#026 - Rasha Hamdan - Founder of Yislamoo
Embracing arabic culture and arabic language into greeting cards, e-cards, envelopes & more :)
Don't fall too much in love with your idea....it will be sculpted and shaped by your customers and what they need, you need to be able to accept that. .
Rasha Hamdan is a lady on a mission and a leading entrepreneur from Jordan. She is the Founder of Yislamoo. A business that creates greeting cards in Arabic. "Yislamoo" is an elaborate way of saying thank you in Arabic. It translates to a prayer: “may you be safe from harm”, which is the individual’s way of returning the favor or gift on spot. Yislamoo celebrates the beauty of contemporary Arabic culture and language prevalent throughout all major holidays and occasions.
Yislamoo is dedicated to enhancing social correspondence by helping loved ones, friends, families and colleagues celebrate important holidays and everyday occasions throughout our region, in their own language and their own skin.
Their first edition of greeting cards was produced à la postcard style as an initiative to preserve the earth’s natural resources by using less paper.
Their newly added free e-card collection is a step further to bring people closer to one another by reaching out in any time or occasion to show someone how special they really are.
This is Rasha's story and her take on succeeding as an entrepreneur. No journey is easy but if you stay focused, remain persistent you can achieve your best and overcome your challenges.
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Inside this Episode
Below is a brief on the answers to the questions but they are answered in greater detail on the podcast.
- Question 1: What does Yislamoo mean? 'Yislamoo' is an elaborate way of saying thank you in Arabic and it basically sums up the beauty of the Arabic culture and beliefs because people in the Arab world are driven by generosity and giving back. We were raised to return the favour so if somebody invites you to their house, then you have to invite them back and give them a gift back or if somebody does a favour for you and you have nothing to give them you thank them with a prayer which means 'May be safe from harm' which beautifully summarises Yisalmoo as we are in greetings and gift giving.
- Question 2: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Entrepreneurial Journey and How your particular journey into starting your own ventures came about? Rasha says, when it comes to greeting cards and design of greeting cards I've always liked to do that I am a designer originally and I am independent branding and design consultant. I've worked with a number of corporations and SME's and throughout my work we was had to do alot of greetings cards by the end of the year and received lots of received lots of great feedback. I also stumbled across another challenge which was that Arabic in visual when it comes to type size and typography and people getting used to seeing text in Arabic versus text in English was still sub par. People thought that Arabic in terms of visual was a bit inferior and that kind of bothered me sad and I knew this was not true and that we had so much else to offer which is where it started as a seed idea.'
- Question 3: Tell us a little bit about your business and what is your vision for your business? Rasha says 'Yislamoo started off as printed cards to be sold and now we are now taking this on to a larger, bigger scope which is celebrating occasions and highlighting what forms of gestures and greetings we would give out during these occasions. My vision ultimately is see Yislamoo in terms of print and electronic format to cater to every imaginable occasion in the Middle East and and have and have major holidays synonymous with Yislamoo. So if Christmas is coming I would very much hope that people begin to think what Yislamoo has to offer for Christmas, Eid or Ramadan. So we can celebrate those holidays in our own language, in our own skin and in our signature sense of humour.
- Question 4: Why do you think there has been a lack of Arabic Language Print? I don't think there is a lack of Arabic print I think there is a wealth of Arabic print but there is also a barrier that is sad about contemporary Arabic language. As a language people are not used to seeing arabic in print because it sort of degrades the formal Arabic or the standard Arabic. We speak differently than the way we write and people are always battling and thinking that this is a degenerative form of Arabic expression and we can't use it because it shows a decline in our culture which I totally disagree with because everyday Arabic the way we speak different the way we speak now is completely different to the way we spoke 50 years ago and so there is an evolution of our Arabic language and this needs to be documented in print and in media and everything
- Rasha explained 'that in universities in Jordan for example when catchphrases are being used or sentences are going viral or are popular expression but even just 20 years ago those catchphrases or sentences would've been different to what it was 10 years ago and what it is today. You are seeing those beautiful sentences and expressions evolve and change and we are not documenting them nor are we celebrating them.
- Question 4: How effective was this method for you in generating funds? Very effective. Yislamoo achieved their goal in raising the funds that they needed and they were truly hands on from the set up and preparation of everything in terms of preparation, valuation to helping us position ourselves perfectly with potential investors. They helped with marketing and were extremely hands on with follow ups and milestones that Yislamoo reached, managing the campaign and its very highly recommended, especially for the first stage or the seed capital or the first round of funds
- Question 5: Did Eureeca help you clarify your message more or were you very clear about your Message from the start? They helped fine tune Yislamoo message. You have experts on board helping you out with every aspect of the process. You have the marketing, legal and investments expert. What more can you ask for? For someone who is raising the first round of funds, its very hard to have all those allies with you, if you are going alone against, say an angel investor. You have too to know how to protect your rights and your company and your valuation and this is something that Eureeca will back you up with.
- Question 6: Was this the first time you had done funding? We looked around the middle east and their is always a gap between finding funding for a start up and going full throttle. So you rarely find people willing to be there at the very beginning if you are a start up. You need someone in the middle that is willing to be the stepping stone and Eureeca fills this gap
- Question 7: What stood out for you in terms of the support they gave you? Everything! They are stationed in Beirut and the UAE and we have been skyping nearly on a daily basis. Eureeca have been very supportive in everything. They would help us reach our first milestone and then they would help us navigate the next milestone and what to do. Its highly recommended for start ups. She says that it is also a great idea to be targeting more investors instead of one. If your business has different aspects which creates many challenges, for example on-line or eCommerce or logistics or marketing, then it would be a good idea to go after investors who have solid backgrounds in those areas and help you leverage your business. Having more investors from different industries within your model would definitely be an advantage.
