The new year resolution you’ll rarely read about

26/12/2012

I started writing this post on Christmas eve and it’s based on a true story.

// Original post attempt starts here

I’ve never been a fan of new year’s resolutions but I always found it amusing to ask others about theirs (and when possible see how long it’d be before they give up on them).
Few days ago I asked a friend: what are your new year’s resolutions? As I was getting that flow of impressive “I’m gonna do this, and that, and of course, be fit” I regretted asking this question because I knew I’ll have to answer it shortly.
And I was right! Damn it! As I got the inevitable “What about you?” I felt like a student who didn’t study for his exam. I was so pressured to come up with a smart, impressive and well articulated answer. However all I could think of was: “I want to be happy”.
I didn’t feel comfortable saying it though. I mean, what kind of new year resolution would that one sound like? “Be happy? Who cares about you being happy?” I could almost hear myself asking. I wanted to come up with something massive related to business, making money, creating value (my favorite), changing the world. I simply couldn’t.
I was thinking “objectives, goals” and how they should be SMART*. Didn’t come up with any.
I didn’t reply. (Actually I did but the answer isn’t really blog-friendly so I’m saving that part.)

But thinking about it I do believe that being happy is way more important that almost everything else that modern life conditions us to look for. Core elements of real happiness like values, family, love, spirituality, simple pleasures of life are more and more overlooked. Instead we all tend to hustle for sexier achievements like wealth, fame, power, etc… What do we end up having? I’m tempted to say: More successful yet unhappy people.
(If you’re reading this, please don’t think that I’m giving up on fighting to be successful. On the contrary, I’ll fight harder only because I’ll be happier).

// Original post attempt ends here

I honestly gave up on my writing endeavor at that point, finding it impossible to explain rationally why being happy is a valid resolution in today’s world without sounding softy or insane. And I decided to keep my failing attempt to myself.
Until just few minutes ago when I read this post by Sir Richard Branson: http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20121109141247-204068115-what-s-the-best-measurement-for-success-happiness

How awesome is that? If Richard Branson and I both think it’s true, then it’s gotta be true. And I thought: Screw it, let’s just post it!

Whether you make it your new year resolution or not I wish you all real happiness in 2013. Howard Thurman said: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Be happy, come alive and the most amazing things will just happen!

(*SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely)

Business Development Tips for Startups: Part 1

08/03/2012

Business Development is vital to your startup. If sales is the backbone of business, business development is then the spine of sales. It goes way beyond “networking,” requiring strategy, forward thinking and discipline. Here are some tips that might help you sharpen your business development skills. Note that most of these hints overlap with each other and yield way better results when orchestrated altogether:

  1. Think strategically. Business development is not sales. It would take a separate article to describe the many differences between the two, but, simply put, sales is transactional while business development is strategic. While sales is about taking a specific product or service and selling it, business development is more about identifying new strategic opportunities and building alliances that, granted, would eventually lead to more sales. I meet many startups looking for investment “mainly to increase salesforce” while there are countless easier ways to access the same customers or partners. How?
  1. Know the importance of ecosystems. Regardless of the nature of your business, people you’d need to do business with (whether as partners or customers or suppliers) are already connected in one or few micro-networks. Understand the landscape of your industry and try to map strategic alliances and access points to these clusters rather than starting with 1-1 relationships only. It’s more scalable, less costly and faster.
  1. Conquer and divide. Am I hinting that 1-1 relationships are not important? Not at all. At the end of the day it’s all about personal relationships. Once you have scaled horizontally and identified or accessed these micro-networks or clusters, it’s time to dig down and build personal relationships. Stay tuned for a future post on building personal relationships.
  1. Don’t just be a hunter, be a sniper. Here’s another difference with sales: salespeople are either “farmers” or “hunters.” To me, good business developers are snipers. Once they have identified a possible target deal, they have that laser-sharp focus and determination that makes it happen. Time is a luxury you don’t have, so don’t spend it all on “strategizing” and collecting business cards. Instead try to identify your “big deal” quickly and then focus on achieving it and moving forward.
  1. Become a connector. Helping people make money by introducing them to each other is one of the most useful tools that smart and successful business developers use. Creating value for third parties will always bring benefit back to you, one way or another. How and why? I wish I could explain it scientifically, but I just know that it works for me and I see it working marvelously for every successful entrepreneur and business person I meet.

This article was published on Wamda.

