Risking everything for your business

Even with the odds stacked against you, the ability to reboot everyday and motivate yourself to keep going can, it turns out, get you pretty far. Take Nour Mouakke, who went from immigrant to refugee to founder.

‘My story might make you wake up in the morning and think today is not such a bad day after all,’ Nour Mouakke, founder of the cloud-based platform for meetings and events management, Wizme, is fond of saying. 

Born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, in 1993, Mouakke moved to the UK when he was 26 to study at university. He went on to get a job in marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which sponsored him as a highly skilled immigrant, meaning he could stay in the UK beyond his two-year work permit – probably a good thing, as civil war had just broken out back home in Syria. 

Leaving your homeland to set up in another country is a big risk, but Mouakke was about to take another, even bigger step into the unknown. Spotting that many hotels had old-fashioned and slow booking systems in place, Mouakke came up with his idea of a marketplace for corporates to automate booking small meetings. He called it Wizme. 

‘Words like positivity, hope, resilience and determination are how I approach life.’

But to found the company he had to quit his job – and along with it, ties to the company that had initially sponsored him. So Mouakke gave up his visa and applied for refugee status – by definition, giving up the right to travel back home and see his family, another huge personal sacrifice. At this time Aleppo was one of the worst hit cities. Wizme’s success, then, was also tied his family’s wellbeing, Mouakke says. 

The next few years didn’t go well. Mouakke bootstrapped the company, lost all of his money 

and found himself without a home and having to sleep on friends’ sofas. The company looked dead until, in 2017, he was invited to present in front of over 100 business owners at an annual agency consortium event in France, where he earned £130,000 in investment – enough, finally, to grow the company and make it successful. ‘Words like positivity, hope, resilience and determination are how I approach life,’ says Mouakke. ‘With the right attitude, you can achieve anything.’ 

This article is part of a bigger feature on leadership in tough times.

This article was first published in Courier Issue 35, June/July 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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