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dubai

Meet my friend Mahabub

Meet my friend Mahabub

This is Mahabub (Dubai, May 10th, 2014)

This is Mahabub (Dubai, May 10th, 2014)

A hard working young man from Chittagong

Meet Mahabub. Mahabub is a young man from Chittagong in Bangladesh. He's also the guy who I've been spending most of my time here in Dubai, while I work on a UX project for a local client. He's the only person I see and talk to everyday. When he comes to clean the hotel room I'm staying, he's always saying sorry when he has to ask me to lift up my laptop. He's shy, but speaks a fairly good English.

Like many other workers in Dubai, Mahabub lives in a labour camp in Al Quoz. Al Quoz is an industrial neighborhood of Dubai, where workers share space with large warehouses, cement factories, and logistics hubs. He says he has good roommates, and that his place is not too crowded, even though things could be better.

Mahabub has a younger sister and a younger brother. They are back in Chittagong, and he hasn't seen them for more than two years. He's planning to go back for good next year when his visa in Dubai expires. He says he had enough of here.

Mahabub works six days a week, every week, from 8am to 6pm. He has his off days on Sundays. He tells me that there isn't a specific busier day of the week, however sometimes things get busy during events, or when certain guests come in and trash the rooms (he did mention a nationality, which I vowed not to share with anyone).

I have a deep respect for hard-working people, and Mahabub is a perfect example of someone putting in his best effort in expectation of a brighter future. I couldn't help asking what his salary was, and he was kind enough to tell me: 1000AED, or around 200 euros per month. That's less than 7 euros a day.

So I decided to call all of you to join me on a little project: I have around 10 days left here in Dubai (I leave on May 21st), and I want to raise enough money to surprise Mahabub with a return trip to see his family in Bangladesh. That costs around 1400AED on flydubai, or close to 380 USD. So I've prepared a PayPal donation button to receive donations for him. If you donate, I will match the value of every single donation that comes in, up until we reach the value of the flight ticket. If we go beyond this target, I will hand him the ticket voucher plus the leftover cash.

So I'm asking you to click on the Donate button below and make your donation of any value.

If you need to contact me about this, just send an email to andre@mcnto.com or on Twitter at @andregoiano and I will reply to you straight back. I thank you in advance for your commitment. One does what is in his or her power to do.

Updates:
May 10th, 2014 — All donations will be refunded if we don't reach the final goal.
May 10th, 2014 — 10 days to go.
May 10th, 2014 — We have 7 confirmed donors, and 44.5% completion already!
May 11th, 2014 — 9 days to do, 8 donors, 68% completion.
May 12th, 2014 — In less than a couple of days, we have reached our ticket goal already. We gathered 405USD so far. Will be posting a follow-up soon about when and how I will hand it out to him. Thank you all.

Our favorite pieces of work from Dubai Lynx

It's been a couple of months, but we would still like to take the time to go over a few projects that stood out at the 2013 Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity.

Vodafone Fakka in Egypt (Dubai Lynx Awards board)

Vodafone FAKKA

Turn small change into tiny mobile phone credit. Add to that an Egyptian market that is dependent on small shops and petit change and you have a direct impact on your sales. An idea can't be simpler than this. Wish I had done it.

Agency: JWT Cairo
Country: Egypt

Egyptian Tourism Board (Dubai Lynx Awards board)

ITB Live Egyptian broadcast

I'm a sucker for interactive installations and I have no idea how many times I have proposed live feeds coming from far away places, shown in a big screen. These guys managed to do it. And I salute them.

Agency: JWT Cairo
Country: Egypt

Mecenato attends this year's Dubai Lynx Awards

Mecenato attends this year's Dubai Lynx Awards

Our badge and business cards at this year's Dubai Lynx Awards

Mecenato is attending this year's Dubai Lynx Awards. Unfortunately we are too young as a network and we don't have any work in contention for this year. However, we aim to make the most out of it, so reach out for us during the three days of the festival at Madinat Jumeirah and let's talk.