3 worrisome signs of the possible upcoming bubble

28/11/2011

It looks like a bubble, moves like a bubble: remember the last property bubble? Or the 2000 Tech Bubble? Or maybe the 1600s’ Tulips bubble 🙂 They all have few things in common: crazy demand combined with easy money and fuelled by speculation on one side and on another side an overhyped target (property, tech startup, tulip bubble).  Result? As this article about the Tulip mania () puts it: “Soon even ordinary bulbs were selling for extraordinary prices, and the actually rare bulbs were astronomical”. Sounds familiar?

–       Easy money: If you’re reading this article, I bet that you know at least one person who’s “starting a VC Fund”. Even a 21-year-old fresh grad wants to start a 100Mn VC Fund. I’m not hinting that it’s bad to start a VC Fund but unless you’re really doing something to improve the quality and/or quantity of supply (i.e. startups) you’re just messing with the Supply & Demand equation and sending prices through the roof. In the words of Sequoia Capital’s Douglas Leone: “Right now there’s an incredible amount of capital. Why you want to join the capital side is beyond me.”

–       Hype:  If you think we’re not in a hype of “social media and digital” investment I would love to hear your proof. Take Groupon’s IPO, would it have been feasible without a real hype around it? Aren’t many deals taking place just because everybody is fearing to miss out and just want to jump on the bandwagon of investing in tech startups, betting that valuation will keep skyrocketing?
Speaking of hype, remember how everybody cheered for Groupon’s “successful” IPO 3 weeks ago? In just 3 weeks, Groupon has shed one-third of its market value in less than one week and wiped out nearly $6 billion in shareholder wealth.

–       Crazy valuations: here’s an extract from Yelp’s S1 filing:
We have incurred significant operating losses in the past, and we may not be able to generate sufficient revenue to achieve or maintain profitability. Our recent growth rate will likely not be sustainable, and a failure to maintain an adequate growth rate will adversely affect our results of operations and business;
Valuation? “between $1 billion and $2 billion”!

“This time it’s different”: the signature of any bubble… Real estate prices will always go up, technology companies are the future, gold will always be a safe investment, etc…  We heard it all before and we saw bubbles bursting every time more intensely.

Is this time really different? Bubbles always burst when one of the underlying factors reverses course.  It took one buyer not showing up to pay for his bulb to burst the Tulip bubble and some mortgage defaults to burst the biggest financial bubble of all times.
Wouldn’t one less-than-expected IPO spread panic and dry appetite for tech investment? Or wouldn’t continually growing valuations reach a point where someone in the value chain realizes that there’s no way to exit leading the money flow to shut down?

Best of the World Economic Forum – Special Meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World

24/10/2011

I’m just back from the WEF meeting in Dead Sea, 3 days of discussions and opportunities to meet and interact with interesting
people. Sceptics would say that discussions are not enough and meaninglesswithout action. I agree with them and look forward to seeing real results taking place.

In the meantime, I’m sharing some the most remarkable thoughts that impressed me, not in order of importance, nor in order of appearance!

  • “There’s nobody on this panel, nor a VC, nor a bank, nor a Government who will create someone’s job. Just get out of the way of entrepreneurs and investors and they’ll do it.”
  • Don’t ask the youth what they want, they wouldn’t know. Listen to what’s working and multiply it. Take a bottom up approach. (Habib Haddad, CEO Wamda)
  • It’s time to take action, everyone of us is responsible. Starting tomorrow each of us should go to a classroom and speak to young people about entrepreneurship and show them the way. It’s everybody’s responsibility and if you don’t do it I’ll come after you, I’ll know. (An amazing and very heartfelt closing word by Soraya Salti of @injaz)
  • “Building a new political system takes a whole different skill set than tweeting.” By @shadihamid while discussing the impact and importance of social media in the Arab spring. 5- Arab Youth have done the impossible politically. We need to empower them to do the impossible economically. (Again by Soraya Salti of @injaz).
  • We are moving from Capitalism to Talentism. (Prof. Klaus Schwabb).
  • It’s a 3-stage process: we go from Uninformed Optimism (we think we can do it all but we don’t really know what it really takes) to Uninformed Pessimism (we see it not working the way we hoped it would) to Informed Optimism (when we know that it will work and how to make it work). (Othman Sultan, CEO du).

Finally a note of appreciation for 2 remarkable personalities of the WEF. They’re not the most successful businesspeople, nor the richest, nor the most powerful of all attendants. They’re simply the most authentic, to me at least:

  • Awn Khasawneh, nominated Prime Minister of Jordan: for being the most humble, self-aware and apparently clean-handed politician of the Arab World.
  • Amira Yahyaoui (@mira404), the young Tunisian activist, for a truly inspiring 60 second speech on the aspirations and potential of Arab youth.

