Durov’s Code spoke to Mitia Muravev, executive creative producer/partner at FANCY SHOT, which has produced promotional videos for Nike, UniCredit and other companies, and has won more than 40 international awards including the Canne Lions, Berlin Music Festival. He has recently relocated to Dubai to concentrate on a new market.
In this interview, Mitia Muravev talks about his experience of adapting to the Dubai realities, the advantages the UAE has over other countries and new technologies in the country.
– Hi! Tell us how you got to the UAE, how did your acquaintance with this country begin?
The very first acquaintance was in 2014, and I did not like Dubai. As I now understand, the problem was that I chose a bad hotel and had difference expectations in general from the city. Before that, we constantly went to Bali and lived in wonderful hotels there, villas with a pool, and I, apparently, expected something of the same from Dubai. Unfortunately, in 2014 I had quite a little money which was enough, taking into consideration the prices in Dubai, for a hotel in Sharjah, and it was not very fun, of course. The dry law played its role as well. I remember going to Dubai Marina and finding somewhere a bar that we wanted to get to for so long. We took Guinness beer, and paid like 40 dollars for a pint. It was difficult then to accept it.
The second acquaintance was not with Dubai itself, but rather with the Emirates airline. Every time I flew somewhere, I tried to fly with them. This is definitely the best airline.
Now, how we ended up here. It is a series of coincidences, acquaintances, and, perhaps, good luck.
On February 28, we flew from Moscow to Abu Dhabi. It was the only direct flight from Moscow that evening by a foreign company. The idea was just to fly out, and then we'll see. Since I was flying with my family, I needed the most stable option. We flew to Abu Dhabi with the idea of spending a few days there, and then taking a car and driving to Dubai. Back then the plan was to go to Portugal for a couple of months, I have a lot of friends there. They immediately offered some help, like giving me the keys to the house of some distant relative etc. This calmed us down a lot. But we didn't go anywhere.
Why? I spent the first four days on Zoom calls with friends and business partners from Europe. In fact, I was exploring the prospects, where what can be done, what is the economic climate, what is the attitude towards the Russians, how realistic it is to open a business, and so on. The answer was the same everywhere. Life is good here. But it will be difficult to work. Considering that in Russia we worked with large companies and performed complex tasks, here we aimed at something like Nike, Mercedes and, for example, Coca-Cola. However, we quickly realized that if we were to found a new company in Portugal which would also have Russian routs, due to the current situation we would not get the project. Even if the ideas are awesome, it is tactically dangerous for any of the corporations.
They, by the way, cannot be blamed or condemned for this. This is an absolutely clear and logical model. So, we rejected Europe due to the business matters. What else did we have? Asia? Bali? Yes, it would be great to fly there and spend four or five months there, until September, but we won’t be able to work on Bali. Singapore and Hong Kong are amazing options, but it is very important to know the language there, without Chinese it is difficult there. It turns out that the choice was between two ‘united’ countries. I mean the US and the UAE. We chose Dubai for several reasons:
— How difficult is it for an unprepared person to understand the bureaucratic intricacies of the UAE? Is it possible to find step-by-step algorithms on the websites of government agencies?
The short answer is ‘yes’. Here everything is done quite well and transparently. We would always hire a consultant for all the processes, just to save our time. Opening a company, getting a license, getting a VAT certificate, and a bunch of other stuff is really slow. It's monotonous, not very complicated, long and boring. Well, for me. There are many people who genuinely enjoy such quests. I spent a lot of time playing La2 when I was a kid and would like to repeat it in real life.
Of course, I still had to go through the local laws and study the tax system to choose the best place to register a company, etc., but it's more of a decision, not an activity. My main advice on documents in Dubai is either hire an experienced consultant or check the information in four or five sources. There is a lot of misinformation out there. You can easily pay $5,000 for something that costs $500.
— The UAE has recently completely revamped the visa system. What type of visa is easier to get for entrepreneurs who are just planning to enter the UAE and want to "scout the area"? How complicated is the process of getting a gold visa?
That's a great question. All visas, except the golden one, are equally easy to get, there is no difficulty. But there is an interesting thing. If you start a company and state that you’re a founder, in your visa and Emirates ID it will be written that you are an investor/executive manager. And that, oddly enough, will make your life harder, not easier. For example, when opening a personal bank account. An Uber driver with a $1000 salary will open an account instantly, skipping even KYC, and you will be wrapped up for review. Why?
Because there is a big company behind him that consistently pays him salary. He is employed, which means he is solvent, this is how banks think. The founder of the company is in the self-employed category. So, the founder will be pestered with requests for bank statements, preferably not from Russian banks, and a number of other papers. Thus, when starting a company, don't choose this attractive ‘investor’ category. Just hire yourself for a simple, understandable position. There will be fewer problems.
