Tahawal - A Digital Agency Story in Dubai

Idea

Tahawal began with over a shisha discussion between a CEO and his employee.

I began this journey to CEO of Tahawal when I was a Business Development Manager for InternsME, which is the leading platform in the Middle East for connecting employers to entry-level talent for internships, traineeships, and graduate roles.  Over a shisha at Al Manzil Courtyard in Downtown Dubai with my CEO, Jean-Michel Gauthier, I came to a revelation:  Considering 80% of employers that inquire for interns are looking for Graphic Design, Social Media, and Digital Marketing, why don't we just hire a team in-house, and offer these services as an agency? 

And it began.

Developing the Idea

Over the next few months, I obsessed over the idea of offering a familiar service built around a completely new model that would cater to SMEs and Startups who are struggling to control costs while attempting to build a name for themselves.  I continued working for InternsME, continued speaking to employers who were looking for Digital Marketing candidates, and continued counting all the advantages that a company like this would have:

  1. Unrestricted Access to 100,000+ talented, digitally native candidates in the UAE
  2. Market proof that companies are seeking this type of work
  3. A business model that controls costs enough to offer below-market rates
  4. A pool of leads backed by a trusted and respected brand
  5. An eager MBA graduate ready to put on his big-boy pants (that's worth something, right?)

Execution

Ideas Are Cheap, Execution is Everything - Chris Sacca

This statement couldn't be more true.  The idea was fun.  Talking about it was fun.  Heck, even writing the Business Summary was fun - the first time.  

In numbers, before we began our full-time leap into entrepreneurship, Tahawal required:

  • 3 versions of a 3-page business teaser
  • 8 versions of a 13-page business plan
  • 14 versions of financial projections
  • 4 versions of my CEO contract
  • 5 versions of the Memorandum of Association
  • And over a dozen meetings with my board and investors

And our process was quite smooth compared to most other entrepreneurship endeavors. 

Defining Culture

The culture of Tahawal was one of the most important factors for us to define and develop.  We knew this company was going to be our life and it is crucial that Tahawal is seen as a comfortable and trustworthy haven for myself, my team, and my clients.  We truly believe that a happy, functional family requires happy, functional family members.

At the heart of Tahawal is communication, transparency and ethics.  Every action that comes from our team is driven by these principles.  We educate our clients on our entire process, we empower them to learn and develop their own marketing capabilities, and we strive to maintain open communication and transparency at all costs - even if it involves bad news. 

We believe our clients appreciate this - and it certainly helps us sleep better at night. 

Lessons Learned 

There have certainly been quite a few lessons learned along the way to launching Tahawal - some harder lessons than others.  So our first nugget of value to our online followers will simply a checklist of things to help you through when starting a business in Dubai:

  • Stay true to your ethical principles - at times, they will feel like all that is left.
  • Read and question everything - this is a big step and all detailed need to be considered.
  • Find mentors you trust and do just that, trust them.
  • Harness relationships - a burned bridge is a harder path than a detour.
  • Smooth admin processes will never ever be smooth - ... like, seriously, ever.
  • Patience is a virtue; so is creativity - bottlenecks aren't always roadblocks, get creative. 
  • Make an ever-growing task checklist - checking off tasks feels good, idleness doesn't.
  • Schedule time for yourself and your family - there will always be more stuff to do (refer to your task list), but decide when you're going to do it and when you're not going to do it.  

...and finally,

  • Spend your extra hours working, not worrying - a productive, hard-working entrepreneur is good; however, a stressed, tired entrepreneur is rarely productive.

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