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.

Qatar Today - - BUSINESS > LISTENING POST -

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,

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