Category Archives: Stories

IT IS A BIG DEAL.

When should you make the move?

What makes you want to give up your comfortable, high paying job to venture out on your own? If you ask Padam Chhabra, founder Clip the Deal, he’ll say, “Always get your corporate experience before you start out as an entrepreneur else you will be like a bull in a China shop.” And he would know having graduated from IIM, Bangalore, and then working with Citi Bank, moving across 6 countries, for over 10 years, before he started Clip the Deal this year. Did he always know that he would be an entrepreneur? Yes. Did he always know he would be in the corporate sector? Actually no. “I was probably the first person in my family to take up a job, which also happened by chance because of the MBA.” He goes on to add, “My family has always been in business so the spirit of entrepreneurship has always been there, and frankly, when I did my engineering, I always thought I would get a job, work for a few years, and then move back into my father’s business, then the MBA happened, it was a good school so I thought let’s give the corporate world a 2 year shot and then move back into the family business, that 2 years became 10 years, and now here I am.”

His advice for those wanting to become entrepreneurs is mostly to follow his path, “My time with Citi Bank helped smoothen the edges, making me more ready to take my company to the next level, make it a global company, which thinks big, and not a small company with small ideas.” Without the corporate experience, he believes that you might be quite lost at first, “you are just running around, you don’t know how processes work, how corporate life works, so I would say get your 4-5 years of experience, which will help smoothen out the edges, and later on the corporate experience will help you deal with VCs and investors better and will give a different flavor to how you present yourself.”

Clip the Deal.
He says that the entrepreneurial urge took over after 10 years in the corporate world but the eureka moment happened quite out of the blue, “I was on a trip to the US, when I picked up a Sunday newspaper and suddenly two sheets of Sunday coupons fell out. They were grocery coupons, which are usually like 5 dollars or 7 dollars off, and even half a dollar off at times. Then when I visited a relative, they said that if you are going to Wal-Mart, you print out the coupons and you’ll get a discount, and the whole printing out the coupons, then carrying so many sheets of paper seemed like a very cumbersome process. I compared it to what we have in the UAE, which is these booklets in supermarkets, that also come in newspapers, but I didn’t see why it had to be so cumbersome, I wanted to bring it all together and streamline the process, that was my eureka moment.” So what is Clip the Deal all about? “A digital grocery platform”, in three words, but Chhabra further explains, “the original idea for Clip the Deal, I would say was conceived in the US, where there are digital coupons, but we have brought it into the UAE and the Middle East in a more sophisticated manner, where it’s end to end digital, it’s on your mobile, and it engages customers.”. As for numbers currently he says, “We started on May 1st 2016, and as of August 2016 we have 15,000 downloads, which is the key for us to have a base to start working on, and how we work with our customers, brand partners, retail partners, is important now for them to realize the value of the information we can provide, which is not just connecting them to the customers, but also the customer data that we can generate.” For the end of 2016, he says, “We hope to have around 50,000 downloads and also hope to expand to other GCC countries.”

Middle East vis a vis other regions.

But why choose Middle East to begin with, and not say a larger market like India, to which he responds, “Because the exact market that we are addressing, the grocery and supermarket system is a lot more organized here, if we talk about India, it’s more of a mom and pop shop, they don’t even use a point of sale system, and if we want to go digital, and run end to end digital, the Middle East is more system driven, especially Dubai and the UAE which provides great infrastructure, organized retail, modern retail, plus good connectivity like Wi-Fi in malls and public spaces which is a major plus for digital businesses.” Size of the market is also a reason why they chose the Middle East over other regions, adding, “As an example, a customer issue here will be magnified by over 1000 times in India, and you want to have a controlled environment, so this is a good controlled environment, and it gives you the leeway to expand further into the Middle East.” As for challenges in the Middle East versus other markets, he says. “The biggest challenge here was getting people to understand the concept, because you have always had retailers and manufacturers but someone actually coming in and organizing the coupons and the discount process for them was unique, and then explaining how we would run it digitally was also a challenge. I have been asked everywhere in the UAE how do we integrate technology, but never in investor meetings in India.” As for other challengers that startups can and do face in the UAE, he says, “Dubai provides you the infrastructure to grow, but fundraising is not easy, as there are very few professional investors here, but things are changing.” And as for advice, he says, “be sure that you get your corporate experience, then get a solid plan running before you think of moving into entrepreneurship, because if you don’t have a plan, it will take you 2 to 3 years to figure it out and Dubai will not give you that much time.” Someone with that much experience would know.




