Web entrepreneurs: How we made it
HAVE you checked out cashy’s article on crowd funding site Eureeca? It’s the first online marketplace for Middle East-based start-ups and SMEs to source investment from the general public in exchange for equity.
Ever wondered how entrepreneurs get started? Well, in the first of a series on entrepreneurs, cashy found out more about Eureeca’s co-founders, Christopher Thomas and Sam Quawasmi. Just how have they ‘made it’? Here’s what they had to say…
Q: Tell us more about yourself, Chris?
A: “I was born in the UK and am 34-years-old. I always dreamed of being a lawyer so when I grew up, I moved to London to study law.
“However, I went to university during the technology stock boom of 1998-2000. I started trading the markets and got hooked! I thought to myself ‘law is an old man’s game but finance is for the young’, so I made the decision to start my career in the financial markets and move to law at a later part of my life if I still had the passion for it.
“There I was, straight out of university and into a brokerage firm, HY Investment Bank, where I started as a broker but worked my way up through the ranks fairly quickly.
“I then moved to Saudi Arabia as the broker’s vice president of sales at the age of 24. The rest is a long and interesting story.
“From 2005 onwards, I set up, managed and sold a number of businesses in the financial and real estate sectors, operating in the UK, Middle East and South America. When I sold my brokerage company in 2009, it had 60 staff and operated in 16 offices globally.
“My business interests have enabled me to live and work in many areas of the world, including Sao Paulo in Brazil, Miami and various places in the Middle East.
“In fact, for three years I was running my business and living out of a suitcase commuting between eight countries in the MENA region. Great fun! I’m now full-time based in Dubai working on the launch of Eureeca.”
Q: What’s your background, Sam?
A: “I was born in the UK and am 35-years-old. I grew up and finished schooling in Brighton, moved to Southampton for graduate studies and then moved again to Brighton to complete my Masters.
“Soon after graduating, I joined HSBC’s investment banking operation in London as an associate, responsible for fixed income for the MENA region. After a two year stint at HSBC, I moved to Tokyo Mitsubishi Bank in London, again responsible for the MENA region.
“I opened the first stock brokerage in Syria in 2006 and was then fortunate enough to be offered the role of vice president of SHUAA Capital, which allowed me to move to Dubai in 2007.
“I later joined Arqaam Capital in 2010 as director of MENA equities which allowed me to interact with the top management of the region’s blue chip companies.
“I then made the most difficult but fantastically rewarding decision of my career, which was to start my own business and co-founded Eureeca with my old friend, Chris, in November 2011.”
Q: Is there entrepreneurial blood in your families?
A: Chris: “Not really. Both my parents are teachers. My dad, however, did create an IT company in his spare time back in the early 80s – long before the Internet revolutionised and provided the opportunities we have today for new business development.
“As much as my parents wanted to help with my entrepreneurial ambitions, they were not able to provide any seed funding for my first business as they didn’t have much money.
“Interestingly, this is also one of the real issues I see with traditional sources of funding. Many entrepreneurs rely on their family or friends to fund a new business idea. My situation made me realise that there exists a ‘class bias’ with this route; not everyone has friends or family wealthy enough to give them some seed capital.
“This is one of the reasons we founded Eureeca, which is a far more democratic method of raising capital. Everyone, rich or poor gets a chance to have the business validated through the crowd.”
A: Sam: “Not at all. In fact my dad is an ophthalmologist and my mum is a doctor. However, I personally don’t think that matters very much in the world of entrepreneurism. You are a function of your experiences and knowledge you’ve achieved in life.”
Q: What’s your biggest achievement?
A: Chris: I’ve been fortunate to have a fulfilling and reasonably successful life. I believe the path to a successful business is a journey of 1,000 little successes and mistakes that slowly but surely edge you closer to your goal.”
A: Sam: “The people around me. Richard Branson says in his book that you don’t have to be a genius to make a successful entrepreneur. You just have to always surround yourself with very smart people.”
Q: And your biggest mistake?
A: Chris: “I can’t think of any big mistakes I have made but maybe I was a little too late in getting into the property market in the middle of last decade and very late in getting out of the stock market during 2008! Aside from that, I have no regrets and am grateful for what I have.”
A: Sam: “Putting all of my eggs in one basket, in that not only was my ex-career in the financial markets reliant on the global economy, but I also invested all my money in the markets as well. That was not a wise decision. Diversification is crucial in life.”
Q: What are your three top financial tips?
A: Chris: “Set a Budget and live by it. Use a computer program or even just a paper and pencil, whatever works for you. Treat your personal finances like a business. Set yourself financial goals and stick to them. Save now. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60. You should be saving a little bit every month, 5-10% of your income, aside from retirement savings. The sooner you start, the better. Keep an eye on this money but don’t move it around too much. Most importantly, money isn’t everything. Health, family, and happiness are important, too. We spend a lot of time chasing financial goals and not enough time to enjoy what we currently have. So appreciate small pleasures and don’t take yourself too seriously!
A: Sam: “For the reasons above, diversification is key. Always have a strategic, well-planned course of action. Work out best, base and worst case scenarios in any venture or investment before embarking on that journey. Always stick to your stop loss. It is very tempting to dip into your cash pool to save a business or investment your feel passionate about, but in most cases that ends with burning even more cash, so stick to you pre-planned rules.”
What’s your biggest achievement or mistake? Tell cashy by posting a comment below...