Sara Fakir, Executive Catalyst at ideiaLab tells us how to turn dreams into sustainable businesses as well as promote entrepreneurship and innovation.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sara Fakir: These are challenging times, but also an exceptional moment globally with lots of potential for transformation. One of our mantras at ideiaLab is always turning challenges into opportunities (and we encourage the entrepreneurs we support to do the same). Of course, it is hard to see so many people struggling, and the impact on health, wellbeing, income and businesses is scary. We are grateful to be doing well as a business and personally to be healthy and safe. The pandemic forced us to adapt a number of our programs and very quickly make shifts to remain relevant and impactful, even with restrictions in place. And we also provided specific programs, resources, and support to the startup community to help them rethink and reinvent their businesses and business models.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ideiaLab.
Sara Fakir: I co-founded ideiaLab 11 years ago with one of my oldest friends, Tatiana Pereira. We started off slowly – committed to a shared vision but still learning and experimenting with different ways in which we could bring it to life. We both come from corporate backgrounds, and I studied Economics and started my financial management consulting career. My consulting career gave me the chance to travel across Mozambique and see people, places, and projects that really made me reflect on the potential of our country. Alongside this, I’ve always been entrepreneurial and ran a swimwear company for several years.
When we started ideiaLab, it was because we knew (and still believe) that entrepreneurship and innovation can be powerful drivers of socio-economic development. We wanted to equip people with the tools to turn their dreams into sustainable businesses. This goal still drives us to this day.
How does ideiaLab innovate?
Sara Fakir: Let’s put it this way – within a week of the government announcing the state of emergency in March last year, the majority of our clients canceled or paused on in-person training and programs, yet 2020 still turned out to be our best financial performance ever. This was not by chance, but because as a team, we took immediate action to really lean into the opportunities and taking some risks like moving our experiential training programs 100% online. We also began to test a number of new ways to stay close to our community using technology. Our ability to innovate, transform and grow has a lot to do with our team, their willingness to always learn and experiment with us, and the flexibility we have built into our ways of working.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sara Fakir: We are all operating in a very volatile market and uncertain economic situation, which of course, has a knock-on effect on us. As I mentioned, 2020 was a good year for us, but that does not mean we are in a position to be complacent. Our business development and expansion efforts continue to increase, and we invest a lot of time in finding and leveraging opportunities and ensuring we have a variety of income streams. As soon as we felt the pandemic’s impact, we made very quick decisions to reduce a number of costs and to balance that with continuing to honor payments to suppliers who depend on our business for their sustainability.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sara Fakir: Luckily, we have not had to make any reductions in the size of the team or salaries during the pandemic, and for us, that would always be a last resort and a decision that we would take transparently and in conversation with the team to ensure we exhaust all other possibilities first. But beyond this, there were a number of other challenging dynamics that we had to navigate as a team, like what it meant to all work from home, be at a distance, how to best support each other through this, acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on our families and communities, focus on self-care and connection with each other…
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sara Fakir: As mentioned, at the beginning of the pandemic, most of our clients decided to cancel activities, but they were also seeing the effort we were putting in to adjust and transform, and they started to support it. It made our relationships more robust as they could see that we were not bringing them troubles (despite the challenging moment) but solutions. And when we stepped up, they were willing to test, experiment, and learn with us. We did switch to using a number of online tools or began using our current digital tools more, but tools were not the answer – the key (both for our clients and participants in our programs) was to stay human-centered and understand the needs of the people we serve, responding to that in everything we do.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sara Fakir: Nope. Nada. Nothing.
Your final thoughts?
Sara Fakir: The pandemic was disruptive in our ways of working, but I believe that our internal culture and the trust we have amongst the team allowed us to adapt fast. If we had not been investing in this in the past, we probably wouldn’t have survived this moment.
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