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| 26 August, 2018

The light bulb moment

Wadih Haddad is the founder and CEO of Dubai-based self-storage company The Box. The company, which he founded in 2007, is now one of the Middle East’s biggest self-storage firms with operations in four cities and 50 direct and 50 indirect staff working for the company.

Website: www.theboxme.com

In the first of a series of columns on entrepreneurship and running a growing business, Wadih Haddad of self storage firm The Box explains how his entrepreneurial journey began.

I had no idea what I was getting into. It was 2004, I had a great job. I was performing extremely well as a sales executive for a global logistics company and was doing my thing. I loved doing what I did and was working as if it was my own company.

But there came one major turning point. An opening arose for a sales manager position and I wanted the job badly. I dreamt of what I could do in the role. I aggressively pitched, but didn’t get it and found myself in the position of celebrating a colleague’s promotion. Although happy for her, it saddened me.

That was my turning point – when I switched my antennae on to other opportunities. I paid $1,000, which was a lot of money for me at the time, to join a network marketing company as a side gig.

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Another key moment on my entrepreneurial journey happened a year later at the age of 25, when a colleague gave me a copy of the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. That really became the stage when my entrepreneurial journey began. It was greatest gift I’ve ever received from a colleague and the start of a wave of ups and downs, celebrations and failures.

The network marketing business opened up a whole new world of learning for me via access to books, authors and seminars that changed my life. I was building my own network, wanted to create my own wealth and I recruited all of my friends to sell skin care products.

The founder of the company importing skin care products had found them difficult to ship, so I offered my services. But the operation became so big that we had nowhere to store the products. I got a quote from the company I worked with, but they shied away from renting small amounts of space. I asked a competitor, who laughed at me for the same reason.

Eventually, I went back to the founder of the network marketing business and offered to store them at home. And that’s how it started.

As more and more product came in, I began my ‘Yellow Pages’ days, hunting space from anyone who would rent it. I found a few people who had who had bought warehouses, then cut them up and subdivided them into smaller storage space.

I began charging for space to cover my time and my overheads, and soon after I was making more money from my side gig than my well-paid sales job, so I began putting money aside to sustain me for a year if I quit.

At this point, I was attracting attention from my network and friends who wanted to invest. I knew I was onto something big, but I didn’t realise back then that I was on my way to building the region’s largest self-storage operation.

I prepared a simple presentation deck and raised $200,000 to get the first facility up and running. I timed it to have it ready by the time I quit my job so I could dedicate myself to filling it.

Making the leap

When the moment came to quit, new opportunities arose which made the decision more difficult. My sales manager told me she was leaving, which opened up the position I had initially wanted. And once word went out that I had resigned, I started getting offers of crazy packages to go elsewhere. But I stuck with the plan to give myself 12 months to build something. My worst-case scenario was to fall back on some of the offers I’d had.

There’s a point in the beginning of business development when you reach a crossroads and have to make a choice— do you go left or right? Most people help themselves to a third option by staring at the crossroads, never taking action.

One thing that’s helped me move forward is learning to accept the reality of situations and never look back. It’s like the movie Troy. The first thing the Greeks did when they arrived on the island was ‘burn the boats’.

When I decided to quit my high-paying (and secure) job to pursue my business idea, I used my nervous thoughts, fears and anxious feelings as points of clarity, leveraging them to propel me out of my comfort zone. I never looked back.