(Image via mpt.gov.lb)
Instrumental in the creation of the Beirut Digital District, bringing Lebanon ever closer to faster internet and now chairman of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, Nicolas Sehnaoui is a tech scene mover and shaker that has learned a thing or two about himself, the tech world and Lebanon’s entrepreneurial scene.
Having recently launched a mobile game with Game Cooks, the former Minister for Telecommunications in Lebanon shared with Wamda what he knows.
Lazy people are the most intelligent. This is because they will find a way to do something in five minutes that the non-lazy guy will do in 24 hours. I put more energy and thought in how to do something with minimal effort. I’m not into the mainstream routines for 9 to 5.
Don’t be a slave to the system. I am anti-trend.It’s very common to hear people say that ‘your enemy is your comfort zone, kill it’ but for me the comfort zone is very important; I say increase it. If you are comfortable and creative and producing in a nice environment, you’re producing more and selling more. Don’t kill your creativity, be at ease with yourself and do what you like to do. I certainly cannot give my maximum power if i’m not motivated. I discovered this early.
I am approachable. When I was a minister I was reachable between 12am and 1am each night on Twitter to answer questions. Now, entrepreneurs want me for advice. None of them look for the same thing, it depends on which point of the curve they’re on. Generally speaking I can offer them ideas on their business but a lot of them want network.
My country is my motivator. That’s why I gave it my maximum when I was at the ministry. And I’m motivated to change the world, for sure.
I’m completely undisciplined. I’ve tried a thousand times to abide by exercises in the morning, and always after a few months I’ve stopped but at the same time when I set to do something, 99.9 percent of the time, I do it. I’m just finishing a book now, publishing in one month. It’s for my kids mainly, so it’s private but it was historical research, family trees, pictures, drawings. It’s a huge work and I started that six months ago.
Our culture is not ready to accept failure. In Lebanon the country is too small, everyone knows everyone, a person’s reputation is important and if a person has a history of having failed people don’t trust him, which is bad. If you’re one of 300 million then the system auto-corrects. If you’re in a small country you don’t have this diversity, the macroeconomics to have the balance.
I think in Lebanon the digital, tech community is a place where we can set different kinds of rules. Because we’re into venture capital, failure is announced as par for the course. It’s a mature community that is living the rules and the culture that you’ll find in the United States.
We don’t have the time to breath, to relax. I live on my iPhone. I’m like a 14-year-old kid. It bothers everyone around me. I had a Filofax in the old days and then a Palm. I reminisce about a time before my time, which is weird. It’s the time of my parents or my grandparents; there were fewer people on the planet and we were moving more slowly. I don’t really like the speed of the time we’re living in. We need to relax, to feel time passing, to think. Not all the time should be like that but there should be periods where we are living slowly.
I am not all that techy by nature. However I would like to live in the future so I follow up on new technologies. I am also a firm believer in the exponential growth of information technologies and their impact on changing the world at a formidable pace. I think that in the decades to come they will tear down some of the walls we used to think where unbreakable like eternal life, space travel and artificial intelligence.
I am a gamer. My first game would have been ‘Pong’, the tennis one. I would play for hours. Then came the shooting and space invader games. I used to play Age of Empire, a real game of wits. It teaches you a lot about geopolitics, even though it’s very simplified. and you have to win money and use religion, and weapons, it’s a miniature of civilization fights throughout history. There’s not much time now for gaming but I do play games on my phone when I find one that is addictive and can take away the stress after a long day of work.
I don’t miss politics. I mean, I’m not out of it. For me it’s sacrifice. When I’m there with all the negative things that come out I wonder if it’s not too much to bear. I’m just going in to do some good work, to help my country, to have my kids stay in Lebanon. Even the nice things, people looking up at you, I’m not going there for that. If this was what I wanted there are ways that are nicer.
There is an absence of accountability in Lebanese politics. When it comes to our internet this goes for some incompetent highly ranked employees that failed miserably and even for those who deliberately stopped the release of the bandwidth. Those same employees are still to this date preventing the infrastructure from reaching the required level. The new state of the art fiber-optic backbone is fully functional but was not put into operation since I left the ministry, for no valid reason. Bear in mind that apart from the heavy users, the speed will only increase dramatically once the fiber to the home project is implemented, but it’s a project that will take between one to four years. It has been announced in the 2020 plan by Minister Boutros Harb.
If you want to keep up with Nicolas Sehnaoui you can follow him on Twitter at @NicolaSehnaoui.