- Question 4: Can you give us an insight into day to day business activities? How do you organise your day and how do you prioritize? Rasha explains how she doesn't think her day is organised and she explains this in her message. But she did say she did a lot of strategic planning ahead and then you face challenges on an everyday basis and you try and juggle every day tasks. You then evaluate it until the end of the day and if you haven't achieved your to do list you stay up four more hours until its done.
- Question 5: Are you more on the business side of Yislamoo or more on the creative side of the business? Rasha sits on both side of the business. To keep costs down Rasha doesn't have full time employees and most of her activities she outsources. She also collaborates with artists on a commission basis. She is very much hands on but tries to outsource everything to talented, talented individuals instead of hiring 'B - level' full timers.
- Question 6: How does being an Arab women entrepreneur affect your family life? Rasha has a home based business and so working from home has been easier as her son is now at university so she has the time to focus on her business. She has been able to balance with working from home with her personal life.
- Question 7: what did you do in your previous life before the days of Yislamoo? Rasha as an Art Director in agencies in the Middle East in terms of advertising and design agencies in the Middle East. Rasha then opened her own practice which was focused on branding and design consulting which she still does with select clients on a more minimal basis though. However, right now Yislamoo is a full time project.
- Question 8: Why did you make the jump from career woman to Entrepreneur? What was going on in your life? Rasha has always liked working independently and not 'punching in and punching out'. Rasha also explains that when you work for a client you are always working on their selective needs and a lot of the time this selectiveness is coming from a place of fear and always prefer to take the safer route which for Rasha is a really big turn off. Rasha discovered when she first started with her test batch of greeting cards that her customers liked her humourous and wacky approach and this confirmed her feeling that lots of clients worked from a place of fear.
- Question 9: Is Social Media a big part of your business and if yes, which tools are working for you right now? Social Media is an integral part of Yislamoo. Its not just to connect with customers but also fans and potential partners and retailers who have found us via social media. The countries we are in is because social media has helped us reach out to these partners who have found us online. Rasha suggests that you should be on as many platforms as possible and then tweak your message to the type of platform that it is. The type of product she is distributing also has an effect on the social network tool that is used and she also says it is important to keep your message focused and clear about how you display your message.
- Question 10: Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur? Rasha's top point here was accept failure as it is and nothing more. We shouldn't dwell on it we just move on and work through it. Perseverance is your friend.s
- Question 11: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Rasha's top 3 skills are a) be very focused b) be able shift and manoeuvrable as the market changes and don't fall too much in love with your idea Open to learning and ongoing development c) Always be generous and respectful of all your relationships not just customers but everyone. It builds a bigger wave and works more effectively in the long run.
- Question 12: What is the best piece of business advise you have ever been given? And how is that working for you right now? Rasha says the best business idea comes from Nike, 'Just Do It'... - there is nothing you have to lose. You only live once. If it works, great. If it doesn't, then move on.
- Question 13: How (if ever) did you rise above failure or struggle? What action did you take? Rasha doesn't see failure as failure. She sees it as a Challenge. When it comes to Yislamoo Rasha reckons she a bit posssesed because she hasn't given up and keeps moving through the challenges. When an entrepreneur has an idea it is very tough and it is all about persistents and not taking 'NO' for an answer.
- Question 14: Have you found new competitors in your business, now that you have established this great idea? Rasha says 'Absolutely' - she has found copy cats and people trying to recreate her ideas however, she says that they do as much due diligence in protecting her ideas and her creations however ultimately customers will choose which brand they go with. Ultimately each and every business that has anything unique will stand out and anything that is responsive to the general market need will stand out.
- Questions 15: How do you find out what the market wants? You do lots of research and everything to find out what the market is responding too at this time but mainly you listen to what your customers are saying. Alot of what Rasha creates is a response to what the customers want themselves and you have to take that and interpret it and present what they are looking for.
- Question 12: Where do you see yourself and your businesses in the next 5 years? How will they have evolved? Rasha knows where she wants to get Yislamoo and one of her key directions is to make Yislamoo synonymous will all holidays and not just with Arabic language but with Arabic culture too. Rasha also explains how one of her biggest markets on her eCommerce platform are buyers that don't have speak Arabic but love many aspects of the arabic culture. Rasha says they get orders from Germany, Finland, UK, USA and beyond. Rasha shares that she believes Yislamoo will break cultural barriers and misconceptions about the arabic culture, one card at a time.
- Question 13: Was orders coming from non-arabic speaking cultures an unexpected revenue stream? Rasha puts a lot of effort into the style, images and visual look of the cards and this also has had a large impact on attracted a non-arabic speaking audience.
- Question 14: Who is your ‘go to person, book or quote’ that gets you pumped and helps you refocus when you are feeling de-motivated or low? The Gym. She gets on the treadmills and runs out her frustrations which helps her become 'reborn'. She explains more in the interview about how perfermonce and challenges really do help you achieve your goals.
- Question 15: If everything was taken away from you and you had to start again where would you start? With Yislamoo she would start where she started but she would take much shorter steps because the learning curve as definitely been inbedded in Rasha's head so she understands more the pitfalls and how to navigate the process. She goes on to tell us that if everything was taken away completely and she had to start again she would be a music conductor. she has a life long, bucket list passion to be a music conducter and direct an orchestra.
- Question 16: Closing question: What would you say to those ladies out there that are on the edge of taking the plunge into being an entrepreneur? Rasha shares that as a women your chances of making it as an entrepreneur are higher than being a man because women are more persistant and have more perseverance. In addition you only live once and what do you have to lose. Give it 12 months and if it doesn't work go back to what you did before or have learnt. In her experience those that have tried it and it hasn't worked, have had an amazing life lesson and it helped them in the next chapter in their life
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