co-Founders and Endeavor Entrepreneurs Mohamed Abbas, Creative Strategy Director, and Majd El Sherif, Chief Creative Director.
Seeing that companies in Egypt outsource their branding to foreign agencies, the Entrepreneurs found a gap in the market: there was no local alternative. “Branding, people would tell us, is not something that would work in Egypt because it’s a niche market and they advised us to stay in advertising,” said Dina on the challenges of venturing outside the status quo. “We really didn’t want to do that, because we believed branding was the real need in the market.”
But the transition for Dina was highly risky and daunting. Up until then, Dina had been on a four-year maternity break following her first pregnancy. “I had two daughters and at the time and I was freelancing as a producer and I wasn’t very sure if I was ready to go back to working as I was very much in the “mom world,” shared Dina, expressing the difficulty of taking this decision at the time.
“A lot of mothers start feeling guilty and pressured, especially when they have little kids. I needed to create a balance so I said to myself I’ll start again slowly, be home by 4:00PM to take it easy and balance it out, but of course, that didn’t happen,” laughed Dina as she recalled her transition back to work. Only two months in, Dina found herself full throttle building a vibrant branding field in Egypt and scaling Matter as its pioneering agency.
Starting off with a simple office, only six employees and no solid visibility over what the future holds back in 2012, Matter today is a fully-fledged branding agency boasting a portfolio of 200 brands across MENA, Europe and U.S, a team of over 40 employees and a line up of prestigious international awards including the Dieline Packaging Award for The Four Fat Ladies (2013), a Silver A’Design Packaging Award for Stroofee Stroop and Mountain Dew (2016), and a Golden A’Design Packaging Award for Flo (2018).
It was the Dieline Award that was Matter’s launchpad as they became the first local brand agency in the Middle East to win the award. “When Dieline saw our work and asked us to apply, Egypt as a candidate’s country didn’t even exist in the application so we sent them an email requesting that they add it first to the list of countries,” said Dina. “When won the award, we literally put Egypt on the map. It was very a encouraging milestone for us; local companies don’t need to go to international agencies to do their branding anymore.” Since the Dieline Award, Matter quickly scaled and became a household name in Egypt’s branding field, building a portfolio of clients like Nestle, Unilever, Americana Group, and EGBank.
Scaling Towards Success
Scaling a business is challenging. Scaling a people’s business in the creative industry is an even more strenuous task. Dina recognizes that the essential keys to success in branding are embedding passion and inspiration into the company’s own DNA, values and culture and have them guide everything from the strategy to the operations on a day-to-day basis.
“We are all extremely involved,” explained Dina. “We’re very eager to learn - so we carry out research, hold workshops and continuously expose ourselves to best practices and trends happening around the world. Teamwork is also key. Putting our brains together helps inspire and bring out the best and bigger ideas.”
Ideas being boundless, the process of putting a brand together and creating an identity for a company or product is no easy feat. The most successful ideas and brands, Dina finds, are those that are driven by passion, belief and intuition; that feel right to the client, is a concept they believe in, differentiate themselves with and sustains their business growth. The branding process, thus, is at the core of Matter’s success. “When we meet with our clients, we talk about our philosophy, process and methodology and they love it. It’s why clients buy into us and I believe this is what really built our portfolio and reputation over the years.”
“At the start of a project there is always excitement and dynamism so it's important to maintain that throughout the process to make sure that brands are not just ‘nice ideas’ but the ‘right ideas’. When you invest all your energy and passion, with a combination of intuition, into a brand then it will definitely work out,” Dina added.
Being a people’s business , Matter pays considerable attention to Talent Management to ensure an environment at the office that fosters creativity and engages the brilliant minds of the team. “Culture and people are a priority for us,” continued Dina.
Creating Impact Through Inspiration
As a spirited entrepreneur, Dina also pours the inspiration she draws from Matter to create an impact on the wider ecosystem. Matter is consistently present at university campuses and in the startup community, giving back and supporting the youthful minds of students and entrepreneurs. Dina has also mentors startups with Flat6Labs, MINT Incubator and primetime TV competition Hona Al Shabab, sharing her best practices in branding, but also in the power of storytelling and running a business. “When you’re inspired by others doing something, you get encouraged to try it and realize it’s achievable,” said Dina.
At the time of publishing this blog post, Dina had just completed Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa. Indeed, between motherhood, scaling a venture and her athletic track record of participating in triathlons around the world, Dina opts to stay optimistic, determined and flexible towards any challenge. “It’s easy to put so much pressure on ourselves but what I’ve learned is that you have to follow your intuition to learn. It’s okay to do something unreasonable, if it feels right then just go for it and a lot of doors will open up for you.”
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