Taha Elraaid is the founder and CEO of technology solutions company Lamah. His mission? To bring tools and technology from the West to improve ease of living in Libya as the leading tech company in the country. Under Lamah, Taha’s biggest success is building Libya’s first address system, completely digitized. Think Google Maps crossed with Yelp.
Lamah also hosts the country’s biggest shared workspace and encourages entrepreneurs and innovators to meet, connect and collaborate. Taha is based in Vancouver, Canada.
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We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Taha Elraaid: Despite my family being big in business, I grew up in quite a humble household. My parents made sure that we understood the value of money, and often we found that some kids had fancier things than us. That upbringing is what I believe has kept me grounded, and able to connect with what I believe is our average customers.
When I turned 17 I left to study abroad but found that the most valuable education I received was living and learning amongst tech entrepreneurs and innovators in San Francisco. I saw firsthand how innovation could change lives and eventually returned to Libya with new ideas on how I could help people. That led me to create Lamah Technologies. Lamah actually translates to ‘gathering’ or ‘together’ in Arabic, which is what we’re about: helping everyone.
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Taha Elraaid: My business journey has been all about making a difference in people’s lives. Just because you’re living in one place or you’re of a certain group, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t benefit from the same innovation that other people have access to. Many obstacles that Libyans or other Middle Eastern citizens face are non-existent elsewhere in the world. The only thing stopping us from moving forward is taking that first step. I was in a well-placed position — I understood the problems, I know what solutions there are, and I had the resources to drive this progress forward.
Tell us about 2 things that you like and two things that you dislike about your industry. Share what you’d like to see change and why.
Taha Elraaid: Two things about the technology and digital transformation field I like are the possibilities available, and the potential impact. There is no limit on how we can innovate within technology. It seems like there is always something to learn, something to build, something to improve.
This leads to the fact that there’s unlimited impact too. Technology can so easily change someone’s life or initiate positive change. We often get caught up in all the complications and negativity (which I’m coming onto) but at its most basic function, tech is here to help us. It doesn’t even need to be complex — it just needs to meet the needs of the users. Solve a problem that has previously been unsolvable or inefficient.
There are downsides, of course. There’s a lot of hype around building tech solutions, and the money it can bring it. When people build products or services with the wrong end goal in mind, people can get hurt. Many people think it’s an easy path to build tech but there’s a lot of challenges — and these need to be handled with care. There’s a lot of money, and therefore a lot of ways to hack the system.
There was an app that came out a few years ago called Secret, where people could share anything they wanted anonymously. It became a breeding ground for bullying and harassment. Despite having millions of dollars behind it, the app was badly managed. When tech is mismanaged, it’s the users who suffer.
The second problem I see in the tech industry is an automatic trust for big companies over smaller startups, or companies outside the UK, US, Europe, etc. There are some amazing countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, but often even within their own countries, they are brushed past for the big names. Local innovation needs us now more than ever.
Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see your organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Taha Elraaid: Our main focus over the new three years is implementing more flex time and flex work options, and therefore catering to all our employees’ needs. At the same time, this needs to be balanced with a structure that guarantees we won’t drop in productivity or quality of work.
Libya is in the early stages of remote work, and we want to take our time and do it right, instead of implementing rushed solutions.
According to the Michigan State University “An organization’s culture is responsible for creating the kind of environment in which the business is managed, and has a major impact on its ultimate success or failure.” What kind of culture has your organization adopted and how has it impacted your business?
Taha Elraaid: Our main focus is collaboration, and that’s what keeps us innovative. Companies like Google and Amazon encourage their employees to come up with new ideas or even work on their own projects at work, and I like to think we’re taking a similar approach.
Innovation is held back by people, and an unwillingness to change. We’re fostering the opposite. We encourage everyone to think innovatively, to question problems, and to come up with new solutions. That way, our employees can actually impact the business, and they know it. They’re not following us blindly. We’re walking together.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Taha Elraaid: Remove any physical silos. It sounds small, but the impact is great.
As a CEO, I don’t have my own office. I sit amongst my team, as do all the other executives. By removing the physical barrier to your staff, you’re inviting them to approach you. You’re allowing a dialogue to take place. No person is better than other just because of their position. This is how we align our culture with our main value: collaboration. Identify the most important driving force behind your company, and build your culture around that.
The overwhelming majority of more than 9,000 workers included in a recent Accenture survey on the future of work said they felt a hybrid work model would be optimal going forward, a major reason for that being the improved work-life balance that it offers. How do you promote work-life balance at your company?
