‘Quit your job. Buy a ticket. Get a tan. Fall in love. Never return.’ — a five sentence meme that made its way into my Facebook newsfeed and struck the kind of chords that left me wondering what on earth I was doing with my life. In reality, it wouldn’t have been difficult to bring me to such a lost and confused state anywhere between 2009 and 2011. Twenty-hour workdays consulting for a corporate giant, despite being a pretty cool job, can do that to a person. So one day in June 2011, I made it past the meme’s first sentence. I walked away from the only cubicle I had ever known and, one over-rehearsed speech later, I officially burst out of my corporate bubble. This was no longer a thought that wormed its way into my brain every month: I was actually free.
The news didn’t go down too well with my old-school parents to whom “free” sounded more like “unemployed.” “Tickle my what?” my father shrieked as he surrendered the phone to my mother. “Your daughter wants to quit her job in Dubai and move to Beirut!” As I listened to my dad denounce his biological ties to me, a mix of happy and nervous feelings took over. This was the reaction to be expected from my parents. But I would move back, I would start my own business and I would attempt, for the millionth time, to prove my father wrong.
My roller coaster ride to creating a company within Beirut’s startup scene was nothing like I expected. First of all, I didn’t expect there to be a scene. I didn’t know anyone within it and there was no introduction manual. My adventure began from behind my MacBook inside Hamra’s jam-packed coffee shops. I had a name: ‘ticklemybrain’ and I had an idea: people, much like myself, didn’t know the first thing about getting their careers on track. And that was about it. As the months rolled by, words such as Berytech, Beirut Digital District and Endeavor pervaded my new habitat and slowly but surely I was welcomed in by the cult: the people that rule Lebanon’s entrepreneurial scene. Though I was introduced to all the cool (and not-so-cool) characters that comprised it via separate avenues, I soon realized they were all connected. Event after event, I began meeting a budding and ever growing core group of 200 to 300 people that consisted of entrepreneurs (the ‘successful’, the ‘attempting to be successful’ and the ‘wondering whether they want to risk attempting to be successful’), venture capitalists, angel investors, accelerator/incubator founders, co-working space owners, techies, designers and media folk. What made all of this even more fascinating was that all these people hovered around one central idea: somewhere within this bunch existed the next Steve Jobs. And all of this in Beirut; it was phenomenal.
Fast-forward two years and here I am, a proud member of Beirut’s startup scene; a part of the cult. I am tired of hearing the standard assessments of this country: Lebanon has no future, economy, water, electricity and Internet. The road may not be paved with gold but I see a different Lebanon. One with a startup scene that could easily be ranked among the finest and most progressive in the region and which is filled with ambitious people trying to break with convention. ‘Here’ is a pretty cool place.
The most recent proof of this can be seen in the Global Entrepreneurship Week, celebrated from November 19 to 24 of this year. The week started with Bader’s flagship opening party in which the winners of their Startup Cup were announced and ended with Executive’s closing party, where 20 entrepreneurs were awarded for their exceptional work. And it isn’t just now; all throughout the year there are events, workshops, conferences and more to celebrate and empower entrepreneurial growth and the amazing drive of the Lebanese people.
We hear stories of people stuck in dead end jobs who finally snap. For many, embracing the entrepreneurial life comes as a form of salvation for their economic blunders. For others, it comes as a spark. For me, the change came as a chance of freedom for my brain, which had felt limited by the confines of what it knew. Striving to be a successful entrepreneur has been a powerful experience filled with both joyous and heart-wrenching moments. Never knowing what my day will hold, combined with the constant fear of failure keeps me on my toes. So while I haven’t lived up to the meme in the exact direction it prescribes, taking it easy on an island in the sun, I’m definitely on the right path.