Meet our founder of the week: Beit Nadia and Noun’s Nadia Salem
OUR FOUNDER OF THE WEEK- Every Tuesday, Founder of the Week looks at how a successful member of Egypt’s startup community got their big break, asks about their experiences running a business, and gets their advice for budding entrepreneurs. Speaking to us this week is Nadia Salem (LinkedIn), founder of interior design house Beit Nadia and furniture store Noun.
My name is Nadia Salem, and I’m the founder and owner of interior design house Beit Nadia and Noun furniture store. I started Beit Nada as an interior design firm in 2017 and then we started doing bigger architectural projects and landscape design, commercial and retail. I found a gap in the market while I was working because a lot of the time I couldn’t find or source the furniture that I was looking for. So we started doing our own designs and our own production, which is a big selling point for us.
I started with one employee and now I have 32. We’ve worked on around 130 projects so far, with around 40 commercial and 90 residential.
I decided to build my own business because I felt that I wanted to accomplish more. I felt that I was in a space where I wasn’t developing. I wasn’t able to be creative or to produce as much as I knew that I could and I wanted a bit o f freedom to do my own thing, which I was able to do when I freelanced on my own projects. So I took a leap of faith and with a bit of marketing and word of mouth, I set up my own firm.
The problem that we’re trying to solve at Noun is addressing the gap between creative ideas and furniture options in Egypt. We’re doing this by designing our own collections. Right now, we sell online at nounfurniture.com and we’re reopening our showroom next month. With the interior design firm, we are providing a service to anyone who wants a nice experience or curation for their space.
I gave up my sanity when I set up my own business [laughs]. It was extremely tough and I was pretty young at the time (I still am). Financially, mentally, and emotionally, it was very tough, but the most difficult part was establishing the actual business rather than the creative side of things. Overnight, I went from being an employee with almost zero responsibilities to a business owner with employees and rent. In the beginning, I wasn’t able to produce creatively, but bit by bit, I started to learn.
Right now, we’re focused on expanding the furniture line. Import restrictions will help us with that because there is a shortage of furniture in the market and our business addresses that gap. We have around 200 original products and pieces.
The best part of my job is being able to create. You start out with a blank canvas and it’s really interesting that you can create a lot of things for a very small space out of nothing. A single room can be transformed into many different things. The worst part is sourcing materials and obviously, time and quality with the contracting side. We always have quality control issues in Egypt.
You have to let go of your fear if you want to start your own business. You have to be very patient because there are so many problems everyday. I try to focus on solving the problems and moving on rather than dwelling on them, even when we make mistakes. I constantly have to solve problems on the job and accommodate mistakes with my work.
Being the sole founder of a company is lonely. You have to deal with the problems, the financial losses, your reputation, all on your own, so it’s definitely overwhelming sometimes. But with a proper team, things start to come together.
Currently, we sell more or less online. We shut down our showroom and plan to reopen a new location at a commercial hub in October, which is a very big step for us. We’re launching a huge new collection for Cairo homes and coastal furniture. We try to offer pieces at different price points, so we really have something for everyone, and that was our goal from the beginning.
I bootstrapped, so I saved money to start up the company and grew from there. I might be interested in bringing investors on board in the future. I have a plan to expand with less design and more mass production for another brand, and that is when I think I’ll need partners or investors.
I started the furniture brand because the turnover is a lot faster than the design side. Sometimes you end up losing money on the design side.
My family was completely against me starting my own business. They thought I lacked experience and that I should wait. I thought it was the right time and took that step and I’m very happy that I did. Now, they’re quite impressed and happy with the results.
I’m more of a designer than a businesswoman. I have a couple of my dad’s friends that I consult for advice when I need help with something business-related. Sometimes I wonder if I should have done a business degree and done design on the side.
When I have downtime, I mostly hang out with my friends and not think about work. I recently started doing a bit of meditation and yoga. It was a very tough step for me because everyone used to tell me to take half an hour a day to breathe and I would say that I don’t have time for that, but it really helped with my anxiety and taking control of the day to take half an hour a day to breathe and reflect. The other thing I started to do recently is wake up early and plan things better early in the day.
If I had to exit the business tomorrow, I wouldn’t stay on as an employee. And if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now, I would probably build another business in something jewelry- or fashion-related — something on the creative side of things.
In our field, you get inspiration from everything around you. All the beauty around me inspires me. But of course, when I travel, I get to see things in motion — furniture collections and things that relate to our field more than here. We are starting to expand in this area in Egypt, but things are still a bit slow.