As for the golden visa, honestly, I don't know. We were nominated for it by the Department of Economy and Tourism after His Excellency Mr. Helal Saeed Al Marri had invited us to a meeting in order to talk about our plans here. The only thing we did after the nomination was putting together a good company CV and personal CV. In it, we told about our advertising, IT and medical experience.
It seems to me, that if you compile a presentation about yourself in a proper way (emphasise the points understandable to everyone like significance, recognition, awards, experience), the process of getting the Golden visa will be pretty clear. What I know for sure is that you will have little trouble - you will either be nominated or not. No extra red tape.
– How different is the local business legislation in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi has very big quotas and tax rebates for IT. A friend of mine, who owns a venture capital fund, was offered to move several companies from their portfolio to Abu Dhabi with 70% salary compensation for all employees who will relocate. The laws are roughly the same, I did not find much difference. I would look at the difference in free zones within the emirate, rather than the emirate itself. For example, DIFC, Mainland and D3 free zone have just different legislation, taxes and legal process.
– Where is it better to start a company: in a free zone or on the mainland?
It all depends on the type of business. If you're operating globally, you’d almost always go with a free zone, but you need to choose the right one. If you're working with the Dubai market, it's more likely you will choose the mainland.
– Recently, Abu Dhabi has been trying to attract innovative companies and diversify its economy. In some sense, it is trying to catch up with Dubai. In your opinion, is there a reason to make an attempt to enter Abu Dhabi first and then Dubai?
You have to go all out here. If you want to succeed here, you need to work. After a while, you'll learn to quickly distinguish blabbermouths from savvy people. It seems to me that Abu Dhabi simply exists in another dimension.
So, I would not say that Abu Dhabi is trying to catch up, they are rather going hand in hand. We have to remember that we live in the Arab world, after all. Here it is customary to bargain and have a second opinion. So, the more offers you have from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaima, or even Beirut, Riyadh, and Qatar, the better.
– Now let's talk about everyday life here. Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
– What is your favorite place in the city? Where do you spend the most time?
Probably, in our neighborhood. We've lived in four different locations since we arrived, and I'm incredibly glad I found the current one. It's called Jumeirah Golf Estates. It feels like you are in California or at some great golf hotel. There's a lot of greenery, very low traffic, no traffic jams, no tourists. That said, we are 10 minutes away from Dubai Marina, Bluewaters Island and Dubai Hills where our old and new friends live. A minute away is a great Spinneys grocery store, a coffee shop and a laundry.
Second, perhaps, is a padel court. Just any of them. I started playing padel here in Dubai and just fell in love with it. It's a great combination of excitement, exertion, and practice, with a very low entry threshold, but with lots of little things to work on. We often play right in our neighborhood, and when it's really hot we go to an indoor court, like Al Quaz Padel Point, in the Albarsha neighborhood.
I can't say that I have a favorite area that I like to go to in Dubai. If I go somewhere, it's more of a working meeting. The nice areas are Dubai Hills Mall, Bluewaters, JLT. You can have a good breakfast at Al Serkal avenue, which is a cool place with art galleries, breakfast cafes, and cinema.
– According to rough estimates, the UAE is 10 years behind Russia in digitalisation. What services, that you could find in Moscow, do you miss the most here?
The banking system, definitely. I have a lot of questions to both the applications and the banks' KYC processes in general.
Apart from banks, I would rather work on the digitalisation of the state system. For example, the entire system of issuing eIDs, visas, biometrics, etc. is done via Whatsapp. It seems to me there is room for growth. Maybe, they can introduce Telegram.
I also see a shortage of service aggregators, and I have doubts concerning their quality. But I see a lot of money buried here, the demand is out there, and so far, the solution is not so good. This generally applies to the automation of almost any process.
Uber works well here, while Careem not so much. May be it would be helpful to collaborate with Yandex Go (Yango) CPO regarding its UX?
The overall conclusion is as follows. There's a lot of money hidden in service, UX and creative industry in Dubai. The products themselves are there, the money is there, but the tact is lacking. But it all will be fine.
Every other service, ranging from the delivery, parking, groceries, and reservations here works probably even better than in Moscow. And of course, His Majesty Amazon is wonderful.
– Are the UAE you know now and the one you imagined before different? After living here for some time, what thoughts and conclusions have you come to?
It all will be fine. You will open a bank account, get a driving license, and the clients come. But not right away. But you will definitely get it. Inshallah.
All in all, after spending 7 months here I can say, that UAE in general and Dubai in particular are among the best places on earth for the business, creative and entrepreneurship.