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As Thinkup GCC celebrates its 3rd anniversary, our editor in chief interviews her old friend Saleh AlBraik, the man behind it all. The interview is divided to two parts; the first part is published in October’s issue and will cover Thinkup’s different phases since its launch, while the second part will be published in November’s issue and will be about Saleh himself.
Sail eMagazine: ThinkUp has been known as many different things before. So what is ThinkUp defined as now?
Saleh: We are a social media agency. Our mission is to bridge the gap between the Emiratis and the corporations. We do that through campaigns and events but with the push of social media.
Sail eMagazine: ThinkUp has evolved through different stages since it started. What are those different stages of Thinkup?
Saleh: We had four stages so far. The first stage was the news reporting stage in which every single day you would see about three new stories, whether it’s what Emiratis were doing, projects that were happening, or events that were taking place. So it was very much fast paced.
Then we evolved into the talent agency stage, which came about when I saw the results of the reporting stage and saw all the talents that were around us. I realized these talents need a place in the society and I wanted to represent them. That stage was short lived because there were big fishes in the sea and we had no experience in talent management.
We then evolved into a PR Agency, which was with the push of Mariam bin Fahad who was in Dubai’s Press Club at the time. She had a conference coming up and knew we had the talents but she wanted us as well to execute PR campaigns and events that will make the youth walk in through the doors. We didn’t see ourselves that way at the time, but we realized this is a good challenge that we can take. This phase lived longer than the previous two stages; it stayed with us for a year.
And then, on our third year, we evolved to be a social media agency, which was getting to the truth of who we are.
Sail eMagazine: What caused each of these shifts to ThinkUp’s direction?
Saleh: Each change happened because of two main reasons: The availability of our resources and freelancers was one reason, and the other reason was what people and organizations perceived us as and contracted us to do which helped us see more to ourselves than we did.
Sail eMagazine: How was getting the attention from clients and going into contract negotiations as a small Emirati company?
Saleh: When you go on behalf of another company or establishment that has been there for years, it comes without saying that you are to be paid. However, when you are coming from something that you’ve created in your room, after nights of drawing up on boards; it felt odd to ask for the payment because it’s felt like you are valuing yourself.
So it was hard for me but I got inspired and pushed by the team to demand what we deserve. We were tired of being mentioned as a youth group, a young initiative, and volunteers. So we made sure all our media coverage referred to us as a company instead to ensure we get the credibility we deserve.
Sail eMagazine: What is the toughest experience you’ve had throughout ThinkUp’s journey?
Saleh: People often don’t understand the amount of work that goes behind ThinkUp. We are a team of 20 members, we fight like brothers and sisters, we laugh and cry, we’ve had long nights, long fights, situations where we had to sit down, have interventions between the groups, arguments about what is right and what is wrong and what is the direction of the company.
What I feel is the toughest is that we have to continue to revisit our relationship as a group of 20. It can get emotional to some of us to be involved in such change-creating projects. It can cause us to sometimes be either insecure of what we can deliver or sometimes the level of expectations brings some of us down. So we have had times as a group where we all withdrew at the same time from the public and other times we were all front line and center.
Sometimes we are asked where are so and so? It’s because sometimes pressure gets to some of us and we have to understand and tell that person: “we are always here for you; we will love you no matter what. You need a break! You have taken the pressure to another level and it’s coming between your personal life, your social life and your work life, and we know it’s not easy to keep the balance between these three different lives, so take a break and comeback.”
Sail eMagazine: The definition of full circle moments according to Merriam Webster: “a series of developments that lead back to the original source, position, or situation or to a complete reversal of the original position.” What’s your most special full circle moments?
Saleh: It’s a similar story but with two individuals, it happens with quite a few individuals but these two are special. They are Badar Najeeb Al Awadhi and Ali Kashwani, we didn’t even know what we were doing yet they keep saying we’ve changed their lives forever. We didn’t really recognize it until the very far end.
We were hosting, interviewing, and recommending them through ThinkUp. With Bader, all of a sudden he is now filming a fourth show, negotiating his contract, negotiating what he wants, getting his own titles, and he is planning to one day publish his own cookbook. Bader once said that if it wasn’t for ThinkUp, he never would have had the push because he felt insecure about being a male Emirati chef, and now he has been accepted so well into the public.
Same goes with Ali Kashwani who said “I was drawing on Starbucks receipts and now I can say I co-illustrated and fully illustrated two comic books by the government and Watani, and I’ve met HH Sheikh Majid and HH Sheikh Mansour.”
Those are the full circle moment for us, where we have actually affected positively people’s lives and that’s where we feel like yeah it’s never about the money. It’s just the feel good moments where we inspired people around us.
Note: Stay tuned for next month’s part 2 of the interview, with more about Saleh AlBraik’s life and aspirations.