Andy Abi Haidar is not your average 17-year old. In addition to doing his daily homework, he runs his own award-winning web design company, Qarma Designs.
“Like any twelve year old, I had a lot of free time,” Abi Haidar explains. But he didn’t spend it playing in the yard with his friends- instead, he developed a love for hacking websites. “There was a thing called phishing,” he says, which requires the development of a duplicate website or email to steal people’s password information. At the age of thirteen, he joined a friend’s company; HQ Services, “two days after it was founded.”
Wanting to start his own business, he left two years later, founding Qarma Designs when he was just 15. Since the website’s launch in December 2011, he’s built up a dozen clients, and picked up the Bronze Prize in the Pan-Arab Web Awards earlier this year.
His co-worker at Qarma is designer Matt Corbis, who, fittingly for his generation, he found through social media, on Forcct, which he calls “the Facebook of web developers and designers.”
Corbis is also 17. “The thing I am trying to convey with Qarma is that age doesn’t matter,” says Abi Haidar. “If you make good websites, you don’t have to have a degree or be a big-shot designer.”
His age is only a problem when he is amongst peers, Abi Haidar insists. As soon as he sits down at a business meeting with a client, he says, the age difference disappears. “If I get a client that somebody else introduces to me and we sit down and discuss how we are going to plan the website, that’s where we click, and I guess they forget about the age.”
Even the Baskinta municipality in Lebanon has taken a chance with this bespectacled 17-year-old with braces.
Growing and Iterating
Looking through Qarma’s portfolio, there is some room for improvement, but the designs show a youthful edge. Solea V’s website is a jumble of fonts, but has a hip feel with Polaroid photos and a concrete-textured background evoking the feel of the raw space. The Garrison website is cutely suitable for a kindergarten, and the
Crea website evokes sleek interiors, although its identity as a paint company is a bit hidden.
Qarma’s own website has a sleek innovative, feel itself, as it’s entirely navigable with arrows. This make it a little less intuitive than a website with basic tabs such as About Us, Contact us and Portfolio, but it does distinguish the site. These issues also may be improved upon when Qarma relaunches with a new logo, website and platform in the near future.
To do so, Abi Haidar is, like many his age, tapping into the power of the crowd. “It's about time a company is built around what the public wants and believes is right” Qarma announced on their Facebook page.
It’s a growing process, and but a successful one thus far. Is Qarma making money? “Yeah,” he says with a satisfied smile. “One of the reasons I made Qarma is that I wanted to be independent; not a lot of 15 year olds are financially independent.”
Qarma’s earnings have allowed Abi Haidar to buy himself a new laptop and phone, but the best thing about having his own business is “having something of your own, not being an employee or having a boss telling you what to do.”
Just don’t call him an entrepreneur. “In my head an entrepreneur is somebody who makes an idea, a software, an app. This is not an app; it’s a company. I am web developer, not an entrepreneur.”
Yet already, Abi Haidar has the mindset of a serial entrepreneur, intending to start something else, even if simply another career, once he finishes high school and college.
“Why not have two lines of work?” he says. “I might keep the company and hire designers to complete the main tasks, while I work, let’s say, as a doctor,” he says.
Yet he would advise anybody else, even his 12-year-old brother, to start a company.
“The best part of it is working from your home, in your shorts. It’s amazing,” he says. “Age shouldn’t be something you are afraid of. If you start at 17, you have years ahead of your older peers, so that’s an advantage in my view,” he says.