The founders of MAD, Lise and Rima Yacoub, describe themselves as the new generation of talent hunters and producers who provide artists, musicians, and designers visibility and an additional source of revenue to fund their projects. Their innovative platform www.howmadareyou.com connects and matches artists with advertisers and the public for entertainment experiences and unique cultural collaborations. Their MAD venture started at the end of 2016 with four artists in Beirut and four in Paris. Today, the platform brings together a strong community of 1200 artists, 60 partnering brands, and 10,000 art lovers with offices in Paris and Beirut.
We first caught up with the founders in 2018, after they finished a few rounds of funding to talk about their story, scaling strategy and passion for the arts. Since then, the unrelenting startup has gone through a few adventures and many hard challenges that might have caused them some change of plans, but the team’s innovative spirit and perseverance has always come through.
A year of crises
“For a year, we were in a spiral of managing crisis after crisis,” recounts Lise. “It started in October 2019 with the political and economic crisis, right after we had recently successfully launched a French Entertainment TV show in its Lebanese version. Our business and team in Paris and Beirut was growing and we were in the middle of a fundraising roadshow to accelerate our growth. It all fell to a sudden full stop in Beirut, followed by the pandemic and the full lockdown in France with the cancellation of all our scheduled events, showcases, and activations. It was extremely hard because we had to let go of our Paris team members, offices, and a big part of our Beirut team as well. At first, it was like everything we built in less than three years was falling apart.”
Showing up for the artist community
“We very quickly realized how much our artist community needed us. During the first lockdown, we focused on the release of the new version of our platform. From a digital platform with different TV content and physical activations, we switched to an entirely 100% digital platform. We also developed MAD It Up, an online program designed to accelerate the digital transition of our artists’ projects.”
The team worked hard while carrying the severe psychological impact of the Beirut blast where their offices in Mar Mikhael offices were heavily damaged, but luckily, no one was physically injured. Work had to be done for the Lebanese creative industry that was also gravely impacted by the Beirut blast and the economic crisis.
“In October 2020, we launched #HowMADisBeirut to continue supporting artists, craftsmen, and players of the creative industry, by promoting them and helping them in their digital transition. We supported over 50 Lebanese creatives, in partnership with USAID and IM Capital. Following the positive impact of this initiative and considering the continuous crisis the country is facing, we have expanded our #HowMADisBeirut initiative in 2021 to support 200 Lebanese creatives in their digital transition, in partnership with USAID. We also launched the same acceleration initiative in France with #HowMADisParis.”
Lise continues, “Since 2018, we’ve been holding quarterly physical artist meetups in Paris and Beirut. Since the start of the pandemic, the meetups are being held online, but the advantage is that this format allows us to connect our Lebanese artist community with our global artist community, which ultimately led to the project Grief, the first 100% online collaboration between 5 MAD Artists, from Columbia, France, and Lebanon.”
In 2021, the team was selected to join the ‘Les Pionnières de l’entrepreneuriat francophone’, a program by ‘L’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie’ launched in early 2021 in collaboration with a consortium made up of major French-speaking players in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, including Berytech in Lebanon. The program aims to support the companies selected in their growth phase and to mobilize investors to promote their access to financing.
“We applied to the program because we are fundraising and it’s an excellent opportunity to connect with investors and institutional partners from the MENA region,” explains Lise. “We are ready to deploy our acceleration initiatives in several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa by partnering with International organizations like the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.
Our presence at Africarena Tunis was a highlight of the program where only 3 startups from the program were selected, among which the 2 Lebanese startups of the program, MAD and Everythink. It was a great opportunity to network with amazing African startups who are facing similar country challenges as Lebanon, revolutions and capital control, meeting local investors and of course, understanding the value system and the different challenges in specific countries in Africa.
We’re also looking forward to the upcoming bootcamp in Dubai in mid-February 2022 and to the event ‘Investir en Francophonie’ to be held at DubaiExpo2020, where MAD is also exhibiting as part of the Lebanese pavilion.”
The future is MAD
“Our #HowMADisParis #HowMADisBeirut initiatives allowed us to identify extremely talented artists and helped them strengthen their projects and accelerate their digital development. We’re launching the NFT workshops for digital artists this year,” continues Lise. “We’ve also had 100% yearly repeat business from our partnering brands, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. We are looking to triple our brand base and advertising partnerships to match them with our exponentially growing number of artist projects. To do so, we are looking to fundraise this year to accelerate our development plans and of course, we’re also looking for institutional partnerships with international organizations, that’s one of the reasons why we are at the DubaiExpo2020.”
The startup is adamant in continuing its mission is to make art accessible to everyone, breaking down the silos in the creative industries and building bridges between so many different people. While their platform has highly contributed to that, their mobile app, scheduled to be released before the summer, in addition to their continuous exclusive digital content and partnerships, will make it even more accessible.
“Since the beginning of MAD, our eclectic artist curation has attracted art galleries, nightlife venues, TV shows, and brands, and more importantly, our digital entertainment content has highly engaged millennials with art.
On one hand, we have created a new value system where independent artists can finally emerge and connect with key industry players (brands, art lovers, advertising agencies, venues, and media) and on the other hand, we are continuously upskilling our artists to help them become successful Artpreneurs. In addition to our geographical expansion through our local acceleration initiatives #HowMADis, these are exciting times for digital artists and the creative industry in general, with NFTs. But “Hush”, we’ll tell you all about it in September. PS: Hush is a new club we’re launching this fall, for our community of Art Lovers.”