8 Survival Tips For First Time Fathers & Entrepreneurs

13/10/2011

Don’t panic. Focus.
When I quit my job to start my entrepreneurial journey I didn’t know that we were already blessed to have our first child in less than 9 months. I admit that fear took hold of a part of me. Granted, the upcoming responsibility weighted considerably on me but I had to face it. Don’t panic. Instead consider this great news as THE greatest motivation of all. 

Manage your partner
I wish to everybody to have a wife as supportive and understanding as I have. The problem with supportive people is that we tend to take them for granted. Make sure you don’t. If you think you’re going through a lot remember that she’s probably going through much more. Just like in your startup, you need a strong team at home, and it’s up to you to make it happen.

Take the morning shift
Trust me, there’s no better wake up call than a baby wanting to eat! Use that and take the early morning shift. You’ll be amazed by what you can achieve with the extra time you have when you’re up and running by 7:00 am. Hit the coffee machine and go make the best of that new day!

Cash-flow. Cash-flow. Cash-flow.
Do I have to say more? If cash is king for startups it’s the ultimate emperor for startups with a growing family on the side. Stories of entrepreneurs compromizing on quality of living for the greater good are nothing less than abundant. You can compromize when you’re on your own but it’s not as easy to do it for your baby. Be smart in using your resources, be creative, if you can generate fast cash from small engagements do it but don’t lose focus on the bigger picture.

Be smart in social activities
Meeting people, new and old acquaintances, has always been the best aspect of work and life to me. But it takes time, and time is the luxury you really don’t have. As important as it can be, socializing has to be optimized just like everything else. Be selective in your activities, weighing their importance, their return and don’t hesitate to say No to some.

Stay in shape
As the Arabic saying goes, a healthy mind is in a healthy body. You need both of them to be at their best performance level so make sure you maintain your body well. Sleep well, eat well and don’t skip working out. Even if you don’t have time and it seems to be the lowest of your priorities don’t let go. You can skip weight lifting, you’ll be doing plenty of that gradually but don’t skip a run or a swim at least three times a week.

Optimize
More to do in less time? Oh yeah… Big time! Train yourself to take advantage of every single minute and optimize your performance. Kill your tasks as soon as they arise, or the soonest possible. Leverage technology to get organized and fast. Say No when you have to and when you say Yes make it as fast as you can.

You ‘re twice blessed. Enjoy it!
You were blessed with the greatest gift of life and with the opportunity of pursuing your own dream and passion, both are priceless, enjoy them to the max. It’s true that both are also fragile, demanding and exhausting but their reward can be worth each and every sacrifice you make. Stay positive, believe in yourself and in God and enjoy every moment. You will make it!

This post was published on Wamda

How Steve Jobs inspired me

06/10/2011

I’m not writing this because this is the trending topic of the day nor because I’m a big fan of sensational news and collective panic.

I’m not writing this because I’m an old-time Apple fanatic; my first Apple product was this MacBook I bought less than a year ago (although I admit I wish I had done it many years before).

I’m not writing this because Steve Jobs was my idol since I was fifteen. I barely knew more than his name and that he was the “Apple guy” until some recent years.

I’m writing it because I was never moved by the news of someone passing away the way I was this morning when I saw the “1955-2011 Steve Jobs” photo of wired.com. (Note: I’m not exaggerating, I’m lucky so far I haven’t have to deal with any close person’s death).

Why was I moved if Steve Jobs didn’t mean that much to me? The truth is that he meant an awful lot. This guy changed my life and not because he invented iPhone.

He changed my life simply because his Stanford speech gave me the courage to follow my heart and intuition. I had been hesitating for years about quitting my secure job and starting my own business when I got to hear that famous speech accidentally in 2010. That day, I went home and wrote on a piece of paper “I’ll have my own business on November 1st” and put that paper on the mirror I shave on every morning. By November 1st, I had quit my job and started my dream.

When I look back, I see how marvelously the dots end up connecting to each other and how one really wins if he follows his heart and passion.

I know this story is nothing compared to what this great man did but for me at least it means many things and I couldn’t let this day pass by without saying: Thank you Steve. May your soul rest in peace

It’s all about people

06/09/2011

One of the most exciting and enriching experiences of my entrepreneurial journey so far is the one about people.

Since day 1, I have had the chance to meet some truly amazing people with whom I entertain the most interesting and insightful conversations and always leave overwhelmed, refreshed and more determined to go further.

How is this relevant to this blog? I never had the discipline to blog regularly nor the commitment to put every interesting idea (at least from my point of view) that crosses my mind in an article. Yet, after every conversation I feel that I have to take the effort and share at least some of those thoughts that would definitely impact someone’s life one way or another.

