MENA Entrepreneur Profiles: The Al Awadhi brothers of Wild Peeta

Anyone who actively socializes online in and around the UAE has probably heard of Wild Peeta and the brothers behind this re-mixed Shawarma business concept: Mohamed and Peyman Al Awadhi.

When I first came to Dubai as a bewildered expat it didn’t take me long to realize these brothers were some sort of local cause célèbre of the UAE business leaders community. Case in point, when their shawarma franchise brand name isn’t flitting across my Tweedeck, I am catching the brothers on some billboard, magazine page or taking up the stage at some well-attended conference.

I have to admit that prior to meeting them, I was quite skeptical of some of the hype that accompanies the Wild Peeta brand – thinking that these guys were being propped by a system that is eager to show the faces of home-grown Emirati entrepreneurs.

They are, after all, products of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development, a start-up incubator of sorts for young Emirati entrepreneurs. And now they have three locations in Dubai with investor funded plans to reach 100 outlets in the GCC by 2015. Predictably, my mind searches for all the milestones that would make them the “first Emiratis” to try a certain thing – like using Twitter as a CRM tool.

To do this, however, would be to deny the fact that these brothers are part of a cadre of global entrepreneurs pushing the universal standard of what is bleeding edge in fast casual restaurants marketing: using the latest tools, approaches and philosophies.

Wild Peeta business plan snippet

Just look at their business plan from 10 years ago (pictured directly above). They knew that the internet would become an integral part of their marketing, but how exactly no one knew at that time.

Fast forward to today where if you tweet them, they’ll personally tell you where you can park your car at any of their outlets. Everything from their artwork to their potato chips is a local product of the UAE, which of course means that much of what they do or embody becomes a hyperlink to some other aspect of the culture which they operate within. It seems understandable enough in theory, but how many people do you see practicing it with a fully functioning business on their back?

The Al Awadhi brothers make it all look fun. How many social media business do you know crowdsource product ideas from their customers? Well at Wild Peeta, that’s called “Sharewarma 2.0” with a nod and a wink. It’s a real thing, though — part of their mission to “democratize the brand”. Just ask @Shelo9 and @Mita56 who have each directly influenced how different products are now called by employees and customers alike. I most recently overheard them on Twitter discussing the need to create nap rooms for their employees. Ha! That’s what Google does, but nap rooms in a shawarma joint?!

I’d only argue that the Al Awadhi brothers are more interesting than your average “progressive” entrepreneur because they make all the others seem deterministic, and overly profit-driven with their social media/creative hijinks. No matter how crazy some of these guys are, they are looking to get bigger and bigger. It is not safe to assume this with the brothers. They are equal measure corporate slicksters as they are dreamy and zen-like in their ability to go with the flow. And they might all be doing it to simply create a new hub of thought and community: first in the UAE, and rumor has it they are about to create a travelling television show of sorts that will certainly add superb publicity to their ever-amusing agenda.

If you see the video above, Mohamed gets very excited about the new Wild Peeta OS (open space, not operating system) which doubles as a venue for the community to organize around whatever event the community wants to make happen. #TwitbookClub live-tweets from the Open Space every week, for example.

TwitBookClub

Because of their love of community building and learning you can go to their outlet and leave a book, or borrow a book, or perhaps just go to find a new friend,

Wild Peeta is a brand designed to be partially controlled by the community, so it will by definition never be a very definable thing. Two things about the brothers are quite clear though:

1) They are social media “purists,” meaning that they truly refuse to reduce the technology to a broadcasting platform (proven in their actions, not just theory). They socialize because that is what humans are programmed to do, and they are ok and open with whatever the results of that effort may lead them. Mohamed explained to me that some of the things that they end up getting involved in are financially inefficient. A point they don’t mind letting others know.

Still thinking about the money, or perhaps becoming their next investor? Fret not. Their business is valued at over $4 million USD after just 1.5 years of being open. It’s proof that having multiple bottom lines can be the best way to go. Just don’t expect them to ever consider their keen intimacy with the community as being a means to making money. With the Al Awadhi brothers, it’s tough to know what the objective really is. Thus, always expect any experience or stunt to come out of their shop to have a certain texture and depth. It’s an existential thing, about truly putting every speck of one’s entrepreneur soul into the company to the point where business is life and life is business.

2) Wild Peeta is fulfilling a real-world need. Dubai is a land full of commercially purposed space and its not always easy finding a place where you can just go to meet new, open-minded folk who want to organize around non-monetary reasons.

So I’m sure that with a short Google search I could probably find a handful of coffee shops and fast casual restaurants around the world that do similar things. To the Al Awadhi brothers, though, their success story is also very much about the fact that Emiratis can do anything just as good as anyone else out there. I nodded to that, not wanting to let them know that I was genuinely impressed due to– let’s admit it– the low expectations a lot of people, including myself, have about the prospects of creativity and cutting-edge business methods coming out of the Middle East.

For me, the experience of meeting the Al Awadhi bros was about shattering my own preconceptions of how things work in the region. Turns out that the UAE wasn’t always propping these guys up.

“Actually it took us about 7 or 8 years to actually get Wild Peeta off the ground”, explained Mohammed Al Awadhi (in the video above) who was dressed in hipster smart attire, a noticeable shift from the khandoura I saw him in last time.

“You could say that being Emirati was more of liability than anything. You know how it is, people think that Emiratis are lazy, unambitious, and looking out for a quick buck”.

Just listen to them recount their own story of trying to gain the resources required to make post-modern Shawarma happen. I just hope I’ve made my case that these guys are awesome. And now I hope that they will inspire others to see that the world is always conspiring against small business, no matter where, and that should by no means detract you from doing something “crazy”, and having fun while doing it. It could pay off huge in all senses of the word.