“From Employee to Entrepreneur: A story of success”
By Faiza Rizwi, Journalist
“Risk more than others think is safe. Dream more than others think is practical.” This quote by Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, isn’t just my life quote, but rather a principle by which I live by each day. As a young boy, I saw my father chasing his dreams with unbeaten determination and courage. Back in the 70’s, when Saudi Arabia was a barren land with a culture that did not encourage risks, he decided to establish his business and despite all odds, he never gave up. There were times when I would see him exhausted or stressed, but when I asked, he only smiled, placed his reassuring hand over mine and said, “Always remember son, nobody can beat a person who doesn’t give up.” As I grew up watching him strive hard to achieve his goals, he truly became an inspiration for me. To the world, he was a successful entrepreneur who built a legacy; to me he was a man whose determination was his secret weapon, a man who taught me the most crucial lessons of life. Over the years, I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is a journey with its own shares of ups and downs. It’s okay to fail, to feel emotional turbulence, to face lost deals, hopeless days or stressful nights. What really matters despite failures is to fight back, look at failures in the face to and say “I’m not giving up because I know I can do it!” Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, spent his early years assisting his father with electric works in their garage. Samuel Walton, founder of global giant Walmart milked the family cow, bottled the surplus, and sold it to meet college expenses. India’s richest businessperson Dhirubhai Ambani was a street seller; before he went on to establish a $60 billion empire. These glaring examples of successful minds are those who fought limitations and turned dreams into reality. In 2000, I began my career as a Account Executive with Grey Worldwide, which ranks among the world’s top advertising and marketing agencies. This was a modest beginning, I knew, but kept myself motivated to work hard because I knew there was a lot to accomplish and this was just a start. I began gaining valuable brand experience and learned to design path-breaking campaigns. Over the years, with unbeaten determination and hard work, I achieved targets, gained creative insights, and developed a strong bond with clients by transforming brands through powerful campaigns. The next milestone in life came when I was offered a job as a Business Director at Oglivy and Mather, a company with one of the largest communication networks in the world, to establish OgilvyAction in KSA. They loved my work and trusted my decisions. I was living any man’s dream- working with a global giant, attractive salary package, a team of motivating colleagues, admiring bosses and satisfied clients. What more could one ask for, right? Yet, despite the perfect job, I felt something was missing. That feeling of incompleteness haunted me. My lust for entrepreneurship, which was, embedded deep in my heart made me restless. In 2010, I decided to quit my job. I knew this was the right time to move on independently and create a marketing agency offering experiential marketing, free from the dictatorship of the multinational system. Driven by passion, I resigned from work and established an independent agency and named it ‘LIVÓN’- because I wanted to ‘live- on’ my belief and dreams. Both companies I worked for had given me invaluable experience and formed the foundation of my expertise and this was the time to put that into use. Nobody is a born entrepreneur. Different people take different paths to achieve success. And there is no set-in-stone instruction for becoming one. I started mine with a purpose of establishing an agency offering unique services through innovative strategies; to help clients achieve goals using my experience, expertise and the strong valuable relations, which I had built with clients over the years. The beginning was difficult. I was bombarded with a million tasks- Making business workflow, setting targets, managing staff, and formulating rules and regulations along with a clear understanding of the local market. It was a challenge to strike the perfect balance of understanding clients’ needs, client servicing, and at the same time managing the legal affairs of the ministry and fulfilling government regulations. But my will power and determination to achieve my goals kept me going. Soon after I began, I found myself competing with my ex-companies for the same project! I began preparing myself for the pitch. There were days when I would suddenly wake up at 4am, my mind racing with ideas and kept working until I realized it was noon. Days passed and I kept working tirelessly. My family hardly saw me. My friends began complaining that I’d disappeared. Finally, when the day arrived and we pitched for the client, I got the project! Yes, I’d won my first big project as the owner of ‘LIVÓN’ and the feeling was unbeatable! Now there was no looking back and soon LIVÓN started attracting big multinational names in the market like Mars, Microsoft, L’Oreal, Danone, Unilever and, British American Tobacco. Mars was a very promising client who demanded a lot of our dedication, efforts, and time and we got an opportunity to put our strategic thinking and expertise and offer them retail, development, promotional and in store activation services- we basically worked to our full potential to provide them all our agency services. As ‘LIVÓN’ started reaching new heights as a holding group, with 5 different divisions each specializing in a service, this success became a true reflection of my efforts in creating a brand which is not just expanding in Saudi Arabia but all over MENA and Gulf region. We grew from one client to over 30 clients, from a staff of two persons to a running staff of over 60 persons. Brand activation and experiential marketing in particular is a fundamental of a futuristic new language of advertising. Previously advertising used to end by saying above or below the line where marketers today it’s entirely different in the era of digital activation and social media which plays a big role in linking on the ground services to online services. Today, I can proudly declare that one firm decision to quit my job and begin my journey, as an entrepreneur was challenging, yet extremely rewarding. ‘LIVÓN’ has redefined the quality of expertise, service and value offered, as well as bridged the gap in solutions that are relevant to today’s changing Arab world. My team has a rich experience in brands, markets and audience groups, possess deep domain expertise, from mainline advertising to trade marketing, from managing events to implementing retail activations, and everything in-between. The fact that most of our clients are relationships we have built over the years is proof of the quality of work we deliver with enthusiasm. Simply because, each one of us is powered by an unending flow of energy to go beyond our individual capabilities, to partner with you and make a difference to your brand.