THE INTERN

In a world which is getting more competitive by the day, students and graduates across the world are scrambling to find the best internship. But as internships became the norm across the world, getting internships in the Middle East remains a fairly unorganized process. Enter Jean Michel, founder of InternsME.com, who has played a role in connecting employer to intern/trainee/full time employee in an organized manner across Dubai.

HIS STORY

Jean grew up in Dubai, but went away to King’s College, London to study pharmacy, and when he returned, he was 21, had a plan in mind to launch gaming products and gaming PCs in Dubai, and what later became his first foray into entrepreneurship. Jean says, “when I came back to Dubai 4 years ago, I was working with a pharmaceutical distributor, and I slowly realized that their HR function was severely underdeveloped. People were only hired based on friend and family referrals, and that way we were missing out on so much talent in the market. I was working in brand management, but I said let me do this project and I looked up job sites and realized how underdeveloped and un-updated they were and I slowly gathered how this was a problem faced by companies across”

That was his eureka moment as he realized that both sides were not doing anything, educated people faced challenges getting a job and starting out but companies had limited access to the youth. He also understood the impact this project could have, “We felt we could help the youth, and have some social impact in the region.” But are companies okay with this new system? “Some really are, and some are ahead of the game, they teach us things, tell us that we have been doing for many years, and how we can bring in these good practices. But they are a small minority. A lot of successful businesses that have been built here have never hired young people, and still wonder why they need to change when what they are doing is working out so well, so we have had to convince and explain to business owners, HR departments, etc., how this works, what are the benefits for them, and if they are running a successful business then how can they make it more successful.” He strongly believes that starting as an HR consultancy was an advantage for them and continues to be one now, “One thing that worked well for us was that we started as an HR consultancy, not as a technical company or an online venture. We started as an organization that really wanted to understand how the youth could fit into the business model, and how internship programmes can be developed in a sustainable way.’

2012-2016: The journey and the roadblocks in between.

Ask him about the challenges faced while starting out as an entrepreneur, he says, “We registered the company in 2012, but nothing really happened for a year because it takes time to get the necessary licenses, put together a product and a plan, and build the necessary reputation and credibility so that people will listen to you and what has adversely affected the market is that a lot of people will come up with projects and ideas and hit the market for a month or two and then get disheartened and pull away. So when you are new and you talk to stakeholders, employers, companies, universities, students, everyone is just waiting to see if you are going to be those guys who will make a lot of noise for a few months and then go away or will you persevere and go the full mile, so that’s really what the first year is about, people want to see if you are really serious and we were.” Speaking of challenges specifically in a marketplace business, he says, “It’s kind of hard to start when you have a market place business cause it’s chicken and egg, who are you going to get first, businesses or students, so it’s difficult to get users on both sides because both sides expect you to have the other.”

While 2012 may have been the year where they started, 2013 and 2014 were the years that really made a difference to them, “In 2013, we signed our first university partnerships, hired our first team members, signed up for some of our first customers as well. Our site went live in 2013, and we had our first 1000 candidates and couple dozen employers signing up on the site. 2014 onwards things ramped up astronomically for us, and I scaled back from everything else that I was working on, all the other investments that my partners and I had made, and I became involved here full time. We hired more people, put in another round of financing, and by then we had learnt enough from the market and our earlier failures to know which direction we wanted to go from here, so now we know who we are and what we really want to do.”

From 2014 to 2016, he speaks about current members on the site and says, “There are more than 70000 registered candidates on the site, but technically speaking, they are not all interns, some of them have interned before, finished university, and are now looking for a graduate role. What has happened is that despite still being called ‘intern me’, we have expanded to cater to the full entry level job market, of trainees, interns, and even graduates now, even people with upto 2 years of experience. And on the other side, we have more than 600 employers to find interns, graduates, or both, plus now companies want to engage the youth in newer ways, like millennial focus groups, events, etc., which is something that we are working on.” And while a lot is going in terms of new sites and technologies, the company’s main goal for 2016 is to explore newer markets, especially, “look at geographies like Saudi Arabia, where there is a huge youth population, but a lot of unemployment, which is a problem across GCC and North Africa, and while our main target for 2016 is Saudi Arabia, but in achieving that, we’ll probably hit a few other countries as well, more territories.”

