We had the good fortune of connecting with Leila Muhaizen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leila, other than deciding to work for yourself, what else do you think played a pivotal role in your story?
I developed a mindset of absolute and unwavering commitment to this new adventure. I often make the analogy that having a startup is like a entering marriage. Your colleagues are your partners for better or worse. You will argue about financial spending but always take unanimous decisions. You will invest in marketing tactics and proudly watch the company grow. Other times, you will be overwhelmed, overjoyed, disappointed, and humbled by the ups and down of this journey, and it only makes you wiser and more resilient. If your startup is similar to a marriage, then your members (app users) are you children! Your members deserve unparalleled attention and selfless nurturing. You must study their interests and listen to their feedback for them to grow. User acquisition and retention is the most powerful metric to measure a brand’s loyalty and influence. Invest in your members early and they’ll save you later! Entering any similar venture requires dedication and the single minded goal of succeeding.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
After working for five years at a real estate job in Los Angeles, I was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I jumped at the opportunity to finally do something personally meaningful. For the first time in my life I let my career aspirations wander beyond the confines of corporate America to the realm of tech startups. I’ve always been fascinated by the world of Silicon Valley and the infectious energy of its entrepreneurs, risk takers, and freethinkers all looking for innovation, achievement, and success. The key was to find industry leaders who were willing to be my mentors. Doors started opening as I spoke to incredibly inspiring figures like the Director of CEO Communications at GitHub, a hosting provider for software development; and the Founder of Redoor, a mortgage startup acquired by Airbnb. I continued to grow my network and learn the lingo until my mindset and efforts paved the way for my own entrepreneurial journey. In the midst of my new career mapping, a massive tragic event took place in my home country Lebanon that destroyed the capital of Beirut and left hundreds dead. The yearning and helplessness I felt sealed the brainstorming process for my startup. The idea was shaped from an immediate need. Baklava would be a social app not only for Lebanese people living abroad to connect, but also for the entire global Arab community to come together, to get to know one another, and eventually meet each other — whether they are looking for a friendship or a relationship.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I consider myself an expert on all things Los Angeles, so you’ve come to the right person! Hiking to the Hollywood Sign will give you sweeping views of the city. West Hollywood’s trendy Melrose Avenue will guarantee you the best instagrammable pictures. Lunch at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel will give you a flare of why Marilyn Monroe considered this place her second home. Santa Monica and Venice Beach are best explored on an electric scooter. Downtown is where the hidden gems are! The Last Book Store in Downtown LA will immerse you in wonderland and the Grand Central Market will give you a taste of the world’s ethnic foods. The Broad Museum’s Infinity Room will captivate you, and a musical at Broadway’s historical theaters will have you singing along. LA’s breathtaking sunsets are best seen from Wilshire Grand, the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. For the night owls, the Roosevelt Hotel entertainment will transport you to the razzle and dazzle of old 1920s Hollywood. There’s never a dull moment in LA; it is truly one of the best cities in the world.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Developing Baklava into the app it is today was a collective effort, and I’m incredibly lucky to say that I have an A-team that has been the driving force behind its success. I am eternally grateful to my team of product designers who brought my vision for the app to reality and my CMO Serena Skaf for putting Baklava in the spotlight. For the aspiring entrepreneurs, I would like to recommend a book that my mentor had given me called Designing Your Life. He said: “This is not a book of great ideas, but it is a roadmap of proven steps that produce many potentially great ideas.” This book prompts us to think of the life experience we want first and design the building blocks of it second — including your business ideas. In other words, for a business idea to be successful, it has to meaningfully complement your life.
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