Venture at 10: Samih Toukan

Samih Toukan, Cofounder of

Date of Interview: July 2009

Maktoob, the first social network in the Arab World, was one of the first to exploit the new medium of the Internet as it was launched in the early 2000s. Cofounded by Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury in 1998, the company provided services and content channels for users across the Arab World. In July 2009, shortly before Maktoob’s landmark acquisition by Yahoo, Venture spoke to Toukan about the rise of digital marketing, and what this might mean for the region.

From the interview

How is Maktoob currently faring?

The company’s growth rate has been almost doubling every year. We were one of the first to exploit the new medium of the Internet as it was launched in the early 2000s.

Do you think ad agents in the Arab World can continue to resist the change towards online advertising?

I think the momentum of the shift to online advertising worldwide will continue and pressure regional markets to do the same. We might be slower to shift but with Internet penetration exploding regionally money will continue to flow from offline to online. In fact the financial crisis has helped catalyze this trend because online advertising costs a lot less and is more measurable. I expect online ads will roughly climb by 5 percent each year.

Where is digital advertising taking hold most across the region?

The sophistication of media buyers and advertisers depends on which Arab country one is discussing. Dubai, for example, has very specialized digital media buyers and they understand the digital landscape better than the rest of the Middle East. Less developed Arab markets, however, are still fighting to promote the e-initiative. But while it is taking more time to catch up in these markets, the whole regional market will eventually have to adapt. Most online ad-revenue is generated from the markets of UAE and Saudi Arabia; and more and more recently Kuwait and Egypt have started to show healthy growth levels. We do have good traffic from North Africa but the sophistication of the media players there isn’t fully there yet; we expect Egypt to grow better and faster soon.

What’s happened since?

Struggling Internet giant Yahoo is set to shutter Maktoob this month as part of a widespread shakeup of its global operations. But Toukan insists Maktoob’s legacy will live on within a host of new regional digital companies that he’s now backing as the CEO of Dubai-based holding company, Jabbar Internet Group. Some of its fast-expanding investments include and

This is part nine of a 10-piece story. Articles in the series of Venture at 10 also include: