After ten years working in sales and marketing for IT companies and for a private beach club in Beirut, Jessica Hachem, 26, took the bold decision to quit her job and cofound her own startup, Tzawajna. In her office in Jdeideh, she explained to us what motivated her in dedicating 100% of her time and energy to entrepreneurship.

What does Tzawajna do and how did the idea come up?

Tzawajna is a mobile app that connects couples with wedding service suppliers in Lebanon. My partner Elie Metri got this idea when we were working together in his IT company, Infotech. We discussed it and realized such a tool was really missing in the market. When couples start preparing for their wedding, they pick up information here and there, from friends, social media, Google… But there was no platform gathering all suppliers.

Does this mean you don’t have any competitors?

Other apps are trying to do the same as us but they operate with a different strategy. They ask suppliers to pay in order to be listed. This doesn’t really work and they end up having quite poor platforms that aren’t useful to couples. On the contrary, we started by building a big database of around 2.000 suppliers, featured for free on Tzawajna. Then, what we charge is additional exposure. We offer suppliers packages including extra photos and videos of their services, banners on the app, pop-up notifications…

How is it going so far?

We launched the app in January 2018 and we now have over 2.200 active users [which means users who didn’t uninstall the app, editor’s note] with around 10 new downloads every day. We can’t know for sure how many suppliers are benefiting from the app, since we don’t offer booking through the platform, but we receive messages from couples asking for more deals and offers. We know users are actually preparing their weddings from it.

When did you decide to quit your job to really get involved in the project?

This was a hard decision to make because it meant leaving a stable job with a fixed financial income. I first started by doing both, going to my employer from 9am to 5pm and scheduling meetings with suppliers or working from home for Tzawajna in the evening. But it was very tiring. This is why, mid-October, I resigned from my job and decided to work fully on the app. I made this choice because I truly believed in the potential of this project. Wedding suppliers are a huge market and couples can bring a lot of traffic to it.

Read also: Abdallah Ghattas: “the Lebanese youth lacks the ability to choose”

What do you like about being an entrepreneur?

As an employee, the risk is less but you cannot make many mistakes. You feel that you always need to give what is “correct”. You can’t try new things unless you know the results. On the contrary, when you’re working on your own project, you get to test all your ideas, all your marketing plans.

But of course, you don’t get as much input from other people on what you’re doing. You’re on your own to take decisions, it’s bigger responsibilities. This is why I always seek advice. I’m also attending workshops and I’m taking a course on event planning and management from the Lebanese American University (LAU).

According to you, what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

It is important to have a leadership mentality. My experience leading the MEJ (Eucharistic Youth Movement) in Jdeideh helped me a lot strengthen my character. I’m not leading anyone yet at Tzawajna but I’m leading myself which is already great (laughs). We plan on hiring in the future, but it still needs time.

Read also: 7 recruitment sites to know when looking for a job in the MENA region

Practically speaking, when do you think you’ll be able to get a financial income? Is this an issue for you?

I’ve saved money to be able to fully work on the project for six months. Though it is still hard to know when we’ll reach the break-even point, we’ve already started selling packages to suppliers, which is encouraging. We are now looking for investors in the Middle East to be able to implement a bigger marketing plan. If we don’t find funds, I will work harder so that the app will cover our expenses. I believe it will be sustainable.

Since only 1 out of 10 startups usually make it after a few years, how do you consider the possibility of “failing”?

First of all, I wouldn’t have stepped in this project if I expected not to work. But “if” it doesn’t work, then I guess I will just try to find a new job. It is not too difficult when you’re young and still don’t have a lot of responsibilities. It is a risk you can afford. And in my opinion, entrepreneurship is a state of mind. You have to accept what you’re getting in the end. Tzawajna is a challenge I wanted to take. It made me happier and I’m learning a lot from it.

 

J.B.