Charbel Nasr, 36, a Dubai-based Lebanese national, learnt a very important lesson from his first job as a banker. “Be a dreamer and never accept to sit on the same chair until retirement!”
He knew that lack of ambition would hurt his career prospects when recalling how he was told at his first job in a bank in Lebanon that it would be a delight to hold on to the same job title until retirement.
Since the start of Nasr’s career, he aimed to achieve a status where he is free from the situation of living from pay day to pay day. He always looked at ways to balance his income, savings, and expenses.
He started as a banker at age 21 in Lebanon, moved to Dubai in 2014 and ventured into entrepreneurship in the FinTech sector when he was 33.
Why did you consider starting a business in the FinTech sector?
Nasr is a computer science graduate with experience working with conventional and Islamic banks, and knowledge of software designs and implementation in Jordan, Syria, Kenya, Yemen and the UK.
"As a computer science graduate, I came into my first job as a banker with excellent technical skills in building software and providing technical solutions to businesses. In the bank, I worked mainly in management information systems, analysing the different data types and providing adhoc reports to management to better their decision-making process."
Nasr also worked as a senior business consultant at a Kuwaiti company, which has a branch in Lebanon and provides end-to-end core banking solutions to banks across the region.
While a banker, and passionate techie, he was a big believer in FinTech
He is a passionate techie and a big believer in the scalability of fintech solutions, which led him to co-found ‘FlexxPay’, an online cloud-based payment portal for companies, with business partner Michael Trüschler in 2018.
"I had worked together for several years in Michael's original start-up, a home shopping multi-platform network ‘CitrussTV’. We understood one another's strengths and weaknesses and this made it easier to set up this company together. It was an opportunity to combine my expertise with my passion that I couldn't resist."
FlexxPay enables companies in this region to offer their employees access to a portion of their already-earned salaries, commissions, pensions, and end-of-service benefits, through its online platform.
What were the main expenses of starting such a business?
The main expenses for their business include market research, office, technology expenses, employees' salaries, licenses and permits, insurance, lawyer and accountant and advertising and marketing.
Nasr said, "It is essential that anyone looking into starting a business fully explores all the different expenses. You don't need any sudden surprises. Our initial funding came from various investors, partners and investment funds."
He added several areas require funding but occupy different priority levels at various times. "The total investment in our business in seed and ‘Pre-Series A’ has been Dh16.52 million [$4.5 million]."
Business Tip #1: Invest in a fully equipped team for a profitable business model
The main challenge initially for Nasr was finding people who were qualified, technically and otherwise, for his tech platform.
He said, "As soon as you post a job on LinkedIn or other online websites and limit it to a specific country, you tend to receive hundreds of CVs, making it very challenging to filter until you reach the right candidate. And you end up many times not finding suitable candidates."
However, after COVID-19, enabling a fully hybrid working model allowed them to get to a broader audience to recruit. "We improved our audience and filtered criteria to ensure we reached only the most suitable candidates and received only the relevant CV's to screen."
Business Tip #2: Refine your entrepreneurial, business expectations to match reality
Nasr said, "We had to study our users' behaviours several times to better understand our active and transacting users percentage compared to our initial expectations and refine it accordingly."
"We had to work hard to implement a customer-centric working business philosophy. This is when I learnt to test my assumptions before implementing them, look for potential in tech, be open to new opportunities and try to solve challenges and problems through a hybrid human-tech approach."
What are your views on savings and investments?
One of the values Nasr was raised with is that one’s personal education is worth investing in. He said, "I like to invest and save whilst also living a good lifestyle today. There has to be a balance between both."
"Investments always come with some risk, so you should spread it in different options, from real estate to insurance, stock markets and crypto. I don't have a specific percentage to follow. Still, I analyse the trends with the associated risks and decide accordingly, depending on the size of the opportunity I see."
But for Nasr, investment risks vary between personal and business decisions. "You can be patiently waiting for a long-term return on investment in your personal finances, but in business, it is different. You need to see an immediate payoff when investing in one area and then make hard decisions if something isn't working."
The most important is to learn and accept living within your financial means. Generally, Nasr starts with a budget, maintaining a monthly P&L (profit and loss) and balance sheets that shape how he looks into the income, expenses and future. Then aims to save 20 to 30 per cent of the revenue, he revealed.