A passerby eyeing jewelry in a Damascus souq doesn’t need statistics on the dearth of Arabic web content to realize that the majority of small businesses in the Arab World have no online presence.
Yet if Syrian startup searchinMENA.com has its way, the Arabic online content gap will soon be a relic of the past. As a business-to-business search engine, the site connects producers and sellers in the Middle East and North Africa online.
Launched in Aleppo in October 2010, the startup expanded to Beirut with the help of the Syrian Enterprise and Business Center, Lebanese incubator Berytech, and UK-based mentoring organization Mowgli, organizations that have all helped founder Salim Akil shape his vision for bringing cohesion to the MENA business community.
After discussing his vision at Arabnet 2011, we asked Salim the Wamda 10 Questions.
1) How did you decide to create this company?
I decided to create my own company when I decided that I wanted to connect businessmen in order to change the Arab world.
2) Do you see your market as local, regional, or global?
The market of my business is regional- I serve the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
3) What are your ambitions? How do you plan to grow?
My ambitions are to make the trade within the Arab market easier and faster, as well as to increase Arabic e-content. To do so, I plan to expand in MENA region. We began in Syria, and then opened offices in Lebanon- I plan to expand our offices to Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia by the end of 2011, which will allow us to sell local services to local customers in those countries. After that, I hope to cover the rest of the region.
4) What were the most important decisions that you made in your company, or what was a key turning point in your approach?
The most important decision I made was to expand my vision and my business from national to international when I decided to covert SearchinSyria.com to SearchinMENA.com.
5) What is the biggest problem that you faced (or are facing) in your company, or what were the biggest mistakes you made as an entrepreneur?
The biggest problem I’ve had is convincing customers to trust our services. And I fear making some mistakes that I haven’t made yet; for instance, I hope I don’t spend the cash that we currently have before I reach the next stage and can find an investor or turn a profit.
6) What is your role in your company? If you have partners, how do you manage your partnership?
My role in my company began with doing everything, from sales and marketing, to business planning, managing, and strategizing to improve the company. My partner, who helped me develop the initial idea, mostly lets me steer the ship because he trusts my abilities.
7) Has owning a company made you financially more secure, or not?
It feels more secure, because it’s my personal vision.
8) How does technology enable your business? What is a technical tool that you cannot live without?
My business is technology; essentially we couldn’t have a company without the internet.
9) What does your family and/or spouse think of your company? Would you advise other people to become entrepreneurs?
Initially, my family didn’t trust my vision, but that shifted when I started to achieve my goals in the local market in Syria. Then they began to believe in what I was doing. But then when I decided to take the business international, no one encouraged me. So now I am proving that I can do that too!
I do recommend to my friends that they consider becoming entrepreneurs and connecting with the network of incubators that will help them build their vision and mission. I also hope to marry an entrepreneur and have many entrepreneurs as children.
10) Have the recent revolutions in the region influenced your approach?
I think that the revolutions have influenced the general market, as they have brought more people online, helped people trust the tools of the internet, and let them see that it can bring change. Those beliefs will generally help us convince my customers to use our services and tools.