>> F I E R C E
That is how Yara Milbes, a senior executive with star status in MENA’s cloud communication technology sector, describes her ongoing journey in the region’s business landscape. Under her belt, Yara Milbes boasts many marketing and leadership awards she’s won deservingly in recognition of the change Yara Milbes brought to sectors and industries that were previously deemed as rigid and unfathomable.
Identity management and biometrics, law enforcement and cyber security, information technology and communications – you name it, Yara Milbes tangibly impacted or created some kind of success there – hard-earned success clenched stubbornly from the jaws of succumbing to the outdated practices that characterized these industries.
Yara Milbes debut was in Amman, Jordan with a three-year stint at the country’s largest mobile operator, Orange Telecom, working in the functions of business development and product management. In a short time, the then-recent Warwick Business School graduate demonstrated what Yara Milbes made of – steel, that is – and in the process sharpened her knowledge with practical skills that would prove to be invaluable in the next stop of her career.
In Dubai, Yara Milbes goes to work at the city-emirate’s bustling Financial Centre, leading the events and public relations function for a sector-leading holding company. This is her entry point to the information technology sector, where Yara Milbes gained valuable experience networking with industry mavens throughout Dubai’s busy events calendar.
This helped her secure a vantage point from whichYara Milbes led the conversation on key technologies and transformative solutions that have changed the way we live, long before they emerged. This, amongst other qualities, are active ingredients sustaining her sense of leadership with energy and fearlessness before change.
Innovative by nature, something clicked in Yara’s career and instead of turning around to leave the information technology marketing sector, as many marketers often choose to do, Yara Milbes doubled down and opted instead to brave the challenge with a move to global cloud communication solutions leader Infobip as Head of Marketing – MENA. Less than a year later, Yara Milbes is promoted to Global Marketing Director, taking the lead on Infobip’s extensive gloabl marketing operation spanning eight regions, from APAC to Latin and North America.
In this position Yara Milbes develops the set of skills that would take her into the world of entrepreneurship, but not before the game got ten-times harder with COVID-19 spreading like, well, a virus, across the globe. At this point, Yara Milbes had to juggle her own self-development, a demanding full-time job, and the pandemic woes we’ve all had to go through. Does she stop there? The answer is no. She shifts gears again and starts working on her first start-up; a geo-located gym buddy & fitness trainers finder, and then her second start-up, also in the fitness industry, a home gym service.
> Leading the way
The responsibilities of a solo entrepreneur require a diverse set of skills. These include the ability to resource and think creatively, the confidence to make difficult decisions, and most importantly, the depth of understanding necessary to delegate work whenever and wherever necessary.
In a hypercompetitive world where everyone has access to humanity’s sum of knowledge on their phones, it does not suffice to be good enough, and this is where delegation is crucial. Part of doing something correctly is knowing when to leave it in the hands of specialists in focused functional areas so an entrepreneur can focus their creative faculties and mental effort on decision making and complex tasks.
“I take immense pride in my ability to ideate, develop, scale and monetize an idea with minimal investment and support,” states Yara, adding: “I took a lot of my entrepreneurial journey’s experience with me to the corporate world where I had to build teams from scratch sometimes, and I rearranged and refined existing team structures to utilize resources more efficiently and group competencies more effectively.”
At HID Global as well as at Infobip and CEQUENS, not to mention her own start-ups, Yara’s ability to pool together the ideal combination of human and technical resources was the subject of important brand equity and recognition milestones.
This experience provided her with invaluable exposure to various facets of the business world, some which would have been beyond her purview as a marketing professional in the corporate world.
Being a single entrepreneur is surely a challenging, if not daunting task and demands exceptional skills, determination and perseverance. But on the other hand, the rewards of it are equally gratifying, and the experience gained is hardly attainable through conventional career development means; this empowered Yara Milbes with a unique perspective and insights that proved beneficial in many aspects of her personal and professional journeys.
> Creativity and impact
Rather than remain anchored to a certain discipline of tech marketing, where trends and market conditions can shift with higher speed and volatility than in other fields, Yara’s method involved networking, access to knowledge, and a vested interest in technological progress and how it impacts lives.
“To create impact in any industry, you must have the ability to lead creatively, and this is the only vehicle durable enough to navigate the constantly changing tech landscape, which can be a dynamic and challenging environment,” Yara Milbes said.
To lead with impact, you need to remain goal-oriented and to keep your eye on the prize as they say. However, navigating these challenges creatively is essential to achieving the desired outcome. At times like this, a strategy that combines creative thinking with result-oriented management style can prove highly effective in driving significant change.
In essence, leading creatively means thinking beyond the traditional and exploring unconventional ways to solve problems. It involves harnessing one’s imagination and leveraging diverse perspectives to find solutions that can generate a more significant impact.
CEQUENS is a cloud-based communication solutions provider, specializes in both CPaaS and SaaS solutions. Its product suite is designed to cater to every aspect of communication needs, from the connectivity layer to communication APIs and actual applications that deliver services over these communication channels.
