My path into entrepreneurship began accidentally. I wasn’t dreaming of creating a company or grabbing headlines for valuations and exits. I hadn’t heard of a term sheet, and I didn’t know the first thing about building or managing a team.
All I knew was that I had an idea of the type of job I wanted to do, and at the time, that role didn’t exist, and so in 2009, when a friend approached me to test out an experiment that lined up with my professional interests, I jumped on board.
Over the next three years, that experiment evolved into the Middle East’s leading social media agency, The Online Project. What started off as three friends coming together to convince large companies to engage their consumers through Facebook, grew into a healthy business that employed 52 team members in offices across three cities with clients in seven countries. We signed on some of the most recognized brands in the world such as Samsung, Nescafe and Saks Fifth Avenue, nurtured a nascent industry and developed a team that blazed the trail for young, ambitious talent to think, act and work differently.
Like most entrepreneurial endeavors, building The Online Project wasn’t glamorous, but it was rewarding and fun. Being at the helm of the industry allowed me to live through experiences that would push my career as far as I was willing to take it.
That sense of control and the ability to guide my own professional destiny resonates with my personality. There’s a determination that comes with that, and that determination is what brought me to Silicon Valley after a decade of working in the Middle East. That determination is what set me off on a year of an insanely challenging job hunt that culminated in a viral resume campaign that caught the attention of investors, entrepreneurs and global peers.
Over the last few months, I’ve received thousands of messages from strangers across the world asking me many questions, including why I would want to work for someone else instead of starting another venture. Mainly, they seem to want to know why I’ve stopped being an entrepreneur.
The answer remains obvious to me- I haven’t stopped being an entrepreneur, I’ve just entered a new chapter of my entrepreneurial journey. I didn’t want to work for just anyone in Silicon Valley. I wanted to work with a leader- a company that has a stellar team and global impact and one that I could learn from. I believe that in order to be a more successful entrepreneur in the future, I need to be better equipped to face challenges I haven’t yet experienced.
I see this as an extension of an entrepreneurial path, not a divergence from it.
By choosing to work at Upwork, a platform for freelance work, I’ve opted into the most exciting challenge of my career so far. I’m confident that being part of the team here is going to make me much more competitive in whatever I choose to embark on afterwards because I’m no longer learning only from my own successes and failures, of which I had many; I’m learning first hand from the successes and failures of a team that performs on a much bigger scale.
With a global community that’s 14 million strong, Upwork is changing the way the world works. Not only do I get to be in the midst of this change and participate in shaping the future of work, I also have the chance to learn how to collaborate with globally distributed teams.
Being part of a this marketplace means I get to learn about global payment challenges and how to address them; I get to learn about practical solutions that can be developed through machine learning algorithms and data science models; I get to experiment with growth programs that impact freelancers around the world and learn about the unique nuances of communities in each country.
And all this learning is happening on the heels of a rebrand as Elance-Odesk has become Upwork. This has already given me the opportunity to learn about the technical intricacies that go into a rebrand beyond simply changing the look of a company- like the SEO challenges, migrating communities, and managing user expectations and communication.
The hardest thing about being a first-time entrepreneur was that all the lessons I learned were through my own trial and error. Today, I’m fortunate to learn these lessons and more through colleagues who have specialized in fields that are shaping the tech sector.
If the history of my career so far is any indication of my future, I can say with absolute certainty that I don’t know where I’ll be in a few years, or what I’ll be doing then. What I do know for sure is that my inner entrepreneur is being nurtured just as much today as it did when I was building something that was my own, and I can only imagine the accidental paths to success that might be waiting for me.