Its summer 2016 – advice for current interns?

How to ensure that these smart young individuals are not relegated to getting coffee, to which he responds, “. While we do tell them that they need to make the most of it, ultimately it is up to them, as some people leave the internship with regret that they didn’t push to achieve as much as they could have, while some go in and surprise themselves and their employers with their hard work, those guys are on the right track.”

 
 



Dum Dum Donutterie, Dubai

How do you launch an already established brand from the UK in the Middle East while maintaining your identity with it? Fadl Saadeddine and Mohammad Irshaid would know as they are responsible for bringing Dum Dum Donutterie to the Middle East. Both Saadeddine and Irshaid grew up in Dubai, and while they did go out to study, London and Vancouver respectively, they came back to “sell donuts”.

Bringing Donuts to the Middle East.

Ask them what motivated them to turn entrepreneurs, and it was mostly family influence. Saadeddine comes from a business family and says, “The culture within the family was such that it helped me start my own thing as well. When I came back from London, I worked in the family business for a couple of years, I learnt a lot, and that’s how I came to be doing this.” As for Irshaid, some good advice from his father helped, “From day 1, my dad would tell me that I don’t belong in the corporate world, he was always like why will you build someone else’s dream when you can build your own dream, so I entered the entrepreneurial venture of my own.” Both Saadeddine and Irshaid went to the same school, and while Irshaid was Saadeddine’s brother’s friend, a chance trip to LA helped them become friends. It was also some mutual qualities, Irshaid adds, “Eventually we both have the same mindset, and we come up with good ideas together, as for decision making, we are both flexible and logical as long as it benefits the both of us, it works well to work together.”

The big debate: Franchise vs. your own venture

Irshaid and Saadeddine tried a Dum Dum Donut in London in 2014, and decided to bring it to the Middle East because as Saadeddine says, “We both love the F&B industry. We are selling donuts, so it’s nothing serious, we are having fun at the same time. Plus there was a gap in the market for artisanal patisserie donuts so it all made sense.” While comparing starting with a franchise versus starting with your own idea, Irshaid says, “I believe that if you take a franchisee, you get to learn because they support you from their end. They hand something to you, but you should know how to manage it, and if you learn from that experience, you can maybe build your own concept, implement what you have learnt from before in your own concept later.” But isn’t there the fear of lack of creativity and excessive interference from the franchise? Saadeddine responds, “As for creativity, there is so much you can do with donuts and desserts, in terms of flavor, collaborations with other brands etc. and the franchise trusts you because they understand we know this market better than them and we are their partners in the Middle East, so whatever customization we think is needed for this specific market, they will take our word for it, they are very flexible that way.”

What lies ahead?

When talk turns to the future, personally they are both clear that they want to be in Dubai,because, “Dubai is home”. As for the franchisee, by the end of the year they want to expand to other regions of the Middle East as well, with another store opening up in JBR in Dubai itself soon. Saadeddine elaborates on their plans and says, “We would like to open a store in all the emirates and target all the capital as well as main cities.”

What’s very interesting is that neither of them have a specific target market for their product in mind, Saadeddine says, “Our product is available for everyone. The name Dum Dum itself breaks through barriers of nationalities, religions, age, etc. so we wouldn’t want to target a specific market.” Irshaid adds more simply, “Everyone loves donuts.” We can get behind that.




Art as a lifestyle

Their story.

In this world, where new forms of art come up every day, imagine running a startup that fuses various forms of art to create something ‘cool’. BrothrsKeepr, a men’s lifestyle concept, uses fashion, art, and music to present handpicked menswear from across the globe in the form of pop up presentations. Started by a group of four, Mark Wehbe, Mohammad Murad, Saad Shaikh, and Shahzain Mitha, who claim that their biggest challenge in running a startup is “dealing with each other since they have been best friends since KG 1” are an inspired group of young men who are part of the upcoming brigade of entrepreneurs in UAE.

Running a start up in UAE.

