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Sunday, 7 July 2019

My Morning Routine: Youssef Farag, Qubix

Youssef Farag, co-founder and COO of Qubix: My Morning Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Youssef Farag, co-founder and COO of Qubix, the first company to bring container architecture to Egypt, turning shipping containers into usable spaces for clients in retail, construction, development, F&B and other industries.

My name is Youssef Farag, and I am 27 years old. I specialized in finance, economics and sociology at AUC, and after graduation was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, co-founding Qubix with Karim Rafla, who has been one of my closest friends since we were old enough to have friends.

Qubix specializes in container architecture or ‘cargotecture,’ which means that we turn shipping containers into usable spaces for a wide variety of clients in many different industries. We started operations in December 2016 and are proud to have delivered 60+ customized projects built out of 140+ shipping containers. Our clients include Mountain View, BRGR, TBS, Zööba, Petrojet, Cairo Airport, Amer Group, Fit & Fix, Hassan Allam, Soma Bay, and Al Futtaim, as well as government and military entities.

As COO, I’m responsible for driving and organizing the day-to-day operations, making sure that all our projects get delivered on time, that the quality is high, and that all safety and organizational requirements are fulfilled. It’s a source of great pride to me today that I have become extremely adept at this role,mastering skills and technical information that I knew literally nothing about just three short years ago.

I’d love to claim that I wake up with the sunrise and go for a refreshing run every morning, but that’s not the case. The word ‘routine’ doesn’t really resonate with me at this point in my life, but I do have habits, which I see as being slightly more flexible than a routine.

Every morning I wake up around 7-7:15am. The first thing I do is make my bed, then take a freezing cold shower, which I’ve found to be a great substitute for coffee. Once I’m out of the shower, dressed and feeling good about myself, I prepare a quick light breakfast — usually two boiled eggs, half an avocado and salmon or chicken. This is part of an eating regimen that has helped me lose 15 kg over the past 2-3 months. By 8 am I start making phone calls to the managers of the different company departments, to ensure that everything I assigned them the previous day is being taken care of, in accordance with the schedule we set as a team. I arrive at our production facility by 9am, refreshed and ready to tackle the mayhem of the day.

I spend most of my day at our production facility. We recently relocated from our first 1000 sqm facility to a new and greatly improved 3500 sqm one, which has allowed us to greatly increase our production capacity and speed. My day is a mixture of problem solving, communicating with clients, and overseeing all aspects of production. On a typical day, things start to calm down around 6-7pm, then I’m back home in my fortress of solitude.

One big change I’ve made this year is moving into my own flat, in pursuit of genuine independence. In our society, people my age tend to do this exclusively after marriage, which for me personally would run counter to my pursuit of self-discipline, independence and self-awareness. The end of each day is very important to me. In the 2-3 hours I have for myself, I can do whatever I want to stay sane, from going to the gym or socializing to doing absolutely nothing and watching Netflix. I really value alone time; I recharge by being alone with my thoughts after being surrounded by chaos and responsibilities for most of the day.

I recently read The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, two widely-known and well-regarded books I’d highly recommend to anyone. I’m currently reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a [redacted], which I’m really enjoying. Many people have taken against it because it’s ‘Instagram famous’ but it’s genuinely a great book, especially for anyone willing to entertain a radical point of view of how to live and learn.

Qubix was born out of a need, on my part and Karim’s, to do something of our own. We were working with our parents, and one day in February 2016 we agreed we needed to do something ourselves. Karim told me about the container architecture he had seen in London, while he was studying there. It was the first time I had seen anything of this sort. After a bit of research, we felt our energy pick up, and we could see endless possibilities. We wondered why no one else in Egypt had done this before.

We decided to take the plunge and order a 20 ft shipping container after a week of research. We threw it in our backyard, and just started experimenting with a team of two workers and a shady ‘engineer’ who saw an easy target for a scam (but that’s another story). We tried out different materials for insulation, paint, cutting, wielding, hydraulics, and countless other things. After seven months of R&D, we felt confident enough to take on a project and explore whether we actually had a market. We hadn’t told many people outside of our families about what we were doing, and as luck would have it, the third friend I casually mentioned it to told me that his parents were familiar with the concept and wanted to build a small farm house using containers. Just like that, we had our first project.

What makes Qubix special is our total involvement in each project. We’ve been able to bring all our services in-house, under one roof, as the company has grown. So we’re involved from the moment a client comes in with an idea. We take the brief and our design team creates a customized design, which can fit any brand. The approved design gets delivered to the production team and the project managers, who oversee its transformation into a real-life, tangible product. So we deliver a truly turn-key project. All our clients need to do after we deliver is install their appliances or their furniture, as we will have already taken care of A/Cs, bathrooms, windows, doors, flooring, walling, insulation, electricity, plumbing, external claddings or design, as well as logos. We guarantee the best quality in the market, and we give the paperwork and after-sales maintenance to back that up.

We try to offer consumer education, so that people understand the value of what we are doing,because the market has only been around in Egypt since we launched (and even internationally, it’s only 40 years old). Using our product, an individual can start or expand a business for a fraction of the cost they would usually incur. Take an F&B brand: Using our services will allow them to cut costs, launch more quickly and reduce a lot of worry and stress. One of the great advantages of cargotecture is that it is movable. So if a brand wants to have a presence in Sahel during the summer season, they won’t have to find an unfinished shop, pay extortionate amounts in rent, pay for finishings and decorations for the summer, then leave at the end of the season. Our clients simply go from one location to the next with their own fully-owned unit, ready for operation on arrival.

It’s also important to understand that lower prices usually lead to problems. Clients who go for cheaper alternatives have usually regretted it, because of the difference in quality and execution. Our products are in a more expensive bracket than our competition because we use the highest quality materials, so the structure will last for years and years of use and relocation. Most importantly, we always adhere to structural safety precautions and procedures. Unfortunately, there are often disregarded by others I’ve seen operating in the market.

We serve many different industries, so we are affected by changes in each and every one of them. This is part of what’s exciting about what we do: We have the potential to help many industries transform. With the ever-increasing price of homes in Egypt, people are starting to see the value in downsizing, irrespective of their net worth. Movements like this will open new markets, and we are already seeing this happen with many clients. I think change usually happens slowly, until it reaches a tipping point. Then the pace is rapid.

We are also perhaps unusual in that we’ve been able to use the devaluation of the EGP to our advantage. We’ve been able to approach foreign markets and offer them prices that local suppliers couldn’t possibly compete with.

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