Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Joy Ajlouny, a seasoned businesswoman and passionate entrepreneur currently based in Dubai. I'm one of the founders of Fetchr, a logistics company aiming to solve the problem of the lack of addresses in emerging markets. Today, Fetchr is one of the leading shipment and delivery service providers in the Middle East. In 2012, I also founded Bonfaire, an e-commerce platform for undiscovered brands, connecting designers with consumers across the globe.
I've always been an entrepreneur—it's in my DNA. I know myself to be a creative thinker, and as people say, creativity comes with being kooky. I'm also great at telling stories, and that speaks volumes about my marketing style because marketing is all about storytelling. I prefer the unconventional, as the best innovations and exciting ventures are born when we do things out of the ordinary. Being a risk-seeker rather than averse to uncertainty has brought me to where I am now. Fortune favours the brave, as they say, and I truly believe that.
How did you get started in business?
At the age of ten, I had my own lemonade stand just outside the house. That's how I started doing business: selling lemonade as a young entrepreneur full of dreams and creative energy. Back then, I was thinking of ways to turn my little business around. I had a eureka moment that worked: I used organic sugar and found a way to source all-natural water with no harsh aftertaste, and I made sure that my customers knew about this. As a result, I made my product very desirable to more customers. At a young age, it was an eye-opener for me. I was born to be an entrepreneur with a vision. Even now, this fact about me still rings true: I find ways to improve my business in a way that's also beneficial to my customers.
You seem to have a keen interest in startups, why is that?
I love startups because I'm an executor. For me, there are three words to say in business about to take flight: execute, execute, execute. Startups are all about wonderful plans and goals. Still, without the steadfast commitment to bring about these endeavours, failure is most often the bitter result.
I was born a non-conformist, so I'd rather lead than follow the usual crowd. This is why I love the idea of startups with disruptive business models. Disruption is the art of creating new waves in a turbulent market and changing the direction of the tides of consumer demand. For a startup to effectively disrupt a market, you have to answer the difficult questions: Can we do it better? Does it always have to be this way? What can I do to make a difference? Deviating from the status quo is challenging, and to me, this is exciting!
Tell us about the startups that you’ve worked with and where they are now.
I started off my career with Bonfaire, a Silicon Valley startup I founded in 2012, successfully raising over $2.4 million in total funding. Bonfaire is an e-commerce platform for undiscovered brands. In 2013, it was subsequently acquired by Moda Operandi, the leading platform for fashion discovery in the world.
Even after raising capital for Bonfaire in April and September of 2012, that year did not end without more exciting surprises. I was in touch with entrepreneurs and investors from the Middle East in Silicon Valley. I met Idriss Al Rifai, a fellow entrepreneur with a passion for disruptive business ideas like me.
Idriss was pitching an innovative business idea aiming to solve the logistical problem of delivering in regions with no formal addresses. I immediately loved his proposition because I was well-acquainted with the situation he wants to solve. In the previous company I worked for, part of the marketing strategy I helped in developing was to ship in Russia and the Middle East. I didn't know that there were problems with the addresses until the boxes started coming back to us. Customers are buying online and through their mobile phones, but they couldn't be reached in their homes. I know that this is a ubiquitous problem in the Middle East that is worth solving.
Most people who live in the Western world are not aware that half of the world's population do not have addresses. Some of these regions with no specified or identifiable addresses are located in India, Middle East, South America and Brazil. Imagine the logistical difficulties of doing business without an address. Language barriers complicate this problem, as with the case when the sender cannot communicate effectively because of difficulties speaking in English. I made up my mind, certain of what I had to do next.
I went up to Idriss and said, "Love, love this idea. I had experienced it." I asked him if he was looking for a business partner, and he replied in the affirmative. He expressed the difficulty of entrepreneurs coming from the Middle East in raising funding in Silicon Valley. Coming from Silicon Valley with a track record and a network of investors, I knew I had to partner with Idriss to build a fantastic company. Thus, Fetchr was born in November of 2012. In 2015, we raised $11 million, and the company moved to Dubai.
I literally packed two suitcases and stepped foot in this melting pot of business and culture in UAE. I moved in a fully-furnished, 70-sqm rental apartment, and six years later, I'm still here. Altogether in my career at Fetchr, I've raised almost $100 million, which I'm very proud of. According to Fortune, just 2.7 percent of venture capital funding was invested in women-led businesses in 2017. I've done this twice, successfully raising capital for disruptive startups.
Fetchr has gone a long way since its inception, and currently, we're looking forward to raising another $42 million in funding. With over 5,000 employees, as well as offices and branches in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, and Bahrain, we're continually growing and innovating. Perhaps one of our greatest successes as a company is Fetchr being the first Middle Eastern startup to acquire early-stage funding from a major US venture capital firm. We opened the door for other investors and startups to see investment opportunities in the Middle East. We're always proud of this fact.