Speaking about their start up experience, they lament the lack of government support for people looking to set up their own company. Shaikh while speaking about their personal experience says, “There aren’t a lot of laws, or help, for businesses which are starting up. Personally, we had a huge problem getting a credit card machine because banks wouldn’t give us one until or unless we had a proper showroom so we had to borrow someone else’s. Also setting up a trade license is getting expensive which a startup cannot really afford.” But at the same time they agree that things are slowly improving with grants and prizes like the Sheikh Hamdan prize for entrepreneurship. Stressing on the role of the government, Murad says, “There could be a lot of processes that could be implemented that could ease the setting up of small businesses and me speaking as a UAE national, feel that this sector needs to grow rather than everything being a franchise or everything being brought in from abroad or something, because lots of cool concepts with potential are coming up here every day.”

The good, the bad, and the learning.

Ask them about the good part about running a startup and Mitha says, “I get to work on my own time, not like a 9 to 6 job and that’s amazing.” They all agree that the greatest learning along the way has been how to work with each other, “I think we have all learnt that there will be struggles on the way and fights with business partners but you have got to realize that you are all looking out for each other.”, says Mitha. As for the harder parts, Murad says, “I don’t get to see my family which is taxing but at the end of the day, you do what you got to do.” When asked the best advice to keep in mind while running your own company, all of them are unanimous in their opinion that you don’t need a perfect plan, and its okay to fail, “Failure is an option, because if you don’t fail, you will not learn how to succeed”, concludes Shaikh.




TALK GEEKY TO ME

Their story.

The speed at which technology has taken over our lives in the past few years is almost unimaginable now, but at the same time the lack of access to a tech support system to help us out in case something goes wrong, makes us dread the moment our Smartphones stop working, which is why when Geeks launched in the Dubai market, we all heaved a collective sigh of relief.

Geeks was started by two friends, Fathi Alsharif and Mousa Yassin, because “it is very hard to get stuff repaired in Dubai. You can’t trust anyone; and you need to go to the end of the world to get it done.” (Yassin’s words, not ours). Ask them to describe Geeks in a sentence and Yassin says, “In essence Geeks is a pool of very skilled resources that can help you install, set up, and repair your tech issues as they come up”.

While Yassin grew up in Dubai and after a few years of corporate life realized that he needed to “come up with a big idea and do something”, Alsharif moved to Dubai only after he graduated from university. Alsharif spent time in Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait while growing up and moved to England for his university education, finally moving to Dubai for work and later starting Geeks. Alsharif describes their partnership as a “marriage, where you are in front of each other’s face the whole time”, adding that, “it is one of the reasons it is important to have a solid co-founder, because you will spend so much time together, you need someone who can work and understand you, without killing you.”

Fund Raising in the Middle East 101

As they start talking about the harder parts about starting and running your own enterprise, they speak about funding and their personal experience while working with VCs. They both agree that finding VCs is not the scary part, “but how to approach them, how to pitch the idea to them as you are not sure what exactly each VC is looking for is the actual difficult part”. They also advise entrepreneurs to never have a specific number of VCs in mind, Yassin adds, “don’t limit yourself by saying that you will talk to only so many VCs, see how many people you can have the conversation with. You are not always pitching to them, just getting to know what they are looking for, don’t be so hung up by your own idea that your ego starts kicking in, just have an open mind, tell them what you believe in and whether they like or dislike your idea, all their feedback will be useful”.

When the conversation shifts to the advantages and disadvantages of an angel investor over a VC, Yassin says, “VCs tend to bring a lot to the table while angels usually just give you the money but you don’t interact with them like you do with VCs. And whatever help we need, if we go through VCs, they connect us to the right people. But don’t go with so many VCs in the beginning, just have one strong VC and get angels to cover the rest.” Continuing from what Yassin said, Alsharif says that what they personally look for in an investor is “how much energy and personal involvement they bring to the table”. But how long does it really take to get the money? They say that it is quite a long process, “When you go to a VC, it takes you at least 3 months to close a deal. One thing I learnt worth sharing is that term sheet is never actually used, it just helps ascertain what they are looking for, and whether they would accept what you are looking for in them. In terms of speed, term sheets are not the hard part, but when you start working with lawyers for documentation, shareholder agreements etc, it becomes difficult to co-ordinate. Getting everyone together in the same room is hard, because if you manage to do that, you can be done with documentation much faster” says Yassin. Alsharif’s parting advice as far as funding is concerned is simple, “you can take the feedback you get and be upset about it or you can look at it positively. My personal experience was that when I went to them, I was scared because I was asking them for money but if you are good, you will get them money, that’s the right attitude to have.”