Today I made up my mind: out of appreciation for this chance I have and in return of it I commit to sharing those thoughts no matter how briefly and sometimes randomly, hoping you would find them as inspirational and motivational as I do.

When thinking of entrepreneurship I always say: Don’t blame those who don’t know, blame those who don’t share what they know… I, for one, wouldn’t want to be blamed one day and hope that my humble experience would help as many people as possible achieve their real passion and potential.

How Apple would solve the debt crisis

03/08/2011

Note: Read this article by David Weidner on ETRADE but couldn’t find a no-login public link for it. Worth sharing.

Spending is good. Borrowing is better. Washington is doing neither. It’s liquidating.

I’ve been covering Wall Street and corporate America for going on two decades, and if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that there are really only two kinds of companies: those growing and those shrinking.

The U.S. government today has officially become the latter.

The difference between a growing business like Apple Inc. (AAPLTrade ) and a shrinking one such as Eastman Kodak (EKTrade ) has less to do with spending and revenue and than with psychology. Growing companies go through tough times. They adapt, and they’re poised to strike when conditions are right. They don’t stop innovating.

Defeated companies may be producing steady profits. But they lose their entrepreneurial spirit. They stop looking at the future. They get intimidated. They quit fighting. They look for a sale. They try to buy growth. They play not to lose — and end up losing anyway.

Which of those does Washington sound like?

So, what would happen if Apple had to tackle the debt crisis? First, it would eliminate spending that’s not working. Then it would make a commitment to spend if necessary. Third, it would look for ideas to spend on. Finally, it would call customers’ bluff. How much are you willing to pay for what the government gives you?

Ultimately, what’s happened to our government, lawmakers, elected officials and ourselves is that we’ve have taken on a mind-set of defeat. It doesn’t seem to matter that the business model — taxing for revenue, spending for growth — isn’t broken. After all, it’s working in Germany, Canada, India and China.

We’ve given up on the model because of our debt situation. It’s a problem, and a pressing one. A default or lower credit rating would cause further damage to our credit picture.

But there are really two ways to handle it. We could take a balanced approach of reining in spending and increasing revenue (cutting costs, raising taxes), or we could simply cut, slashing incomes (Medicare, Social Security, the military). These drastic cuts, which will balance annual budgets, are in effect a surrender.

They are based on the belief that revenues (taxes) won’t rise through increased business activity, and that taxes can’t be raised without scaring the private enterprise. In business terms, management is convinced sales won’t be enough to pay the bills and that raising prices will drive away customers.

Again, this is more about psychology than profit and loss. Let’s take a look at three winners in the corporate world:

On the flip side are plenty of losers. Citigroup Inc. (CTrade ) tried to buy its way to greatness. Microsoft just paid a stunning $7 billion for Skype. General Motors (GMTrade ) management failed to take the difficult steps that an eventual bailout and bankruptcy restructuring thrust upon it. None of these companies took significant risks. They cut staff and spending. They cooked the books with deals. They played — or are playing — not to lose.

You can see the difference. Companies with managers who believe in what they offer aren’t worried about balanced budgets. And it’s not just big business. Small businesses owners are told by the Small Business Administration to spend money when it saves you time. Hire a janitor, so you can focus on the business instead of mopping the floors.

And the SBA by its existence acknowledges the fact that borrowing is a necessary part of running a business.

That’s why, even with all the mistakes the government makes, it still doesn’t make sense for it to be run as if the country has been defeated. It’s interesting to note that our deficit of $14 trillion is the biggest since World War II. In 1945 the deficit was 120% of gross domestic product, compared with about 97% today. So how did the nation respond? By spending on infrastructure and raising taxes. We built housing and roads, and we invested. Unemployment fell from 3.9% in 1946 to 2.9% in 1953.

By the time Harry Truman left office in 1953, the deficit was 71% of GDP. When Dwight Eisenhower left office, it was 55%. Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1993, and the U.S. saw the biggest peace-time expansion since the 1950s. In both eras, the key was that the government gave people and business what they wanted.

Those were different times, of course. But the point remains: It takes a lot of guts to raise revenues. It takes spending to help the private sector. If every company aimed for a balanced budget, the majority would be out of business.

Wall Street, I’ve found, was built on a simple idea: Companies need financing to grow. Governments need it, too. But governments also have a distinct advantage: They have the power to force the customer to pay, and they have it in perpetuity.

But to focus time and energy on doing nothing but cutting to make ends meet? That’s what a defeated company does. And once you’re convinced you’re defeated, it’s over. You will be making film in an age of digital cameras.

Sure, you may survive, but you’ll never thrive.


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