“Growing up in a hearing world wasn't easy,” said Wisaam Alli, a UAE resident originally from the UK, who recently took the entrepreneurial plunge despite being hearing impaired.
Alli’s motivation to start a business stemmed from a desire to help improve accessibility for deaf people, given that he wears wearable tech (known as a cochlear implant), which functions like a hearing aid.
“Being from a particularly difficult background motivated me to improve the accessibility for deaf people through technology,” added Alli.
Meeting another who is just like him
But before he went on to start a tech business, Alli crossed paths with Oman-based Ahmed Yahya, who happened to be hearing impaired and just as passionate about technology.
“To be able to find someone who’s like me and to be fully aware or have the same field of passion as I, was shocking and overwhelming. We had no clue that we would cross paths across different continents,” shared Alli.
Being from a particularly difficult background motivated me to improve the accessibility for deaf people through technology
“Once we got to know each other, we shared our ambitions and realised that we were very similar in terms of what we are looking to achieve in terms of tech – and that is to make an impact on inclusivity among disabled people through using digital technology like Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and Web3.”
A non-fungible token is an asset consisting of digital data stored in a blockchain, and its ownership is recorded in the blockchain, and can be transferred by the owner, allowing NFTs to be sold and traded.
Web3 is a conceptualised idea of the World Wide Web which incorporates concepts such as decentralisation, blockchain technologies, and token-based economics.
The Metaverse is a hypothetical iteration of an immersive virtual world that is facilitated using virtual reality and augmented reality headsets. If Web3 is today’s internet, Metaverse is its universe.
Despite being on a different continent, Yahya met with Alli through a family living in Oman who happened to come across an article on Ahmed and that’s what prompted Alli to reach out to his now business partner.
Passion for tech used to educate others in tech
Yahya is a young Omani entrepreneur who moved to Dubai to pursue his passion in cryptocurrencies, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and the Metaverse. But in addition to the required passion and skill set, he needed the right tools to start a business, particularly given his auditory challenges.
“When I started in my business journey, the first tool I needed to start were software or platforms where I can use and access to operate the business,” said Yahya, and when he did find them, he added that “as such technologies made our lives easier, I started to discover that tech is one of my passions”.
Yahya, who is also passionate about public speaking, business coaching and personality development, started his first business in 2015 in drop shipping (explained below) and so his prior experience with tech led him to explore more about internet-driven businesses, such as forex and cryptocurrency.
“The concept of changing people's lives through technology is also what exactly ignited my own passion in technology,” said Alli, while adding that he was a “massive fan” of tech giant Apple’s devices, and a light-weight behind-the-ear hearing implant, Nucleus Cochlear Implant, and its technical development.
Alli added that he has always been passionate about designing since secondary school, which he believes was how he developed his skills in innovation technology and digital application design.
Why did you both start a tech educational platform?
Both Yahya and Alli took their passions for technology and started Nork, an educational platform that allows people to enhance their technological know-how and improve inclusivity for those with challenges in hearing and speech.
The focus was on getting people to decipher cryptocurrencies and NFT trends, while letting them create their own crypto projects. They recently conducted a training program at a GCC bank to equip bank employees with skills to better interact with bank customers with such impairments.
“Our aim will be to get young people, aged 7-plus, familiarised in programming because we believe that the coding is an essential skill in the future. We also will have different levels of courses suited to the beginners, intermediate and advanced individuals,” Alli added.
“The main aim is to encourage students and teachers to enjoy learning Web3.0, programming, Blockchain, NFT, Metaverse, and more. We are looking at a market which includes people of determination because we want to make everyone involved in this space. We are trying to have people trained with tech institutions, specifically in Web3 and programming boot camps,” noted Yahya.
When I started in my business journey, the first tool I needed to start were software or platforms where I can use and access to operate the business
How is the scepticism around crypto being addressed?
While Yahya and Alli acknowledged that the scepticism around crypto-related technology still exists, they explained that such cynicism can be negated only by educating people on such concepts and creating awareness on how the crypto world is advancing ahead, while factoring in the risks and perks.
“I can understand why a lot of people find this sceptical but we are currently in the process of witnessing the biggest change in the global business landscape anyone has ever seen. The way the financial system and content creation works, will change,” evaluated Alli.
“If you talk about scepticism of Web3 and Blockchain, one could recall how back in the 90s when people were calling internet a ‘fad’, but we have currently advanced to 5G. So similarly, with Blockchain, doesn’t it sound like an opportunity worth exploring right from the start?” added Yahya.
What were the struggles faced as entrepreneurs being deaf?
Aside from the general challenges associated with running a business, Yahya and Alli revealed how day-to-day routines did get personally hard to cope with on several occasions.
“Yes, due to my hearing impairment, I find it difficult to communicate through audio calls or meetings with the clients. Although Zoom or Google Meet help a lot in terms of visual communication, I manage to overcome this by arranging meet-ups with clients in-person,” said Alli.
Due to my hearing impairment, I find it difficult to communicate through audio calls or meetings with clients.
While Yahya added that it is especially difficult to communicate when sometimes having issues with his hearing aid, when it comes to starting the business, he revealed that his struggle was in drawing the line between working hard and overexertion.
“With my hearing aid, the main challenge is communication skills, especially when it runs out of battery – it’s like a robot who stops operating. Secondly, the challenge is dealing with the mental stress that comes with this. It is not easy to overcome by yourself, due to the [entrepreneurial] workload,” revealed Yahya.
Alli, on the other hand, shared how for him it was mainly the difficulties of balancing work, performing variety of tasks along with designing and creating a brand.
Any tips you both would like to offer budding entrepreneurs?
“I believe that soft skills are required in order to survive in the business world,” said Yahya, while emphasising the importance of having a team who can identify and implement your vision.
Tip #1: Have a reliable, goal-driven team to ensure smooth running of your business
“Our initial struggle was getting right people in the team, and it is not easy to convince anyone who can join you in a team, from scratch,” added Yahya.
“My advice for everyone before starting the business, tell your team about your vision, if they cannot see it then they’re not the right people to work with. Simply make them believe in your vision and you.”
I believe that soft skills are required in order to survive in the business world
Alli stressed on the importance of networking to meet the right people to work with and get inspired by fellow entrepreneurs. When it comes to the budgeting aspects of a business, Yahya evaluated how it is vital to manage your risks.
Tip #2: While networking is key for a business’ future, managing your risks now is just as vital
“Every kind of struggle comes with setting up a business such as risks, costs, trust, credibility, motivation, and time management. It can become very chaotic, and you easily lose motivation and encounter trust issues during the journey,” Alli explained. The solution, he added, is simply to prepare ahead of time and take it one step at a time.
“Whenever there is new idea coming, the first thing we do is research what the requirements are for a project, i.e. Human Resources (HR), marketing or Public Relations (PR). From there, budget planning will start,” added Yahya.
“Our strategy is to use ‘cost of quality’, which is effective to ensure the project looks brilliant and transparent for users and clients, and the risk will be minimal.”
What are your plans as entrepreneurs?
The co-founders, Yahya and Alli, are currently in process of opening an office for their tech educational platform in Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai.
“We are currently operating via an online platform and on social media, and this is how we've got a network of clients, developers and investors, and that's how we manage to keep our company running,” Alli added.
Regarding getting investments for growing the business further, Yahya explained that they are currently presenting business plans to new investors to get more funding, considering they bootstrapped their business ground-up, without getting into the specifics of investment-related costs.