Taha Elraaid is the founder and CEO at technology solutions company Lamah. After growing up in Libya, Taha left at 17 to see the world and understand more about business and technology in other countries. He returned a few years later with new ideas that were unseen in Libya ever before.
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.
Where did the idea for Lamah come from?
I left at the age of 17 to experience the technology and networks found elsewhere. Libya doesn’t have much of a tech scene, and innovation is pretty slow.
After a few years in San Francisco I realized that many of the things we take for granted don’t even exist in Libya. A street name, for example. Libya doesn’t have street names, postcodes, or until now, any kind of addresses.
When I came back to Libya years later, I realized that instead of being complacent, I could lead the change. “Lamah” is an Arabic word that translates to “gathering”, and was built around the idea that innovation and progress is for everyone. Not just a lucky few.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I build variety into my day to keep me productive. Forcing yourself to sit down and write for three hours straight never ends well. Neither do 2 hour long meetings, or 5 hours of reading. I like to mix up things every 30 minutes or hour, or even multi-task.
I’ll work on my laptop for a bit, then go and speak to someone, maybe check social media, go for a meal, get back on my laptop again, meet some clients, check in with different teams, etc. There’s never a dull moment.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Having open discussions with my team about different ideas helps solidify them and bring them to life.
Ideas tend to get better with outside perspectives. Someone else might see a problem or an opportunity you don’t. Or they have experience or connections that you’re unaware of.
The best way to start turning ideas into tangible benefits is to share them with others.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Entrepreneurs in smaller cities and towns are really benefiting from the move to remote work. To be a business success before now, you needed to be in Silicon Valley or London. Now, everyone has an opportunity to innovate and create.
You can hire remotely. Set up meetings with new clients from anywhere. The tools at our disposal online are amazing compared to just a few years ago.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I don’t have set work and/or leisure time. True creativity and productivity can be hard to plan; so while I’m around for the team at regular times, I like to mix in some of my personal to-dos, and vice versa.
The only exception to this is family time — and that is something I suggest is the rule for all entrepreneurs.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Talk to people.
I found networking difficult when I was younger. I lacked confidence. But when I visited coworking spaces in San Francisco, I had no choice. The only way I could access the opportunities in front of me was by connecting with people. Building my own network.
The same is true today.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Grilled pineapple is delicious.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Put yourself in the customers’ shoes. You won’t notice how slow an app is, until you try it yourself. Just like you won’t know how comfortable a couch is if you don’t sit on it.
If you’re looking to solve a problem, surely you should find out how it feels before creating the solution? Understand your end users’ experience by immersing yourself. Once a product is made, keep on going. There’s usually always a way to improve it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I like to experiment, and to constantly look for new and better ways of doing things.
When I experience a problem, I always try to think how we can solve it. Something that’s right under our nose, usually an obstacle that we’re so used to experiencing that we don’t bother trying to solve it.
My whole business is about improving the quality of life and opportunities for people. They’re two things we like to talk about, but not actually act on. We donate money — but we don’t create tools, resources and jobs.
My strategy is to continue asking: how can we use our talent and experience to make things better?
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Hiring people can be tough at the best of times. Hiring the wrong person is even worse.
We hired a manager that was very promising at the start. Super smart and energetic. But as time went on, they started acting more entitled. Less effort was going on but their ego still grew.
It took a while for us to get rid of this individual. We took our team, and it was a mistake. Our rule now is that we don’t hesitate with tough decisions. Once we’ve reached a consensus, we take action.
Every decision you make needs to answer the question: is this what’s best for the company?
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One idea I’ve been toying with is creating an online platform that supports minorities, giving them services and support that they are otherwise restricted to.
This of course is specific to your location and situation, but whether it’s the US or Libya, there are always people lacking certain resources and tools that we take for granted.
Who are the most vulnerable people in your area — and why?
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently flew back to Libya after almost a year away to see my family and do some business. On the way I picked up some gifts for my mother and other close family members. Doing something nice for another person never goes unappreciated.
I imagine next time I visit I will do the same thing, and they will be equally as appreciative.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Sometimes the most basic system can be the most helpful. I use the Notes app on my phone for literally everything. I think I have about a thousand notes.
I wrote the idea for our app down in a note in August 2017. Two years later, we launched it.
If I have an idea, I write it down and come back to it later. Not only does this mean I don’t forget about it, but it gives me time to think and reflect.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I don’t read a lot, but I do watch a lot of videos. This helps me think more creatively. I can jump from learning about solar panels to software development to poverty issues.
So, I recommend Cold Fusion for general knowledge. If you’re looking for something more startup/business focused, check out SlideBean.
What is your favorite quote?
Earl Nightingale: “Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.”
- You can connect the dots looking backwards, but not forward. While in the past I was skeptical about making certain decisions, now I can see the successful results. Have more confidence in yourself.
- Just because your method is unconventional doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. I never thought of my Notes app as being so relevant until I realized it was a big help in creating our app.
- Everyone has different ways of learning — choose what’s best for you. I don’t read much. But I do love watching videos. Being different isn’t bad. It’s an opportunity to connect with other unique individuals.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.