Faces of the Economy: Abdallah Yafi
There are 1.4 million workers in Lebanon – this is the story of one of them.
By T.K. Maloy
BEIRUT – For the last several years, Abdallah Yafi has faced the challenging task of introducing e-commerce to Lebanon, through his company ScoopCity.com".
"According to Adbdallah Yahfi, ScoopCity is currently the leading local e-commerce business in Lebanon, providing its members with selective, high quality “deals” for a variety of Lebanon's top businesses. In Abdallah, brother Ghaith and sister Sara Yafi’s case this means carefully selected partner restaurants, spas, beaches, concert bookings, and retail brands, targeted at an affluent Lebanese clientele."
Since launching two years ago the company has grown considerably at a monthly rate of 30 percent.
“We very much care about who are partners are,” Yafi says. “And in a sense curate our offerings.” And partnership is key, ScoopCity focuses on fostering long-term agreements with its top-end businesses. And ScoopCity’s service clientele are shoppers who value that.
Since launching two years ago the company has grown considerably at a monthly rate of 30 percent.
ScoopCity has also been winning various awards and appreciation winks. The portal was awarded the "Standard of Excellence for Outstanding Achievement in Web Development" by the International Web Marketing Association in October 2011.
A few months ago, Seeqnce.com named ScoopCity one of the top five most "worthy" startups in the MENA region to keep an eye on for "high growth" in the next five years.
Wherein the challenge exists; is that despite a well-off user base -- in the Levantine e-commerce is still waiting to make deep inroads into consumer deeply entrenched in the ritual of in persons shopping.
That said, however, according to estimates, at least a million Lebanese are on the Net (not counting the diaspora) and they are using it for academic research, social-networking, and now for buying things online. And ScoopCity.com is there to meet this need.
Abdallah, along with his brother Ghaith Yafi founded the company in May 2011, so shortly ScoopCity will celebrate two years in business.
The brothers, identical twins, are 34-years old.
Abdallah holds a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering from McGill University, Montreal, QC; a Master in Industrial Engineering from Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal; and a Master in Business Administration from INSEAD.
Ghaith, is equally driven with an MFA from Paris campus of ESCP Europe; and a half-decade of work experience in investment banking from HSBC and Houlihan Lokey.
A born entrepreneur, Abdallah wears a number of hats, noting, “I run more than just one business and am involved in other professional projects too. My main priority is to consistently create value and deliver results for my businesses while ensuring all stakeholders - business partners, clients and staff -- are aligned and satisfied.”
Regarding his main operation, ScoopCity.com, Yafi says “It is important for me to make sure that we offer unwavering exquisite customer service to our valued customers…..that our brand name be thriving as a quality brand and that my staff members always be happy as they are delivering,”
Yafi said there has been steep learning curve and that he previously packed a too tight schedule, such that “there was barely had any space left in there, thinking that I was optimizing productivity but that didn't allow much time for setbacks or research…..Eventually, trial and error taught me lots.”
While Yafi said that hectic can be good, even a talented time manager can burn themselves out. The key, he added, is to find “healthy work habits that give you stability, but that don't make you too comfortable in order to forget to inspire change when needed.”
“In order to tackle the above mentioned priorities, the approach is to make sure I am present on all platforms, actively listening to everyone but not necessarily doing everything on all platforms. Thus, connecting with the organization as a whole is a vital part of my daily schedule, as well as putting everyone on the same wave length,” Yafi said.
“As such, a lot of my day goes to exchanging with my investors and partners, touching base with staff and suppliers, linking operations, getting everyone up to speed and making sure that a healthy pace is being followed.”
In part for this, he relies both on technology and on human intuition.
“I have reporting tools and excel charts for everything but I most importantly make sure that a "human" conversational approach remains the primary way to manage priorities.”
A loyal twin, Abdallah wanted to emphasize that: “My brother Ghaith is my partner in all ventures; so having him on board helps considerably.”Sarah El-Yafi
He added, “Not only we are very complementary but also together we are able to get a lot more done. Managing our schedules efficiently and dividing the work between the two of us optimally has been key to our success”.
