Zawya founder tells Start Up the secrets behind the business he sold to Thomson Reuters for $40m
Originally I wanted to be a physicist as I had graduated from London, Imperial College with a Masters in Physics, but it was very tough for an Iraqi to get a job in the UK in physics at the time, so I ended up in Citibank on their derivatives desk. After a few years of investment banking, I realised the Middle East had virtually no business intelligence available and that’s where I got the idea for Zawya. Shortly after that, on January 4th, 2000, I walked in and resigned. It was also my 28th birthday and so my partner and I celebrated. It was our first step into a larger world.
Having an investment banking background helped a lot and in the first week we actually raised $1m. This was as much a blessing at it was a curse, as it was so easy we stopped fundraising almost immediately. While our plan was to raise $3m, we figured the first $1m was so easy we could get the rest later when we needed it. So we made our first mistake out of the gates and under-capitalised the business. This really hurt us as after the first year, the dotcom crash happened, the market dried up and we were out of cash with no new investors in sight. We almost went bankrupt as we had to finance the business ourselves. Very quickly we found ourselves $200,000 in debt with no immediate solution in sight. We believed in the idea so strongly that we were not going to give up no matter what.
Eventually an investor from the Middle East called us and said they wanted to invest in Zawya and then the project took off. It was a little touch and go for a minute there, but we made it through the darkest hour because we were tenacious and believed in the project.
After ten years, Zawya had a staff of 200 people, and at that point it needs institutionalised growth not entrepreneurial growth if you understand what I mean. So I decided to hand over the baton to a different management team with a different skill set.
Myself and two other partners (Husain Makiya and Zaid Jawad) we went back to basics to do what we like most, start ups and new challenges. We love the start-up challenge so we started Honey Bee Tech Ventures which is a little-under-$2m investment company, focused on the consumer internet space. Laimoon.com is our first project, which is a new recruitment platform with a twist, designed to improve on the traditional job boards in the online recruitment space. Laimoon’s USP is that it matches candidates to jobs better than anything else on the market. It provides a completely new experience to hunt for jobs online without using a CV. We are looking to disrupt the online recruitment space and have had some early success as we started generating revenue within four months of our launch. We are looking to build another multi-million-dollar business in a shorter period of time and are currently trending in the right direction.