Mecenato: Week Four review

Mecenato: Week Four review

It's been a month now. An unusually short one since we're in February. Anyhow, we got some things done – we shipped a new website, we tweaked our sales credentials a little bit (it's on version 2 now) and we met with a few prospects. Here's what we have to share:

On launching the new website
mcnto.com has existed as a domain for close to three years now. During all that period, we had the first version of our logo, a description paragraph and an email id slapped on a static home page. We never got a single contact out of this during this whole time. But that is understandable. Who would want to contact this shady network of people without first knowing who they are, where they are located and what kind of services they do? I wouldn't. Hence why at website change was much need. We chose SquareSpace as our CMS (content management system) of choice, and we don't regret the decision. The CMS is powerful and somewhat intimidating at first, but after you get a hang for it, it's extremely powerful and user-friendly. It allows you to hook up your social feeds easily (good for content). Pages are built through dragging and dropping content blocks. Forms have built-in validation and are easily hooked up to a Google Drive account (the best thing if you're not a PHP-database wizard). For eight dollars a month, we're quite happy with it.

On e-commerce, shopping carts and PayPal
This week I was able to upgrade my personal PayPal account to a Business account and got to hook up PayPal Website Payments to my Harvest (getharvest.com) invoicing app. I now have the ability of having clients pay for invoices in US dollars with credit cards, all inside the same page. This is a major leap for us. Still working on getting the money out of PayPal, though. UAE is still not one of the countries you can export the values to a bank account. You are limited to sending it to a Visa credit card or a bank account in the US.

On qualified feedback on our offerings
I've read and absorbed from reading Lean Startup that the fastest way to find a business model that is sustainable is to put it out there for the scrutiny of people. This week was the start of that. We had some good feedback and response on the site, but we've also met one-on-one with a few people. The chat with Peter Bidenko, the Executive Creative Director at Leo Burnett Dubai was pretty enlightening. He had some good pointers to share and we appreciate that.

On printing cards with Moo.com and other possibilities
Our first batch of business cards were printed this week. We used the Luxe Business Cards from the folks at moo.com. They were kind enough to alert us that the copy we had set in gray was too low on K (black) and that it might not come out so well. So we cranked up the K. In the meantime, they got our respect for their attention to detail. There's also a reason why we are using a somewhat pricey cloud service for printing business cards. If this network grows like we are hoping it does, it would be nice not to worry too much about shipping out cards for people scattered all over the world. With moo.com we can have them delivered with a few clicks. We're also seeing how we can make use of their greeting cards and stickers for business processes. A few ideas: send out a printed greeting card for clients after they pay an invoice. Print all service descriptions as separate cards and leave them behind for clients after meetings. Use custom-made stickers for brief reviews and approvals, and to slap into envelopes.

On maintaining momentum
To keep any momentum in a project, you have to ship. Anything will do. An estimate, a proposal, a service level agreement, a sales pitch deck, a blog post. Well, almost anything. Meetings and emails do not count. Most of the meetings you participate in or emails you send out will never make you come any closer to building and sharing anything. Remember to ship and celebrate the small wins.

What are we reading now?
Just finished with "The Personal MBA", by Josh Kaufmann. The book has an awesome premise of saving you around 150K dollars on an MBA education. But that's beside the point. A book that costs less than ten bucks on a Kindle and gives you snippets of all the major topics discussed in MBA courses is definitely worth it. We're off now to a re-read of Rework, the book produced by the folks at 37signals.

Mecenato: Week Three Review

Mecenato: Week Three Review

A mixed week of time spent collaborating with Gyro and building up the Mecenato infrastructure. Here's what we have to share:

On developing the sales deck
Possibly the first thing we needed to produce was a brief PDF explaining why we came into this world and what is the problem we are trying to solve. It needed to transmit the purpose and the reason why clients should even listen to us. We quickly put together a first version and sent out to a few people for feedback. In the next week, I will be working on making a second iteration based on what I've listened so far. And what I've listened is pretty much this: case studies. Everyone loves a case study, something you did, with beginning and end. All else is too academic. People want to see things in a shelf that they can choose and pay for.

