Zaid AI Mashari, CEO, Proven Arabia
The Gulf Entrepreneur is featuring Zaid AI Mashari as the cover story for 10 Most Influential Entrepreneurs from Saudi Arabia in 2022. We want to tell Zaid AI Mashari story to many more people with an intention to inspire readers, especially budding entrepreneurs and thus embolden the entrepreneurial spirit of the region.
This feature will talk about your professional journey: challenges, failures, successes, leadership approach and the values he brings to people through your company.
Interview with Zaid AI Mashari
- What was your life like before you began your entrepreneurial journey? What experience shaped you to become an entrepreneur?
I had the privilege to work with multinational companies which provide exposure to diverse colleagues as well global practices. These really came into perspective when I started to travel globally. The travels provided amazing experiences which broadened not only my perspective by allowed me to look at issues from multiple angles and design solutions. This broader exposure helps me connect various elements which might normally not be associated together.
I have always been a perfectionist, though I’m not too fond of that term, but I’ve always approached every goal with honesty and the larger picture in sight. I applied the same work ethic when I started my professional career and work extremely hard. I never considered myself an employee but the appreciation and recognition were never there. However, challenges like these pushed me towards an entrepreneurial mindset of needing to create something of my own. During that time, I started my first venture in 2007, ELTE which was a food import business from India and Turkey. That venture added an immense amount of learning and experience since it was my first business exposure coupled with the economic crisis of 2008.
Then, I joined a multinational company in Riyadh. During that time, and still employed, I started my second venture, PROVEN, in 2009 with Naif Al Otaibi. We were both working for multinational companies, which gave us insight into the gaps and challenges faced in the service industry in Saudi Arabia. Today, PROVEN has a well-established reputation in the market as a leading KPO services provider, with a customer-centric model. The business expanded by providing excellent outsourcing solutions backed by our on-the-ground expert knowledge of the Saudi Arabia market.
Naif and I realized that we have an entrepreneurship mindset, which allowed us to explore more business ideas. Some of them were successful while others failed. You learn as you grow, and now that we are more mature, our love for creating more exciting ventures has increased.
- What were the initial challenges and setbacks that you faced and how did you overcome them?
We faced many challenges, especially in the early days but I really believe that those challenges were part of the learning journey. It’s actually fun now to reminise over our past ventures whether successful or not. There was always something to take away and learn from each experience. Many a times we were passion driven about an idea and believed it would be transformative only to realize the concept wasn’t good enough. However, it was always a lesson learnt which could be applied to future endeavors.
Choosing the right partners is one of the biggest challenges. A successful business needs to be more than one person. I really believe choosing the right partners for your team is a fundamental building block. This is not always easy and some of our ventures failed because we didn’t have the proper alignment between our goals and of my partner.
COVID19 was another big challenge but we were very optimistic based on our solid foundation and strong core values. We followed our values instead of a business strategy and in the end exceeded expectations. We focused on improving ourselves through internal restructuring regardless of the negative market news. We even launched a new venture during this period called Proven Solution with a lofty goal of making this a marque offering in the emerging technologies and AI space to address the future needs of the market. We had many doubters at that time given the global economic climate. How are you starting a new venture in this climate, they asked! I’m a positive thinker and stubbornly believe that the future is bright as long as we stay true to our values and work towards addressing real needs.
- How would you define true entrepreneurship? What values are most important to you as a leader?
Core values are fundamental to the success of any entrepreneur or business venture. If you truly believe in your core values then it is easy to persevere in the face of challenges. I don’t believe in five-year business plans and other structured approaches. Having an agile and entrepreneurial mindset if critical element of success. As a leader, I share my goals openly with all teams and work with them closely to enable them regardless of their job title and position in the company.
The team must trust your vision and direction. Yet, I must stay open to any comments or discussions which provide constructive criticism. It’s important to include your team as a part of the success story. Hire a team with passion, but the passion will not come if you use routine processes. Entrepreneurship requires a different mindset: motivation, leadership, emotional intelligence, trust, and loyalty.
- What is the core competency of your company? Tell us more about your relationship with customers?
We work on a customer-centric model; this applies internally to our employees and as well for external clients. We appreciate our team members and respect them a lot. Honestly, I don’t think this is unique; but we strive to follow our core values, principles, and personal behaviour.
Continuous improvement is an ongoing objective for us. We always work to keep our team members satisfied and happy first so that, in return, the effect will reflect on our customers and partners. Also, we have a customer success and business excellence department to ensure that we are committed to listening to our customers.
You must always remember that even you are a customer to your suppliers and consultants. Therefore respect goes both ways. You have to deal with any customers as a successful partner. Personally, I like to deal with customers who believe in you and support you to make the project or the deal happen. Unfortunately, not all customers see it this way, but it keeps the environment exciting.
- Tell us more about your company culture. What motivates your employees to come to work every day? How do you take care of your team?
It is extremely important to create the right environment at the workplace. Our team spends 40 or more hours weekly working for PROVEN so it is our duty to create the best working space possible for them. Work-life balance is important for us as well so we ensure that we support our team through various phases of work cycles as well as when they face challenges on the personal front. Balance requires a level of trust in your team members to fulfil their roles while being flexible enough to accommodate fluctuations. Work is your second family so we strive to ensure a happy work environment regardless for all our locations.
The team has the right to work in a healthy and attractive environment. It is really a straightforward formula. You can’t expect too much from the team if you are not providing the right environment. Trust and support are key factors in keeping the team motivated and unlocking the best version of any team member.
In PROVEN, we follow our core values and culture.
Coming back to you, what are your responsibilities as an entrepreneur? What is your understanding of good leadership? Please share with us, what is your leadership style?
There is no single leadership style which is universally applicable. Sometimes, you have to wear different hats depending on the needs of the situation. The primary role here is to make your venture successful, keep your team confident, and deliver high results. The ultimate goal is to achieve sustainable success for the venture. I focus on providing my team clear goals and then working towards enabling them the best I can and removing hurdles from their way.
I am responsible and committed to the company, team, and customers to do my best and take PROVEN towards further success. I think a solid commitment to our goals and values have a way of finding it’s way downstream. I believe I effectively embody our values then others in the team will surely follow.
PROVEN Arabia now works in multiple sectors and countries as the market leader in all our services and solutions. We are pioneers in KSA within corporate and professional services and more recently in AI and emerging technologies with our newer offerings.
We have a research and development center for healthcare, robotics, virtual reality, NLP, and AI experts. The center is fruitful with products that address the market needs both effectively and efficiently by utilizing emerging technologies.
- In view of the future, what are you looking forward to as a person and an entrepreneur? What is something you are excited about?
As mentioned earlier I am an extremely optimistic person. I truly believe that despite the various global challenges we will have a demand for solutions which help us achieve efficiencies in all elements of life, whether business or personal. I wish not only to keep growing personally but also helping PROVEN Arabia unlock new ventures which address these new demands with innovative solutions. Our focus is to use emerging technologies to bridge existing and future gaps for business needs. This region is fast paced and the velocity of change is quicker than many other global domains. This keeps things not only exciting but helps bring forth new methodologies and business models.
I’m excited about the fact that we, as a company, are taking the next big step in restructuring our working and governance models to achieve higher levels of sustainability. Our focus is to establish a venture studio to provide a comprehensive support system to start ups and new ventures based on our decade plus experience and knowledge in the entrepreneurial space as well as support them with our robust infrastructure.
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Founding Year: 2009
Headquarters: Riyadh Saudi Arabia
Clients/Industry: Robotics, VR, AR, AI, NLP