Key Challenges

As the conversation shifts to other challenges faced by entrepreneurs, Yassin says, “The biggest challenge is to connect the pieces to help the company operate properly from your finances, inventory, and tech, to finding the right people and plugging in all these different functions to make them work together.” Alsharif adds, “It’s not that every place in the world that is start up friendly, lot of challenges come up, things you hadn’t envisioned for, in a place like Dubai it could be licensing to hiring laws, working with different categories of people etc., so you just need to keep your head up and be ready to tackle the challenges that come up.” As for Dubai as a place to work in, Yassin concludes, “It is definitely one of the best places to start in the region as it supports a lot of things we do, and it doesn’t make much sense to compare it to the USA.”

You can check out Geeks at www.geeks.ae. To connect with the Geeks team, please visit https://www.magnitt.com/rate-idea-page/3678
 
 



Craig Mcdonald – Yalla Parking

Now imagine if these wars could be avoided by a simple website that you could use on a daily basis that gave you an access to an online market place, for private parking space, or in simpler words, “a kind of airbnb for parking space”. Craig McDonald and Harrison Jones aim to do just that with Yalla Parking, one of the promising start up ideas that have emerged from the U.A.E in the last year.

The Dubai Connection.

McDonald, though born in a small town just out of Glasgow, Scotland, moved to Dubai with his family, when he was 5 weeks old, studied at Dubai College, and moved to Glasgow to study Economics and Business at the University of Glasgow in 2008. After graduating in 2012, he spent a year interning at various places across sectors like investment banking, strategy houses, corporate finance firms, etc. And later joining as a full time employee in a corporate finance division, till destiny decided that entrepreneur was probably the role that he was best suited for.

Dubai has changed tremendously in the last 20 years though, he says, to grow to become the entrepreneurial hub that it has and which he gets to be a part of, “There is this mentality in Dubai that anything is possible, you want the tallest building, you want the 1 st 7 star hotel, you can do it, you just need to have a plan that you need to go out and execute.” For start-ups, he believes that it’s a great place to be because of all the help available today, “From a regional point of view, Dubai is the best place to be because anything is possible today. And there is a growing entrepreneurial hub here, with places that want to help entrepreneurs, they are here and they are ready to help, it’s great to be here.”

Name, place, plan, target market.

But in this age of start ups, how does one narrow down on the perfect idea? He kept it simple, he says, “We kept it very lean. We launched using like 20 dollars a month for software to get our idea up and out there and we tried to gage response, you know, sharing on social media, Google ads, what type of traffic we were getting, what everyone was saying about it and over the course of 3-4 months, we kind of just saw Yalla Parking was becoming very popular, everyone was giving it good feedback, because it was solving a problem almost, an existing problem.” And ofcourse it was also everyone around him cribbing about parking that played a part, “The real Eureka moment was just friends complaining, I am lucky to live at home, and don’t have any parking issues, but friends who have moved over and are living in say, JLT, or JBR, they complain about parking, if they have a roommate, or a wife, and only one parking space, they constantly complain about it, you constantly read stuff in the newspapers, and then it just got to a point when we decided that it’s an issue and we want to solve it.” They seem right on track to solving the problem, with a goal of 500-600 parking spaces on the website by the end of 2016, and by developing an app that they are hoping becomes a habit for everyday use by consumers on a daily basis.

Once the idea is set, how does one decide on the perfect name for a start up? “Well, my partner and I had the same idea, we discussed it and he was like what about Yalla Parking, and instantly we like it, we think it’s good, it’s simple and it’s regional.” The good thing about Yalla Parking is that it appeals to almost anyone with a car or a parking space, about the target market, McDonald says, “Simply, anyone with an unused parking space that can rent out to a neighbour and earn some cash, or anyone that is looking for a private parking space, say in their building or their office can be the target market.”

