On the right track

Entrepreneurship has long been intertwined with education as the latter is a key part of our lives, according to Shadi Banna, Founder & CEO, Potential.com. In this exclusive interview, Shadi shares with us his successful journey as an entrepreneur, how he started Potential.com and the significance of efficient learning.


How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

Looking back now, I have come to the realization that entrepreneurship was always a part of me, even from a young age. The thought of being independent and pursuing my passion always appealed to me. With that in mind, I realized that I needed to build my experience in order to be prepared for the risks of entrepreneurship, so I went into corporate world in order to build my expertise, network and cash reserves.  After about 10 years, I felt it would be the right time to strike.


What are some of the challenges that you faced as an entrepreneur?

The biggest challenges for me were understanding of the basics, simple things – like the importance of cash flow, the difficulty in scaling a services business, how to be self-reliant and to leverage my network for business development.


There are a myriad of other small things that come up in your day to day activities that you didn’t learn anywhere – like the importance of trademarks, contractual issues that you need to be aware of, having proper accounting and bank statements, essentially taming the paperwork and navigating the bureaucracy of running your own business so that you can focus on solving more pressing issues.


Beyond that, the real challenge comes about as you grow your business and think things are starting to go well and you start to hit operational challenges. Each growth stage brings with it a new set of headaches. These days I say, it is easy to start a business, not too difficult to run one, but the real challenge is scaling a business and overcoming plateaus.


Where did the idea of Potential.com come from?

Initially, Potential was focused on helping multinationals do better business by developing their local partners across emerging markets through practical business programs. We quickly found that our services were needed and applicable not just to corporates, but also by the wider market and public in general. We quickly adapted and scaled our programs, providing our first open free courses in 2010, before MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courseware) came out.


Since then, our focus has been to support professionals, business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs all over the world, in order to help them quickly acquire the skills they need to succeed both in their personal and professional lives. We have expanded our online offering to appeal to any age 15-99 year olds to help them learn efficiently about key topics of interest to them.


What is your modus operandi to empower individuals and organizations?

We firmly believe in the saying “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach that man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” We believe in empowerment and in the power of human potential. In all our programs, our aim is to take our learners/ beneficiaries through a development process. This process aims to help them achieve a specific business objective through a blend of self paced practical and efficient learning, exercises that reflect on the learning, mentorship and live workshops to cement the learning. Usually our programs include a competitive element to increase motivation and inspiration.


Why is education a key component in your business model?

Education is a key part of our lives. From the moment we are born, we strive to learn things through trial and error, curiosity and creativity. However, traditional educational systems kill a lot of that innate process that make learning fun and rewarding. Old-school learning methods make us follow the same path despite our differences in capabilities, styles, and motivations. We believe that traditional learning in itself is being disrupted on a daily basis by companies like ourselves. Our model of learning builds on what is now called “Flipped Learning”, which allows people to learn at their own pace and in their own structure online, complementing that with practical, engaging, inspiring follow up activities in the real world.


According to you, how can efficient education develop talents?

Lifelong learning – the process of continuously upgrading our skill sets and knowledge to evolve along with the socio-economic landscape – is absolutely essential in today’s world. Regularly acquiring new skills and disciplines is absolutely essential in today’s workforce, yet few have the time and/or resources to enroll into a 3 year university education, or take valuable time away from family and work to attend a training program every time we want to learn something new. Even the MOOCs (massive online open courseware) that have come up over the past years, which  typically take 10-30 hours to complete online, can only boast of 10% completion rates.

Efficient learning, done in the form of micro sessions that could be consumed on the go, through any device and at any point of time, represent what we believe is the future of learning. For many of our courses, the core components take 30 minutes or less to complete, and give our users practical takeaways that can be used immediately. If people have more time or interest, they can then go into the finer details and dig deeper in our courses.


What are the most common learning solutions that you provide for startups and SMEs?

For start-ups and SMES, our programs are focused on addressing the various stages of the business – so someone who is starting up would be able to join one of our startup programs, which focuses on helping them identify the key elements of their business and where they should be investing their time and effort. In addition, we have put together an ecosystem of partners to support participants of the program, whether it is acquiring services or even investment and funding. Established businesses on the other hand, are able to go through a program that is more focused on their expansion, helping link them up with corporates, governments and the like to help them in that expansion. We also have customized tracks for each of the above stages to reflect the focus or interests of the entrepreneur. As an example, we have a Women Entrepreneurship Program – called Hadafi as well as an Internet of Things Entrepreneurship program we deliver in conjunction with Intel.


As a successful businessperson, what are the tips you would give to entrepreneurs?

1-     You absolutely need to have thick skin – for every Yes, you will hear 100 Nos.

2-     It iss easy to get distracted and/or reach for low hanging fruit. Focus on your long term objectives and only take business that is aligned to that vision.

3-     Empower and motivate your team so that they treat the business as if it is their own.

4-     Not all talent is created equal. It’s important to invest in team members that provide the right ROI, and not in expensive team members that might look good on paper, but would otherwise eat up your cash.

5-     Fire fast. Your team is only as strong as its weakest link, especially in a start-up/entrepreneurial environment. Take action if you see that someone can’t deliver on their KPIs or isn’t aligned to your vision.


About Shadi Banna

Shadi Banna is the Founder and CEO of Potential.com, which aims to develop organizations and individuals so that they can realize and exceed their Potential. Potential.com supports organizations in improving Sales, Social Engagement, and Staff Development through practical business education, and supports individuals in either starting up businesses, expanding their existing businesses, or developing their professional careers through practical business education.


Prior to Potential.com, Shadi had leadership roles within the ICT sector - SafeNet (Gemalto), HP, and NCR. He is also an angel investor and consults several startups, incubators and business schools across the world. Shadi is a seasoned expert and frequent speaker on the topics of Entrepreneurship, Education Technology (EdTech), Innovation and Future Work skills.




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