Welcome to our second installment of Entrepreneur of the Month, a series where we’ll profile leaders in the Arab World’s evolving business community. This time we’ll be chatting to Nabbesh founder Loulou Khazen Baz.
Loulou first arrived on the ecommerce scene when she won The Entrepreneur, a TV show, in 2012. Since then her company Nabbesh has grown exponentially and now has over 45,000 freelancers signed up across 130 countries.
We sat down to chat to her about the growth of Nabbesh, raising money and what lies ahead for ecommerce in the Arab World.
What inspired you to start Nabbesh?
I had worked in Dubai for 9 years and left my job to pursue my entrepreneurial dream of building a business that had a social agenda. While I was looking into market gaps, I found that there were no opportunities for educated and experienced people like myself to consult or work on a project basis.
Then I started thinking about all the women seeking work life balance, youth looking to get integrated into the workforce and employed, men and women looking for extra income. I realized that there was an amazing opportunity to empower these people by connecting them with freelance/project based employment or work from home opportunities.
That’s how Nabbesh was born. On the other side, companies are struggling to find talent at a price they can afford. Entrepreneurs and small businesses need to streamline their salary costs and Nabbesh is a way for them to do that by hiring freelancers instead of full-time staff.
Within less than 24 hours we can help companies find the right person for a job. And if the freelancer doesn’t deliver, we step in to make sure that the issue is resolved or you get your money back.
People often talk about there not being enough talent in the Arab World, do you think that’s true?
I would really challenge the assertion that there is no talent in the market – it’s just a matter of finding it. We think of Nabbesh as a treasure box of young, educated and skilled talent. Close to 90% of people on Nabbesh have a bachelor’s degree or above, and they have a vast set of important skillsets ranging from graphic design, to visual harvesting, photography, arts, software development and much more!
The problem is that companies can’t find the right kind of talent because very often, pockets of talent exist in different cities or countries. Nabbesh helps companies bridge that gap by not only linking them with talent, but also by considerably reducing the time to hire from an average of 45 days for a full time hire to a maximum of 3 days for a freelancer!
How did you secure investment for Nabbesh?
Access to capital is the number one issue that any entrepreneur in this part of the world faces, so it took us around seven months to close our first round of funding.
During that time we pursued multiple fundraising avenues. We listed Nabbesh on Eureeca to take advantage of crowdfunding, and we then secured additional funding from angel investors as well as Dubai Silicon Oasis.
We managed to secure interest from a large group of investors due to Nabbesh’s market opportunity, scalable business as well as the positive brand image we created from winning The Entrepreneur. This gave us a leg up when it was time to approach investors.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise money?
An entrepreneur has a million things to do, but fundraising is essential. You should spend a lot of time fundraising and on investor relations. For every meeting, you must be fully prepared and ready to explain any assumptions you’ve made in your projections. I love the saying ‘if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’
Since fundraising takes so much time you need to separate the serious investors from the not so serious ones, and spend all your time on the real prospects.
How can you tell a serious investor from a not so serious one?
In this region people don’t like to tell you “no”, so this can be a real challenge. For me it’s a combination of gut feel and how excited they are with your business.
Your investors will do due diligence on you, but you need to do the same on them. What’s their track record? Have they invested in businesses that have the same risk profile as yours? And if possible, it would be a great idea to talk to another startup that has dealt with the same investors to get their feedback.
Don’t take just anybody’s money.
What do you think will drive growth of online commerce in the Arab World?
The online market is going to expand exponentially as there is increased internet penetration and credit card spending. We also have a young population which creates a massive opportunity for mobile commerce.
People complain about COD (cash on delivery), but I see that changing soon. At Nabbesh, we are doing 95% of our payments online, so it seems like more and more people are comfortable paying that way.
I think it’s a very good time to start a business in the online space provided you have the right differentiator and the right backers.