During the pandemic, many online businesses took off, with users shifting to the digital realm to complete transactions. Fast forward a year and a half after the emergence of COVID-19, to find a world disrupted with immense innovation taking place in the online business field. OLX Lebanon is one such company that thrived during a very challenging period, attracting users and expanding their service range to cater to the growing demand.
Yet, the journey has not been easy, as Maria Nehme (MN), OLX Lebanon’s newly appointed Country Manager shares. Given the numerous challenges that Lebanon and its people have been facing for years, strengthening the corporate culture of the company was a priority to continue to innovate and grow.
BDD: We know that COVID-19 had a different impact on businesses. What was your experience?
MN: With the pandemic and the numerous crises that unfolded in the country, we witnessed a paradoxical effect. On the one hand, we had a full lockdown and a lot of businesses were freezing their activities. On the other hand, the traffic on our website and apps almost doubled across categories, especially on the Goods categories, including Mobiles, Electronics, Furniture and Fashion amongst others.
With consumers confined to their homes for many months, we noticed a need to facilitate remote transactions. From these pain points came the idea of our new baby OLX Store, OLX’s end-to-end ecommerce platform allowing you to order any item from the comfort of your home.
Other verticals also saw some innovative features, such as in Real Estate, when we were the first to introduce Virtual Reality, offering customers the ability to visit houses through 3D tours and from the comfort of their homes. In the Autos section, we were betting on “convenience” by revolutionizing the car selling experience. Customers can now list their car on OLX Autos and negotiate directly with buyers or they can benefit from our complimentary Car Selling Experts service through which they will schedule an inspection for their car at home and receive an offer within 48 hours.
BDD: What were the main challenges that the OLX Lebanon team faced?
MN: During the pandemic, one of the main challenges we were facing was keeping the team's morale up and keeping the momentum going on all the previous efforts and projects that we were working on. This drove us to implement as many initiatives as possible, one of them being virtual daily morning calls with the team, which we called “Daily Morning Coffee”. In addition, based on the events of each given day, our commercial team was unable to meet with clients. This helped us shift our strategy to work on longer-term projects, to strengthen our core offerings and develop new services.
BDD: How did you manage to plan, strategize and grow given the events that unfolded over the past two years?
MN: Since we kicked off in in 2015, our shared philosophy at OLX is NOT to turn off the engine. We believe as soon as you turn it off, turning it back on needs twice the effort you started with, which can hinder any progress made. Despite the lack of visibility, we tried to use the data we had at hand from the market, to identify where niche opportunities existed, then we channeled our efforts and focused on them. The Properties Abroad category is one example in which we noticed the tremendous demand on our platform for real estate investments outside of Lebanon; this pushed us to establish a separate section on our platform and build offerings focused on this niche.
BDD: What makes Lebanon a prime market for innovation?
MN: From the very beginning, we witnessed a tremendous adoption from the Lebanese population at a very quick pace. Within the global Group, Lebanon was always referred to as the Star Country because the Lebanese population showed a real hunger for innovation and an adaptability to new methods of transacting. Because of this, the Group decided to start our office in Lebanon in 2017, in Beirut Digital District.
BDD: Your new appointment as Country Manager, comes at a time with little visibility and growth on the horizon. What are your priorities now?
MN: With this new role, I feel an immense responsibility of nurturing and preserving the values that have been established over the last 4 years which contributed to the success of OLX Lebanon. My approach has been focused on consolidating and instilling a culture of trust, innovation and openness. On a company level, we are really focused on three areas, which are: Multiplying transactions across industries and regions, improving customers’ daily lives through technology and convenience and constantly finding new opportunities and new markets.
BDD: Part of your value proposition is to create value and be a player in the Circular Economy. Can you elaborate on that?
MN: Circular economy is at the heart of OLX's raison d'etre around the world. The motto "Everybody Wins" embodies this idea; by using OLX, users are empowered to create value across the economy and our platforms encourage better distribution and usage of resources while maximizing the lifetime of an item.
BDD: And Lebanon, what is your vision for the country?
MN: Despite all that is happening in Lebanon, we have a deep and honest belief in the country’s potential and human capabilities. Our team of 70 highly educated and highly driven individuals are solely a sample of these capabilities and a real pride for us. This is why we are still investing resources in the country.