The article was featured on the cover and web version of Venture Magazine on 7 February, 2018.
This was the second year that Hussam Hammo, the founder and CEO of gaming company Tamatem, applied for the EY award.
“When we applied last year I was very excited for the prize but I wasn’t sure that we were 100 percent ready in terms of growth and profit,” said Hammo. “So this year I was even more excited to reapply particularly that we introduced several changes to the company.”
When he found out that they finally won the award this year, Hammo did not seem surprised. “I think the main reason why the panelists choose us was our rapid growth which is comparable to international companies. Also the clarity of vision we have now.” Since the beginning of 2017, Hammo said Tamatem has achieved 20 percent growth each month.
Tamatem was created in 2014 to fill a substantial gap in online content. “Although Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, less than 1 percent of the content online is in Arabic,” said Hammo. “When we look at iPhones and Androids, only a small percentage of the apps available on them was in Arabic when we started.”
That was when Hammo decided to cater to over 100 million users of smartphones across the Arab world.
Securing funding was an obstacle that Hammo faced right from the start. He laments the lack of interest and faith from local investors, which forced him to search for funding elsewhere. To build on his vision, Hammo packed his bags in 2013 and headed to the Silicon Valley, where he joined business incubator and seed accelerator 500 Startups.
Tamatem was the first Arab company to join the program and Hammo remained there for six months during which he managed to achieve some growth. “Although [the funding] was small, but the experience that I gained was enormous,” stressed Hammo.
After gaining the experience, he came back to Jordan where he hired a team and started to work on setting up a company that publishes games created by international studios. Before publishing these games, Tamatem localizes them, making them culturally relevant for the Arabic gamer.
Just like most gaming companies, Tamatem’s business model allows them to make profit and scale through ads that people watch while playing games. Players can also pay to get additional content, to reach a further stage or to unlock more options and upgrades to make gains while playing.
Throughout the past four years, the company has targeted gamers across the region, but their main market remains the Gulf region. This is mainly because the users there—and in Saudi Arabia in particular—have the highest percentage of payment on electronic devices, explained Hammo.
To date, they have launched more than 50 games and registered more than 45 million downloads. “We introduce ourselves as the biggest company in the Arab World in designing and developing electronic games in terms of the number of users,” said Hammo, adding that the company that he manned alone at the beginning now has 26 employees and is growing fast.
Despite the company’s growth, finding the needed funding remains an issue that Hammo predicts will continue throughout the lifespan of the project. The second challenge was finding skilled employees. “We always find it hard to find youth who share our ambitions or passion,” he noted. “Because we were a small company people weren’t excited about working with us, they wanted to work for big companies with international names to get job security although they were still at the beginning of their careers.”
The company has been training Jordanian youth on the technology it utilizes and on what Hammo dubs, an industry that people know nothing about. Many of the young people they trained ended up establishing their own companies or working elsewhere.
Hammo hopes to boost his company’s employee count to 50 by the end of the year, and increase sales five-fold by branching out into neighboring markets like Turkey and Eastern Europe.
*This is the second of a three-part feature of EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. Click here to read the first piece.