Entrepreneurs and decisions

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I recently attended a workshop organised by Astrolabs, a startup founded by two young and ambitious entrepreneurs, Louis Lebbos and Muhammed Mekki with the objective to help other entrepreneurs in scaling their startups. Pay it forward…

There was a common theme, entrepreneurs running high on energy and low on resources, all whom want to grow and propel their startups into the Middle East’s next success story.

Most entrepreneurs spoke about the challenges they face on a daily basis starting from lack of market data and limited funding, to matters more complex such as startup culture, finding the right talent and making tough decisions like firing people, downsizing, scaling and above all surviving and thriving!

Speaking from a personal experience, I find the most daunting challenge entrepreneurs face on a daily basis is making decisions with a limited amount of resources (time, money, people) and having to live with the consequences. As my friend Henri Asseily who is a well established and successful entrepreneur put it “there is no one to hold your hand and show you the way” it is a continuous process of trial and error.

What differentiates successes from failures is the ability to make the right decisions but most importantly making the decision. Indecision is the silent killer of startups in my opinion.

There are many reasons why entrepreneurs may not react and avoid decision making, here are a few:

– Comfort zone. The nice fluffy cushion that smells nice, is familiar and provides a warm and fuzzy feeling. If business is good, why rock the boat? why worry? Until a well funded competitor steals the cushion while we’re asleep.

– Consequences. Living with the consequences of our decisions can be hard. This means we only have ourselves to judge and often it is quite hard to be at the forefront of our own judgement. The fear of failure, the anxiety, the ambiguity and the sleepless nights! I suppose there are no guarantees in life.

– Having it all. Indecision gives people the illusion of having it all while in fact they have nothing. By being indecisive, entrepreneurs spread themselves too thin, trying to be many things at once, often contradicting their own vision. Indecision is a vicious circle of false comfort and it is only a matter of time until things start falling apart.

As hard as it may be, the ability to make decisions on a daily basis is what makes entrepreneurs a rare breed. Having been through the entrepreneurial journey with Nabbesh for almost 2 years, I must bow out to the entrepreneurs who are courageous enough to keep at it despite the hardship that starting a business entails. If I learned one thing in the past 2 years, it is that entrepreneurship is not glamorous, in fact, it is the “anti glamour” unless of course you become Facebook!

So as long as entrepreneurs are making decisions on a daily basis, we are guaranteed an infinite amount of innovation, learning, drama and success in our region since entrepreneurs are the engine upon which our economy ought to run.

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A Generation (not) in Waiting!

About a month ago, I met Chris Schroeder, a US based investor and entrepreneur. It happened that Chris has a keen interest in the Middle East and was writing about Middle Eastern Women in Entrepreneurship so we met to discuss nabbesh a company I have founded in early 2012 with the objective to tackle the “employment” problem in the Middle East.

Chris completely took me off guard, by asking: Do you define yourself as a Lebanese or as an Arab? Frankly, I don’t think I have strong nationalistic feelings, I was always caught up in the “Are you a Phoenician or an Arab debate”. So I told Chris that I was an Arab.

Then he asked: What do you think about the Arab world… So I said… I am disappointed.

He continued to say, but you are building nabbesh, so you care! To which I answered, of course I do…

Turns out both Chris and I share a mutual feeling about the Arab world… We are Hopeful!

Fast forward a couple of weeks, my friend who is currently an Economics student at the American University of Cairo, had been pushing me to read “A Generation in Waiting” a book by Navtej Dhillon and Tarik Yousef. So I decided it was about time…

The book is fascinating and sheds light on some of the issues of our time – The Unfulfilled Promise of Young People in the Middle East – and by our time, I mean my time! Let me explain.

I grew up in an environment infested with racism, war and hatred, where people kill each other based on religion, and the human life was worthless. An environment where I spent countless days stuck in a room the size of a bathroom while my mother held me in her arms and we both prayed to God to spare us from the bombs flying over our house and we get to live another day.

