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Nadine Mezher, co-founder, Sarwa

Nadine Mezher's platform Sarwa makes investing more accessible

Dubai-based Sarwa is an online investing platform for young professionals. 

Founded in 2017 by a team with a background in banking, finance, and communications and marketing, today the business has more than 100,000 registered users.

Its technology simplifies and makes affordable the process of investing in diversified portfolios of low-cost index funds.

What do you look for when hiring talent?  

Technical skills and experience matter when hiring new talent. But most importantly, the cultural fit must be there. 

Anyone joining a tight-knit team has to share the same values that you have within your company.  

What counts for more – luck or hard work?  

Both play a role. When launching a business, you must have the timing right. 

The community must need the solution you offer. There must be momentum from the ecosystem to support your launch. Sometimes, businesses are strongly aware of these factors. And sometimes they luck out.

However, you cannot build a sustainable business without effort and hard work. You start by finding your vision, then strategise, and give it your all to drive it from plan to execution.

This approach cascades down from upper management all the way down to everyone involved. 

What one thing do you wish you’d done differently? 

If I was to go back, I would tell myself to enjoy it more from the get-go. Understanding from the beginning that ‘balance’ means different things to different people.

My work-life balance might not be the same as my colleague sitting next to me. 

It is important to be aware of the load we put on ourselves, especially as business owners, so we do not burn out. We need to give ourselves room to breathe.    

If you could rule the world for a day, what would you change?  

I would give free education to every child, while ensuring each one gets to have a loving parent or guardian. I am a big believer that healthy societies and economies start with mentally healthy children. 

My son was very sad one day after seeing a little kid begging in the street (not in the UAE) and asked me, ‘why is the world not fair?’ I sat him down and explained to him that unfortunately that is what reality is about. 

We live in a world full of contradictions, there is good, bad, sadness and happiness. Yin and yang. But I also explained to him that it is on us to be a positive contributor in every way we can, and to always be the best version of ourselves. 

What factors do startup founders misjudge about the Gulf market?

People think it is one common market but It is not. It’s a challenge because you will need to account for different operational costs, and different market strategies based on cultural affinities. 

It’s an opportunity, because if you understand the markets, it creates a barrier to entry for your competitors.

In the UAE, for example, there can be big differences between the segments within the market. Understanding their needs, pain points, and how to reach them, and what drives your targeted audience’s consumer behaviour is extremely important.

It is often assumed that the Gulf has a very supportive ecosystem; there is capital available but it’s not free flowing. 

You must know your investors and where to locate them. There is great talent available, just make sure you filter properly. 

There are  also accelerators, incubators, and government entities that can help and support: your new business. 

Dream mentor?

I would love to sit down with, like Angela Merkel, who managed to shape a path for herself as a scientist and politician in a very unwelcoming environment. Still she changed the world around her. 

In reality though, I have a few great ones I reach out to depending on the challenge I am facing.

Some are in my immediate family and friends circle, and some are professionals I have met along the way.