Exclusive Interview of Lama Naseer of Aanaab. Edited by Powered Magazine
In the realm of financial management and strategic decision-making, Lama Naseer has established herself as a seasoned professional, driving financial excellence as the CFO of Aanaab. With a proven track record of delivering tangible results and a deep understanding of financial intricacies, Lama plays a pivotal role in shaping the financial landscape of the organization. In this exclusive interview with Powered Magazine, we have the privilege of gaining insights into the world of financial management through the lens of Lama Naseer. From her career journey and the challenges she has encountered to her perspectives on financial leadership and the evolving landscape of finance, we uncover the wisdom and expertise of a trailblazer in the field.
Tell us about yourself and your business.
My name is Lama Naseer, and I’m Aanaabs’ CFO and an early stage investor in the company. I joined Aanaab in its second year because I saw the potential impact this company could accomplish, and now in its fifth year, Aanaab has demonstrated that many times over. I have always been interested in initiatives that support balancing the scale, like co-founding CellA+ for Professional Women, being part of Riyalis’ Financial Literacy programme for kids, starting the Acumen+Jeddah chapter for social entrepreneurship, and in the career choices I made.
Aanaab is an EdTech that started catering to a need for upskilling Arab speaking teachers (B2C track) and catering to school needs through training and recruitment (B2B track). Today, it has expanded to address an even bigger need in terms of becoming the eLearning platform that builds your skills, knowledge, and mindset around your profession of choice. It brings the best in terms of international and regional collaborations and customises it to market needs. In markets with young populations, huge growth, and a huge need for skilled professionals, the potential and the demand are huge, and we’re here as the first and, in some cases, the only ones in the region to offer what we do.
How is a startup CFO different from a corporate CFO?
Startup CFOs are value creators; while they handle all the financial functions of a traditional CFO, they spend more time shaping a startup's strategy and product iteration. They come in early to build the financial structure as well as, in many cases, handle investor relations, fund raising, and, on a need-by basis, other roles such as legal. They’re strategists and visionaries who take on a more collaborative role with different departments than traditional budget management. They must have a scaling up mindset to accommodate the decisions needed for growth hacking. Finance in general gives visibility to every aspect of a company; startup finance, by necessity, is involved in day-to-day operations, and in my opinion, it’s the most exciting role in a startup.
What were your biggest challenges in your role as a startup CFO?
I think one of the biggest challenges of being a startup CFO is finding that balance between a healthy cash runway and meeting growth requirements. It took some adjustment in my case; you need to adopt a different mindset where profitability and bottom line are not at the forefront of decision making in those early years, at least not as the main drivers.
What motivations drive you to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity?
I believe that in different phases of life, what drives us evolves and shifts, and that’s ok. My earliest motivations were to prove myself by going into a challenging career, and then it was to have impact on a larger scale. While now as a mom to an amazing daughter, Dala, it’s to be the best role model to her, demonstrating by example that everything is possible, and continuously trying to be the best version of myself.
Are there any skills or areas of expertise that you think are essential in your field?
A solid financial foundation is a must. Resourcefulness is another, and it will come in handy in seeking different sources of funding. Thinking outside the box, creativity, and flexibility. If you like structure and clarity, then this role is definitely not for you. Communication and networking skills. Startup CFOs must show their abilities as outward facing CFOs; they must be more strategic. Their background is not necessarily from traditional roles in accounting but could be from investment banking or other prior careers.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of your chosen career or business path?
At Aanaab, we help scale up impact on a national and regional level. Utilisation of EdTech speeds up the implementation while increasing the reach geographically and socioeconomically.
Two of the projects I’m most proud of are supporting the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture in one of our markets for the introduction of music teaching in kindergartens. Training 16,000 public and private school teachers.
Another is a collaboration in 2020 with the Ministry of Health, at the time of the coronavirus pandemic, for an online course on how teachers can teach awareness about COVID-19 and precautionary measures, reaching 11,000 teachers across the MENA region.
What advice would you like to give someone starting their career?
Love what you do, pay it forward, and be open to different experiences.
Love what you do: life is too short, and we give our best contributions when we are passionate about what we work for.
Pay it forward: be generous with your help, advice, and time whenever you can. From experience, supporting others always comes back positivity, whether it’s through karma or the people you once helped who end up helping you and being there for you when you most needed it and least expected it.
Be open to different experiences: because you never know where your career might take you. The more you experience, the larger the option pool will be.
What about advice for someone interested in starting a tech company?
Educate yourself about metrics, because it all comes back to that when it’s time to fundraise down the line. Have clear expectations that your business model will iterate many times. Know that the growth stage is a completely different ballgame. People who were there in the beginning will not necessarily be the right team to steer the company through growth. Priorities shift, and you need to be flexible while juggling the different parts. Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the right investors, especially in the seed stage.