The funding and it’s source

Besides name, and target market, the harder part about a start-up is usually the funding and it’s source. Currently, Yalla Parking is bootstrapping and McDonald is very excited about using bootstrapping for funding in a start-up, his logic being, “The reality is if you are a young guy and a first time entrepreneur, you are not going to get someone who is going to come in and give you 250,000 dollars, so I personally really like bootstrapping because it gives you a focus on return on investment on every Dollar/Dirham you spend, you want to get something back for it because it is so vital, so I think boot strapping in your early days is a great thing to do.”

Listen to the experts

For parting words, he keeps his advice simple for those looking to start their own businesses, like most of Yalla Parking’s philosophy and says, “Do your research and jump in, and solve a problem.” Sounds exactly like what he did.

You can visit Yalla Parking at www.yallaparking.com

 
 



Dany Farha – Beco Capital

 The Middle East and the World.

The Middle East: Why and Why not?

Dany Farha, the man behind BECO Capital, is a good person to talk to about business in the Middle East. He would know as he’s been around long enough to set up a successful business venture himself, and learnt the important things along the way. Ask him to list the merits of setting up a business here and he says, “Less competition, so if you are able to make it, you can stand out from the crowd.” He also adds that the demographic in the Middle East is another advantage,“It’s a young, mostly well to do demographic, which is well educated and well read, and are tremendous consumers with a very high propensity for consumption, making it easier for newer ventures”. The demerits he says is primarily the mindset to buy from smaller, newer ventures, unlike the States saying, “The idea that small businesses could find customers very quickly and the mindset of buying from a small business/start up as long as they could provide a service existed in the States, but here that is missing, sure things are changing very quickly, but in my experience, some 20 years ago, when you were at the inception, or even if you were 5-6 years down the line, people still discounted you as the newbie, and see that as a disadvantage instead of seeing the hunger as an advantage even if you would provide better service at better pricing.” His solution to make the Middle East a friendlier zone for entrepreneurs is simple, “If we could make the middle east a trading block, as a region, that would be the single biggest sustenance and help that we could provide entrepreneurs.”

 His inspirations or his influencers?

He goes on to speak of the entrepreneurs he admires, especially Richard Branson for his “ability to have fun and for doing things in very different ways that other people wouldn’t think of doing and running in the direction opposite to the crowd.” The other person he speaks of his father for his level headedness and zen like attitude which he believes, “helps you make better decisions and helps you run the distance because being an entrepreneur is similar to running a marathon, and not running 100/200 meter sprint.” The third person he mentions, is the one he wants to be like and he had the chance to see very recently in India, is Ratan Tata, he speaks of his experience and says, “I saw him being interviewed in India and all I could think of was that I want to be exactly like him, he is around 79-80, well read, well versed in so many different aspects, incredibly humble, and charming. And then there are his philanthropic activities, which I hope I can emulate at least a little bit.”

 India vs the Middle East.

Speaking of India leads us to the question as to why the Middle East has not seen the same kind of foreign investment that India has, for which Farha has a very logical explanation, “There are multiple reasons for this. The first being, India’s 1.2 billion large population, which leads to higher transactions, something that the investors greatly value. The second reason is that the vast majority of the Indian population speaks English ensuring that language is not a barrier. The third and the final reason is that though the GDP per capita is higher in the Middle East, the purchasing power parity is significantly higher in India.” These reasons can be worrying for entrepreneurs in the Middle East, which is something that Farha agrees with but believes that the Middle East has found a way to combat the problem in it’s own unique way, adding, “In the last one year or so, we have seen true innovation come up in the Middle East. People are using technology to solve problems specific only to the Middle East. These ideas might/might notexist elsewhere in the world currently, but the attitude is changing here, it’s no more, let me see what is working elsewhere and try to use it, but now is ‘if there is a glaring problem, then I need to solve it’, and they are solving it.”

 

The effect of VAT on the entrepreneurial ecosystem

Farha has one more idea which he believes will make doing business in the Middle East much easier is the introduction of VAT,something he agrees has dealt with it’s own share of controversy and skepticism, “VAT is not going to be supplemented/ swapped for the existing visa costs and indirect costs, that are perceived to be taxes, they are still going to exist, but it will be another revenue source for the government like it has been in the UK and also in the rest of Europe. What it will also do is allow the government to then configure start up licensing, for almost no cost.In London you can set up a business in a day, in 100 pounds, and one of the biggest drivers for that is VAT which is encouraging people to develop something of value.”As for the threat of global companies coming and taking over local innovation, Farha has an easy solution- intellectual property rights, saying “If you are going to build a big successful business, with no IP, don’t bother, because it is going to be very painful for you in the long run.”

