When his first start-up was on the brink of collapse, Moustafa Mahmoud recalibrated his dreams, using robots for online marketing with Cognitev.
The 33-year old Egyptian says the idea was to be the “Uber of online marketing” or, basically, tackling a service that is in high demand and making it more accessible to the masses.
“We wanted to create that model where you can press a button and get it anywhere,” he says.
This was not Mr Mahmoud’s first foray into the start-up arena. In fact, Cognitev is a rebranded version from his original idea, Mena Commerce, an aggregator of e-commerce sites in the region. “It worked well. Everyone was happy from the customer side, but we couldn’t generate revenue,” he says.
It may be why such a search engine still does not exist today. “What we built was valuable, but we were literally about to shut down and go bankrupt,” Mr Mahmoud says.
However, he adds that some of his early investors felt strongly about his potential to create change and encouraged him, as well as his other two co-founders, to pivot the business. “The application of the artificial intelligence [AI] technology was aligned, but we were missing the market,” he says.
With zero cash, Mr Mahmoud had to go back to knocking on doors to drum up capital. “Many of the investors that came on in that round mostly invested out of faith, but all we needed was that safety net.”
By flipping the previous AI model, Cognitev was born.
The rejigged start-up focuses on using AI for marketing information to help any company looking to sell products online. “Online marketing is hard and expensive. People don’t know how to do it, Mr Mahmoud says. “We wanted to democratise that space using AI.”
Cognitev takes a budget from a company which determines the amount of traffic it can drive to the client’s website on a monthly basis. “We’ve delivered three times the results that customers received for the same budget without using our tool,” he says. In one case, there was 10 times the amount of traffic than using a traditional online marketing technique.
The company has seen double-digit growth every month since December, which is a far cry from where it was only two years earlier.
Nabeel Al Kady has invested in Cognitev because he believed its approach to advertising was innovative with the “traffic as a service” model as a world first. “It delivers higher conversion to retailers and more meaningful and informative messaging to people browsing the internet,” he says.