How Morocco's Highness beat tall poppy syndrome

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What to do when your team is too qualified, and too expensive, for your own country?

Highness, a Moroccan user experience agency, decided to look for American clients.

Hamza Labrinssi, a university dropout and web designer often worked a few freelance gigs with his brother Yassir, a developer.

When Yassir came back to Morocco after studying in Canada, they launched Highness in December 2011 with one objective: offering quality design work focusing on user experience, leveraging their previous work and contacts. The company was based in the small town of Kénitra; Yassir lived there, Hamza in Dubai.

Tall poppies

Hamza and Yassir Labrinssi. (Images via Highness)

After growing well for two years the Highness team wanted to scale, but it wasn’t possible in Morocco.

“We have a very good design director, a very good team of developers,” marketing manager Badr Nasrallah said, which meant their prices were higher than what you’ll find on the Moroccan market. “We were always beat by the competition.”

However, their prices were lower than the ones in North America. The company saw an opportunity and started responding to bids.

Morocco can do quality

Convincing the first North American clients hasn’t been easy.

“[Americans] liked our work but the fact that we were far [away] was an inconvenient,” Nasrallah said. Clients were afraid of the time difference and billing issues.

“This eliminated us after a few talks.”

Greenscreen Animals, an animal images bank, was amongst their first US clients. The company wanted to redo their website, they didn’t really care where the company was from as long as the quality was there, said producer James Knapp.

“Our only hesitation was that they are a new company with young staff, and although their work looked great we weren't sure if they had the experience. Those hesitations dissipated very quickly once we began to speak with Hamza Labrinissi and his team,” he said.

In January 2015, Hamza Labrinissi decided to stop all activities in Dubai and open an office in Canada to get closer to Highness’ North American clients, and have a more appropriate billing structure

In the Morocco office.

Ryan Blad, currently in charge of marketing at protein supplement company Sun Warrior has commissioned Highness twice already.

“[We weren’t worried] because our main contact was in Canada and [spoke] English,” he said.

Currently, Highness has roughly twenty employees, all Moroccans, including five in Canada who studied in North America, and count Redbull and Apple among their c

Now diversification

Since it opened the Canadian branch the company has started to work with non-technical startup founders to help them prototype their ideas. It’s a service that has a lot in common with that of Moroccan company Hidden Founders.

At the same time, the company is looking to grow in Morocco.

“People tend to think Morocco is only for outsourcing,” said Nasrallah. “It’s our role to change that image, to prove that in Morocco, we have skills.”  

The agency’s client list is currently 70 percent based in North America, but it’s decided to look for clients in Morocco now as well.

“We want to increase the quality of digital in Morocco When we see ads, websites, mobile apps on the Moroccan market, the quality is really very modest,” he said.

The Highness founders believe they can tap into companies’ large budgets which are currently being put to use on average work. They want to compete with these agencies, even if they have to drop their fees at the beginning.

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