Entrepreneur par excellence

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Winner of the regional TV reality show The Entrepreneur in 2012, Loulou Khazen Baz is the CEO and founder of Nabbesh.com the Middle East’s first online marketplace that connects businesses around the world with skilled freelance talent. Prior to launching Nabbesh in 2012, Loulou was part of the founding team of UAE based venture capital and incubation firm ActiveM where she focused on the planning and execution of new start-ups. Since moving to the UAE, Loulou’s career made different forays that included marketing to project management across several sectors that included financial services with DaimlerChrysler, and real estate with Dubai Properties. In January, Startup Oman hosted her as a conclusion to their month’s events that focused on female entrepreneurship.

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Excerpts from her interview with The Woman.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career path and how you became an entrepreneur?

“I began my career in the hospitality industry in Dubai in early 2002 where my core areas were sales and marketing. I was keen on getting a first-hand experience in finance and so joined Daimler Chrysler dealing with distributors around the region concentrating on their financial products. During this time, I also enrolled in a number of courses related to project management and finance. It was an amazing learning experience. After that I decided to change course and jumped into marketing working with Dubai Properties where I learned a lot about marketing, branding and positioning. By then, I had started thinking of launching my own business. I met Salam Saadeh founder of Active M who wanted to start a venture capital firm for entrepreneurs to access funds. I worked there for two years. It was the stepping stone to start a business on my own.”

How did Nabbesh.com come about?

“Working with a venture capital firm taught me a lot of things. Firstly, if I became an entrepreneur without total commitment to the business, no one was going to believe in me. When I left Active M, I did not have any business idea but decided to take the leap. I knew that I wanted whatever I started to have a social impact and give back to the community. I wanted to help entrepreneurs and start-ups. I simply wasn’t interested in a full-time job and that’s how Nabbesh.com came up. I wanted experienced professions to have access to a channel where they could market themselves and their skills and get hired on demand.”

What exactly does Nabbesh.com facilitate?

“We are a marketplace that helps connect companies with freelance talent on demand. We have them manage projects and make payment to the talents. It gives businesses a lot of choice to work with the best talent for their projects. It also saves a lot of money. Instead of having an employee full-time, they can hire freelance talent. And it works out 43 per cent less to hire freelancers.”

What growth trajectory has Nabbesh.com had since its launch?

“We have 80,000 freelancers and 5000 companies hiring on the platform. We have created over 11,000 freelance job opportunities. Companies pay on the delivery of the project. We charge a 12 per cent commission on the value of the project. The freelancers go through a four-step screening process that includes interviews before they can bid for jobs. When a company posts a job with their requirements, we match them with three to five people who are available and can do the job within the budget thereby helping save a lot of time spent on filtering and interviewing people. Freelancers can join for free and anyone is free to sign up on nabbesh.com.”

Can you tell us about the reality show The Entrepreneur?

“It was pure co-incidence and would ultimately become my first source of funding. I am normally not the type who enjoys these competitions but was grateful for the opportunity. Winning a million dirhams was amazing.  The money was really beneficial to help me build a minimum viable product and raise more funds for the business.”

Where do you and Nabbesh.com go from here?

“I would love it to be a huge success story in the Middle East region. I think talent is a space which is very exciting, and globally, we are seeing a massive shift towards self-employment. The millennials are much more ambitious and aspirational and look for variety and growth in their careers. I see Nabbesh.com as a pillar in the MENA economy where ambitious young professionals can find the opportunity to update their skills and earn an income. I see it as a place for companies to become leaner, agile and be able to do much more through outsourcing.”

How has the journey been?

“It has been hard and challenging. I went into the technology business without having a background but I learnt a lot on the job. It definitely takes a big toll on your personal life; I work on weekends and I haven’t had a choice to take holidays. It’s tough and one needs to have support of the family or spouses.”

Do you think it’s more difficult for a woman to be an entrepreneur?

“It is difficult to be an entrepreneur, period. It might be difficult for a woman in some of the conservative countries but I personally haven’t faced a challenge being a woman. I have a supportive husband who respects and appreciates that I am ambitious and understands what’s important for me.”