Entrepreneur, publisher, and writer Wafa Al Obaidat, is on a mission to unite talent with demand, and raise the bar for the creative process across PR, marketing and design. Currently Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director of Obai and Hill, the 28-year-old Bahraini powerhouse reveals her drive, inspiration and role model.
- When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an entrepreneur and go into journalism, writing, and publishing.
- Briefly tell me your story.
I graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design, at the University of The Arts, London, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Interior and Spatial Design. The following year I launched Sketchbook Magazine from a studio apartment in Notting Hill, London, with around 400 contributors and volunteers working pro bono.
The interest was phenomenal and really highlighted how much talent is out there, undiscovered. The contacts I met through Sketchbook inspired me to launch Obai and Hill, an agency where emerging creatives can bring truly fresh ideas directly to clients in PR, marketing and design.
I wanted to bring young innovative designers into a new light and bridge the gap between the unestablished younger designer and the client, creating a business for the Middle Eastern consumer and the breadth of young talent in Europe. In 2015, we won Start Up of the Year at the Bahrain Entrepreneurship Awards.
I believe that business should always have purpose and I want to support other aspiring leaders and creatives to pursue their ideas. That’s why I am a member of the Global Shapers Community, a network of city-based Hubs developed and led by young leaders between 20 and 30 years old who want to develop their leadership potential to better serve society. I’m also a member of the SME Society in the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and, building on my work as a writer and columnist, I contribute to Start Up Bahrain and Khaleejesque Magazine where I write about startups, design, and the creative industry in the Middle East.
- What do you wish you knew before you started your first business/entered the workforce?
I wish I had known that without any business or accounting experience, my first hire should have been an accountant! I started the Bahrain operations with a senior designer and later hired an accountant, then an account manager. As we started scoring retainer projects I could create cash flow budgets for the year ahead and plan the next hire. The team has grown organically to a 16-strong force of 20-something year olds who see themselves as creative problem-solvers driven by elevating their clients’ brands.
- Who is your role model, and why?
My mother is my number one inspiration. She mentored me from a very young age on how to think big and have a vision for my life. She also supports all my crazy projects and the 100 or so ludicrous failed attempts before Sketchbook. She is my number one fan and always invested in my love for the arts… She is a great listener and together we reflect on how we can make things happen creatively. She is the most ambitious person I have ever known.
- How do you find inspiration?
It comes from people and a lot of what I am inspired by is what I am exposed to. I’m a fan of Tyler Brulee’s work as the founder of Wallpaper magazine and editor of Monocle, and all his work as a creative director with his agency Winkcreative. I had the pleasure of interning for Brent Hoberman, founder of lastminute.com, when I was still a student, with his new business venture mydeco.com. I’m also inspired by Terence Conran for his vision as a designer and entrepreneur and Jeremy Leslie for all his work with Print magazine and his commitment to the publishing industry.
- What is the strangest marketing experiment you ever did?
It is not really strange, but I did start a talent management agency and realised that it would be more challenging than I thought it would be.
- What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
My biggest failure was Sketchbook Magazine from a sense it did not generate income, however, it brought me clients and that is why I started Obai and Hill.
- What do you think is the most important innovation of your life thus far?
Creating Malja with the sound engineer Hasan Hujari. From the very start, it was created to serve a higher purpose and the result was beyond anything we imagined.
Collaboration inspired everything. We wanted to create a place where people could meet their peers and find support and inspiration but Bahrain didn’t have that – anywhere! So we found this remote place and tore apart the calm with the sound of jackhammers.
We first had the idea in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2013 – when Bahrain started to host major art events – that we realised there was true demand for this type of space.
In 2014, we created a space that reflected the vision, for artists to use during Urban Culture Week. What was initially an elegant private residency was turned upside down in order to become a street art den. Every single room, from cellar to attic, was shaped to welcome the urban arts, and the reception it received confirmed our beliefs – that Bahrain needed a place for creative collaboration.
We secured the Amwaj space, settled on a green ground, and Malja officially launched on January 30, 2015. Today we have a studio, multi-purpose rehearsal space , stage and gallery, bringing culture and arts to the forefront of everyday life in Bahrain.
- Is there a question that you wish people would have asked you? If yes, what is the question?
I wish people asked, how we can help you? Although, I never waited for people to ask me that – I just knocked on doors and asked them myself, until I could figure out how to get what I needed to achieve my goals for my company.
11. What is your advice to others?
My advice is not to listen to the reasons why you can’t do something. That’s the easiest thing a person can do.
We are raised in a culture of fear, and people are always ready to tell you that your ideas are not realistic, but I think you need to be unrealistic to pursue what you want.
If you don’t know what you want or you haven’t found your passion, start exploring. Path find, don’t just be stuck in a rut. Nothing will ever come to you, so you must go and find what makes you happy then figure out how to make it your career. And Have the best life you can have – don’t settle!
Wafa will be joining the WIL Economic Forum KSA on March 20, in Riyadh.
She will be sharing her experience as a young female entrepreneur and insights with the audience in the ‘It’s time to roll up our sleeves – womenpreneurship league’ panel discussion.