Five Minutes with Beschir Hussain, co-founder and CEO of hellofood Middle East

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The ‘trep behind foodpanda’s hellofood came from a public sector background with private equity and strategy consulting experience. As someone who’s interested in understanding people’s interactions within a framework, this later came in handy when Beschir Hussain decided to make the switch to an entrepreneurial path: “I felt I would have the chance to work on products and services that create value.” After first launching hellofood Middle East in 2013 in Saudi Arabia, the venture now operates in Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar and also covers UAE after acquiring the online food ordering portal 24h. His top tips? Hussain suggests three elements for a successful venture: a viable product, a synergistically functioning team, and sufficient capital until the business becomes profitable.

Beschir Hussain

Besides co-founding hellofood ME, Hussain has also been the co-founder and Managing Director of Avicenna Foundation, a merit-based scholarship-granting institution promoting gifted students in Germany, maintaining that “education is still the most significant driver of economy.”

What’s one thing you make sure you do for your company to run efficiently?
Automation at high-quality levels. I always look for ways to automate capital and labor intense processes that allow us to operate at zero human interaction.

What are some interesting consumer trends you have noticed in F&B and online and mobile platforms with hellofood?
In the food online ordering industry, timing is crucial. People eat at certain times during the day, which means that we also have to approach potential customers at specific times, which is the moment they start thinking about what to eat and where. In this sense, the need we satisfy has a daily time constraint. One interesting insight is that countries in the Middle East have significantly different lunch and dinner peaks. In Saudi Arabia, for example, dinner peak starts at 10 p.m., while in Jordan it is at around 8 p.m. This has various operational implications for the business and for our partner restaurants, such as the call center capacity planning and the delivery staffing.

How would you describe the availability of resources for entrepreneurs and startups in Dubai?
The UAE has built a relatively decent entrepreneurial ecosystem for the region in my opinion. 95% of UAE’s companies are SMEs, which collectively employ 40% of the country’s workforce today. Being aware of the financial challenges entrepreneurs face, the UAE is working on further improving the infrastructure for startup founders. In 2014, it has implemented one of the highest number of business regulatory reforms.

What were the biggest lessons from your endeavors?
As an entrepreneur, you will not be able to do everything yourself if you want to grow and scale your company. You have to hire people, train them, give them responsibilities and the opportunity to succeed and fail. When you start a business, you tend to do everything yourself in the beginning. You start giving away responsibilities to your employees with the growth of your venture. What if the venture grows too fast though? If you have to onboard 20 people in a quite short period of time rather than five or 10, it becomes hard to define the transition and the level of control you need to give away. In these cases, I learnt to be more introspective and adapt before it is actually required.

In your opinion, how much “risk-taking” personality characteristic is involved in being an entrepreneur?
Risk is nothing but a situation with uncertainty. In the end, it comes down to the way we deal with risk in our professional lives. Successful entrepreneurs embrace opportunities- even if risky. At the same time, they are honest about what they are incapable of and unknowledgeable about. An entrepreneurial success story is eventually always a function of knowledge, experience, skills, teamwork, and, to a lesser degree, luck.