Women on Top: Yusr Sabra

Posted on April 25, 2019

Don’t surrender to the negativity around. Stay positive and push through. ”

Yusr is the co-founder and managing director of Wakilni. A doer with a passion for building and empowering productive and happy teams; Yusr holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Engineering Management from the American University of Beirut.

Prior to establishing Wakilni, she held the position of Operations and Maintenance Area Manager at Solidere for over 7 years. Yusr is the recipient of the Stephen Penrose Award, The Said Khoury Award for Entrepreneurs and Innovators, The Distinguished Young Alumnus Award and was featured by the American University of Beirut as one of the women alumni impacting the world through their work.

Yusr is committed to transferring enthusiasm and knowledge and to being the driving force behind creating and delivering services that make people’s lives easier.

The Interview

1. How did you get your business idea?

I’m the person in the family who is usually running errands for everyone. Buying the gifts, sending the flowers on anniversaries, checking on taxes and taking care of the car mecanique. I realized that everyone at some point would rather have someone else take care of their errands and so Wakilni was born in 2015. Since then, the business has evolved and today our services cater largely to businesses and e-commerce stores.

2. What was the main drive that pushed you to start your business?

Before starting my business I was employed as an Operations Manager at one of the larger companies in Lebanon. I had been (happy) in my job for 7 years until a family member pointed out that I had been in a comfort zone for a while. The main drive was the urge to get out of that comfort zone and challenge myself to try out something new.

3. What was your biggest fear before starting up? How did you overcome it?

One of the things I was most scared of was not being able to sustain my lifestyle and losing my stable income. In order to overcome this fear I:

  1. Delayed quitting my job as much as possible and juggled a schedule of a full-time job and managing a startup until the business grew to a stage where I could no longer sustain that.
  2. Second and more importantly, I mentally had to come to terms with the fact that my lifestyle would have to change for at least a few years. I adjusted my expectations, spending and expenses versus what I would be making from the business alone.

4. How do you describe your core business activity and what’s the key value you offer to your customer?

Wakilni gives individuals and companies the most precious and the only irreplaceable product: time. We provide fast and reliable logistics services. Our customers are split into individuals and businesses. A new father would very much prefer spending time with his new child, instead of finding himself stuck in traffic after work to pick up groceries and the laundry. A real estate company’s management team would very much prefer spending time asking questions like “which trainings should we give our sales team”, instead of finding themselves worried about the overhead costs related to a delivery team that collects and drops off cheques from and to customers.

By logging into wakilni.com you can request a pickup and delivery of virtually any item between two locations in Lebanon. Aside from individuals, hundreds of businesses and e-commerce stores rely on Wakilni on a daily basis for delivering their goods and paperwork. E-commerce stores and other Shopify/Instagram based businesses use Wakilni as a reliable service for delivering their goods to customers within 24 to 48 hours across Lebanon and have the ability to live track their orders.

It is worthy to note that not all these e-commerce stores are run by professional businessmen and women. Many of them started off as a hobby and turned out to be a viable additional income. Our services to the e-commerce segment developed slowly to become a “one-stop-shop” that ensures the customers have time to focus on what they do best, and leave the hassle of operations to us.

5. What are the key strategies you use to expand your business?

We believe that doing the right thing at the right time with the right attitude is our biggest growth tool. A large part of our current customers are a result of organic, word of mouth, marketing. We believe that everything we spend on ensuring an amazing customer experience feeds into our marketing automatically. At Wakilni, we invested in setting up an 8am – 8pm call center that receives queries, requests and orders Monday through Saturday. If you get in touch with us to follow up on an order or a request, we guarantee a response time of 30 minutes – something unheard of in the logistics business. This is one of the reasons clients perceive us as reachable and responsive and end up recommending us to other clients. Word of mouth has been to date the biggest source of growth for us.

Aside from word of mouth which has to date driven more than 50% of our growth, our drivers have become ambassadors for our brand and are at many times requested to provide more information about the service. More recently, we have been training our drivers on how to identify potential clients when they are on the job and how to deliver a sales pitch versus an end of month bonus for every client they land.

