Meaningful Business (MB): Tell us a bit about your background:
Khadija Jallouli (KJ): I graduated from the University of Food Industries of Tunis (ESIAT) with an Applied License in Food Technology Industries and Processes. Throughout my university days I was very active with various associations, including AIESEC, and set up a junior enterprise to promote the entrepreneurial spirit within college students.
I started in food engineering, but what led to me to start over and begin a new career in the automotive field as an entrepreneur was the need I saw.
MB: What led you to start HawKar?
KJ: As a person with reduced mobility, I’m in a wheelchair and have always had difficulty moving long distances. I’m either reliant on a family member or a taxi, or worse I stay at home, as public transport and infrastructure are not adapted to people like me. I have also been refused entry by some taxi drivers, who were afraid my wheelchair would damage their car.
I wanted to get a vehicle for myself, but it proved to be difficult. Most small cars are not accessible by a wheelchair, and then you have to get from the wheelchair to the driver’s seat.
There were some vehicles which were tailored to people with reduced mobility but I realised that they didn’t have much experience or knowledge about the standards, or legalities of selling in Africa and the Middle East, including Tunisia where I live.
Looking at my difficulty, a friend then told me, “Why don’t you do it yourself? You know that many people have the need, and you’re not the only one. So why don’t you create a car?” I realised there was a great opportunity and also the skills available in Tunisia to do it. So I decided to take it up.
We, my cofounder Seifeddine Aïssa and I, started making our first prototype in 2017 and we incorporated HawKar in 2018. We are still improving our product and hope to get it to market by the end of this year.
MB: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
KJ: We want to overcome the failures of infrastructure and public transport that are not suitable for people with reduced mobility and which prevent them from moving freely and independently to go to work, study, and be included in society.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
KJ: Our biggest challenge right now is the time it takes for results to show up; we’re trying to balance between perfection and progress. It is very important as we are making a product that has to meet each safety aspect for our clients and reduce time-to-market.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
KJ: We want to make ‘freedom of mobility’ accessible to everyone, to improve the life of people with reduced mobility and make a difference.
We already have customers contacting us, but we are still improving the car to ensure it meets all the necessary requirements and we want it to be safe.
While we will initially focus on our home market, we will then slowly look to expand in Africa and the Middle East. We are very open to entering the West as well, and we do have requests coming in from the US and France. But we will start slow, and then go deeper.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
KJ: I think if you really have a problem to solve, and if you focus on that need – just be perseverant and you will be successful. If you think about why you started this, and why are you doing this – it will help you go forward.
Being an entrepreneur is being a problem solver. If you don’t have this mind, you won’t be able to continue. Also don’t take it too seriously. When we take it too seriously, we are afraid to fail – and that can be an obstacle.
At the end you have nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work, you can leave and start something new. Also I believe when you fail fast, it also helps a lot. As early as you will fail, you learn fast and that can help you to go further.
In one sentence I would say, “tackle an impactful problem with the power of inclusion and inspire your team to invest in the mission.”
MB: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
KJ: “It is always too early to quit!” Unfortunately, the vast majority of entrepreneurs fold and quit right before the big pay off hits. The big startup winners are often just those who held out longer and kept going when everyone else quit and went home.
MB: How do you define success?
KJ: To me, success has nothing to do with having a lot of money and being famous. Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose and achieving personal goals, whatever they may be.
MB: What is something you wish you were better at?
KJ: I wish I was better at devising strategies, especially as an entrepreneur with no prior experience in this space. You need to know where you are going. I had a vision and I knew what I wanted but I didn’t have the experience of making lots of strategic decisions, which an entrepreneur has to do regularly. I’m learning though!
I also think it is very important to learn to take advice from more experienced people. I follow that rule now, and take my time for every decision after listening to my mentors and other experienced individuals.
MB: What is the one book everyone should read?
KJ: ‘The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen R. Covey.
MB: What do you do to relax?
KJ: I simply disconnect from the world – put my phone away, don’t open my laptop, leave everything related to work, and take time to enjoy myself with my family at least once a week. It is very resourceful.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.