After spells at both Microsoft and Yahoo, Bassel Ojjeh is well placed to understand the potential of technology. In his last role, he was responsible for leveraging Yahoo’s rich supply of data for marketing and research, and has now launched nPario to do the same for start-ups. He is also engaged in the investment community, and offers some insights into how the region’s SMEs should approach the early development phases.
How would you assess start-ups in the Middle East right now?
BO: Measuring the vibrancy of start-ups means following deal flow, deal sizes and exits. In our region, the numbers are not quantified but I think we’re starting to wake up to the needs of start-ups, with the likes of ArabCrunch and ArabNet. Also, I’ve been hearing of several angel investors who are active in the region, which was unheard of a few years ago. On the other hand, venture capitalists seem to continue to operate based on yesterday’s momentum. They are fairly passive when it comes to deals and are not set up to take risks.
What motivated you to make the transition from working
for a company to become an entrepreneur?
BO: Organisations, regardless of size, are capable of executing on no more than three distinct priorities at once. This creates an opportunity for start-ups to address a void in the market space. My recent start-up, nPario, was launched when we believed that companies are sitting on an incredible asset, their data, and we can best service these companies via a start-up.
What routes or steps can entrepreneurs follow to receive the funding their business needs?
How does an entrepreneur successfully build a strong team?
BO: You need great people who are also team players. If you fail, you are doomed! As a young manager, I was fortunate to work at Microsoft for 10 years. In one management training course, Bill Gates came by and spoke about his philosophy and he told us two things: firstly, always hire “A” employees as “A” employees will attract other “A” employees – but “B” employees never will. Secondly, the scariest employees are those who just do their job. They are worse than non-performing employees because they’re doing just enough to get by.
What characteristics or factors do you look for in an entrepreneur and in a business model?
BO: I look at the person. I look for someone who is willing to stick with the vision (not the immediate goal) as new findings and obstacles will come up and I will need to know that the entrepreneur is willing to adjust his strategy and not give up. The idea is to have a standard checklist that can be vetted.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of The Explorer, Aramex's thought-leadership magazine that investigates issues critical to businesses, communities and the planet.