Dr Spencer Striker (right) interviews Nick Lewis of Holler/Leo Burnett. Image Credit: Courtesy: AUD

Dubai: American University in Dubai’s series of podcasts on the UAE’s tech sector have found a growing audience despite a soft launch.

The casts, Digital Media and Tech in Dubai, are the brainchild of Dr Spencer Striker, AUD’s assistant professor of digital media, who cut his tech teeth in Silicon Valley.

Each episode sees him interview experts and participants in the UAE’s technology sector (as well as this reporter, who was a guest on the first episode). And as the first season draws to a close, he’s already planning his themes and guests for the second season.

“It’s been really great to be exposed to all of these technology insiders in Dubai,” Striker said. “I’ve gotten a variety of perspectives with regard to the question I’ve asked a number of them, which is to say, what is the start-up climate like in Dubai. What’s the technology scene like in Dubai? You get answers all over the map.”

Striker’s primary purpose in season one has been to try and identify distinctive features of Dubai’s tech sector — things that distinguish it from other technology hubs.

“The notion that you need money to start a company is universal — it doesn’t matter if you’re in Silicon Valley, or Austin, Texas, or Chicago, you have to raise money,” he said.

“What’s unique, from my understanding, is that there is a goodwill, and enthusiasm, for people to do business here. And the government wants that to happen. There’s a climate where they’re like, ‘Please, start a good business.’

“But at the same time — and this is something that Hussain Dajani [COO of Hug Digital, guest on Episode 5] mentioned — there’s a lack of expertise in that regard, a lack of technical expertise in the blocks and tackles of starting a company. Seasoned folks, who know how to do it, there aren’t enough of them.”

Home-grown unicorn

Striker suggests that what the tech sector needs, to attract both money and expertise, is a home-grown unicorn — a billion-dollar tech start-up — and says eyes are on car ride company Careem.

“There’s a high rate of digital adoption in Dubai, and enthusiasm about technology and technology products, and enthusiasm about social media. One theme that has come up in my discussions is whether or not there’s a social media bubble. Folks I’ve talked to, digital marketing professionals, talk about how there are some really, really popular influencers here in the region, but whether or not they’re being overpaid is a question that’s come up a number of times. What is their exact value on a brand? If they show up at an event and get $30,000 [Dh110,100], was that a good spend?”

Striker still has two episodes of season one to edit and release, but he’s already started planning season two, when he plans to draw students into the editing and production process — at the moment, he does all the production work himself.

“One thought is to expand the podcast beyond tech, because I’m finding it such a specific vertical. Maybe I should consider broadening it out, because there are very few podcasts covering Dubai.

Research project

“I’m very happy with our guest list so far. My ultimate goal is that by the end of next year, by the end of season two, I would like to have interviewed all the key players in technology in Dubai. That’s going to be a research project, figuring out who they are.

“I want to speak to more founders. So far we’ve had a lot of senior level digital marketing people. I want to speak to people who’ve started business as well. Another thing I’d like to do is get some of the people who run tech conferences, because usually the people who run conferences know everyone. They see larger themes emerging as well.”

Striker estimates the number of listeners in the thousands.

“Anecdotally, qualitatively, the impact is good. We’re getting a lot of likes and comments. We’re going to be ramping up marketing beginning next fall,” Striker said, saying he was happy with the progress so far.


Box: Digital Media and Tech in Dubai Season One Episode List

1. Dubai Does Business (Guests: Andrew Staples, Gulf News; Maha Abouelnein, MD of OC)

2. PAZ knows digital Dubai (Guest: Joe Akkawi, chief digital officer, PAZ Marketing)

3. Ibn Battuta goes digital (Guest: Nick Lewis, social media director, Holler/Leo Burnett)

4. Livestreaming mobile Dubai (Guest: Cheryl King, GM, Markettiers 4DC)

5. Dubai’s digital command centre (Guest: Hussain Dajani, COO, Hug Digital)

6. Dubai’s laboratory of innovation (Guest: Ayman Itani, founder and CEO of Think Media Labs)

Episodes 7 and 8 are yet to be released.