Taha Elraaid: We don’t say ‘no’ to anyone that asks for flexibility. We talk about compromise.
Recognize that your team is made up of people, not robots. Focus on the output, not the input. Whether someone spends 2 hours or 10 hours on a project is less important than the results. So if people are getting their work done at a high standard, then we allow them to have the flexibility they want. It’s all about accountability.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Taha Elraaid: Collaborative and supportive.
Recently I was walking around the office, chatting to different team members. I would sit down and speak to them about their future plans. Where do they aspire to be? One data entry employee shared that he wanted to pursue a career in UX. I spoke to him at length about what direction he needed to take, and how in the company he could eventually transition to this. I made sure that he was speaking to the right people and had access to some new opportunities.
People perform best when they are understood, and doing something they care about. By hearing firsthand from my staff, I’m able to make better decisions. It’s all about collaborating and supporting one another to achieve a shared purpose.
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Taha Elraaid: I’m naturally quite a shy person, but I never let that stop me from building something great. Likewise, our company culture is all about being open, communicating, and working together. This is how I see things play out day-to-day at Lamah.
New ideas are discussed, questions deliberated, and most of all, there’s a lot of communication. We’ve removed silos so that there are no obstacles or opportunities to be stagnant. In my early days, I found that an open working space helped me overcome my shyness, and it’s what I hope to continue nurturing.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Taha Elraaid: At the end of the day, our employees don’t work for us. They work for the people, the customers. And this end purpose is what I remind them of, and keep at the heart of my managing. Any feedback I deliver focuses on growth and ideas. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s just part of the learning process. So I try not to discourage individuals. Instead, I offer new ways of thinking of doing things.
I choose to guide employees rather than push them or tell them what’s right and what’s wrong. If they’re working on a certain thing, I’ll suggest topics for them to look into, or resources they can use to support their work.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Taha Elraaid: First, I sit down with my other executives to acknowledge what’s happening. Why has this conflict come about? What do we see as the triggers, and what solutions are available? Then we address the involved parties. We give everyone a chance to explain and address their part in the matter.
And as with any conflict, we come back to our company vision and values and ensure that the solution meets this and the team is satisfied. It’s like being in court — our role is to be an unbiased party and reach the right solution. Not the easiest one. The end goal is focusing on what’s best for the company and our shared goal.
According to Culture AMP, Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention. What is your organization doing to facilitate an inclusive and supportive environment for women?
Taha Elraaid: We approach this by giving all employees the same opportunities as each other. Diversity and inclusion are not a problem unless you make it one. We leave all biases outside of the hiring and managing processes. If any employees need support or flexibility, we offer it to them. Our decisions are made based on what’s best for each employee and for the company.
In our coworking space, we also offer a women-only room. In Libya, this is important as it gives women a safe and judgment-free space to spend time on their personal endeavors, whether that’s work-related or other. While in some places this may not be necessary, we created this to meet the needs of our local citizens. The key is listening to feedback and responding. What do people want, and how we can help?
What role do your company’s culture and values play in the recruitment process and how do you ensure that it is free from bias?
Taha Elraaid: The things we value are free of bias: collaboration, innovation, and progress. When it comes to recruiting, we focus on skills and aspirations. Where does this person want to be in five years? Are their values aligned with ours? I.e., focusing on progress?
With today’s flexible work options, we’re better placed to meet the needs of any employee. One talented employee was considering leaving as she wasn’t sure she’d have time for work and a family. But when we learned that she was hoping to stay, we worked with her to figure out a flexible work option that allowed her to keep both. As a talented and loyal employee of ours, that’s all that mattered.
Focus on your values and how they align with your recruitment process. Bias is automatically cut out of the equation.
We’re grateful for all that you have shared so far! We would also love to know if there was one thing that you could improve about your company’s culture, what would it be?
Taha Elraaid: We’re focusing on having a well-structured management system, and building our organizational chart. At the start, we didn’t put many policies into place or create shared processes. As much as we didn’t want to get too hierarchal, we realized that there needs to be established approval processes — and that the two things are not always mutually exclusive.
This has been truly insightful and we thank you for your time. Our final question, however, might be a bit of a curveball. If you had a choice to either fly or be invisible, which would you choose and why?
Taha Elraaid: I’d prefer to fly, and have the freedom that goes with it. The ability to travel anywhere so easily. I’m not trying to hide from anyone so invisibility wouldn’t do much for me!
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Taha Elraaid for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Taha Elraaid or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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