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Ihsan Jawad thinks there is a better way to recruit employees. Antonie Robertson / The National
Ihsan Jawad thinks there is a better way to recruit employees. Antonie Robertson / The National

News veteran creates a real buzz in region

Focus: The co-founder of Zawya, one of the Gulf's most distinguished online business information providers, has turned his attention to recruitment with his latest idea.

Ihsan Jawad's claim to fame in the Middle East is as the co-creator of Zawya, a leading regional news and information website.

A former investment banker with Merrill Lynch and Schroders, who studied and worked in London after leaving his native Iraq in 1979, Mr Jawad, 39, has reduced his involvement with Zawya, which now has a strategic partnership with Dow Jones, the global business data giant.

But the entrepreneur has been working hard on other plans, and at the Gitex technology expo in Dubai this week launched Laimoon, the first new product to come out of Honeybee Tech Ventures, a new technology incubation company he started with his fellow Zawya co-founders, Husain Makiya and Zaid Jawad. Ihsan Jawad believes Laimoon will revolutionise the job recruitment market in the Middle East - in the same way Zawya changed business information distribution.

The recruitment market in the region is dominated by a couple of companies offering more or less the same service, involving the potential recruit trawling through long lists of jobs on offer and picking the ones he or she thinks is most suitable.

But Mr Jawad believes there is a better way to do it, and to cultivate small to medium-sized business development in the UAE.

Congratulations on the launch of Laimoon. What does it do and why is it different from other online recruitment sites?

Laimoon is a fun and interactive search engine that lets professionals [find] current job openings that fit their personal work experience. What makes Laimoon really special is the accurate way it recommends jobs; in many instances, users are positively surprised to see jobs they would not normally consider applying to. Of course, to do this Laimoon needs to have every job under the sun out there.

So, we started with commercial/client-facing type roles and now have the largest collection of such quality positions online for the UAE.

We developed a new technology that moves away from traditional keywords matching, which is used by nearly every job service. We also made the whole experience more fun and a little "social", with the chance to let friends and colleagues speak about the potential recruit. Looking for a job doesn't have to be boring.

Laimoon is polarising users; the ones that get it and have lots of work experience love it; the ones who are just looking for traditional job listings hate it. We hope and believe there will be more of the former.

You lay great emphasis on the small to medium-enterprise (SME) sector. Do you think it has been badly served in the UAE?

The trouble with SMEs in the region is that they get stuck in "second gear". It's a bit like personal development - we all go through adolescence, and it can be an awkward phase, but we get through it to maturity.

In developed markets, we see companies come in and out of the SME phase much faster with a fair portion of them making it through to higher gears, ie to full corporate maturity. SMEs need to be guided and be given a hand in order for them to make the leap to higher gears, especially when it comes to capital and talent. With Laimoon, we are aiming to give SMEs a high-quality service to attract fresh talent that may otherwise not consider them. Our business model will be very SME friendly.

What lessons did you learn from the experience with Zawya?

First, you need a co-founder or two. When starting a new business you will go through many highs and lows. Your co-founders will help you get through the lows. Then you need to build a team culture to do the heavy lifting. For online, you also need agility and flexibility to succeed, and a team mentality can help you do this. Steve Jobs, perhaps the best entrepreneur in history, was an outstanding individual, but he always paid tribute to the Apple team.

Of course, in all of this you will always need to be attracting the right talent. Laimoon was partly motivated by this constant and ever growing challenge, which became apparent as Zawya grew in size. Talent is the essential thing, whatever the business and whatever its size.

Tell me about the venture capital (VC) industry in the UAE. Have you launched Honeybee to fill a specific gap in the VC market?

The VC model in this part of the world is still at an early stage, with many versions being tested. Honeybee is approaching it through the incubator angle and is looking to seed one major project a year, rather than a handful of start ups all launched at once. It's a different approach, but one that we are comfortable with.

In tech as in media, you're only as good as your last story. What's next?

That would be to alert the competition, and I don't want to do that. But expect more innovative digital consumer services that make a real difference and not just a marginal improvement. All in good time though!

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