I started working on a project called FoundersBei in 2017, cross-legged on my bed, laptop on my lap. It’s been one heck of a rollercoaster, daily ups and downs, and an emotional adventure from extreme satisfaction to utmost apprehension. I’m not going to bore you with the small details and steps it took to start the business. Rather I want to share the story of how we are surviving one of the worst economic/political crisis Lebanon and the World have ever witnessed, amplified by a Covid-19 worldwide pandemic.
Since we launched, we have been facing tremendous challenges. The conditions were never optimal from the start: from the industry’s big and financially backed competitors, to the tininess of the Lebanese market, add to it the deteriorating economic situation. Nevertheless, we pushed through, we got the exposure, we grew a community (which I miss greatly) and built our brand in the competitive field. There were days when I felt completely overwhelmed and helpless, but honestly we knew about all these problems from day zero and from initial research. These were complications we were able to solve creatively while growing our business confidently.
And when you think you’ve seen it all, here comes 2020. We’re almost halfway there, and here’s the Lebanese headlines if you missed them, not to mention worldwide headlines that we all know about:
- Lebanon police fire tear gas at protesters in violent 'week of rage', By Ben Wedeman, Ghazi Balkiz, Christian Streib and Angela Dewan, CNN, January 18, 2020
- After 100 days of rage, Lebanon has a new government — and a deepening crisis, By Tamara Qiblawi, CNN, January 24, 2020
- Lebanon to Default on $1.2 Billion Payment, Seek Restructuring, By Dana Khraiche, Bloomberg, March 7, 2020
- Lockdown piles more misery on Lebanon's beleaguered currency, By AJ Impact Middle East, Reuters, April 1, 2020
- Dollar Squeeze Worsens in Lebanon as Government Asks for Aid, By Dana Khraiche, Bloomberg, April 6, 2020
- Death toll rises above 150,000 worldwide, By CNN, Live Updates, April 18, 2020
- Lebanon, fearing second virus wave, to shut down again for four days, by Ellen Francis, Reuters, May 12, 2020
To sum it up, the Lebanese Lira is now worth “50 percent less on parallel markets than it is at the official exchange rate”. A black market for currency exchange popped right under our government’s nose. The lockdown situation has hit our industry pretty hard; our space has completely closed for the past 8 weeks.
But HEY! This too shall pass!
First and foremost, we took care of our people and team members. We hated implementing rules, but we created certain guidelines to keep our community safe. We closed public spaces (like the PS4 lounge and the conference rooms), sterilized private spaces around the clock, and halted all deliveries from outside the community. We placed hand sanitizers all over the space and put into practice all the Covid-19 recommendations. The community felt safe and we avoided contracting any cases.
We lowered our capacity by 90% and created tips to working from home, while implementing a set of online free workshops. We were flexible enough with our community members to keep the business afloat while minimizing our costs to absolute basics. Then, we worked and brainstormed around the clock to urgently (and hopefully temporarily) restructure our business model – we have already tested and experimented with online services, online workshops, virtual internship programs and many more. We’ve been receiving great feedback and we are optimistic about our post Covid-19 stage.
Thriving rather than surviving in such situations is our main value. The entrepreneurial spirit we have created around FoundersBei, all our community members and startups, team members, entrepreneurs and freelancers, is what keeps us pushing forward to grow bigger no matter how worse things might get. But could they really?