One of Egypt’s youngest entrepreneurs is Shady Sherif, Managing Director of Core Publications, the proud publisher of Campus, E7na and G-mag, Egypt’s Treasures, Ee for Entertainment and Events and Core Republic, the upcoming digital blow. He has set the trend for creative journalism in a time when creativity had no vent and youth no forum to speak. Magdy Gallad once said that “E7na” reminds him of the youth version of Masry El Yom; now that is something not every publisher can say of himself in the era of copy and paste journalism. Always edgy, spot on and painfully honest is what we are used to from all three publications.
As a young entrepreneur, he managed to weather the storms without compromising his integrity and remaining loyal to his vision, standards and principles. And yes, have great fun at the same time.
Tell us how your idea became a reality?
I started at a very young age. I got my first job when I was 15, and I worked in a lot of sales jobs in the beginning of my career. I studied at the Faculty of Commerce, Arabic section, as it didn’t require any attendance so my studies would not clash with my work. I was told that Community Times Magazine needed sales staff, and at that time, I used to make more than 1,500 LE a month. They already found two other guys and I decided to work without any salary only on commission base, given a blank business card. They thought that I was lying about my old salary, but in fact I really wanted to have the experience, so I was accepted and two years later, I was promoted to become the Sales Manager. Through my experience there, I found out that the age group which is easy to talk to is youth. For example, you could change the brand of cigarettes an18 year old smokes, easier than change that of a 40 or 60 year old. The young are always ready for change. So from here the idea of Campus came to light. I was against the idea of being an employee, I had a vision that I wanted to make a reality. My father was against the fact that a twenty year old would bring out a magazine on his own, but I believed that the best time you learn is when you fail not when you succeed. If I did a magazine and it became a failure, I might have learned more than if it was a success.
Don’t you think that who fails in Egypt, ‘failure’ will be marked on his forehead?
Who will mark him? In my opinion, the person who is marked is the one who does not keep his word when it comes to paying his expenses. You have freelancers you have to pay and a lot of other things, you become notorious not when you fail but when you don’t pay people who put their trust in you.
Was the market easier back then to start a publication?
The market wasn’t easy or difficult; let’s say it was easy for a good idea and by the way, back then in 2000, there was a recession too. When you start a magazine, there are three major pillars you have to put into consideration: first of all an original idea without copying anyone, second to make a difference, like G-mag which was inspired by ‘Mickey Geib’, it’s entertaining and different, three to make money. If these three things are included, definitely the magazine will be a hit.
A lot of magazines in Egypt don’t survive after the first few issues, what’s the reason behind this?
There are some people who enter the magazine market just to make money, these never prolong. For example, the publisher calls his friend who works at Mobinil, even if he works in the HR department, and asks him if he would advertise in his magazine, then he asks his other friend who works in a beverage company the same thing and collects the list of friends who would advertise in his magazine, but these people won't keep on advertising in their friend’s magazine for the rest of their lives, it's not their money after all. It’s like eating at a bad fast food restaurant, I’ll go once or twice but if the food is really bad I won’t go again even if it was my friend’s place I won’t eat bad food for his sake, that’s not how it works. Some people tried to copy G-mag and produced a free magazine similar to it and others tried to copy Campus. At first I used to get pissed off but my dad told me something that remains craved inside me "the first thing of everything remains a success”. You have how many singers on Melody today? Hundreds, but few became a success. Competition is healthy, I’ll be glad if someone comes up with a new magazine as I will be working intensively getting out with new ideas. After the economic crisis, advertisers became very picky with magazines for their campaigns.
Who brainstorms the magazines’ content?
We always hire young people and most of them haven’t worked in other magazines before as we have a total different identity. Sherif El Alfy, the Editorial Director of our magazines, began as a Junior Editor who worked at Nike as a sales person, he is very talented which lead him to the post of Editorial Director of all our magazines after five years. We like diversity of writers which bring out diversity of thoughts. Every Egyptian is different than the other and when it comes to diversity of opinions and we have some differences we immediately clash, which is totally wrong. At Core Publications, we have a variety of different views and we want and foster this variety. It’s not a matter of “my way or the highway”. Some people say that I don’t know about anything that goes around in the office or with my team and all ideas come only from the team. In Egypt, it’s always ‘The One Man Show’, and that’s a mistake a lot of people do. A lot of entrepreneurs interfere in every bit of their project blocking the way for other ideas to surface. For example, OTV has dropped because Naguib Sawires wasn’t lucky to find a trustworthy employee to handle everything; he’s a man of business with a track record of successful accomplishments and media isn’t his job, so it’s better to find someone competent to apply and implement what you think.
Where is the gap between English and Arabic magazines today?
It is rather design related. English magazines are way better than Arabic for Arabic fonts are not very diverse in variety. For example, Lounge and Charisma which is better in design? It's Lounge and the same thing applies for Campus and E7na, Campus is more attractive.
What’s your favorite publication of all time?
I follow up with every medium, from Amr Adib’s talk show, to various Egyptian newspapers like Al Ahram, Al Masry Al Youm, Al Akhbar and Al Sherouk. I like to know updates of politics and sports. I’m a big fan of ‘Mickey Geib’, that’s my all time favorite publication.
Who gave you a helping hand when you faced some obstacles?
Hany Mahfouz helped me a lot; I see lots of great factors in him. He is Christian and that proves our national unity. He signed checks without being sure when I will repay him. I didn’t have an office back then and he let me work at his office for 6 months. He paid my checks for the print house and everything until I became able to repay and manage on my own. My friend Sherif Shalaby helped me out financially and until this day his family refuses to take back the money.
Did you face any censorship obstacles regarding your bold covers?
There are some bold covers that censorship don’t take into consideration or they don’t usually get the indirect message that we try to imply. In Campus, they don’t usually get it as it's an English publication and we place things indirectly, but for E7na, the Arabic publication, they are always eyes wide open, but people started to perceive our covers as we’re trying to forward a message and not for the sake of just being naughty.
Do you think that short, light articles are commercially requested today than long journalistic features?
The publication with the biggest distribution in Egypt is Al Ahram and it circulates a readership of an estimated 1,5 million readers. We are 80 million people, which mean that there are millions out there who don’t even read. The editor must be ‘Saye3’ and knows how to make people read. A headline might forward the message better than a paragraph. We had a headline before that just said ‘SEX’ in a large font and beneath it we wrote ‘Got your attention?” and the article wasn’t about sex but there was a message that we wanted people to read. In Al Masry El Youm, an interview with Adel Emam sounds interesting but I could read the quotes or boxes that grabbed my attention and also know what the interview is about.
Louis Greiss is the Editor-in-Chief of the magazines, how did you get that honor?
When you publish a magazine, there must be an Editor-In-Chief who is registered in the syndicate of Journalism, so I went to Louis Greiss to ask him for this favor and he was very supportive and helped us with many obstacles.