Bassem Ghali is the CEO of search engine marketing firm Green Lotus, and winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Canadian Association of Marketing Professionals. He began his entrepreneurial journey in his native Egypt at the age of 16, and has built himself into a successful businessman who, through his Donate & Learn initiative, also gives back to the community. Below is a portion of his Winners’ Circle interview from a past issue of The Edge: A Leader’s Magazine.
Tell us more about Donate & Learn. You partner with many worthwhile charities and causes; do you still believe in the benefits of a simple idea?
Yeah! The whole idea started very simply. I believe that no matter how big or small your brand is, you must have a charitable approach. We thought of getting a few good speakers together to have a workshop, with 100% of the proceeds going to charity. We thought if we got 50 to 60 people and $500, it would be amazing.
The first time we hosted the workshop, more than 300 people showed up. We didn’t have enough seats, water, or food, but the proof of concept was there. After that, we raised $4,000 or $5,000 in a few hours; we gained the support of international companies like GoDaddy – who spoke for the first time in one of our events here in Canada – Teksavvy, FreshBooks, and Microsoft, who sponsored our last three events. So big businesses, small businesses, and charities came together. It was a win-win situation and we all saw the value. That was the main reason for the initiative’s continuous success. We have done seven expos so far and raised more than $35,000 for local charities.
What are some of the challenges and successes that you faced with Green Lotus, especially in the beginning?
When I first started my company, I didn’t really know who my customers were, who I was marketing to, who my services were good for, or who my pricing will make sense to, because I met a lot of very small business owners and they couldn’t afford the fees for my services. I said, “Well, I can’t start with you.” Just getting through that process and sometimes selling yourself a little bit cheaply and losing [money] on a project was a challenge. It took a lot of learning to get to know the ideal customer, because if you are talking to the right person then there is a better chance of you closing that deal. I can’t give advice on that since it’s a learning curve every entrepreneur and start-up must go through, to recognize and paint a profile picture of their ideal client. Once you get to that, then you will be able to improve your service and launch new products specifically to match what that client needs.
Could you tell us more about your background? What shaped the person you are today?
I grew up in the Middle East, I’m from Egypt. It’s kind of similar to Europe; you must be selling and doing stuff – hustling – all the time. I was a salesperson when I was 16 years old. I sold timeshares and computer devices. I worked in the supermarket for a while. If you are a good salesperson, you will be good in any industry you choose, and I think that’s what my upbringing in Egypt taught me. Those street smarts you don’t get in traditional education.
When did you know that you would be successful as an entrepreneur? Was there a defining moment or incident?
Getting my first big client. For an entrepreneur, that is where you get to take a breather. They say that 80% of your clients will make you only 20%, and 20% will make you 80%. As soon as you get that person, your first big client, your business stabilizes. It allows you to have a stable life and put faith in your company. That was the definitive moment where I said, “Okay, we are going to make it.”
Nezha Boutamine | Contributing Writer