How it feels to work at a Lebanese startup
If you turn on the news today, you will hear nothing but stories about conflicts, fights, and the dire economy. It seems as if Lebanon is in chaos. However, of the things you won’t hear is the progress that Lebanese startups are attempting to impose on our community.
I graduated from the American University of Beirut with a B.E in Industrial Engineering a month ago. A week later, I found a business development internship opportunity at Presentail through LinkedIn. The versatile nature of this role was intriguing enough for me to submit my resume. The week after, I found myself in Beirut Digital District’s garden, which was the only green space in the whole area, discussing this opportunity with Adnan Ammache, the CEO of Presentail. After extensive talks with Adnan that spanned over a couple of weeks, I decided that this would be a good step for my career, not knowing the positive impact it would have on my perception of Lebanon.
Presentail’s mission is a simple one, to enable Lebanese expats to buy gifts to their loved ones back home through local shops. Hence, it is not only simplifying the hectic process of purchasing gifts from thousands of kilometers away, but also offering small business owners the chance to operate online and increase their revenues. Through the technological advancement, Presentail is attempting to preserve shops that are rooted into Lebanese history, such as Takkoush Flowers, and to support relatively new businesses that are morally conscious such as Particulier.
I had never seen the company’s office before my first day as there were no pictures on the internet. In fact, the closest I had gotten to the workplace was when I was at the ground floor of Flat6Labs (BDD 740) waiting for my first interview, which eventually took place in the garden. But even then, in the small area that almost resembled a reception room, I felt a modern energy about the place. The colorful walls, simplistic furniture, and technological gadgets were enough for me to be impressed by not only the Beirut Digital District, but also Presentail.
Flashforward to my first day, I was immediately surprised to find that the office was not conventional, one that had cubicles or was divided based on the company’s hierarchy. In fact, it was a room full of desks with computers, where all startups could work and be around each other. Adnan quickly introduced me to the team, Aline Khalifeh, a business graduate from AUB, and Carl Husseini, an international business graduate from the Grenoble school of management. Once I reached my desk, I found a card with my company email. The moment I entered the email, my phone’s calendar was immediately organized based on my tasks. I had interned at other companies, but the way Presentail approached things seemed much more modern and ultimately more comfortable. My day was planned out and included a team lunch, and a team activity at escape the room which I found a bit unusual at first. The team activity, which we successfully completed, was an impressive way to get us to assess each other’s strengths and come together as a team.
My first week ended up being hectic, with a lot of work to do and a lot of work ahead. In a nine-hour workday, I would be working on a marketing project then quickly shift to a delivery process improvement project. The tasks were all clearly laid out on an app, and my phone soon became an extension of my conscience, continuously reminding me that some tasks were still unfinished, even when I’m at home. But even with the fast-paced nature of the work, and the challenging projects that seemed impossible to complete at first, I never felt that my energy was wasted. In fact, this environment forced our team to develop a sense of leadership and entrepreneurial thinking.
We were never alone, seeing the office full of people working together on their startups was motivating and helpful as we always found help in times of need. This meant that whatever we approached, we did so with no fear. Being surrounded by so many startups and seeing them strive to create a better future for Lebanon was inspiring to say the least. At the end of the day, all the people gathered in this open space were sacrificing their time and their resources, and sometimes even accepting no pay, to get their ideas out to their community.
Ultimately, being a business development intern at Presentail was not something that I expected, but something I needed. I have grown so much as a person and an entrepreneur in the space of two weeks and I can’t wait to see what’s next. There is beauty in chasing dreams, but there is also a lot of work, which, when done successfully, will only be fulfilling. It is true that Lebanon is a great chaos of colors that don’t always match. However, in that chaos, there is a bit of undying hope.