"We see good as the enemy of great"
With Lebanese designers flourishing at a rapid pace, entrepreneur Theo Ohanissian and his partner Ghassan Mabsout found an opportunity right there. The risks were non negligible. Regardless of the obstacles lurking in the horizon, they decided to launch Lebanon’s very own online marketplace, providing upcoming designers with an opportunity to promote their brands and exhibit their products.
My Souk is the Middle East’s very own local Net-a-Porter. The term Souk means in Arabic marketplace. “We wanted a name that reflected the idea that the website offered a space which could reflect the identity of the different brands, as well as the concept of a marketplace, all while not being restricted to a language or region-defined name”, clarifies Theo. The two entrepreneurs launched My Souk in 2014, and ever since, there has been an increasing number of visits on the website. The credit goes mostly to the “word of mouth” phenomenon and “organic traffic”. My Souk does not advertise. Theo and Ghassan “only invest in Facebook Ads”.
The two young university graduates have managed to launch their own start-up from scratch, and increasingly attract a wide platform of visitors on their website. The My Souk family believes in creating an online community in which the love of design conquers all. My Souk plays the role of an intermediary, thus “uniting independent designers with avid design lovers”, explains Theo. The website fills a gap in the market whereas most online shopping platforms aim for profit, rather than interpersonal relations.
My Souk is a sort of “do-gooder” on both ends. On one hand, it helps creators, designers, and artists establish a presence online by offering them a platform to expose and sell their creations. On the other, it reveals to design lovers niche brands that are not known worldwide. All of that, with a strong selling point of charging retailers a mere commission of 10%, consequently providing them with the advantage of having a larger profit margin, whilst existing competitors charge an outstanding 30% and even 40% commission on products.
Not to pretend that My Souk is not a profitable business, but the owners would never jeopardize their mission statement for a few extra dollars. Theo insists on the fact that My Souk is not an online brand vacuum: “We do not aim to work with any mainstream brands, which are found in almost every country in the world”. My Souk is the home of unique and niche creators or resellers of independent labels in fashion and design brands in home accessories.
My Souk might be a one-year-old start up company, but the entrepreneurs are not rushing to make some extra Benjamins, as they stand by the value and worth of their company. My Souk filters its retailers. “We have a list of requirements that stores have to abide by. These criteria guide us in our selection process and help maintain consistency on the website.” In the case where the brand does not pitch the My Souk team to be part of the platform, the two entrepreneurs source sellers by approaching the ones they see fit for their platform. Design brands featured on the website are neither commercial nor mainstream. They are studied carefully in order to be relevant to the target customers.
The My Souk typical visitors are in their twenties or thirties. The platform mainly targets generation Y consumers with a certain mid-to-high level of purchasing power: “they are willing to pay a premium price for a product that will make them stand out from the crowd”, describes them Theo. They want to be unique, and are passionate by design products. They want quality more than quantity and “value the aesthetic and quality associated with the products they purchase”. My Souk caters men and women, with a wide range of products that cater to men and women, spanning fashion, fashion accessories, and jewelry and home deco pieces. The best selling categories are fashion and fashion accessories, but the newly launched home deco section has been catching up rapidly. Self-nicknamed “as loyal as it gets” customer Caroline Tarazi praises My Souk: “TOP! TOP! TOP service and products. I’ve bought myself […] six pairs of funky shades so far”.
With key drivers, numerous assets, and work ethics that the entrepreneurs swear by, the hopes are high for the start-up company. Aside from belonging to a community of handpicked sellers, the Lebanese partners provide great sales and customers support. The entrepreneurs “see good as the enemy of great”, and strive for perfection. The tenacious Lebanese duo is not settled with the success they have struck in less than a year. With an objective to become the region’s ultimate gathering point for creativity and design, and a desire to host an elite community of vendors, their commitment to deliver high quality customer support, the eagerness to constantly improve and innovate is only getting bigger and bigger.
When asked to describe My Souk in one word, Theo states, without any hesitation whatsoever: “design”, making his point. Design is at the core of the platform’s mission statement. The entrepreneurs have launched a turning point in the online shopping for designs game. The gritty Lebanese entrepreneurs are striving to raise the bar and make a difference, with a sole purpose “to change the way people shop for design products”. It seems that in the future, Theo and his partner will undoubtedly set a standard for a shopping community that will be unrivalled in the region.