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Wafa Alobaidat | Bahrain | Start Exploring!!

After graduating from Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, I had the opportunity to work for Vogue Nippon - collaborating with designers like Liza Bruce and Marko Matysik of Big/Show Magazine. The idea for Sketchbook was born out of my desire to build a platform to support emerging artists and designers. Initially, United Kingdom market and demographic was our focus, but later we expanded to the Arab market. With neither funding nor advertising, I was armed only with my passion for design and persuasive charm. It was terribly difficult at first, especially meeting with potential stakeholders and encouraging them to get involve. In fact, all they saw was a 22 years old - they just ran the other way! I really had to sell the magazine concept via email so I spent a good 5-6 hours a day emailing illustrators, designers, and writers to get them to contribute their work to the magazine. At the end of the day, I was filling a gap by providing a haven for creative expression for young designers.

Sketchbook Magazine is a digital publication that showcases established and emerging creative talents in illustration, art, design and culture. Featuring original sketchbook graphics and exclusive interviews. Sketchbook aims to provide an introspective to the raw, un-edited and unconventional aspects of art and design. Sketchbook Magazine aims to inspire, inform and support young creatives from the Middle East and Europe in all areas of visual communication, from graphic design to photography and digital media. After launching Sketchbook, I was offered the opportunity to become editor of Dia-boutique, which was the number one e-luxury site in the Middle East at that time. I had also been reporting for High Life Dubai, Borderline, and Prim Magazine in New York as a fashion journalist and contributor. It was then that I decided to launch my own agency Obai & Hill, offering bespoke creative services and solutions in the areas of design, PR, marketing, and digital. Some of my London projects have involved designing pop-up spaces on the trendy Carnaby Street and the Clothes Show Expo in Earl’s Court. In Bahrain, my client's portfolio includes big brands like McDonalds and Vapiano, and local brands like Bahrain Flour Mill and Green Diamond.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

Despite Obai & Hill’s success in one of the world’s most competitive cities, moving back to Bahrain was not that straightforward. It took me one whole year to get familiar with the organisations, the business culture, how things worked, and who’s who. It taught me that if I were to expand to another city or country I would need time to really understand the market. Other culture shocks included commercial registration barriers, office space requirements, and high capital prerequisites. In London, I could work from my studio apartment and not have to deal with registrations or fees to start up — all I needed was some space and a laptop in comparison to my U.K. vs Bahrain experience.

I was also devastated to discover that if I wanted to publish a magazine in Bahrain, I needed to show the Ministry of Commerce BD 50,000 (more than $132,000 USD) in my account and have five Bahraini partners. Unfortunately, some of our laws are outdated and hinder productivity and innovation. I started my Bahrain operations with a senior designer, an accountant, and an account manager, hiring them organically and one at a time as I secured new projects. Today, Obaidat’s team consists of nine 20-something women (and one man) who see themselves as creative problem-solvers driven by elevating their clients’ brands. I wish I had known that without any business or accounting experience, my first hire should have been an accountant. As a creative person, lack of discipline is an issue and I mismanaged funds that I earned through services and mixed them up with my personal accounts. We then started scoring retainer projects which allowed me to created cash flow budgets for the year ahead and plan my next hire.

What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?

'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg, 'Girl Boss' by Sophia Amoruso, 'A Life Without Limits' by Chrissie Wellington and then 'Are You Fully Charged' by Tom Rath.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

I have had more than 20 mentors my whole life, they are incredible resources and I have had them based on socialisation, such as operations, accounting and finance, business model development, lead generation and mentors who problem solve with me.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

Accounting at first, then operations and recruiting, dealing with potential investors, now my challenge is to scale up, and figuring out how to penetrate the GCC.

What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?

Don’t start listing why you can’t do something, that is the easiest thing a person can do. We are raised in a culture of fear and people are always ready to tell you that your ideas are not realistic, but I think you need to be unrealistic to pursue what you want. If you have no passion for anything start exploring – path finds, don’t just be stuck in a rut, nothing will ever come to you, you must go and find what makes you happy and make it your career.

Clear Vision!!

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