What’s it like to start your own company during your studies? We asked Mahmoud Jabra about his experiences.
Can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Mahmoud Jabra and I’m 22 years old. I moved to the Netherlands three years ago from Gaza in Palestine, where I originally began studying Computer Science. Owing to circumstances, my parents decided to move here, so I had to stop studying in Gaza. I started studying at Stenden University of Applied Sciences instead, and am now finishing my second year of Computer Science. Alongside my studies, I started my own IT company about a year ago.
Can you tell us a bit about your company?
My company m06 offers IT services to other companies. These services include web and mobile development, design, writing and content, marketing and consulting. When people think of IT services, they first think of programming and web-hosting services. Traditional IT no longer meets the real needs of companies, which is why m06 provides its clients with an extended circle of services. We offer a wide variety of design options, branding, logos, etc. Our writing team provides texts for all media and platforms. We provide content, populate your site with attractive text and write reports. We also help with marketing, advertising, improving your public image and making sure you are found in internet searches. For me, the uniqueness of the business lies in the diversity of our international team and its flexibility in terms of the work we do and how we work together. This means that not only are we able to provide solutions fast, but because of the diverse mindsets in our international environment, these solutions are highly creative.
How did you come up with the idea of starting your own business?
Our time on this earth is limited. First, I always knew I wanted to do my own thing, have my own business… not just because I wanted to be my own boss, but more importantly for the sense of freedom. And second, I realized in my first year of study that the workload left time for other activities alongside my studies. So after my first year I did exactly that: I started my own business.
What were your main concerns about starting a business?
There are many concerns and risks when you start your own business. There are those that you anticipate and plan to overcome, but there are many that arise as you set out on your path. The first concern I had to overcome, and I think many entrepreneurs will have experienced this, was money. You need at least €10,000 of capital to be on the safe side in the first few months of your new business. Since I did not have any savings and did not want to ask my parents for help, I started contacting banks and foundations. I came across a company that I spent over three months negotiating with. In the end, I decided not to go through with it but just to start by myself. I preferred to start small, so I partnered up with Lean Network. We had an exchange relationship: they gave us projects and instead of full payment they gave us office space. A win-win situation for both.
What were the major obstacles to building your business?
Although I started on my own, the workload turned out to require a good team with diverse skills. So one of my first obstacles was putting together a team. I knew I needed people with various skills, but I would also need money to pay salaries and people that I could trust. At first, I started recruiting friends and people I knew, but for single projects. This did not prove such a good idea, because I sensed a lack of commitment. So I came up with the idea of having a few part-time employees with most of the other team members working on a project basis. In spite of that, I still did not have not a single full-time team member, so we decided to create an internship opportunity for motivated students. Two years after I started the business, the team now stands at between three and 20 members. We were even able to create jobs for other international students, like internships for MBO students. The diversity of the type of employment brought with it a new challenge: the schedule. Because of the nature of the team, some people are part-time, others are project-based and others again are interns. It can be quite a challenge to have all the team present for a meeting, so we had to come up with a unique system of communication that was simultaneously efficient and flexible.
How do study and business go together?
If I’m not studying, you’ll find me in the office! My time is divided between my two passions: my work and my studies. It’s not the typical student life, I agree, but as long as I enjoy it it’s not a problem, at least not for me. I believe that if you really want something to work, you’ll find a way to make it happen. It might take time, and unconventional methods, but you will make it work.
Some would say that entrepreneurship is a skill; others would say it is a personality type. What do you think?
In a way, I believe it’s a combination of both! I tend to think that there are people who simply have the drive for it. I can’t explain why I have that drive. I always knew I wanted to start my own business. Today I can also say that drive alone is not enough. Not only do you need the commitment and motivation to work thousands of hours, you also need the development mindset to view things as a process, a willingness to learn and gain new knowledge and insight into your own way of working.
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