After that, came peace, or more of the same hatred less the bombs. We were now killing each other economically, by ripping each other off… The poor got poorer and the rich, well, they got richer!

Unfortunately or maybe fortunately I wasn’t part of the latter…

This sense of being “fed up” is so strong, it’s like the saying that goes “love can move mountains”. I was so fed up so I wanted to move mountains… And what better way it is to move mountains then by giving people the means to move their own mountains, one by one.

There are more than 100 million people between the ages of 15 and 29 in the Middle East, most of them, I am sure, share similar feelings of disappointment.

I suppose, I have Chris to thank for helping me articulate why “I care”. I care because I refuse to live in a place where people don’t get a chance to have a decent living. It is everyone’s right… To work, to have a decent life, to make a respectable wage, to have a family.

The problem is way too big, the mountain is high, but I firmly believe that this generation is No Longer in waiting. This generation is here to prove that we want something different from this region. I now know why I care, because I want to be part of the solution.

So right now, I will continue working on making a difference, on a generation that wants to “do” and not “wait”. It all starts with the right to work…

So if you are a young Arab reading this, ask yourself, do I want to be part of the solution? And then take action.

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Yes, but at what cost?

By far, my biggest lesson in 2012 is learning about opportunity cost, not in the way I had learnt it in business books, I was living it.

The revelation happened earlier on this year when a trusted friend asked me about the outcome of a decision I had made. I tried to be wise about my answer and blurted the whole “there is no black or white” cliche. But in fact I was thinking that my decision had lead me to a few peaks and a lot more troughs! So the question is how many troughs am I willing to sacrifice for a few peaks?

Enough rhetoric. The point is, I learned that everything has a cost, and I was the gatekeeper. It sounds easy but try to think about a decision that you made in your life and think about its cost. I suppose it’s the best way to evaluate any decision… Does the outcome cover its cost?

There are a few factors to consider when calculating opportunity costs…

First and most importantly “Time”. If you haven’t already, you will eventually come to the realization that time is so precious and that spending time doing specific tasks, hanging out with specific people has a big cost. The “time value” of time! Time is expensive and a big element of the cost! So you ought to spend it wisely.

Second is “You”. You must have struggled with an element of your past, some of us are more fortunate than others and come with less baggage. Sometimes, you go through a tough “unlearning” process to finally figure out who you are, sometimes, that realization never happens! Eventually you learn that the most important person to please in the entire world is non other than yourself! If you are happy, you can make everyone else around you happy! So when you make a decision and you are considering its cost, always put yourself ahead. Think about it in the same way as those creepy plane videos when the oxygen masks drop. You are instructed to put your oxygen mask on first, then help the people around you. Simple. 

Third is “Your environment”. Every decision has a wider implication on your environment. Weigh these implications carefully and make sure you are “OK” with them. Don’t proceed if you’re not able to handle the situation. Decisions require guts. If you make the call, don’t look back, keep going. But always remember everything comes at a cost.

So the trick really is to value your time, yourself and the impact of your decisions before you make them in order not to be on the loosing end of the opportunity costs. But no matter what you do, whether it turns out that the decision you had made was right or wrong, keep moving and forgive yourself!

So next time you make a decision, always ask yourself, at what cost?

 

 

 

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what turns you on?

I recently came to the realization that we all have our own on/off switch which is controlled by non other than ourselves! 

Fantastic news! So what next? 

I decided that I wanted to permanently disconnect my “off” button and remain constantly “on”. Is that even possible? It’s not only possible, it’s actually easy! 

Here’s how I’ve done it… 

1) Relax. Seriously nothing is worth it in the long run. In life we win some and we loose some. No point whatsoever in dreading and self whipping. No matter how big the problem is today, tomorrow it will be insignificant.

2) Let go. I have been raised to be a fighter and praised for not giving up. Sometimes, letting go is the best option and is in fact a sign of strength. It’s OK not to get everything we want and it’s actually extremely smart to know when “enough is enough”.