What we have been reading
Here are a few books we have been consulting during this week: 

Mecenato: Week Two Review

Mecenato: Week Two Review

The excitement dust settled quickly. Last week was a time of low client prospecting and heavy work. I have been collaborating with a boutique agency located at Dubai's Business Central Towers, very close to the first place I worked at when I first moved into town. I have been dividing my time between this collaboration and Mecenato work at around 80%/20%.

Can't share much on the details of the project itself, other than it involved a bit of digital product benchmarking and enhancing (coming up with new functions, enhancing existing ones), writing three different user journeys for different stakeholders requiring very diverse functionalities, and coming up with new brand campaign ideas to get users aware of this platform.

I can definitely share more on what went on on the Mecenato side:

On the concept of "work networks"
I shared a thought regarding work on my Facebook feed earlier this week. It read like this:

"Here's a thought: as an individual, you can now choose to be part of several social networks. Let's say you are part of Facebook (where you meet and chat with your friends and relatives, where you read this post as well), but you are also part of Instagram (where you prefer to post/archive your pictures), and Twitter (where you go to when you want to drop little snippets of thought). During the course of a day, week or month, you have the freedom to decide how much time you want to spend on each of these networks based on your interests and aspirations on that given time period. So how come work can't be like that as well? Instead of being 100% "owned" by a company, you are instead part of a "work network". You can now decide to be part of other "work networks" too (following the same HR procedures of a normal company). During the course of the week or the month you just decide which network you want to share your available work time with, in exchange for money. How about that?"

Two valid points came out of the comments that came in: the first – the money trail. Where will it come from? How do you deal with taxation? Isn't this as same as just freelancing? The second point was: privacy. If you have workers participating freely in what could be competing networks, how do you ensure that sensitive information is not leaked? Will be thinking about these two points over the next days.

On creating and formalizing processes
As two other projects started to warm up (one in Cambodia and another in Scotland), I am faced with the pressure of putting down some processes in place for sales conversion and relationship management. I am still not finished with the sales deck/biz cards/website, to which I should dedicate a good bunch of time this weekend. I have been uploading content to a new CMS called SquareSpace (very happy with their quality) and just recently also registered the domain mecenato.org. Mecenato.com is still on the works.

On relationship owners and vision builders
Here's another thought: what two functions can't be automated or outsourced by a communication/creative agency? After thinking about this for a while, I distilled it down to this view: the only true core competencies of a creative agency are owning and nurturing the relationship and creating/shaping up a vision for the brands and products. In the times of the medieval guilds, these two competencies could exceptionally be found in the same person: the head artisan was the point of touch with patrons and also the one getting the chisels, paints and wrenches out to build something. He may or may not have had assistants or apprentices, but he was the relationship owner and the vision builder at the same time. Everything else I could think off could either be automated or outsourced.

On trying out Olark's chat system
Besides working on content for the upcoming Mecenato website, there's a web tool I have always been intrigued about: those little bottom right chat windows that offer website users a way of providing feedback or talking live to a sales agent. I've settled on a provider called Olark (olark.com) and set out to install it in my personal portfolio to give it a go. It's pretty simple to have it running, and you can get it hooked up to your Mac's iChat client, so whenever you are online the window is automatically made visible in the website. I managed to have a quick chat with a few visitors from Denmark, UK and the UAE. Liked the direct two-way connection and the tool's robustness for sales leads generation. Will definitely install it on Mecenato's product pages.

On running ads on Facebook
Just started running some ads for the Mecenato page on the Facebook platform. Will report on my findings soon. What I can tell already is that the system is indeed pretty simple to use. However, I think that if you want proper effectiveness from it, you need to put your head on creating good segmentations and variations of your creative. It's a mix of science and creativity to get those right.

