Egyptian laptop skins are faced with tough Chinese competition. (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
Not everyone knows what a laptop skin is. It is a thin sticker, usually with some design, that is applied to the outside of a laptop or on the back of an LCD screen to personalize it and shielding it from scratching. Until Skinzo came along, you could only find imported skins in Egypt.
Skinzo, an offspring of Motivation for Marketing Company, began making laptop skins in 2009. The company was established by Amr El-Salanekly and his partner Islam Salah, both third-year university students. "We come from a family of entrepreneurs, we had tried our hands in the family business as we grew up but wanted to break out and do something different," said El-Salanekly.
They started Motivation for Marketing with an LE10,000 capital, intending to create an umbrella company for various ventures. The money was used to get permits and registration and to buy the first batch of the special paper used to produce the skins. Their business is basically based on outsourcing: they get the roll of paper, cut it up into the appropriate size. Then, another friend does the design in return of a first-up fee and his logo placed alongside theirs on the skins. "We wanted to work with young people like us to help each other out," they explained. Islam's 16-year-old brother is tasked with overseeing the printing process at a neighborhood shop while his 13-year-old brother serves as their bookkeeper.
But business is not as simple as it appears. Their cost per unit surpasses the LE10 that the Chinese imported skins are sold for. And this is one of the toughest spots they find themselves in. "We often try to explain to retailers that ours is a better product of long-lasting quality, but some of them tell us, who cares?! - If it is bad quality, clients will come back for more."
El-Salanekly and Salah depend on themselves for the marketing. They sell directly to retailers, specialized computer shops, appliance shops and hypermarkets, as well as internet shopping sites. But they are often not taken seriously because of their age. El-Salanekly tells of an incident that happened when the purchasing manager would do nothing but nod during the meeting. To catch his attention and prove the merit of their product they actually poured water on his computer and scratched it with the car keys.
Their strongest business point so far has been local internet sales. But they do plan to also approach Amazon.com with their skins, where skins sell for as much as $40. "If we sell for $25 we would be in a good position
to compete," El-Salanekly said.
Yet After two years in the business, sales are still slow. During these two years they have only sold 4000 pieces. El-Salanekly wants to improve their numbers, especially since they have not been very profitable so far and whatever revenues they make they put back into the business. He says their updated plan is to sell 1000 skins per month, which they need to do if they want to earn some money. At the moment, he said, revenues barely cover our expenses. He wants to grow the business into a factory and "When that happens," he says, "the economies of scale will mean a cheaper price."
Skinzo is not El-Salanekly and Salah's only venture. For a brief two months, under the umbrella of Motivation for Marketing, the two partners made a deal with a neighboring bakery to produce baladi bread, package it and marketed it. "It was to be our cash cow," they explained. "Not everyone has laptops, but everybody eats bread." But though their sales were a hit the venture did not quite work out. "It meant that each of us needed two hours in the morning to do the round of grocery shops and distribute the goods.
And that would have meant that we miss our classes." Now the two partners will have to think of another money-making business.
El-Salanekly did not always share his partner's passion for business. At one point he thought that it would just be easier to work for a multinational and earn a suitable paycheck without the hassle of running one's own business. But that changed when he heard Omar El-Samra speak. El-Samra, the Egyptian who became famous for climbing Mount Everest, spoke before university students, telling them that they should do what they like best – not what others want of them – as long as they do it well.
With that in mind, he also took on the idea of coaching young kids, relaying that message to them. Together with three other friends, they formed an NGO, Taleeda (glory), to do just that and to help children who want to get an education but cannot afford it. "We do not give them the money, but we pay their school fees and follow-up on their progress. They have to be serious to continue receiving our support." They work with a group of children in the Haram suburbs and Orouba areas. The kids are taught to be proud of what they do but they must also pass on the knowledge to someone else. With 95 volunteers, they now work with 135 children and hope to reach 500 children by next year. Their new-born NGO has recently won an award from Ashoka, a global association promoting leading social entrepreneurs. With so much on his plate, El-Salanekly says he has little time for himself but he stresses, "my social life is about what I do."