Beirut is rapidly shaping up as a crucial player in the region’s startup scene. Venture spoke to four Lebanese female entrepreneurs who have made major headway in Lebanon, the region, and even the world with their startups and creations.
By Dina Al Wakeel
The Lebanese economy is mired in problems. Growth and consumer and investor confidence continue to be held back by regional instability and a long-standing local political impasse.
Still, the Lebanese are a resilient bunch, with an abundance of potential and innovation. A positive development for all Lebanese startups has been a recent Central Bank decision to unlock $400 million for startup investments. This move, coupled with a serious attempt to create a tech hub in Beirut, will boost Lebanese startups’ competitive edge.
Here, Venture features four diverse Lebanese entrepreneurs, all of whom are women, for creating a successful business in a strenuous environment, for acting as a boon to the local, and in some cases even regional and global, economy, and the arduous task they still have ahead to maintain their success.
Today we feature Christelle Fakhoury, the Cofounder and CEO of C2C (Le Club Des Deux Clowns).
For Christelle Fakhoury, necessity is indeed the mother of invention. She created her business 11 years ago at the age of 21 primarily to fund her education and become financially independent. She was also driven by her love of children and entertainment.
Fakhoury decided to take advantage of the big gap that existed in the market to create a special concept that would benefit both the kids and their parents. “When we started the company in 2004, there were no proper places or systems for kids entertainment. Parents didn’t know where to take their kids or what to do on their birthdays,” she said.
More than a decade on, C2C now has 150 employees and is one of Beirut’s leading children’s events companies. It offers customers a myriad of services, including organizing birthday parties, festivals, summer camps, and product launches. C2C began by organizing around 100 events annually. Today the number has grown to almost 800. The company started with $20,000 in seed capital, and their revenue now has reached approximately $2 million.
But despite this impressive performance, Fakhoury isn’t resting on her laurels. “Today, I look back and feel proud of my accomplishments, but realize that the only way to grow as an organization is by continually questioning our business model and seeking new ways of delivering value to our customers,” she said. “My business is my baby because I put all my dreams and passion to see it grow.”
The difficult economic and political conditions in Lebanon continue to weigh on C2C’s activities, particularly in its ability to invest in R&D and foster a long-term investment view. Fakhoury said she is addressing this by diversifying her company’s geographic risk and expanding in other locations.
She is also working hard on developing new ways to retain talented, trustworthy employees and reduce employee turnover (almost half of her team are students and part-timers). “We are rethinking our incentive packages and focusing on refining our company culture.” Low barriers to entry into this industry also mean that competition is fierce, thus threatening their margins.
But the most difficult challenge has been the social, cultural, and even legal barriers that she faced as a woman entrepreneur. “Such challenges include not being taken seriously by male individuals all the way to being insulted and disrespected and having no recourse to the law or any other entity to claim my basic rights,” she lamented.
Although she has been approached several times to accept partnerships or even franchise the business, Fakhoury still prefers the operations to remain as they are today. But she is planning to expand to the MENA region in the coming years, and in five years time, she hopes the C2C brand will set the standard for children’s entertainment centers. “Our business started as a family enterprise and grew by itself thanks to our creative team, our family spirit, and the love of our clients.”
This is part two of a four-piece story. Part one features Chantal Abou Jaoude, the Cofounder and Managing Partner at EDGE and EDGE Middle East. Part three and four coming soon.