THE MAN BEHIND THE BIGGEST TECH EXIT THE REGION HAS EVER SEEN, TALABAT'S FORMER CEO MOHAMAD JAFFAR, TELLS YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS IN DOHA THAT BEING A GOOD HUMAN BEING IS A PREREQUISITE TO RUNNING A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS.
BY AYSWARYA MURTHY
To the young entrepreneurs assembled at Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC) that evening, Mohamad Jaffar was nothing less than a rock star. He was one of their own, and was blazing a trail for them to follow. He was living proof of the official coming of age of the region's tech startup scene. Within five years, Jaffar took over a small online food delivery business based out of Kuwait, expanded it to the rest of the GCC, became a major player in the space in all six markets and sold the business to a giant internet company for $170 million (QR690 million). And the fact that he was extremely personable and refreshingly honest was just an added bonus. At this Global Entrepreneur Week talk, Jaffar charmed everyone with a fundamental piece of wisdom – carry on your business ethically and success will come knocking at your door.
The die is cast
For as long as he could remember, Jaffar wanted to be an entrepreneur. He would spend his summers making himself useful at his father's company, before he was shipped off to England at 12 for his studies. “After I completed my graduation in economics, I wanted to come to Kuwait and start a business. But not only was a huge culture shock waiting for me (as I had gotten used to the European mentality and the efficiency of the Western world), I quickly learnt that I understood nothing about business,” he says. Jaffar's father convinced him to put his entrepreneurial plans on hold and gain some real-world experience. “So I started off my career in corporate banking where I remained for four years, understanding the foundations of business, how a company is run, how to deal with people and the importance of efficient systems, corporate governance and policies in a company.” In fact, that is another piece of advice he has for aspiring entrepreneurs. “You can't just dive into entrepreneurship after graduation. You need the experience that you can get at big institutions like investment banks. And when do you know you are ready to take the plunge into the unknown? After three to five years, you'll realise that you are learning at a slower rate than when you first started out. That's the right time. And entrepreneurship is not a part-time hobby either,” he continued, answering a question on a lot of people's minds. Many incubators like QBIC and ictQatar's Digital Incubation Center are grappling to convince bright young people with ideas to chuck their cushy government/corporate jobs and risk it all for a chance to build something. “If you are giving a part of your time, you'll never achieve your goals,” Jaffar said, candidly. “After all, we are all humans and we can only do so much in a day. And being an entrepreneur is not easy. You are always thinking, getting calls all day and all night, always travelling and taking big risks with your own money. Many prefer a normal 9-5 job; wrap up work, go home and watch TV. But others want to make a difference, want to do more.”
Jaffar says back in the mid-2000s, food and beverage ventures were the craze among young Kuwaitis. “I wasn't particularly interested in F&B. I always knew that I was suited for operational roles; I like to roll up my sleeves and get down to work. But it was a trend for young Kuwaiti entrepreneurs to open their own restaurants. In Kuwait right now, the most popular restaurants are local brands, which are doing much better than a lot of the international franchise brands. Really, I was just following the trend when I set up my own little restaurant with the help of my father.” And thus the die was cast.
“There is one question I get asked all the time – what did I see in Talabat. Well,