As he helped me gather my bags and wished me well, the taxi driver on my recent trip to the airport expressed hope that I was leaving for a short trip and would soon return home, because, he said, Lebanon depended on its youth to prosper. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad — happy because I had just met one of few who still believed in this country or sad because he felt the need to tell me his bittersweet wish. While I had already planned a business trip to Dubai, it was expedited by the rise of the occasional bomb, a phenomenon someone cleverly compared to a game of Minesweeper recently. I was, for the first time in a long time, afraid to leave my home. But entrepreneurship is no desk job; it’s a networking and ‘drive around the city’ job. Just one month into what I was wishing to be a positive 2014, I needed to take a break from Beirut.
Though this trip is temporary, I, among thousands of others, feel the pull of the ‘brain drain’ our poor Lebanon has witnessed. No doubt about it, one of the many advantages of being the founder of an online startup is the ability to move and operate a business from almost anywhere. It wasn’t hard for me to come to Dubai; I just didn’t want it to be because I was fleeing home.
This past August Lebanon’s central bank issued a new policy, Circular 331, aimed at motivating commercial banks to invest in technology startups, venture capital firms and accelerators in the country. Three percent of the total amount of the roughly $13.5 billion in private capital held by commercial banks is to be invested. That’s a massive total of $405 million. As I settled into Dubai for the month, I could only hope that there would remain brains, ideas and drive for this money to be invested in.
It’s February and, notwithstanding the recent series of unfortunate events, I will stick to my original plan for this month’s column: describing my seven country-specific entrepreneurial New Year resolutions. By now most of us have forgotten the promises we had sworn to with conviction just a month earlier, so for every free-spirited Lebanese entrepreneur out there, some resolutions from me to you:
1. Get rid of the ‘bad customers’. They are everywhere, and in the Middle East, they overwhelm. If you dig deep into your customer database you will find and identify these annoying types and learn to differentiate them from the good customers. Focus on making those people happy in 2014 and acquiring more of them.
2. Enhance your appearance. I was browsing through the Facebook pages of Arab-based businesses and noticed that while some excel at their social media strategies, ensuring the quality of content is of global standards, others simply flail. It is important to engage your audience with quality content. If you operate in English, for example, and it isn’t your forte then find someone whose it is and get them on board.
3. Twist the bad into good. Safety aside, instead of blaming Lebanon for all the bad cards it has dealt you: innovate. If you figure out solutions when things aren’t going your way, you’ll be shocked to see how well you operate when times are smooth.
4. Give something back. The luxury of owning a business gives you the additional luxury of being able to do with it what you will. It’s not that difficult to do a little good in a country in need of so much. If you can’t think of anything specific, go to crowd-funding platform zoomaal.com and donate some money. There’s a library owner in desperate need of support to rebuild history.
5. Find a wisdom tree. I read an article recently that recommended finding the email address of the smartest person you know and asking them out for coffee. Arab success stories are all around us; find the humans behind them and capitalize on their experiences.
6. Support the new entrepreneurial wave. Being a mentor is just as important as finding one. If Circular 331 is going to be effective, there needs to be entrepreneurs in the making. We need a powerful community to maintain our own individual growth. Figure out a way to encourage the next wave of creators to join our boat.
7. Have a little faith. Whether you live in or outside Lebanon, have a little faith and miss it, always.
These are the seven resolutions I will use to keep me in check this year. Some of them will help me and others will hopefully help my country. Either way, working towards the positive will help us all while our beloved country awaits its fate.