3) Take control of your life. You and only you are capable to making decisions related to your life, don’t give this power to someone else. If you don’t want to do something, then don’t! If you think something is not right, then drop it! Trust yourself.

4) Turn defeat into triumph. If you think about defeat as an opportunity, then you are the ultimate winner. There is no such thing as defeat, I like to call it learning, adjusting and rebounding. Never let a bad situation control you.

5) Don’t take bullshit. Seriously, I am not advocating that you get into a fight with everyone, I am just advocating that if you don’t like something, or if you’re in a situation that is uncomfortable, just walk away. It’s not worth it.

These 5 magical steps, helped me own my life and own my on/off switch.

Don’t become a victim of circumstances… Maintain a tight grip on your life and choose to be “on”. So what turns you on? Don’t go overboard thinking that having that rolex or that dream home is going to do it for you. Think experiences not material possessions… Each and everyone of us has different “on” drivers, find out what they are and apply them! Really it’s that simple. 

You can watch your life change instantaneously. All of a sudden you notice life’s intricacies, the beauty of a sunny day, the soothing effect of a nice melody, the rewarding feeling after having a nice conversation, the joy of helping a stranger, the openness to find opportunities and the miracle of being alive.

Before you think that I live in a utopia, try it for a day, take control of your life and decide how you want to feel. Find out what turns you on and just do it! And while you do so, listen to this tune

Enjoy & Happy Friday!

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What happens when we die?

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Loulou, be nice, courteous, friendly, caring, loving, helping, smiling.

Loulou, be smart, be a winner, be mature, marry, work hard.

Loulou, look good, speak properly, don’t swear.

Loulou is dead! May God bless her soul.

It will eventually happen and then what? Life goes on. Someone will (maybe) say a nice speech at my tomb, someone might shed a tear, but half an hour later, everyone will go about their daily business.

Rewind a little until I am 30 years old. Where am I on the “social behavior scale”? Do I pass? Am I a winner?  Have I been caring enough? I have come to the realization that I must respectfully decline the invitation to join the party. The party where everyone participates in assigning a grade to my life.

We spend our entire lives masking our inner “bitch” why? because no one likes a bitch! Life as a popularity contest comes with a small disclaimer that often no one reads… We will become miserable and borderline insignificant.

We are born young and wild then comes our schooling and our grooming to become better people. We are hereby taught the rules. We are scolded for being different and and praised for conforming. As we grow older, expectations mount and are often unmet! We often catch ourselves in a “mea culpa” state of mind, whiplashing ourselves for falling short. Every word is weighed, every action is analyzed and we mostly end up retreating behind our masks, lay low, and please.

Is this the life we were born to live? Are we mere players in some giant conspiracy? Who knows! The point is that at some point, we must remove our masks and let the world see us for who we are. There is no “good” or “bad”. It is all a matter of perception.

So I invite everyone to embrace our “inner bitch”. It is really ok not to be everyone’s best friend, it is really ok not to live to please everyone. It is however very important to please ourselves.

What happens when we die? There are many answers to this question but one thing is for sure, what we should really care about is what happens as we live. It is definitely worth assessing how thick and bland our mask has become and then decide on whether we would like to remove it in order to live a more fulfilling life graded by ourselves and not by the collective majority.

What happens when we die? We want to be remembered for something unique to each one of us and for having stood for something.

What happens when we die? We want to be damn certain that we lived life to the fullest.

Happy start of the week!

 

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How do you create serendipity?

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“I don’t believe in coincidences” a successful business person once told me. “I believe in serendipity” he continued.

Do you get the feeling that you have met someone for a reason? That you were both in the same place at the same time not by randomness? Well recently, I’ve been having several occurrences where serendipity is at play and that taught me a few things about creating my own opportunities. Here are the top 6 learnings which I believe would help in creating an environment conducive to serendipity…

1) Get out there. Never miss out on an opportunity to meet someone new. No matter how tired you are, how long your day has been or whatever state of mind you are in. Meeting that person might change your life. Literally. The most boring person you meet might open up some great opportunities so put yourself out there and network.