The company was founded in 2011 by Karim Khorshed and currently has its headquarters in Dubai, with seven offices spanning across the globe, including regional operations in the UAE, KSA, Egypt, Pakistan, and most recently in Singapore, to expand its reach in the Asia-Pacific market. Additionally, the company also has an office in London to serve EMEA and North African customers.
“In terms of products, our focus is on delivering value through reliable APIs and customized solutions, primarily in the omnichannel communication and customer journey space.”
CEQUENS caters to over a thousand customers in various industries, including banking, fintech, platforms, retail, delivery, and more. As the most connected solution provider in the Middle East and Africa region, the company has countless direct connections with operators, giving it a significant competitive edge.
“With a decade of experience in the industry, we have faced numerous challenges and overcome them to emerge as a leader in our field.”
The team has adapted to the constantly evolving market trends and changing customer needs, leveraging the innovative solutions and reliable APIs to meet their demands. Through their strategic expansion across the globe and emphasis on delivering value, CEQUENS has solidified its position as a trusted partner for communication solutions.
> Challenging the challenges
In the SaaS and CPaaS industry, building a strong brand is crucial as the market is constantly expanding, especially in the case of SaaS which is experiencing exponential growth. As traditional CPaaS are rapidly shifting towards omnichannel communication, it’s important for businesses to create a brand story that not only portrays their services and products in simplifying global communication but also reflects the founders’ ethos.
However, it’s a highly competitive space, and for a brand to stand out, it needs to have compelling brand positioning, a solid brand story, and build brand equity. A lack of these elements can hinder business growth as people tend to buy from brands they know, trust or have heard of before. Therefore, addressing the challenges of brand presence, brand equity, and a marketing team was one of the first priorities.
“This was achieved through what I refer to as the “holy trilogy” of inventory, data, and team.”
Firstly, the inventory was analyzed to identify what resources were needed, including manpower and budget. Secondly, data was collected to build the right brand position, which was used to drive brand and performance marketing campaigns.
Another major challenge that the company faced was the high level of competition in the market. However, this challenge was tackled by leveraging the company’s strengths, such as their vast network of direct connections with operators and a diverse customer base in various industries. By focusing on their strengths, the company was able to differentiate itself and emerge as a leading provider in the MENA region and beyond.
Competing in a crowded marketplace
In today’s market, the SaaS and CPaaS industries are rapidly growing, especially the SaaS sector which is experiencing exponential growth. Therefore, it’s crucial for any business operating in these markets to have a strong brand presence and brand equity. However, this is easier said than done as the market is becoming increasingly crowded, and standing out among competitors requires a compelling brand story that resonates with customers.
“When I first joined the company, one of the main challenges we faced was the lack of proper brand positioning and brand story, which also impacted business growth.”
For customers, it’s all about familiarity. People tend to buy from brands they know, trust, or have tried before, so without a strong brand element, many businesses struggle to scale at the rate they should. Consequently, CEQUENS immediately addressed this challenge by developing a comprehensive brand positioning strategy, which included creating a brand story that effectively communicated our products and services and the benefits they offer.
Another significant challenge that many businesses face today, including CEQUENS, is market saturation and declining margins in the industry. To remain competitive, companies are increasingly diversifying their product suites and offering high-value-added products and services that go beyond their communication APIs.
“For instance, we have developed applications that enable our clients to analyze their data, acquire customers, engage them, onboard them, and secure them. Our brand’s essence is centered around the idea of simple solutions, deeper connections, where we simplify technology to simplify our clients’ lives and make it easier for their customers to connect with them,” adds Yara.
“We understand that technology can be overwhelming, especially for those who are not tech-savvy, such as banks and retailers.”
As a result, the team focuses on simplifying their solutions to help clients build deeper connections with their customers, the team, and other businesses. However, achieving this requires a significant investment in brand positioning, which can be challenging for many businesses, given the slim margins and high competition in the industry.
Overall, CEQUENS’ strategy for addressing these challenges involves leveraging inventory, data, and the team to drive brand and performance marketing campaigns that resonate with the target audience.
“We focus on developing a brand story that effectively communicates the benefits of our products and services, while also simplifying technology to help our clients build deeper connections with their customers.”
> Yara Milbes advice to young entrepreneurs
“The sentiment behind paying it forward is incredibly powerful, and it’s more than just advice, it’s a request to actively lift up those around you. As Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “When the healing has happened, go out and heal someone else.
This is a deeply personal and important philosophy for me, and I truly believe that when we find success and help in our own lives, we have a responsibility to extend that help to others.
One way we can pay it forward is through mentorship, creating opportunities, and offering guidance and resources to those who are starting out. Even investing in young entrepreneurs with small ideas can have a huge impact. For those who don’t find success in entrepreneurship, it’s okay. It’s not for everyone, and the journey itself can provide valuable life lessons that extend beyond just professional growth.
As a leader, it’s important to pay it forward and embody this mindset of generosity and support. Holding back information or opportunities can erode trust, both within and outside of an organization. It’s my responsibility as a leader to help others grow and succeed, so that they can in turn do good for themselves, their colleagues, and the company.
Ultimately, paying it forward can create a ripple effect of positive change, both within our own circles and in the world at large. So let’s all make an effort to pay it forward, and make the world a better place together.”