Asked about where he gains his management inspiration from, Yafi notes without hesitation that his father has been one his largest business influences.
“My father was my first reference for me as a businessman, and I have learned a lot from him,” the entrepreneur recounts.
“My past personal experiences play a very big role as well; I have obviously had my share of great senior mentors (in my previous consulting career and during my MBA at INSEAD) who inspired me and some not so great seniors who still taught me a lot.”
“Keeping an open heart and an open mind and shying away from absolutes is essential in order for a company and its employees to thrive at a natural healthy pace. Relativity goes a long way,” Yafi expounded his management style.
“So ’making sure’ not to copy someone is part of my regimen. And when the ideas are not so predisposed in the "boss's brain", a lot of magic is free to happen within an organization.”
Communicating the work of an e-commerce company in quickly growing digital Lebanon has proved easier that one might expect, the Scoop manager noted.Ghaith Yafi
“I know the inside out workings of the organization, there is a business aspect to what I do, there is a national aspect to what I do, there is a futuristic approach to what I do and there is a connecting aspect to what I do,” Yafi said “And due to my conviction of the workings, brand name and mission of my company, it doesn't really become a challenge to explain it to anyone.”
Yafi has a strong belief that ScoopCity.com is helping Beirutis manage in their overpriced city, “We want to re-introduce our citizens to Beirut and our other Lebanese cities.”
Adding, “After all ScoopCity's mission is help Lebanese consumers get to know and appreciate the inner workings of their city and what outlets their city has to offer from the little eclectic shop to the huge franchise.”
Yafi, however, also talks frankly about the well-known economic problems of Lebanon noting that there is “an almost non-existent middle class.”
“The Lebanese civil war practically annihilated the middle class and everybody knows that no democratic society can become prosperous without the presence of a healthy middle class,” Yafi said.
“The World Bank in 2011 classified the ‘middle class’ in Lebanon as those who earn between $15,000 and $27,000 USD per year, but tragically, this only accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of the Lebanese people, while 70 pecent of the entire population generate less than $10,000 per year, and 15 percent live in abject poverty,” Yafi notes sadly
“That's 85 percent of the country who live below middle class levels today. In contrast, prior to the Civil War, the Lebanese middle class made up 50-60 percent of the population... The high inflation, the excruciatingly low wages, the ludicrous real estate prices and the lack of major investments in productive sectors have terribly affected the Lebanese population,” He added.
This has led to the often noted brain-drain, with “ The educated Lebanese, those who can constitute the backbone of the economic development, all having expatriated themselves in search for better horizons in more stable and prosperous nations, most of whom are literally next door since as they earn on average 32 percent more abroad than they do at home.”
For Yafi, along with many others, it is important for the government to “give incentives to young people to stay and build themselves in Lebanon and build Lebanon, instead of going abroad and building a foreign country. The government needs to be more active on the front of encouraging a middle class to thrive as this is the only way to encourage economic development. “
“That's 85 percent of the country who live below middle class levels today. In contrast, prior to the Civil War, the Lebanese middle class made up 50-60 percent of the population... The high inflation, the excruciatingly low wages, the ludicrous real estate prices and the lack of major investments in productive sectors have terribly affected the Lebanese population.”
Abdallah Yafi is married to Nay Rouhban, with no children yet,
“I am enjoying married life with my wife whose backing and active presence has been such a source of support and inspiration to me.
A newlywed, Adballah married his sweetheart Nay Rouhban just a year-and-a half-ago in Lebanon, after a courtship in Paris.
“Nay and I met in Lebanon but started dating in Paris.” he recounted.
Nay Roubhan El Yafi holds a masters degree in Management from ESCP Europe in Paris, the same school Abdallah’s twin brother Ghaith attended. Prior to the couple moving back to Beirut, Nay worked as a consultant at Accenture for over four years.
“My parents are thankfully in good health. Their unwavering support has also been a great source of motivation and drive for me. Both my parents and my wife's parents live in Beirut.
His philosophy of life – “Anchor yourself and shoot for the stars.”