2) Be curious. Listen often and get to know people and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Who they really are, their values and beliefs, their interests. It is extremely powerful to know what drives each person in order to build sustainable relationships whether personal or professional.

3) Be approachable. Now I know that this is a double edge sword especially for a woman, however there is no point being a bitch just for the sake of it. Someone who approaches you might not necessarily be a pervert and even if it is the case, just be polite and pull out.

4) Don’t judge. This could be a very difficult exercise in self control and in no means am I a master at that! But judging people will limit the potential relationship and might hinder a great future collaboration. Just give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I am aware that time is precious but still, a few minutes won’t kill you.

5) Have an open mind. If people approach you with opportunities keep an open mind. Something which might seem extremely exciting might end up being unfeasible while other controversial proposals could be life changers. Always keep an open mind, everyone needs to try something new in their lives, it’s the only path to learning and progress.

6) Be confident. When you approach people know your worth. Your strengths and weaknesses and just got for it. I was recently at a conference standing on my own waiting for the conference to start and I noticed someone standing on their own next to me. Under normal circumstances, I would pick up my phone and check my e-mails. This time I decided to strike a conversation with that person. Turned out he was a vital person to meet who would eventually add a lot of value to my upcoming startup.

The point? Well life is rich and full of opportunities, you need to be out there seeking these opportunities in order to enrich your life. Meeting different people will add color to a routine life, a routine job or a bad mood. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and create your own serendipity!

Happy Wednesday!

 

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Dream and dream some more…

As the launch date for my venture gets closer, tension rises, this is it, moment of truth. All eyeballs are on the prey, armed with pre-conceived notions of failure or success, each has their reasons, each has their logic. Game on!

I hope you don’t think I’m paranoid. I’m just a realist merely reflecting on past insinuations. I must admit, it bothers me that I still dwell on negative comments, I suppose the key to progress is just to take things in, process them and then trash them quickly. It’s human nature to place more emphasis on the negative, this is a bad habit which needs to be abolished, eventually.

This sets the scene to Napoleon Hill’s hallmark expression:

“What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

The fact that it’s about a man does bother me but this is not the point. The point here is that it’s healthy to be a dreamer and to think big. Growing up within my family, dreaming was not really encouraged. “You are too ambitious” my father said as if it’s a problem. I am here to respectfully disagree and to beg you all to dream, dreams add colors to a dull life and dreams will eventually materialize.

Going back to my venture, my dreams were my catalyst. I asked my mother if she could describe one trait that she felt stood out about me while I was growing up, she said: “you always wanted equality and fairness”.

About 20 years or so later, here I am, working on a venture which will give people equal opportunities no matter what their age, race, religion or gender is. Working on a venture which will provide the women and the youth with an outlet to show their potential and get found. My dream was to do something that matters and in no way am I saying that this is the end of the road, mission accomplished. This is only the beginning of the journey.

The purpose of this little story is not to advertise my venture, it is to emphasize the power of dreams and of potential. When I was studying Hospitality Management in Australia, I never thought I would be where I am today.

I hope you found this post useful, as an entrepreneur, I would encourage everyone to think big, even at the expense of being ridiculed by others… I have to conclude with one last quote by T.S Eliot:

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”

Happy Sunday!

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I came across this great article about entrepreneurship… Is it an art or a science? Here is an extract from the article for you to think about and I will also add my views from my experience so far…

“Fact: Entrepreneurship is an irrational pursuit. Founding a company–much less one that could- change the world – entails insane amounts of risk, ridiculously low chances of success and zero work-life balance”

View full article: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/222795

In my opinion, entrepreneurship is not a black or white situation. Entrepreneurship is a combination of both art and science… How so?

Entrepreneurship is an art, because a person has to have the personal traits, or if I may say he should be a natural at the end of the day, to start a business. That person must have a sense of adventure, and an ambition to build something bigger than himself/herself. That person should have the willpower to pursue his dreams, a willpower that will stand the test of time, and the hardship of the road ahead.

