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Getting One's Ducks In A Row: Tracking A Lux Journey, From Startup To Acquisition The Qode co-founders share their experience to offer insights for other entrepreneurs navigating their way from startup to stability, growth, and success.

By Dipesh Depala Edited by Aby Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

The Qode
Ayman Fakoussa and Dipesh Depala, co-founders, The Qode

This article was co-written with Ayman Fakoussa, co-founder and Managing Partner, The Qode.

It was in 2008, amidst the global financial crisis, that the two of us -Ayman Fakoussa and Dipesh Depala- embarked on an ambitious journey with The Qode. At the time, The Qode consisted of just four people- but we were a nimble, excited team, motivated by a clear vision. We sought to elevate the Middle East's luxury public relations (PR) landscape. Today, as we reflect on what we've accomplished so far, and anticipate what we plan to achieve in the coming years, we recognize that our story is an age-old one- albeit with some added sparkle and flair!

The Qode today stands as a testament to the power of perseverance, strategic thinking, and innovative practices. But most of all, it provides tangible proof of the hard work our team put into drafting its story. We have a growing family of remarkable souls who joined us, supported us, and dedicated a part of their lives to sharing in our vision, and helping us take the company to where it is today.

For those of you reading this, we hope that our experience will offer insights, and perhaps even shed light on undiscovered possibilities as you navigate your way from startup to stability, growth, and success, hopefully alleviating some of the "fears" that plague our ilk, a natural side effect of the entrepreneurial spirit. At the beginning, Ayman was an industry insider working in marketing for L'Oreal and Villa Moda, where he played a pivotal role in introducing renowned brands to the region.

Meanwhile, Dipesh had a background in business, specifically in trade, distribution, and retail. The UAE's growing publishing sector, dominated by two main groups, was aiming to create more localized content, a goal requiring a flourishing entertainment and events sector in order to succeed. Dipesh had done a remarkable job of tapping into this over the years, becoming a regular feature across all the UAE's print media, to the point where he had become somewhat of a local celebrity.

That said, there was an absence of agencies that really understood the nuanced communications required by the global luxury sector that Ayman loved, with local agencies prioritizing the transactional, advertising dollars approach to communications. This method didn't cater to the specialized conversational mindset of premium luxury consumers, an exploding regional demographic.

Source: The Qode

Our combined backgrounds, Ayman's on the client side of luxury retail and PR, along with Dipesh's access to and relationships with the predominant media of the time, gave us both the client-centric perspective and practical ability to identify and fill the gap, positioning The Qode as the region's first boutique luxury communications agency.

We faced a lot of skepticism for launching during the global financial crisis, but we knew that with so many brands recently introduced to the market, the competition for the UAE's luxury market would be aggressive, with larger agencies caught up in the ad sales web. Brands could no longer justify US$10,000 and $20,000 per-page ads, and we saw the opportunity for The Qode to step up and offer them an affordable and results-driven alternative. This allowed them to communicate, engage, and stay relevant during the challenging period that echoed through the market, calling for disruption. It wasn't long before more agencies began popping up across the region, which presented a new set of challenges for us.

Sustaining our growth became more complex as the Gulf historically had a very dynamic and transient workforce, with new people arriving, leaving, changing jobs, and even industries, regularly. Fully aware that to understand any market means understanding its people, we needed to strategize. We committed ourselves to learning, knowing that we'd need to evolve to stay ahead of our often capital-rich and highly connected competition.

Related: Every Brand Has A Story, But It's How You Choose To Craft It That Ensures Its Impact

Our network, and the ability to constantly change, and add to our contacts have been a lifeline for us. As any business professional or entrepreneur knows, fostering relationships is fundamental to long-term partnerships, whether as an employee or a business owner. The ability to build and maintain relationships is very often the key difference between success and failure. In fact, it was the associations that we built and nurtured over the years that eventually led to our being acquired.

Today, we believe that our network is as much a part of The Qode's net worth, as the innovative service offering we've honed over the years. But it's important to understand that networking isn't only about building external connections; it's a personal character trait that needs to be developed as a skill and applied throughout one's career. It's our muscle for the workplace that we all need to train.

At The Qode, we are adamant about nurturing a culture of trust and compromise. We firmly believe that differing perspectives spark creativity and growth, with openness and compromise the cornerstones of our leadership style. In fact, we'd rate our ability to create a happy, comfortable, and positive culture as key to the success we've had over the years.

For entrepreneurs who are just starting up their businesses, it can be difficult to delegate at first. In the early years, we had to remind ourselves to have faith in our team, to let go when appropriate, and trust in the company we were working so hard to build.

Source: The Qode

As first-generation businesspeople, it can be very hard to do this, and risk losing control. After all, we want to make sure that everything is up to the high standards that we ourselves would expect as clients, suppliers, and business partners. But, with growth comes the absolute need to trust and empower your team.

Today, we are convinced that the comfort we instilled through trust resulted in the happy, motivated, and high-performing workforce that we are so proud to have with us today. Businesspeople in this modern era can chart the growth trajectory of most companies by looking at the willingness and ability of the founders to entrust, invest in, and empower their teams.

Those who refuse to relinquish control might not fail entirely, but they generally tend to have a flatter growth trajectory and risk becoming irrelevant by disregarding the external and human forces driving the transformational agenda. As the oft-repeated aphorism goes,"culture eats strategy for breakfast."

Our commitment to fostering an inclusive, flexible, and empowering culture was instrumental in weathering the challenges, making us an attractive employer, and later overcoming the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic, which brought our industry to its knees.

Our involvement with Endeavor, a prominent global network of entrepreneurs, was probably the most transformative experience we've had, as it drove us to restructure, transform, and prepare the business for growth and investment. We credit our experience with them, alongside the guidance and mentorship they offered, as a pivotal factor in making us an attractive acquisition candidate. We had developed very strong relationships with several international agencies over the years, but were particularly close with Karla Otto, with whom we had worked on several projects, and recommended clients to one another regularly.

Therefore, when The Independents Group was formed as a partnership between K2 and Karla Otto, The Qode was a natural fit, given our geographical standing, financial position, established network, and core competencies. Today, we're proud to operate as an independent entity within The Independents Group, a global collective of agencies with offices around the world, comprising other industry leaders such as Bureau Betak and Prodject.

This development has really bolstered our offering, and has enabled us to shape the luxury and lifestyle communications landscape more profoundly than ever before. It brought us unprecedented opportunities, and it has also expanded our network through proxy, whilst allowing us to preserve our unique identity, culture, and core values. For us, it marked the moment when we turned the page to the next exhilarating era of The Qode's growth and evolution- and we're more excited than ever for the opportunities that lay ahead of us.

Related: Pushing Boundaries: Evangelos Kaldelis, CEO, 3S Money (MENA)

Dipesh Depala

Co-founder and Managing Partner, The Qode

Dipesh Depala is the co-founder and Managing Partner of The Qode. Located in Dubai Design District, The Qode is an integrated agency offering brands a specialized approach to public relations, event management, digital marketing, social media, and content creation. As part of The Independents Group, The Qode is now the operational partner for global agencies, Karla Otto and K2 in the Middle East, North Africa, and India.
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