BEIRUT: New York City.
All of those that walk the busy streets and boroughs of the city, cannot but be consumed by its energetic atmosphere; from its warm neighborhoods and side alleys to the high-end parts of Midtown, that attract the most elite of both the corporate and entrepreneurial world.
Rami Alame quickly paces through the hectic streets of New York dressed in his single-breasted suit and armed with a briefcase in hand, on his way to work at a law firm in the heart of the city.
He passes by the tallest and shiniest buildings he’s ever laid eyes on, stopping at a local deli to pick up a quick cup of coffee before he continues his marathon to work, and passing next to places where many tourists and even inhabitants of the city would stop to take pictures.
Alame doesn’t flinch.
He, however, is not enchanted by the city’s bravado, but longs for a return to his home city of Beirut; yet, he cannot come back empty-handed.
Then, the light bulb moment strikes.
“I grew a sense of frustration from several aspects of the legal industry, its bureaucracy, as well as the interaction between both lawyers and clients; and even witnessed a huge diversion between what clients were asking of us and what we were providing them,” Alame told Annahar.
The young Lebanese lawyer founded a startup called Lexium that would allow legal professionals to answer people’s questions and queries free of charge online, as well as connecting them with lawyers depending on the case or service they are requesting.
The word “Lex” means law in Latin, while “Ium” is the suffix of positive protons and physics; which both Alame and his co-founder and fellow lawyer Magda Farhat consider being a combination that would give the legal industry a positive impression on people.
“We believe that this industry is in need of reshaping in terms of its perception by people, thus our startup is trying form a sort of transformation to meet the recent technological development that’s happening in different industries and in the startup ecosystem,” Alame said.
Alame and Farhat’s journey with Lexium started in 2016 when the young lawyers started to mold together a database of legal questions and answers based on their personal experiences, as well as what the average person would ask.
“Early on, we focused on a mix of legal, administrative and procedural questions, and so far we’ve accumulated almost ten thousand questions and answers that are integrated into our platform,” Farhat told Annahar.
All of this, however, was not done by the dynamic duo alone.
Lexium was chosen to be part of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub’s flagship program; The Nucleus.
The Nucleus is a venture building program designed to turn tech ideas and Minimal Viable Products (MVP) into marketable ones. The competition for admission is one of the fiercest, with the two young entrepreneurs being chosen from 176 applicants.
The program places Alame and Farhat alongside six other startups basked in a network of accomplished entrepreneurial professionals and web development gurus, who rigorously aid them in their quest to create a selling product from the MVP stage.
From finance and marketing courses to investor pitching and raising-capital tutorials, the program covers a wide array of knowledge and experience for the embryonic companies to soak up and add to their products or services.
The Nucleus offers the evolving companies an investment of $20,000 in cash and $30,000 in services in return for UKLTH taking up to a five percent equity stake in their business.
“They help you organize your work and brains so it would think and function as a startup business owner, while aiding us to implement solutions, along with guiding us on how to manage the whole startup from team to suppliers to stakeholders to the public,” Alame noted.
He added that the most important part of Lexium is their creation of a number of networks with various legal consultancies that helped form their database and action plan to achieve something successful.
Lexium currently has 40 committed lawyers in its arsenal to answer cases online, ahead of their official launching of the platform that will be free of charge to use, before setting up a payment plan once the business is up-and-running.
The road to this entrepreneurial Cinderella story was not, however, filled with rainbows and butterflies.
“Leaving our careers was one of the hardest decisions we had to take, especially since we set up shop pretty well in New York City; and that took a catastrophic toll on our surroundings from both family and friends,” Alame explained.
The group received many rejections of the idea of starting this project, especially from family and close friends, since “we were reaching the peak of our careers, where we headed toward huge law firms and being molded into those corporate lawyers you see on TV; so it was hard.” he added.
At first, their parents didn’t understand why they would venture into something that potentially had no future; but they soldiered on, excited to make their business succeed.
“Although the pressure is still insurmountable, we believe in our project and we know that the reward will not only go to us, but to this profession as a whole,” Farhat told Annahar.
But, for Alame, he’d do it all over again “in a heartbeat.”
The pair later received a grant of $15,000 from Kafalat, a locally-based financial company that assists small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) that aided the young lawyers to work on developing the platform.
One floor under Lexium’s office space at the UK Lebanon Tech Hub sits Ramzi Jreidini, the founder, and CEO of Handiss, an online hiring platform dedicated to freelancers in the construction markets.
Freelancing has recently been on the rise, taking the region by storm.
Currently, seven out of ten professionals in the MENA region think freelancing is a good option to earn more revenue, while 55 percent of professionals see freelancers as having the ability to earn more than full-timers, according to Bayt.com, a leading job site in the region.
Jreidini sips his cup of coffee, as he tells Annahar the journey that followed his official launch in January of 2017 and his admission into The Nucleus program.
“We entered the program with high ambitions, but with an incomplete understanding of matters to do with building a startup; the mentors we were exposed to by the program helped us on understanding how to optimize our business using strategical thinking, UX/UI, marketing, growth hacking, product development, and business management,” he explained.
Jreidini sighs, letting out a breath of comfort and adding that “we’re now much better prepared to tackle the challenges of building a successful tech startup.”
According to Jreidini, at the beginning of the Nucleus, they had a strong team, a good product and a lot of potential; and nearing the end “we had built on our potential by learning and maturing to become better business leaders.”
Many entrepreneurs struggle to find success without the proper guidance when venturing into the startup world, but Jreidini considers that the core of any successful business is its team.
Although there might be a lot of good business ideas out there, “only strong teams with strong leadership know how to take things forward to success.”
The Handiss founder noted that without the program, the team would have learned things the hard way while hitting a few walls on the way that could have been avoided.
“Our determination would have still put us on track at some point, but the program really provided us with all the right knowledge and placed us on a shortcut to success,” Jreidini told Annahar.
Currently, both Lexium and Handiss are aiming toward growth.
Both startups are intent on expanding their reach within the region as a whole, as Handiss eyes up the construction market in the GCC, and Lexium works to develop a mobile application to stand alongside its web platform.
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