Sometimes, Founders Need To Step Back And Hand Over Control To A New Team For The Enterprise's Betterment
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The company that I founded, elGrocer, now has a new man at its helm. Over the last few weeks, the most common question I got from fellow founders and friends was why Raed Hafez (an existing board member at elGrocer) had been appointed as the company’s new CEO, while I have been moved to being “just” the COO.
It may sound strange to many: why would anyone relinquish the CEO title and the dream of running their own show? In fact, such changes are usually filled with controversy, and more typically, “forced” by an enterprise’s investors/boards, or perhaps done due to an acquisition. But, in my case, there is no such thing- in fact, I requested Raed to take over the role. And I am not just okay with that; I am excited.
After over 10 years in the corporate world, in 2017, I quit my job at Coca-Cola to lead elGrocer and satisfy a hunger to start my own business. I felt it was the right time to take the plunge, despite the fears of whether I was ready to do this, as well as its associated risks. However, the enthusiasm of friends and family, who were our seed investors, simply encouraged me to take the leap. And, when we started elGrocer, besides being one of the first investors, Raed’s experience, wisdom and mentorship, along with the chemistry we shared with each other, was something I heavily relied on, especially given that elGrocer was my first venture.
The best part of this journey, besides the excitement and lessons learnt, was the self-discovery. Having built a solid career in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry in marketing, commercial management, product innovations, and strategy, I learned more about myself in the last three years. I not only recognized what I am good at, but also what I really enjoyed, and that’s a fine line.
No matter how much you love what you are doing, there are many tasks we don’t enjoy, but are unable to delegate to our teams. In my case, I found that I am much more passionate about operations, product, business development, team management, coming up with new ideas and executing them, and less about many other things that a CEO’s role required, and that was fine as long as I could balance my time.
However, the coronavirus pandemic crisis changed the game. For a long period of time since its launch, elGrocer had very little competition in the online grocery space, and it was growing quite steadily. But the COVID-19 crisis did not just change the volume of orders; it also changed the competitive landscape, the investor appetite, consumer behavior, and the retailer perspective online, posing a whole new set of operational challenges. Our key differentiator, which was offering a full logistics set of services to our retail partners, became a complex operation with hundreds of people handling thousands of daily orders, while communicating and keeping the customer base satisfied and confident of receiving their orders.
At the same time, all our FMCG brand partners increased their spend and their elGrocer campaigns, while many more brands approached us to get onboarded. In the middle of all this, we were also already in the plans of planning our Series A round, and that work could not stop. Each of these areas required a team of experts in order to continue driving the company towards excellence in everything it does. This brought me back full circle to the board and investors. I asked for more support, and I received it! We quickly got a bridge investment and the go-ahead for the additional resources.
Looking at everything that needed to be done, I knew that my heart and passion was in the operations side of the business, as it defined the cornerstone of our differentiation. I also knew that Raed’s skills in leadership, strategy and investor relations would serve the company best in the CEO position. And that’s why I look forward to advancing our shared vision under the new leadership headed by Raed. As such, Raed, Xavi Nunes (CMO), Tareq Abu Kaff (CTO), and I will each drive in unison to grow elGrocer and achieve new milestones. After all, elGrocer is a leading player in the UAE market, and it will soon become a leading regional and global player as a result of the combined efforts of the new leadership team.
elGrocer is the first of, hopefully, many new ventures I intend to found over the years, and I’m confident now more than ever before that we have the best team and leadership to create a success story, because money can buy many things- except the right people’s minds and hearts.