Sources:
http://www.olark.com/
http://www.squarespace.com/

Drop me a note or a comment here if you wish.

André Amaral
@andregoiano

Mecenato: Week One Review

Mecenato: Week One Review

So it began. Like the legendary captain who burned all his vessels upon reaching the enemy's shores, Mecenato has finally started pushing forward on its mission of developing a new experience for commissioners of creative and knowledge work. It has been seven days of intense learning, random explorations and radical habit change. I'll try to share weekly updates as constantly as possible, in an effort to be as inclusive and transparent as the web allows, and hoping that any mistakes and pitfalls can be avoided by others. Before I begin, I'd like to be clear that I'm neither a native English speaker nor interested in devoting too much time to perfect flow and style for the copy of these updates. I hope they come out without too many embarrassing mistakes.

A few of the week's challenges:

On not having a set schedule
Waking up Sunday morning to a blank calendar was frightening. Almost intimidating. What should I do first? What's the most important task I need to take care of today? This basic exercise of prioritization is often ignored or outsourced to others when you are working at an established company. I decided to focus on finding a good place to work from and mapping out all the elements Mecenato would need to go to market with its offer. In Make Business Hub, a small café/co-working space in JBR, I found the perfect place to work during the first few days when my laptop was still getting fixed. They have a handful of Macbook Airs lying around that you can use (pretty much for as long as you'd like) for the price of… ordering a cappuccino really. Good value for my limited cash, I'd say.

On setting up operations in the cloud
A clear advantage for companies beginning in 2013. The volume and quality of business services hosted in the cloud is solid now, and is growing every day. I chose a few that I was already acquainted with: the new Basecamp for project management, Highrise for CRM, sales and leads, Google Drive for file hosting and basic word editing/spreadsheets. I've heard of Podio.com and have actually tried them out, but found them to offer too many options too early on. They flood you with customizations, which is great for control, but not when you are just starting and need to focus all your energy on preparing your company's offer. I have started using Pulseapp.com for cash flow and am currently looking for a time tracking option. Something that works well on a smartphone would be ideal.

On creating a brand story from scratch
Mecenato is a Portuguese word. I've chosen it partly because I'm proud of the country I'm from, partly also because Brazil is the upcoming South American giant that the media seems completely infatuated with. But mostly because what the word means (patronage) is the best description of what I would like Mecenato to deliver: a return to the times of patrons and artisans dealing with each other directly. No sellers, no unnecessary party crashers. Only people that add value. That can create something out of nothing.

On kickstarting the online presence
Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn company, website. So much content to produce and schedule in, so little time. The LinkedIn page was the first, and after a few problems uploading image files, we managed to list our services, share a bit of content and understand what are the paid options available for job listing and ads. I am currently running some ads to a highly targeted UAE audience, to which I am paying USD0.21 per click. However, 700 impressions later, nothing. Zero. Wondering if it's the offering or the platform itself. When was the last time you've clicked on an ad on LinkedIn? Facebook presence is on. We are still figuring out how to get ahold of either the @mcnto or @mecenato handles on Twitter. Both are registered but feature no single post.

On generating leads
Being from a creative background, I must confess the lead generation part of the enterprise is probably the scariest bit for me. Value creation: fine. Marketing: fine. Selling: ouch. It is at the same time of the highest priority and also a skill that I have managed to avoid for almost ten years of my career. The projects just landed directly over my desk before! More on this arena soon. I must say, though: I've landed my first client on day four.

On beefing up the network
The idea: start with a strong inner core of members and work the way up from there. So that's what I have done. I've approached 7 really talented folks who also happen to be my friends to help Mecenato in critical areas like design, new media, content, business. However, they are all either fully employed or pretty busy creating their own initiatives so I need now to find ways to automate the search for talented creatives. oDesk and Elance will play a role when it comes to very specific functions and project requirements, but for broader open-ended thinking I will still trust referrals. If I can automate that, I will.

Would love to hear your comments, if there's any.

André Amaral
@andregoiano