6. What do you look for when recruiting an employee?

First and foremost we look for personality and attitude. Working at Wakilni, our team puts in long hours, stretching into weekends and holidays. We look for people who find joy in working alongside others, creating something that adds value to people’s lives. We look for people with a problem-solving attitude, who are able to make the most of the resources at hand. Once someone joins our team, we make sure we provide him/her with enough space to learn and grow.

7. How many employees do you currently have? How do you describe your management style?

We currently employ around 55 employees between back office personnel and drivers.

We believe we have an unofficial council in the company which consists of the back office team and a number of drivers who have been on board the team for over a year. I usually refer to this “council” when taking hiring/firing decisions, when considering new policies and when developing proposals and pricing schemes for clients. A lot of brainstorming happens between us and it has happened on several occasions that we held late night sessions to identify pain points and bottlenecks in our operation and developed solutions that the whole team was comfortable testing. The most fun decisions are those that target which marketing campaigns to run and when discussing the content and designs. I feel people are happiest when they are in control of their own lives, and that includes their work. Wakilni would not have been here today had I not been willing to share the decision-making process with the team, bottom up.

8. How do you describe yourself in 3 words?

Strong willed, compassionate and passionate about learning

9. What’s your favorite part of your business, and why?

I love being in the hustle bustle of operations! Being a managing partner, I have to spend a lot of my time building decks, attending meetings, pitching and working on numbers. I would really just rather be with the operations team, responding to queries, following up on orders and routing deliveries.

10. How do you advertise your business? How do you advertise your product/service?

* Telemarketing: Our management team dedicates time on a weekly basis populating what is known as our “wish list” (i.e.; the clients we want to be servicing). Our head of customer service and sales contacts by phone each of the businesses on the list and proceeds in scheduling meetings and/or sharing proposals.

* Branding: Our operations team ensures that every envelope and bag is tagged with a “delivered by Wakilni” card or sticker before delivery. This method has proven to be very beneficial for our sales and has helped us land clients like the KSA embassy. The contact person at the embassy told us that seeing our tag on the envelope sent by a service provider they trusted provided her with the needed confidence and proof that we are reliable enough for them to use our service.

* Stunts and Campaigns: Aside from the typical marketing done over social media channels (Instagram and Facebook), we have invested in a number of campaign and stunts. As a recent example, during the first week of February, we delivered over 100 red roses and chocolate hearts to influencers and bloggers across Lebanon as a reminder that it doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to tell your loved ones you care about them.

* Competitions: Wakilni has taken part (and reached the finals) in a large number of regional and local competitions such as Brilliant Lebanese Awards, GITEX startup pitch, BDL Accelerate Pitch, Hyundai Grow my Business Competition, and UberPitchME. We believe these competitions have given us a lot of exposure in the community and allowed us to reach out to our market segments.

* Sponsoring Events: Wakilni has sponsored a number of events by offering delivery services for invitations versus exposure (Elle Fiesta, The Building Pavillion, The Yoga Festival, etc…)

11. What made you choose this type of business?

I don’t think I really chose this type of business. What started out as an idea for a service that takes charge of people’s daily needs and errands turned into a full-fledged logistics company. We just listened to our clients’ needs, looked out for clues and opportunities and developed the service based on our understanding of what would add most value.

12. If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be?

Make sure you choose something you are truly passionate about and then get ready to have a lot of grit and patience. Starting a business is one of the most exciting, rewarding experiences but it is also one of the most tiring psychologically and physically. You will get through it with the right doses of passion and grit.

13. How do you balance the different aspects of your life? (well-being, family, social and professional)

To be honest, I don’t do a very good job balancing the different aspects of my life. My work takes up a big part of my life and the fact that a lot of my colleagues have become my closest friends sort of merged my social and professional lives into one.

I have been rightfully accused of not spending enough time with my family. The fact that I come from a workaholic family (you know it’s true mom) doesn’t help. However, in the past couple of years, I have made it a point to dedicate time slots on the weekends to spend with my parents. I also take one trip a year to join my siblings and family for some time off together.


Women on Top Series

Berytech has partnered with the Lebanese League for Women in Business – LLWB, to create ‘Women on Top’ to highlight women entrepreneurs and executives in a series of motivational interviews about their stories, overcoming their own challenges and their entrepreneurial endeavors. Read more.