I am your typical 21st century Arab man.
I was born in England.
My father is Palestinian.
My mother is Lebanese.
I was raised in Kuwait.
I went to school in Jordan.
I have a funny American accent.
I have an Australian wife. Who is originally from New Zealand. And Lebanon.
And my life for the last 16 years has featured two constants: Dubai and the Internet.
Just in case you don't know what I do, the easy answer is "I build websites." Of course, I could probably tell you that I provided "innovative solutions that use technology, creativity and cultural insights to created more meaningful relationships between brands and consumers," but that would just take too long.
I build websites. I have done nothing but build websites in Dubai since 1996. I was in college in 1996, and I dropped out and I came to Dubai to live with my family.
My father is an old computer hand. From 1971 to 1989, my father worked for IBM, and he travelled all over the Middle East, evangelizing about how computers would change the world, and how banks, airlines and companies needed to embrace technology or be left behind. So it's not too surprising that 30 years later, that is exactly what I am doing, travelling around the Middle East, explaining to companies why the Internet matters to their future.
I first started building websites in my bedroom in 1996, small things for law firms and trading companies that just needed to be there. But in 1997 and 1998, I was privileged enough to be involved in an ambitious new project conceived by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, which was to build a media free zone.
What he had realised was that while Port Rashid and Jebel Ali were the necessary points of connection in the old world, through ships and trucks and roads, the new world of business required new points of connection.
The original idea was to build a media free zone right where we are standing now. The Trade Centre apartments were to be demolished to build a shopping mall, and the area where the parking lot used was to become a TV production free zone. But then we started talking about the Internet and how not only did we need a place for media companies, but we also needed a place for technology companies – a place that recognised the borderless world we were living in. Dubai Internet City was born.
It’s only fitting that I’m here at GITEX talking about this, because Sheikh Mohammed made that announcement at GITEX in 1998, and at GITEX in 1999, he announced that Dubai Internet City was open for business. In 2004, 8 years ago, we opened our agency – Flip Media. Since then, we’ve gone on to develop websites for some of the most iconic brands in the UAE.
What I love about Dubai is the speed at which things happen. I remember standing in a ballroom at the Burj Al Arab, overlooking the site that would become Madinat Jumeirah, and being told that it would be built in two years. Two years later, almost to the day, I was having dinner there. Dubai keeps moving faster, and the Internet keeps bringing the world closer.
When I grew up, the films and movies we saw were years behind the rest of the world. Today, we are never more than 48 hours behind anything, because that's how long it takes to get an Aramex package shipped here. I had my iPad less than 72 hours after the first one went on sale in the Apple Store in New York, and none of us are ever more than one week behind on our favorite American TV series, even though we sometimes resort to slightly dodgy sources to download them.
When I first moved into my last apartment in Sheikh Zayed Road in 2000, I had an Internet connection with a speed of 64KB. By the time I moved out 10 years later, I had a connection speed of 16MB - a 250-fold increase in 10 years! So if I start to think about what Dubai will look like eight years from now, in 2020, I can only imagine. Eight years ago, we had just started our company in Dubai Media City. This year, it was sold to the Publicis Groupe in a huge statement to the industry that for one of the biggest advertising companies in the world, the Internet was the future.
So, if you ask me what the future holds for me and my family, I know that there are at least two things it will hold - the Internet and Dubai.
So if you ask me how the future is looking, I think it looks pretty good.