Passion helps drive Flip to the top of its game

Flip Media’s Martin Diessner loves the internet, but tells Iain Akerman the big boys aren’t taking online seriously enough

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By  Iain Akerman Published  October 30, 2005

Passion helps drive Flip to the top of its game|~|Diessner200.jpg|~|Diessner... ‘This is one expansion where I place my personal focus — winning more international clients’|~|The internet was invented for people like Martin Diessner. Inventive, technically savvy and keen to embrace the modern world, he’s only been off-line for longer than three days once. If it were possible, he’d plug himself in and be one with the medium. Yet these attributes have enabled him and business partner Dinesh Lalvani to build Dubai-based Flip Media from humble beginnings in Lalvani’s garage into the region’s largest independent interactive marketing agency. Since it was founded in early 2003, the company has ballooned in size and now employs 42 staff, counts Emaar, Air Arabia and T-Mobile among its customers, has offices in Germany and India and is eyeing up further expansion across the Middle East — all of which, it appears, Diessner has taken in his stride. “I’m an online boy. I believe in the medium,” he says. “I was there when the internet was created. I went to university when the first e-mail boxes came out. This year I went on vacation for two weeks and for the first time since I can remember, since I had my first computer, since the internet was created, I was off-line for longer than three days in a row. It’s a passion. I could not live without the internet. It’s part of my life.” Such passion has helped drive Flip — which specialises in the design and hosting of web-based products and services — into a leading position within an industry that is still under-developed in the Middle East. “The market is definitely developing with a very clear upward trend and everyone who is participating at this point in time will have a chance to take a piece of the cake,” says Diessner, Flip’s CEO. “If you look at many international players, they don’t even look at the Middle East. This is peanuts for them. What are 14 million internet users in the Middle East? That’s literally Greater London. So the relevance from international players when they look at the Middle East is very, very low and, hence, if you have good technology and if you have the connections and the ability to market it properly within the Middle East, you will be successful. That’s what I believe.” And are advertisers in the region waking up to the medium? “Many have because they are forced to. International clients who bring in international brand managers also bring in new flavours, new ideas. On an international level Dubai has become the spot and many people move there and bring the knowledge that is required. “On the agency side? It’s still very poor because agencies obviously need money — clients’ money — in order to invest in international people and that is not necessarily happening here. “The other day I saw a client who had a comparable level of technology and internet understanding to what we would have as an agency — which obviously makes us happy. But I know that there are many agencies out there who wouldn’t have a clue what that client is talking about. So I think the clients, especially the international brands, will be driving change more than the agencies.” Like any rapidly growing company, Flip faces the need to make big decisions on a regular basis. For Diessner, these challenges include questions over expansion and how to keep staff motivated and empowered. Yet the stress of growth has not stopped the company from winning a host of awards, including a gold at the Pan-Arab Web Awards 2005 for its work for Sixt rent-a-car. What’s more, Neodigital, a sister company of Flip, was established in February this year to provide online media buying services and is located just around the corner from Flip’s main offices in Dubai Media City. So is further expansion on the cards? “Definitely. The challenge is there. I want to take it more on an international level. Not necessarily establishing more offices outside this region, but I see some personal challenge in winning more and more international business,” says Diessner, a former competitive mountain biker and a keen diver. The company already handles work for Deutsche Telecom, T-Mobile, Braun and Gillette and has other clients in China, Portugal, France, Spain and the UK. Thirty per cent of its business comes from Europe. “This is one expansion where I place my personal focus — winning more international clients,” says Diessner. “Within the region we are keen to expand to Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, either with partners or at least by setting up sales offices and client servicing teams over there. Right now, it’s down to flying to Qatar in the morning, coming back in the evening and not taking care of the clients as we could do if we had a physical presence over there. “In terms of focus, Abu Dhabi is almost a definite. We have had negotiations this year to open our office.” Originally from Germany, 30-year-old Diessner began his journey to Flip with studies in corporate investment and finance before heading to England to study international marketing and business in Bradford. He then moved to London to study for a masters degree in information system technology. It was while studying in London that Diessner got into the ‘techie’ side of things, before heading for a job with Adidas. He stayed at the company for six years, ending up as its global e-marketing director. He arrived in Dubai to work for Impact Proximity, the online sister company to Impact BBDO which is still probably the region’s single biggest online player. It is there that he met Dubai-born Lalvani, now Flip’s creative director. “We are building a brand. We are building the Flip brand as the online brand in the Middle East within the agencies,” says Diessner. “Yes, we are direct competitors with Impact, but the market is big enough for multiple agencies. I’d rather have another set of Impact Proximities competing with us, because they drive the market, than five agencies screwing the market with dump prices and bad quality technology that doesn’t work.” Flip is still a company in its infancy and with growth will come further challenges and hurdles. “I want the company over the next five years to maintain the leadership position that it has as the leading internet agency in the Middle East,” he says. “But I also want to give something back to the internet community. My personal dream is to set up a university or some sort of educational institute that teaches people how to set up an online agency or how to do online marketing.” But will he keep on going? “I’d like to step away in five years’ time and leave it to the new kids on the block. I’m not like a Richard Branson who has to go on to the age of 50 or 60.”||**||

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