Eye On THE NEAR FUTURE: Ashghali Co-Founders Marc Ibrahim And Joseph Hajjar

Marc Ibrahim and Joseph Hajjar are dreaming big as the co-founders of Ashghali, an online marketplace connecting prospective clients with local professionals in Lebanon.

Marc Ibrahim and Joseph Hajjar, co-founders of Ashghali, an online marketplace connecting prospective clients with local professionals, could possibly be any other two 22-year-olds trying to build up their business; however, what’s interesting to notice about them is they are building their venture in Lebanon, a country which has gone through plenty of crises already, and happens to be in the center of a significant economic and political upheaval. “We reside in a country where we awaken every day for some type of news that affects our day to day lives, and people generally have a pessimistic view about the near future, and do not think that they can do something to boost it,” Ibrahim says. “Therefore, entrepreneurs tend to be discouraged by their surroundings to start out a new business. The normal mindset is to discover a well-paying job, also to get out of the united states immediately. However, entrepreneurs should utilize this crisis to find good opportunities by solving problems. As a business owner, you have to think that the near future will be better, and that you ought to be the main one to build it.”

Ibrahim and Hajjar, graduates in computer and communication engineering, and computer science, respectively, from the American University of Beirut (AUB), started focusing on Ashghali throughout their final year in college. However, the newly launched business isn’t their first entrepreneurial endeavorwhen these were 18, the duo developed and exited a mobile fantasy game application for the Lebanese Basketball League. The theory for Ashghali was created out of a desire to greatly help the increasing number of unemployed Lebanese people looking for work. “Their biggest problem is finding clients,” Ibrahim says. “Nowadays, rather than concentrating on what they are actually good at, professionals have to develop their marketing skills to get clients. We realized that such a platform may help the economy in the united states by helping professionals to find clients, and by helping people find the appropriate professionals who are qualified, cost-efficient, and available just with time to greatly help them.”

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According to Ibrahim, although the Lebanese economy relies heavily on the services sector, the sector still is not disrupted by technology. “Actually, people still ask their friends, family, and neighbors if they are searching for something provider,” he says. Ashghali has thus been envisioned as a reliable online marketplace listing the pricing, ratings, reviews, and option of local professionals, furthermore to other criteria that are crucial to the hiring process. Ashghali has already been on iOS, Android, and the net, while the team happens to be focusing on its WhatsApp integration. “Building trust is our priority, since people are likely to either invite these professionals with their homes, or will let them manage a task that counts to them,” Ibrahim says. “Alternatively, you want to offer our professionals an excellent platform which allows them to advertise themselves and get more clients. We intend to support a broader kind of services, so that if you want help with anything, Ashghali will be your go-to platform.”

As with any other marketplace, there are two dimensions to it: frequency of job, and size of job. Ashghali falls in the reduced frequency, quality value category- after all, there is absolutely no guarantee a customer use the platform twice, since people have a tendency to bypass this kind of platform after they have established a connection with something provider. Ibrahim explains that their business design takes this problem under consideration, and embraces it. “Our business design is not the normal commission-based model, but a fee per introduction model that embraces the bypassing problem,” he says. “As an area professional, the user will need to pay a little fee, based on the task valuation for each and every introduction to a potential client. This will ensure that we generate revenues for every connection made between the professional and the client, whether or not your client hires and/or pays through the app or not. This will also ensure that the client receives offers from the right professionals for the task. The platform is cost-free for the clients who are seeking service providers.”

With regards to customer acquisition, the co-founders realized that Ashghali is demand-constrained, unlike 80% in the marketplaces worldwide, Ibrahim says. Professionals have already been easy to get onboard because of the high unemployment rate in the united states, but generating demand has became a lot more difficult. Another hurdle may be the cultural tendency of residents to seek qualified providers by only word-of-mouth. “We are employing many strategies so as to raise the number of tasks being posted on the platform, such as for example direct selling, referral system, seo, social media advertisements, and much more,” Hajjar says. “My advice to other entrepreneurs is to implement analytics in early stages and discover the most efficient channel that brings you the largest number of clients for the cheapest possible cost.”

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However, getting funding for the startup in Lebanon is a much bigger challenge right now, Ibrahim says. “Using the current financial crisis, it really is becoming a lot more difficult to acquire investors who are prepared to choose startup that has were only available in Lebanon. Investors are fleeing out of your country, and high net worth individuals prefer to earn high interest levels on their deposits, rather than buying startups,” he explains. “Unofficial capital controls on deposits are also hurting our operations. There are limits being imposed on cash withdrawals and on international card transactions. There isn’t any investor who accepts to send money to Lebanon because of these restrictions. Also, if you’re fortunate to find somebody who wants to invest, factors to consider that this investor gets the right mentality. In your community, it is extremely common to come across investors who are old school and may cause you problems down the road.”

Thankfully for Ashghali, the team won a US$5,000 prize at an accelerator program organized by the American University of Beirut (AUB), which also led them to getting their first investor up to speed, in addition to a space in the brand new AUB Innovation Park at Beirut Digital District. For the street ahead, Ibrahim and Hajjar are confident that entrepreneurship may be the right choice for them. “My advice to entrepreneurs in Lebanon will be not to pay attention to your parents and friends’ discouragements when you’re starting a business,” Ibrahim says. “Our culture encourages us to be short-term oriented, rather than to take risks. For those who have a vision, you then should work hard each day so as to achieve it, whatever the naysayers. The street to success is meant to be difficult. Otherwise, everyone would do it. In the end, ‘the higher the chance, the bigger the reward.’”

‘TREP TALK: Ashghali Co-Founder Marc Ibrahim’s Tips For Entrepreneurs In Lebanon 1. Start small, think big “The Lebanese market is a little but sufficient market to check your business idea. If you’re a Lebanese, and you’re considering starting your business, it’s smart to launch in Lebanon, and refine your product predicated on the feedback of your visitors. But always remember that you should focus on something that gets the potential to expand to bigger neighboring markets. Always consider scaling up.”

2. Leverage homegrown talent “Lebanon can be an exporter of talent. There are several great Lebanese minds who left the united states and achieved tremendous success. They left, because they didn’t find any possibility to put their talent into use here. The educational system in the united states produces highly qualified graduates who want to focus on challenging problems. With the high unemployment rate in the united states, it’s no problem finding talented people who can develop a highly effective team of A-players.”

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