4 tips from a woman founder in Saudi on how to build a great creative agency

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How does one build a successful full-service creative agency in Saudi Arabia? The answer is simple, if not necessarily easy to execute, says Diana Hassi, founder and Managing Director of Jeddah’s Rubix Labs: build a fantastic team before anything else.

Before she had even landed her first clients, she reminisces on a Skype call, she hired her first employees to handle prospective business, on the faith that it would come in. As her agency has grown – it’s branched out to handle not only all the traditional services of a creative agency but also social media strategy and website services, and she’s quadrupled her team in two years to handle new business – she and her team have stuck to the same mentality, a logical and precise one that belies her German-Lebanese upbringing and “very German” approach to work. “Whether in roles of design/creative, communication strategists, or client servicing, what I look for in candidates is first and foremost talent/capabilities, commitment, then personality.”

After talent and capabilities – an obvious requirement for any company’s new hire – commitment is especially crucial given that the majority candidates that are eligible for Rubix positions are expats who need to be convinced to move to the Kingdom. “In the interviews I conduct I make sure to ask the candidate about their personal objectives [in terms of] saving money and a stable life,” or if they’re looking for a more entrepreneurial experience, she says. “Once I find the right fit, I go into a debate with my finance head to offer the candidate the higher end of the salary/package range,” one that is commensurate with the many “logistical restrictions” inevitably faced by expats working in Saudi. But making new team members feel taken care of has been worth it to Rubix: "I believe that hiring great talent cannot be done by trying to cut costs and I can now confidently say from experience that this stage always pays off," she says.

Finding candidates who fit in with the team culture is a final important aspect to Hassi’s hiring process. “We look for candidates that are fun, friendly, caring and who can bring fun to our agency culture…. We want our team to want to be there, that is key to making it through hectic and stressful deadlines with smiles and laughter at the office.”

It’s bold move, you might think, to put a team in place before you know how you’ll pay them – or even whether you’ll be able to. But Hassi wasn’t starting from scratch. “When we first launched we had no clients on board,” she says. “But I’d been working in this market for seven years [in Dubai, with Yahoo! and Maktoob] by the time I launched Rubix, so people who knew me had instant trust and proactively referred their industry colleagues to me." 

Further, she knew an agency like Rubix would fill a gap in the market. When her husband moved to Saudi Arabia in 2009, she used her wealth of experience in the industry “to observe that there are… dissatisfied clients when it comes to quality creative ideas and project execution…. This is what sparked the very first idea in my head to found Rubix Labs.”

It’s not just the breadth of services offered, however, that distinguishes Rubix Labs, Hassi says. “Huge credit goes to our creative director Ahmad Kammoun” for helping to set the strategy of the agency, as well as producing work whose quality makes clients brag to their colleagues. Rubix’s word-of-mouth business has been crucial to their landing big clients. Once her team landed one Unilever brand, that led to another, and then another.

Since launch, Rubix has won clients not only in Saudi, but elsewhere in the GCC as well as in Lebanon. Besides continuing to target the region as a whole, for the near future Hassi is feeling bullish: “I want to continuously grow,” she says. “It’s not enough for me to stop at 22 employees. I see Rubix as a market leader in terms of thought leadership in the latest in digital trends, rolling out strategies, web development, and social media.”

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