Interview with Ray Dargham, Co-Founder of the STEP Conference
Since its inaugural event in 2010, the STEP Conference has emerged as the largest tech and interactive gathering in the MENA region. Attracting the best the region has to offer in influencers, investors, and entrepreneurs, the STEP Conference draws thousands of attendees each year who are looking for the latest in tech, digital and entertainment. In this interview, Tharawat Magazine speaks to STEP Conference co-founder Ray Dargham about how his ambitious vision for a next generation initiative became reality.
What gave you the idea for launching an event like STEP?
Prior to launching STEP, we felt that the existing conferences in the Middle East were either too niche in its topics or too traditional in the way they were run. The region sorely needed a conference that feels more like a festival and one that attracts people from different industries to come together around the common themes of tech, digital, and entertainment. If you look at South by Southwest, which is a film, interactive media, and music conference in Austin, Texas, that festival had a major impact on transforming the city into a hub and focal point for various media. That is what we set out to achieve with STEP.
What makes STEP stand out from the many conferences taking place in our region?
I think that STEP stands out because of its quality overall experience as an event and the engagement that it provides for our attendees. We have built a massive community of some of the smartest and most influential startup founders, investors, digital influencers, and others in the region, and that is invaluable for people who are looking for something different in a region saturated with events.
What were the biggest hurdles in designing this experience and how did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacle came for us in the first 2 years because it was difficult to convince our audience and partners that what we were offering was different from the many other conferences that were already established in Dubai and in the region. Although it took a lot of hard work, our first few editions proved to them that we were truly offering a new experience, and the word was out.
Based on your entrepreneurial journey, what would you consider your greatest achievements?
I think I am still on the way to achieving something that is worth calling ‘a great achievement’. Some of my specific goals for achievement is definitely for the STEP Conference to reach a sustainable scale of more than 10,000 attendees and for our content platforms stepfeed.com and yallafeed.com to become the number one shareable content platforms for millennials in MENA region.
With everything changing at such a fast rate, what is your advice for budding entrepreneurs with digital products and services?
There is no one advice that would be relevant to all entrepreneurs because each one has a totally different experience. However, based on my observations as well as my own experience, some entrepreneurs tend to lose focus and strategic thinking over time because they become increasingly distracted by things that are not important for the business, especially for its long-term growth.
What are your future plans for STEP?
The vision of STEP Group is to create great online and offline experiences for our audience through the STEP Conference, Stepfeed.com, and Yallafeed.com. We want to build the largest new media company for the millennial generation, as well as the upcoming generation ‘Z’ in the Middle East. The region is missing modern platforms, both online and offline, that produce great content and inspiring experiences while speaking the same language of the digital generation. This is exactly what we are trying to do.