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Saifi Ismail | Group President | Yalla Group

Saifi Ismail: Leading with an Instrumental Change

In the bustling city of Dubai, a tech firm was making waves in the internet technology sector. Yalla Group is a fast-growing and leading social networking and gaming platform that had garnered a strong following in the Middle East and North Africa. With a team of over 830 employees, the company boasts an impressive base of 32 million monthly active users across its digital platforms today. Yalla Group had made it a point to cater to the region’s culture, traditions, and local preferences with various interactive messaging, socialization, and gaming applications.

In 2019, Saifi Ismail joined Yalla Group as Group President, overseeing the company’s growth on a regional level. Saifi’s extensive experience in the telecoms and tech industry has made him a valuable asset to Yalla Group, and he has been instrumental in driving the company’s success ever since.

Let us see how his professional journey has shaped up.

The Stronghold

Since its inception in 2016, Yalla Group has grown steadily and has become a market leader in the region. In March 2020, the company’s flagship product, Yalla Ludo, was ranked as the number one most downloaded app in the region. Later that year, Yalla Group achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first UAE-based tech unicorn on the New York Stock Exchange.

This world-recognized listing allowed the company to expand its operations, product offerings, and commercial profitability on a wider scale. Despite the company’s challenges in the tech industry, Yalla Group continued to grow and innovate, cementing its position as a force to be reckoned with. Saifi Ismail, a well-established entrepreneur and computer engineer of Jordanian-Australian origins, kick-started his career in 2004. He joined Huawei Corporation as a VAS Engineer within the service and software department for two years before moving on to the leading Chinese telecom manufacturer and operator, ZTE Corporation, as an Account Manager for two years.

In 2008, Saifi worked as a Product Marketing Manager for Etisalat, a leading global telecoms firm. There, he spearheaded the company’s commercial operations for two years. In 2010, Saifi moved to Australia to start his new role as VP of Sales & Business Development at NetComm, which is acquired by Casa Systems today, where he had overseen the Middle East and South-East Asia market operations for four years.

In 2013, Saifi returned to the UAE and re-joined Etisalat as Director of Modern Trade. He had supported the organization in strategizing and executing high-level trade operations for over six years.

The Inspiration

Before establishing their pioneering tech unicorn firm in the UAE, the founders had examined the local and regional market and discovered a lucrative opportunity. They realized that the younger target audience constituted most internet users, making it a perfect fit to develop their envisioned social networking and gaming platform.

However, what truly inspired them to conceptualize Yalla Group was the need for a localized platform catering to the Arab target audience’s culture and lifestyle. This was a gap that key global players still needed to fill.

Furthermore, the founders analyzed the global market and identified the immense potential in the digital gaming industry. Consumer spending on electronic games had reached a record-breaking $184.4 billion in sales in 2022, with the Middle Eastern market holding the second-largest returns value of $511 million. This contributed to the global growth pie by 16 percent, according to the Newzoo Global Games Market Report 2022.

In addition, the consumption of online games was dominated by mobile phone users, who accounted for 50 percent of the digital gaming industry revenue worldwide, amounting to $184 billion. All these market insights further incentivized Yalla Group to expand operations and become the leading social networking and digital gaming provider across the Middle East & North Africa, capitalizing on the growing digital trends and consumer preferences.


Yalla Group is the prominent social networking and gaming platform in the Middle East & North Africa. It has gained recognition through its two primary product offerings: the voice-centric group chatting platform “Yalla” and the widely popular casual board gaming app “Yalla Ludo.”

The company has expanded its digital entertainment portfolio by creating various localized board gaming applications, such as “Yalla Baloot” for Saudi Arabia, “Yalla Parchis” for Latin America, and “101 Okey Yalla” for Turkey. To cater to the

Arab audience, Yalla Group also introduced an instant messaging app called “Yalla Chat” in January 2022. Recently, the company launched the region’s first avatar based 3D voice chatting platform, “Waha,” in March 2022, focusing uniquely on the Middle Eastern region’s cultural background, lifestyle, and values.

Facing Hurdles

Yalla Group entered the UAE market in 2016, intending to tap into the high internet penetration rate and the digital savviness that was on the rise in the region. However, the need for localization in social networking and digital gaming was a major obstacle that the company had to overcome.

To achieve this, the company had to conduct extensive research to extract valuable insights into the local cultures and values, which were then expanded on a regional scale. Despite the increased saturation and competition within the digital entertainment and gaming spaces with new market entries, Yalla Group remains the leading social networking and gaming platform in the region, serving over 32 million active users today. The company has adopted a steadfast market strategy to maintain its top industry position through its localized and personalized product offerings.

Ahead of its Time

Since its inception, Yalla Group has tirelessly worked to become the largest MENA-based online social networking and gaming company, in terms of revenue in 2022 (Frost & Sullivian). The company aims to offer its users personalized and localized product offerings, delivering a unique and engaging experience. Over the last three years, Yalla Group has proliferated, increasing its workforce from 340 to 830+ employees and expanding its customer base from 16 million to 32 million monthly active users. The company’s flagship apps, “Yalla” and “Yalla Ludo,” have achieved impressive milestones, with “Yalla Ludo” being ranked as the number one most downloaded gaming app regionwide in March 2020.

Moreover, Yalla Group has launched a multitude of successful social and gaming apps in different markets, achieving a positive growth trajectory, as evidenced by their $75.1 million revenue returns in Q4 2022.

The mobile phone industry and social media platforms have grown tremendously in recent years, making them crucial in our modern hyper-digitized economy. A GSMA Intelligence Report in 2023 revealed that active social media users globally had reached 4.7 billion, with 149 million users in the Middle East alone. However, what makes Yalla Group unique is its personalized approach to social networking and gaming apps catering to the MENA target audiences’ local preferences and cultures.

The flagship app, “Yalla,” boasts virtual Arabesque majlis spaces or cafés (chat rooms) where users can interact with each other and discuss similar interests and activities. Other apps from Yalla Group also feature personalized and localized features, such as Arab-stylized GIFs and emoji stickers, prayer time alerts, Qibla locator, and real-time, voice-enabled chat rooms integrated into the gaming apps.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption and usage of digital technologies, and Yalla Group has leveraged this trend to its advantage. The pandemic has driven people to stay at home and connect with others virtually. Yalla Group’s social networking and gaming apps have provided a superior platform for people to interact and socialize safely and engagingly.

In addition, Yalla Group’s localized and personalized approach has resonated well with the MENA audience, making its apps a popular choice for digital entertainment and social networking. As technology evolves and innovations emerge, Yalla Group is well-positioned to adapt and capitalize on these changes to continue its growth trajectory.

Future Ready

Yalla Group is committed to becoming the largest social networking and gaming destination in the Middle East & North Africa. Its dedication to developing personalized and localized apps that cater to different markets’ cultural and traditional values is commendable. The company’s recent achievements and accolades, including being the region’s most downloaded social chatting and gaming apps, demonstrate its success in providing unique and engaging experiences for its users.