Beginnings can be intimidating whether you’re fresh out of college or on the verge of a career shift. With different opportunities to choose from, the decision-making process of hopping on and off board jobs and projects can be confusing, even overwhelming.
Unless you learn from those who walked similar paths before you.
For 16 years, Bashar Al-Ostad has navigated government work, the private sector, as well as the world of entrepreneurship. With each new experience, Bashar honed his skills, fortified his expertise, and refined his understanding of his professional purpose and drive.
Planting and Nurturing the Seeds
Bashar’s journey begins as early as childhood with the influence that his father had on him. Growing up to a man who made his wealth from real estate and stocks, Bashar witnessed what it’s like to be able to read the market needs and to act upon them wisely. This planted a seed of interest for businesses, the courage to take risks, and the fluidity to move on from one project to the next.
Not many years later during high school, he developed a knack for technology which prompted him to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in internet engineering at the University of Portsmouth, UK. For a few years after graduating, Bashar took the classic postgraduate path, first in the private sector as an IT projects supervisor and then in the public sector as an internet engineer.
Steady and secure as these opportunities were, the bureaucracy that they entailed was “a graveyard for talent,” as Bashar puts it. “I felt I had much more to learn and contribute in life.” And with that, he decided to return to the UK, this time to expand his understanding of technology from a business perspective by pursuing a Master’s degree in digital enterprise management.
Although such knowledge is available online to motivated self-learners, Bashar was fortunate to take the direct academic path of postgraduate studies.
Rounding up his studies, Bashar was ready to shed his old skin and move on to a new challenge. With newfound knowledge that combines technology and business, Bashar was on the lookout for a problem rather than an answer.
“I need to be sure of the existence of a problem first, then I need to know if I can actually solve it,” he describes his hunting strategy for a business opportunity. “Finally, I prioritize the [problems] that I feel the most passion towards [solving].”
Aim. Lock Target. Invest.
Like many youths his age, Bashar is an eager traveler who’s keen on experiencing the world’s cultural richness and diversity firsthand. As tour agencies fell out of fashion, online booking websites replaced them, making way for a new global market. However, none of it was growing out of the region.
In spite of the great success of global online booking leaders, Bashar saw the lack of local or localized competitors as a market gap worth addressing. Accordingly, in 2007, he reached out to Booking.com and partnered with them, introducing the region’s first Arabic hotel booking website, Fendeq.com.
As a Booking.com affiliate, Bashar had access to their vast database of hotels and all that was required of him was building a localized Arabic interface for the region’s customers. For around four years, this arrangement was a great success. But what started off as a privilege soon turned against the project and became its own nemesis when Booking.com started seeing successful affiliates, such as Fendeq.com, as their own competitors.
Despite the different measures enforced by Booking.com to curb affiliates’ market share, Fendeq.com managed to survive, however, at a cost: the company’s growth curve was flattening.
Considering how the market favors pioneers, Fendeq.com could have remained the number one leader had it developed autonomy at an early stage. With a small team catering to the website’s minimal needs, Fendeq.com lacked the institutional capacity to grow.
“As with any new venture, the risks are stacked against you as you never know if this is even a viable business model,” says Bashar as he looks back on his endeavors. “You get to know this as you start and take the first steps.”
Seeing that Fendeq.com was past its peak of success, Bashar had a decision to make. Either to commit solely to Fendeq.com, limiting with it his own growth, or to move on to his next business challenge while monitoring it at a distance.
Bashar chose to move on.
Setting a Time-To-Market Short Sprint Record
After a brief one-year stop at iFlix as country manager, a new opportunity presented itself to Bashar. But unlike its predecessor, it was timely and required quick action.
In a bid to digitize its operations, the Kuwaiti government issued a new biometric passport in March 2017 with a deadline for all citizens to upgrade to it by the end of 2018. For many citizens, issuing a new passport was not a problem. However, what was inconvenient to some travelers was carrying two passports in case of long-term, multiple-entry visa holders - the old one with visas, and the new official one.
Niche as the growing market need was, it remained unmet despite the straightforwardness of the solution. That’s when Bashar set out to supply the market with a simple and elegant passport wallet that is fit for two passports and multiple cards. What wasn’t simple was working against the clock to deliver the product before other competitors did and before 2018 ended.
To succeed, Bashar had to be agile and quick on his feet - a challenge that he was enabled to meet thanks to his full-time devotion to the project, his financial ability to bootstrap the product into the market, and the practical and academic knowledge that he has curated over the years.
For everything else, Bashar tapped into the shared pool of resources that the online world offers, beginning with branding, then production, marketing, and sales.
Phase 1: Branding
Hunting for talent can be time-consuming unless you take a shortcut like the one Bashar took. A few scrolls into Freelancer.com were all he needed to hire the right talent for the job. Once all aspects of branding and design were delivered, Mood was ready to materialize into a product.
Phase 2: Production
For utmost efficiency, Bashar knew China was the production hub he needed for producing Mood. This time, his resource hunt redirected him to Alibaba.com where the best manufacturers and suppliers worldwide are one click away. After inspecting and approving the samples he received from China, 2000 Mood wallets were ready for production in four different colors.
Phase 3: Marketing
With production underway, it was important for Bashar to prepare the market for Mood and build anticipation for its arrival. To achieve synergy, it was mandatory for Mood’s marketing communication to be as simple and straightforward as the product itself.
With clear messaging, professionally shot images, and engaging teasers, the market was ready and eager for Mood.
Phase 4: Setting Up Shop
Up until this point, everything was unfolding seamlessly for Mood and it was crucial for the final step, the shopping experience, to follow suit. Although Zyda was then at an early stage during which it only catered to restaurants, their flexibility and problem-solving mindset enabled Bashar to set up his online store - the perfect front from which Mood sold out in no time.
In a matter of 60 days, Mood developed from an idea into a high-in-demand selling product. However, it was designed from the start as a timely, fit-for-purpose product that was expected to eventually witness a decrease in demand.
As Mood neared the end of its prime, Bashar’s journey proceeded towards a new destination: Zyda.
The Business Value Butterfly Effect
Reaping the Value You Sow
What Bashar lacked in all of his previous entrepreneurial endeavors, Zyda made up for generously; and that is the collective power of individuals to push an institution's boundaries of growth.
From a Zyda client to Zyda’s chief marketing officer, Bashar is proud to belong to a team that dedicates all of its resources to enabling its community while helping each other grow towards new horizons and realize bigger potential every day.
Where he goes and grows from here is yet to unfold...