You have raised significant amounts of money for startups. What’s the secret to raising funds for startups?
You have to be an entrepreneur, an avid risk-taker willing to risk everything for your beliefs and aspirations. This attitude towards risk might be too much for the average person to handle, so it's fair to accept that risk-taking is not for everybody. Most people like to play it safe. If you have a fear of rejection, then being an entrepreneur might not be the best path for you.
As a person, I don't really care much about what others think of me. You can slam the door in my face any number of times. I just keep coming back. In modern dating, they call it having a 'stalker' behaviour. You know, it actually works really well in business. My secret is my quality of being unwavering: being relentless despite the rejections and difficulties which has propelled me to heights I never thought were possible.
After all these years in business, what keeps you going?
I love putting goals on the table. It feeds my self-esteem to accomplish them one by one, doing my best every time with no holds barred. When you can make things happen, you experience a sense of accomplishment that nobody can take away from you. It's the so-called flow—when your mind, heart, determination, drive and passion coalesce together to create achievements. My God, nothing feels better than that—and it's not about the money: it's about proving to yourself that if you can set your mind on a goal, everything is possible. It feels like an adrenaline rush of self-esteem. This is what keeps me going.
What is your latest venture?
What's next? I'm in stealth mode. I'm definitely going to be doing something new, but I'm not discussing it. I find it wise not to discuss a potential venture or plan in a startup until all the money is in the bank—or as the Americans say—when all the I's are dotted, and the t's are crossed. But yes, I'm absolutely going to continue the spirit of innovation in my next endeavour.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a business?
Fair warning: prepare to make a lot of sacrifices. Working for a startup will definitely take almost all of your waking hours away from your personal and family life. It is challenging and exhausting, almost as if it is your only life. Expect that relationships with your family and friends will suffer to some degree.
At the pre-operating phase until its operational infancy, a startup is not profitable. It’s a hard, constant chase for the money. I do agree with Reid Hoffman, the co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, who said that building a startup is akin to being thrown off a cliff and building an aeroplane on the way down. Nine out of ten startups fail, and this is the sheer, bitter reality. Startups deal with this unwavering pressure to resist the crash, making sure to figure out a way to climb and take flight to success.
What are the businesses of the future
Everyone is practically talking about blockchain technology and quantum computing. Blockchain, for me, is still a big mystery—but what I understand is that due to its high-level cryptography, it might be the future of finance. Blockchain technology enables information stored digitally to be recorded and made publicly viewable. Still, at the same time, it provides foolproof security by making this information stored in ‘blocks’ practically uneditable, or in other words, almost impossible to hack.
Google recently announced that it made a leap in artificial intelligence and quantum computing. According to them, they have developed a quantum processor that was able to perform a task in three minutes that would take the best supercomputer in the world 10,000 years to complete! It sounds like a story out of a science fiction novel, but this is happening. Technologies or businesses built on quantum computing has to be one of the biggest disruptors of the future.
I also think that any major disruption or game-changing innovations in a conventional or ‘old-school’ industry is also going to cut it. Take the medical field, for example. Replacing human staff or personnel with robots to accomplish tasks that require precision is cutting-edge practice. Imagine having a robotic needle to extract your blood samples in just a few seconds with no pain at all, precisely sensing the vein in your arm. This is not only efficient in the operational sense but may also improve the patient experience by avoiding the need to undergo repetitive blood extraction from an inexperienced nurse.
What’s your idea of success?
Spiritually, emotionally or financially—there is only one ideal state where we all strive to be. Success is about looking at yourself in the mirror and liking what you see. My idea of success is having self-respect and dignity, beholding your image in the mirror with pride and confidence.
You can have all the money in the world and loathe yourself silently. The key, then, is to embrace the totality of your being and find where the peace inside you reside. This is the concept of gratitude: the state of harmony between your heart and mind. We have to accept certain realities in our lives as well—that there is no such thing as eternal happiness. As Thomas Jefferson puts it: Nobody is better than you and remember, you are better than nobody.
I feel blessed in my life because I am thankful for the experiences I’ve had. I am also immensely grateful to the people around me who have brought me to where I am now. When you are grateful, the road to happiness opens its gates for you. That’s where you’re going to find the true key to happiness and success: contentment.
Complete this quote: “Luck is _______.”
Luck is self-created energy that defines your reality.
I remember one of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes: “Everything is energy and that's all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want, and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way.”
I do believe in luck as an energy with the potential to define your reality. Consequently, I believe in making your own luck with the combination of your passion and determination. When I get up in the morning, I think of the great things that are going to happen. Positive thoughts attract positive energy. My intuition tells me that this mindset is not simply metaphysical, but also founded in actual science that we may not yet understand as of now.