Frankly, I believe that a person should be cautious in balancing his/ her life. However, I must say that building a company will take a lot of personal time. This is why, choosing this path is a very serious decision that requires a lot of consideration and weighing before pursuing this endeavor.

Entrepreneurship is also a science because ideas don’t just “drop in” onto a person. There isn’t a light bulb moment, as we all would like to believe. However, and in case a person gets that light bulb moment, then be sure that this moment is the culmination of days, weeks, months and even years of experience and thinking. It’s the environment, the experience and the amount of effort once puts in improving himself/herself that will count when starting a company. A company is a huge investment of one’s resources, whether its time, money, even one’s sanity. You name it.

I really admire those young entrepreneurs who are trying to do something with their lives… Quite frankly, if I were 20 and starting a company, I would be terrified. It is a very big challenge to build something big and I believe experience goes a long way in having a slight chance to be successful.

I hope this article got you thinking if you’re planning on starting your own company… At the end, entrepreneurship is a blend of art and science and I truly believe that it’s up to each individual to nourish the traits of entrepreneurship if they chose to go down that path. Everything can be learned provided that you put in the effort. As simple as that… A bit of luck will also help the case…

Happy Friday!

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In Lebanon, put your feet in cold water!

In Lebanon, we have a saying “7ot ijreik bi may berdeh” which literally translates into “put your feet in cold water”. I seriously don’t know of its origins, but it means “rest assured everything will be ok”. 

Once you hear this God forsaken phrase, you can almost always be sure that things will be nothing but ok! 

Welcome to Lebanon, the land of plenty of sayings and a lot less doing! 

A big disclaimer here… I am a proud Lebanese and I do love Lebanon. 

As a budding entrepreneur, so eager to start a business in my homeland (after living in Australia & the Gulf for 12 years) and giving back to my country by providing young and promising people some job opportunities, I faced and still am facing some interesting challenges… So for fellow Lebanese entrepreneurs wanting to do business in Lebanon here are 5 important things to keep in mind…

1- We, the Lebanese are born managers, period. Proceed at your own risk.

2- Contracts, NDAs, corporate law? Oh come on! Just close your eyes and put your feet in cold water! 

3- No need for a note pad, minutes, to do list… we all have a great memory. Sometimes, in fact often, we forget.

4- Everyone wants to be a millionaire, few are willing to put in the effort. You have to continuously praise and thank a fellow Lebanese whom you are paying, for doing their job.

5- I can do this, I can do that, I’ve done this before many times, put your feet in cold water… 90% of the time, mostly talk. Only believe in the tangibles. 

I guess this will totally ruin my chances of ever becoming the first Lebanese female president! Damn it…

I hope you enjoyed this post and I hope each one of us can become the change that Lebanon needs!

 

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So what is it gonna be?

When you are in a constant struggle with your own brain to stay positive, you know, on one of those bad days, it’s important for you to consciously say “no” I will not let my thoughts stray, I will not be controlled by my thoughts.

So, against my brain’s will, I have decided to remember the things I’m thankful for. A funny picture comes to mind, where you’re watching cartoons and you have the little white angel on one side and the little red devil on the other. It’s not really about angels & devils… right or wrong, it’s more about willpower, determination and the constant drive to improve.

So while my brain struggles to bring me down, I have decided to put up a fight! So here we go, I’m thankful for…

– The people who are close to me & constantly watch my back

– The people who are not so close to me who taught me important lessons in life

– The fact that I have a roof over my head (a nice one actually)

– The fact that I am healthy

– The fact that I am able to control my destiny (so far)

And many more…

The point here is not to tell you what I’m thankful for. This is an exercise for me to do. The point here is, it’s always a choice that you make. There is a great saying that goes like this:

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same” – Carlos Castaneda

So every time you find yourself going down a dark ally, pull yourself together, what happens next is entirely your choice!

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