The Future: Farha, Beco, and the region.

It’s clear that Farha sees a good future for entrepreneurs in the Middle East, as for himself, and for Beco, he says, “My dream is to see the Middle East come alive from the technology and the innovation perspective, and I hope that myself and Beco can play a significant part in achieving that dream, so in 5 years I should be able to look at the region and say that we have so many businesses built here, for here, as well as  have global impact and uptake. We can build a global brand, like Emirates has done, and technology allows us the level playing field to do just that.”

 
 



Yasmina Azhari – Al Yam International

 

It's a man's world, no more.

Imagine if you were born and raised in a country, where you worked and set up your business for over 33 years, and then one day, circumstances forced you to move away to a strange land and start all over again, what would you do? Well, in Yasmina Azhari’s case, the co-founder of Al Yam International for Businessmen Services, you do it successfully.

Her story.

Born to a Syrian father, and a Serbian mother, in the seaside city of Latakia in Syria, Yasmin joined her father in his shipping business at the age of 17. Not content with being his deputy, she decided to start out on her own, entering another male dominated sector after shipping, retail. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, Yasmina had to leave her home country. She decided to migrate to Dubai, as it was a “hub for business”, and was the best choice as far as her children’s education was concerned. The move was not as easy as one would imagine, “It took me two years of sitting at home,crying, not knowing what to do, before I started my company, with a friend from Sharjah.” Ask her how the 2 years were like and she says, “I felt uprooted, lost in a way, it was very different from being in your own country.”

Being a woman in a man’s world.

Although Azhari worked primarily in male dominated sectors, she feels it was not as hard for her as it was for most others, for which she credits both, her father, and the city of Latakia, “I started doing my business from Latakia, a city by the sea on the Mediterranean, where we are open minded. It was not easy, but it was not so difficult either, especially because I started under the umbrella of my father, so I was always protected. Some people always tell me that you started under the umbrella of your father, but I say that’s not wrong, I was privileged, but then I grew up, I became stronger, I became well known, it gave me a power and a protection of my own, maybe if you were in any other country, it would have been difficult but in Latakia, it wasn’t so difficult.”Unfortunately, not all in the Arab world are so privileged, to those women her advice is to start small, “I think they should start getting benefits from the opportunities that they can reach, if it’s working from home, it’s fine, if it’s being a teacher, it’s fine, but they have to start somewhere. They should not sit and wait for opportunities, or rules and regulations to change, or for the community to change. It’s difficult, yes, but, I think you can fight in each and every society, for a way to start your own business, or a way to work, it’s very important.” Further stressing on the importance of women in the work force and what they can do, she says, “You know, we will prove that we can do it, they have to trust us, they have to give us opportunity, and we will prove that we can do it.”

The working woman and how to have the perfect home.

With a working woman, there is always the question of balance. The answer to that for Azhari always is, to prioritize, “As working mums, we really should have priorities, we have double responsibilities, which is why we should have an organized priority list , and for me depending on the age of the children, they should be on the priority list first,  because once they grow up, you have a lot of time to do whatever you want, and if you want to be successful in business, you, first, have to be successful in your house, in your children.”How does one prioritize while working for as long as 10 hours a day? As Azhari says, “It is the quality time that you spend with your children, not quantity time. “, she says, “You could be at home, you could shut your door, and be on the phone, or get your hair done, or you could spend 3 hours with your children, listening to what they say, watching them, controlling their behavior, as that is what they need, you can do it, you only have to choose your way of being a mum.” And on ways of being a mum, a successful businesswoman, and also managing the household, she adds, “When my daughter is at work, I work, cook, do the laundry. Being a working mum you have to sacrifice, so I decided to cut out my social life as I prefer to stay at home with my children and do my business anyway.” So with that schedule, does she ever relax? To that she answers, “I go for a massage, sometimes, but I am usually overloaded with work.” she concludes with a laugh.