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A Decade In Review: Simon Hudson, Founder And CEO, Cheeze "The first attempt will probably taste terrible, and not look at all like what it's supposed to- but that was not a failure; it taught you lessons for the next attempt."

By Aby Sam Thomas

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Cheeze founder and CEO Simon Hudson

With its February 2024 issue, Entrepreneur Middle East celebrates its 10th anniversary! To mark this milestone, we revisiting 10 entrepreneurs and entities that we featured in the publication a decade ago- we find out how far they have come, and what's next for each of their stories.

When we reached out to Cheeze founder and CEO Simon Hudson -one of the earliest contributors to Entrepreneur Middle East- to participate in this feature, which essentially tracks his career/life between 2014 and 2024, the first thing that he tells us is that taking a moment to rewind the clock 10 years, and really looking into his entrepreneurial journey is something he doesn't do often- or enough.

And that admission sets the tone for Hudson's introspection into how much he has changed from the "much younger, less squidgy, and fresher-faced" entrepreneur he was 10 years ago. Back then, Hudson was the founder of Brndstr, a digital agency that he launched in 2013, which built application program interfaces (APIs) that'd result in engaging social media campaigns for all of its clients. "As a young 30-year-old, starting a company in Dubai in 2013 was super exciting, but it was also very different from what it is now," Hudson notes. "Raising money was not like it is today; co-working spaces, networking events, startup communities, were all very small; and the 'Silicon Beach,' as I once called it, was just getting started."

Hudson was operating in a rather nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem then, and it was thus with the aim to connect with people within it that he worked to bring the global startup community, Startup Grind, to Dubai, and use its banner to stage events in the Emirate. These gatherings -which were open to pretty much anyone and everyone- would see Hudson interview founders of local startups. "At my first event, I interviewed J. C. Butler and Sim Whatley, co-founders of Dubizzle [which was the biggest classified ads site in the UAE then], at an event staged at an amazing urban café called MAKE Business Hub in Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Residence neighborhood," Hudson recalls. "Speaking in front of a packed audience, the event led me to find both investors and staff to help me build my new venture."

Hudson's zeal is thus clearly what powered Brndstr as a business- and it got the desired results as well. "From 2013 to 2017, Brndstr thrived, and in all honesty, these were some of the best business years of my career," he says. "I met the most amazing people, and we generated millions in revenue. We worked with some of Dubai and the world's most iconic brands, we built an unbelievable office (even today, my Brndstr office goes down in history as one of the best ever), and as an entrepreneur, although I was learning as I was going, that was the best training I could ever ask for." However, in 2018, Hudson saw his business start to struggle after the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light- after all, all APIs to social media networks were shuttered for a short period, and the fallout was especially devastating for Brndstr. "This was like an iceberg coming out of nowhere, and I, as founder and CEO, was unable to keep things afloat," Hudson says. "And, ultimately, Brndstr closed its doors in 2018."

Related: What Four Years As An Entrepreneur (And CEO) Taught Me About Business

Simon Hudson receiving an Entrepreneur Middle East award. Source: Cheeze

At this point, one may be inclined to consider the Brndstr closure as a failure- and it's fair to say that Hudson would have probably agreed with you back then. But time, as they say, is the greatest teacher, and now, Hudson -who launched his current company, Cheeze, armed with the lessons he learnt from running Brndstr- has a different perspective on all that happened then. "I once read that 'failure is only feedback,' and I have to say that is such a true saying," he says. "When Brndstr closed, I will be honest, and say I was ashamed, sad to let people go, and close the doors on what was a dream that I was emotionally attached to, and for a while, it certainly felt like I had failed. However, failure being feedback puts a whole new light on the situation. It is like making a delicious meal. The first attempt will probably taste terrible, and not look at all like what it's supposed to- but that was not a failure; it taught you lessons for the next attempt. Approaching the closing of Brndstr in that way helped me start Cheeze on a different footing."

Hudson launched Cheeze in 2018, and while the enterprise has gone through several iterations since then, today, it calls itself "a smart scanning app that is reimagining the QR and bar code industry." Cheeze is essentially a brand loyalty company, and Hudson is proud to note that his team today includes names like Guy Kawasaki (former Chief Evangelist of Apple), Marc Randolph (co-founder of Netflix), Greg Hoffman (former Chief Marketing Officer of Nike), and Derek Andersen (co-founder of Startup Grind). "It is crazy to think that Cheeze has been going now for five years," Hudson adds. "It is also crazy to think that during this period, the world faced a global pandemic, and our ways of working, networking, and running a business has changed beyond recognition. With these changes comes another learning curve, because the 2014 Simon who went through 'startup academy 101' with his previous company, well, he didn't have to deal with lockdowns and working from home!"

Looking at the road ahead, Hudson says that he has "a good feeling" about Cheeze, and one of the immediate focus areas for the company -which was launched in the US in Silicon Valley- is to now set up an office for it in Dubai. "Also, our new brand loyalty platform has gone live on, and I am busy onboarding brands for that," Hudson adds. "We will also be launching our own Layer 1 blockchain called Chedar in 2024 to power a Web3 exchange for people to trade and sell their loyalty points- it's a very exciting vertical, and I am personally thrilled for it." As for the long term, Hudson is dreaming big. "Anyone who knows me will know I love Apple products, and my lifetime goal was to build a company that would work closely with them, or be acquired," he shares. "So, my goal for the next 10 years is to make that happen. Apart from that, I aim to be happy, and wake up each day as excited about working as I did on the very first day."

Hindisight is 20/20: Then-Versus-Now With Simon Hudson

Looking back at the stage of your entrepreneurial/career/business trajectory you were in 10 years ago, is there anything you'd do differently knowing what you know now? Alternatively, what's the biggest lesson you wish you'd known 10 years ago?

"If I was to reflect on how the past 10 years have helped be prepared for the next 10, I think it is hard to compare, but what is clear is that growing the skills needed -and being willing to explore new opportunities- will always work out. In fact, the very act of giving it a go is already a huge achievement. I can't say I know what lies ahead for Cheeze, but I know that this time round, it is more enjoyable, and I feel more in control than when running my previous company."

Related: A Decade In Review: Morrad Irsane And Sharene Lee, Co-Founders, Takadao

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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