Is there also perhaps a misunderstanding that entrepreneurs are always inventors, that you can only be an entrepreneur if you have created something new from scratch?
ST: Absolutely. It’s incredible how many times I heard people say, “Well, it’s not as if you invented anything.” They complained that I didn’t come up with Facebook! But entrepreneurship is about creating a business, creating jobs, and creating opportunities – it doesn’t necessarily mean creating a completely new product. If so, there’d only be one car company or one airline. The challenge for us to is to adapt the existing ideas and make them relevant for the Middle East.
You launched Maktoub with Hussam Khoury. How important is it for an entrepreneur to not go it alone? Who else did you look to for advice?
ST: It was fantastic to have such a good partner as Hussam – and we’re a good team. I’m the aggressive, risk-taking one, who always wants to leap into things, while he is the one who calms me down and thinks more coolly about plans – the wise, if you like! When it comes to the internet, that is a really good approach.
Now that you have moved on from Maktoub, you are involved with a range of other companies that offer more defined internet services. Is that a lesson learned from the earlier business – that you need to specialize in order to find room in the market?
ST: At the Jabbar group, we are focusing on advertising, which is a massive part of the internet, and e-commerce – a big growth area in the Middle East. Through Souq.com and CashU.com we are building better models in online payments and the logistics of delivery, and we’re using Aramex’s expertise to facilitate this. But there’s also the problem of having to deal with 22 countries. Each one has its own laws, regulations, taxes, and so forth and building mass across them takes time.
Working in the internet industry, how much ongoing entrepreneurship does there have to be to keep pace with ongoing developments?
ST: In the internet industry it’s vital. Consumer habits change rapidly in e-commerce – for instance, people seem to have moved away from auctions to more of a straight purchase system. So, companies that are successful today aren’t guaranteed to be successful tomorrow and they need to keep innovating to stay ahead of the competition. The internet industry is very difficult to predict. Who could have foreseen the success of Facebook or Zinger five years ago? Remember Alta Vista? That was my favourite search engine 10 years ago, and it has all but disappeared.
You are a prominent user of, and believer in, social media. Is this an important new tool in an entrepreneur’s armoury?
ST: I think it is vital for all businesses. It is a new way to share knowledge very quickly, it is bypassing existing sources from information and can empower more and more people. Three months ago, CashU still didn’t have a Twitter account, and now we already have 900 followers, to whom we share competitions, promotions and advice and tips on e-commerce.
After the Maktoob deal, you could quite easily have spent the next 20 years relaxing on a beach in Aqaba. What keeps you going with the new ventures?
ST: Almost as soon as the deal with Yahoo was done, I understood that being an entrepreneur actually isn’t about money at all! The day before it was, definitely, but the day after I realised I still had the same hunger. I didn’t take a holiday, I simply focused on the other businesses and we are working harder than ever to develop more success stories. Entrepreneurship for me now is about helping the CEOs in the Jabbar group’s eight companies to achieve their potential. I don’t want one Maktoob every five years, we want five a year. Success is contagious!
Read more from the Explorer:-
1. Explore the Explorer: Underground, Overground
2. Explore the Explorer: The Net in Networking