“The crew needs a therapist, you need a therapist…even I need a therapist,” said my manager as he leaned back on his fragile plastic chair in our camp on the Kuwaiti-Saudi borders after telling him that I had submitted my resignation from my first job at Schlumberger in 2016. I felt the need to leave, and I do not know if it was because I spent my first week digging holes with a pickaxe in Wafra, or the fact that my rotation was 6 weeks with no vacations followed by 3 weeks off, or maybe because of the dogs we kept in the camp to eat the snakes and chickens that warded off the scorpions. I am still not quite sure.
I am Ahmad Taher and I am an Electrical Engineer, a Sock Designer, a Product Developer, Entrepreneur, and this is my story.
Although I am Kuwaiti, I was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt before moving to Ireland where I received my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and Masters in Energy Management from Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin). I then moved to Kuwait in late 2014, and that is when my professional journey began.
I have always wanted to build—from scratch—my own empire with my bare hands and from the ground up. After nearly 2 years in Schlumberger, I handed in my second resignation in pursuit of this dream. First step was to learn how to design clothes, and what could be better and more creatively flexible than designing socks and undergarments.
I thoroughly researched and learned the foundations and depths of fashion design and manufacturing, and followed that by learning more about establishing a business. Then I knew I was ready! (Little did I know, I was not).
Luckily, the Kuwait National Fund launched their Creative Industries Incubator, so I applied and I got accepted. Aside from relearning what I had already learned online, one thing that had been said by one of the international speakers that resonated with me was, “Always aim to revolutionize the main business model of your industry.”
From there, my first endeavor was my company, Quirky Toes, the GCC’s first sock brand, where I designed and collaborated with the manufacturers on launching our first collections. I was so excited to embark on this journey, and I knew that I was going to make enough sales to cover my costs within the first year. Aaaaand I was wrong.
Lesson 1: Do NOT quit your job.
Don’t get me wrong. My brand has reached multiple outlets in Kuwait and expanded its reach to the GCC. However, this is the issue with starting a new concept, you need to spend a lot of hard earned cash on its launch and introduction to the world, but you also need to be flexible and realize when is the right time to pivot, which was my mistake.
Fast forward, a year after I launched, I ran out of runway, burnt through my savings, and started to unsuccessfully apply for jobs. Now, that was NOT rock bottom. Rock bottom was a few months later when Social Security blocked my employment support and I ended up without a salary for a full month. (Kids, always pay your Social Security).
You see, the best thing about hitting rock bottom is knowing that you cannot sink any further. This is it, this is the moment which could make or break you. You could give up, cry, scream, and break down until you are too powerless to do anything, or you could cry it out (this is totally fine) and get back up. Seeing as you have been hitting a wall, try another route.
Tenacity for an entrepreneur is an essential quality, but also knowing when to pivot, and recognizing that pivoting is not quitting is key. It simply brings you closer to who you want to become.
Lesson Two: Learn to Pivot, Pivot, Pivot.
I realized that I was being held back by the business that I had created. I have learned so much and encountered so many obstacles that I viewed as deadends, which was the worst thing I have ever done as an entrepreneur. There is always an opportunity in the hardships you face, because chances are someone else is facing the same problem and they are willing to pay you to solve the same issue for them.
I frantically started looking into different fields that I could branch out into. I needed to develop a product myself without having to spend the cash that I would rather not spend, and yet, it had to be innovative, and I had to believe in it. Otherwise, I won’t be able to muster the will or passion needed to sell it.
I was never able to sell a replicated product. It never made sense to me, because I am not adding value to my customer’s lifestyle.
After 2 months of research, I managed to develop a nice idea, and I tried to get a friend on board because I did not know how to create the website with the required features. Unfortunately, he was not interested. So I pulled up my sleeves and got down to business. I started learning how to code and develop websites from scratch. Using every virtual tutorial, article, and free piece of information I could find online. Now, I can say that I have put my researching skills to good use.
After 3 months of learning and development, I managed to make my Minimum Viable Product (MVP)—a skeleton of the idea with only the basic features needed to check the viability of the service. This was it, this was my Sistine Chapel. I am ready again for the market! I started calling multiple potential clients and offered them my brilliant, world-saving, cash-making services, but here was my second mistake. The product was good, but the prospective clients did not want to use it. In fact, I once sat across from and debated a prospective client who argued that this service has no place or viability in Kuwait, at all.
Lesson Three: Do not sell something you would not use yourself.
Crushed by the reviews and the lack of interest, I had to go back to the drawing board. Yet as corny as it sounds, there is a silver-lining to every situation. My dissatisfied prospective clients gave me an understanding of what they did NOT find useful, which clarified what required troubleshooting and made more clear what problems others were not willing to solve for those clients. I have a confession to make though, I was never involved in the Food and Beverages sector before creating this product and that was a mistake. But then it struck me, hard. All I had to do was gather the reviews and obstacles I have received over the past three years, and create something that I also personally needed and perhaps can add value to and help those potentially interested in the same field.
So, I believe that this is it, Tajer Link. This is the product that fits my vision, the one that is going to make an impact on the lives of every single client that uses it. It is a one of a kind platform that aims to help those inclined to start an online business that sells products from local businesses, and is guaranteed a paid commission with no start-up fees. I am personally excited about this venture, and hope that you will grow interested as well the more I share about Tajer Link! And learning from my past experiences, going forward, I also understand that if it does not work out, I will simply go back to the drawing board and begin to troubleshoot…
If God wills it, I will pivot, again.
Lesson Four: Never give up!
Words: Ahmad Taher
Images: Courtesy of Ahmad Taher