She’s most well known as a social media figure, yet behind her whimsical Instagram feed Mthayel Al-Ali is the driving force of Tkhayyal; a pioneering creative marketing agency based in Dubai. I recently met with Al-Ali to find out more about the self-professed cloud-walker.
I’ve been a fan of Al-Ali for a while, yet sitting in front of her while she prepares for our photoshoot I saw a more candid, unfiltered side to this young woman that suggested there is a lot more than meets the eye.
Dalal Al-Sadhan: What was it like growing up in the Emirates at a time of such change?
Mthayel Al-Ali: I grew up in a house that was not very typical, they taught us how to accept change and not just about the change that was happening around us, but to focus on the change I wanted to make. So I guess it was just a matter of learning how to break the rules. Girls here don’t get that support very easily.
DAS: Is that what allowed you to go into social media despite being a woman from a conservative society? Or did you still get backlash? (Our photographer, Saeed Khalifa, interrupted to point out that Al-Ali gets backlash, which she confirmed, laughing.)
MAA: Exactly, stereotypes are very strong. Have I? Yes I have, and I still get criticized but it doesn’t make me want to stop. People will always find something wrong in everything.
DAS: Do you ignore spiteful comments then?
MAA: It’s not about ignoring, it’s about delivering. It’s a very thin line. I try as much as I can through my personal page to deliver whatever I want and what represents me.
DAS: That’s great but you recently got married, are you planning to continue with your career?
MAA: Definitely, Inshallah, my husband is actually a fan. He’s someone I didn’t know. I hadn’t met him, I never knew or worked with him, he was one of my followers. He approached me, which made me feel very good about what I do and he’s all the support I need.
DAS: So he’s your biggest fan?
MAA: Totally. And something else I’ll share with you is that I’ll be moving to China, to live over there for a year with my husband. It is a big move but I really, truly believe that I will be able to deliver the social media posts I always do. I always knew there were no instructions so I want to deliver no matter how or where.
DAS: Social media is a universal language.
MAA: Very much so. Social media is very universal and I want to prove to everyone; to my followers and for my company, Tkhayyal, that it can be done from anywhere in the world. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint me.
DAS: And what about your company, Tkhayyal?
MAA: The company is named “imagine” because social media can take you anywhere and it’s my world, I say it every day. The cloud element comes from simple, childhood dreams when you imagine yourself thinking in the clouds. I automatically think of myself sitting on a cloud and it moved into something that’s quite linked to me. Opening the company was about being above the clouds.
DAS: How did the field of social media capture your imagination?
MAA: Years back, when I was a curious media student at Dubai Media College, I wanted to follow what was new in media. I loved everything related to the field, particularly social media. As social media got bigger… so did I, and it became a part of me. Just before I graduated, I slept and woke up with an idea; why not launch a social media company here? An Emirati orientated agency that supports local brands and campaigns.
DAS: Did you receive any support to launch Tkhayyal?
MAA: Well the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME development were very supportive of me. They really helped me by taking my idea and making it come true.
DAS: How did your initial concept come into practice?
MAA: My company has two main lines of work. The first is creating marketing campaigns through social media for different public and private institutions. Secondly, we work with influencers to promote these campaigns. We work with them as part of our indirect marketing, so we don’t advertise that we work with them.
DAS: Do you try to hire locally as well?
MAA: Yes I do try wherever possible to hire Emiratis, I already have a lot of local suppliers and freelancers working with me. One of my start-up targets was to not only have Emiratis work for me but also to create influencers, which is a very new concept. We find people with a talent, who we believe can make a difference and inspire people differently. We help them shape their social media channels in a way that will attract people and have more followers. This means we have different influencers for different categories. We’ve worked with two already and the results were amazing and we’re still going. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
DAS: How does this tie into your future plans for the company?
MAA: Most agencies here are from abroad so it’s really hard for them to create material that speaks to the local population and understands what we want. So I want Tkhayyal to become well known for focusing on the Emirati market. Whether it’s the people who work for us or the work we develop. The second phase is the Gulf, and then international, while keeping the Emirati imprint of course.