My WFH Routine: Laila Hassan, Principal at 500 Falcons
Laila Hassan, principal at 500 Falcons, 500 Startups: My Morning / WFH 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 Laila Hassan (LinkedIn), principal at VC fund 500 Falcons.
My name is Laila Hassan and I’m a principal at 500 Falcons, 500 Startups’ Dubai-based MENA fund. 500 Startups is the most active global venture capital firm headquartered in San Francisco. Our global flagship funds include a series of five funds that invest across regions and industries. Aside from the global funds, we provide early-stage investment through our regional investment vehicles in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), South Korea, Latin America, Turkey, Vietnam and Thailand. Aside from our international flagship accelerator programs, we have two hybrid investment programs in the Middle East; the MENA Dojo Pre-series A Program and the pre-seed Misk500 Accelerator Program in Riyadh, KSA.
500 Falcons, which was set up in 2017, is one of these region-specific funds that specifically invests in the Middle East or in Middle Eastern diaspora founders all over the world. Our mandate includes tech-enabled companies operating in the region and in any other country with a base in the MENA region. The Falcons Fund deploys capital into direct investments, investments via our accelerator programs and follow-ons.
Egypt is our biggest market and comprises the largest chunk of our portfolio. We’ve invested a greater amount of capital in the UAE, but it’s not really a fair comparison because you can do a lot more in Egypt with a lot less money. Egypt is really a booming market and we see a lot of value there. A lot of investors are specifically interested in and asking about Egypt, partially because of the demographics of the market, like the large population, but also because Egyptian founders have a reputation for being resilient and resourceful.
My days usually start off by getting my five-year-old daughter logged into her online classes. My husband and I have implemented a shift system for supervision and support that caters to her e-learning schedule, and I typically handle the morning “shift” (which runs from 8am-11am). Once my shift ends, I try to squeeze in an online workout class, and only then do I get started on work — that means my workday typically starts and ends much later than most. Whenever I can, I factor in 30 minutes to catch up on the news, including reading Enterprise.
The lockdown period has actually been quite enjoyable for me. I loved being completely relieved of social obligations, and I was grateful to not be on flights all the time — prior to covid, my job required me to travel at least once a month. Most of all, I’m grateful for the chance I got to be together with my family to bond and learn more about each other. My five-year-old is apparently a math whiz — and my two-year-old is a world-class actress.
We don’t have an office in Dubai, where I was based up until recently, so I’ve been working from home for a long time. The only difference over the past few months is that I have had company — my husband and two daughters — while working at home. One of the biggest perks of the lockdown is that my husband resurrected his passion for cooking, so my meals are generally taken care of — and are Michelin star-quality.
I found that the best way to improve productivity is to have a daily routine and stick to it. For me, that includes my morning workout, taking a shower, and getting dressed in work-appropriate clothes. I even put on shoes — it really helps to make me feel like I’ve stepped out of the parameters of my home space. I have a designated work desk with a big screen in a quiet room. I also think it’s very important to make the work area cozy and inviting, which helps get you in the mood to work. I have a nice vase of flowers and some accessories on my desk for that effect.
Since the lockdown began, I’ve definitely had a lot more Zoom meetings, which has been great for me. I love the fact that I don’t need to factor in any commute time and just have much more productive conversations. It’s also an easy way to catch up with people who I have been meaning to talk to, whether socially or professionally.
Our team is spread out across Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and now Egypt since I’ve relocated, so we are very accustomed to interacting via Zoom. The one change over the past few months is that we’ve all “met” each other’s kids — it’s now expected that we’ll hear their voices in the background of a call, or even chime in with a “hello” every now and then.
I have plenty of entertainment at home, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it “relaxing.” I play with my daughters — we do a lot of baking, hide and seek, arts and crafts and put on talent shows for my husband. Once we manage to put the kids to bed, we typically have friends over/visit neighbors or catch up on Netflix series.
I really enjoyed watching Unorthodox on Netflix. Unfortunately, by the time I finish work, keeping up with the e-learning needs of the day, and putting the kids to bed, I hardly have any time to read. This is unfortunate, as in a previous life I used to be quite the bookworm. I get most of my reading from keeping up with the news, but also recently started Secrets of Sand Hill Road.
When life returns to normal, the one thing I’m eager to do again is give lots of hugs and kisses to my family and friends. I’m naturally a very emotional person with lots of hugs to share and the pandemic has really put on an end to this emotional side. I recently relocated from Dubai to Egypt, so I’ve been catching up with a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time but our hellos were waves and fist bumps.