Revolutionizing Advertising in Kurdistan

Interview with Hallo Sagrma, Co-Founder of Indigo

This week we wanted to introduce you a wonderful entrepreneur from Kurdistan, Hallo Sagrma, the co-founder of Indigo, an advertising and marketing company based in Suleimani. We were fortunate to get to learn about how he founded and grew Indigo and hear what advice Hallo has for young entrepreneurs in the region. 

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Q: What made you decide to launch a company in Sulaimani? How did your journey begin?

A: From an early age, I enjoyed the idea of having my own business but due to numerous factors, never quite made the jump. I started my working life at 15 and worked many jobs until the age of 27. I left a job at that time to take a short break to reconsider the direction I was heading in life. I knew that I needed a lot more say and control over my working life and discussed this with a like-minded friend. We spent much time together discussing what we could embark on together and as a result became business partners.

Our first venture was a small dessert shop in a mall. For me, this was the stepping-stone to bigger and greater things and the confidence and lessons gained were instrumental in our success today. Unfortunately, the shop didn’t quite work out the way we had envisioned and so we agreed to call it a day and we were back thinking of other ideas.

It was at this point that my business partner, Heja, suggested that we set up a marketing company due to the emergence of new businesses and a booming economy in Kurdistan. Despite no experience in this field or in the running of a company such as this, I said yes.

Q: What makes Indigo different from other companies? What have you done to intentionally make it stand out vs what differed on its own?

A: What makes Indigo different from others is our thirst to innovate and our determination to take the lead in our field. We set a target at Indigo when we started to own a large market share of the advertising sector within 5 years and we actually achieved this in 3. We continue to thrive to become pioneers and lead the way in this industry and this is evident by the new billboards we have introduced to the city.

In addition, the style in which we work differs from most other companies. The working environment at Indigo encourages a strong team spirit by supporting and encouraging the creativity of our employees. Our employees know that they are valued as their suggestions and ideas are always welcome. This hub of positive creativity has resulted in our employees being incredibly enthusiastic, imaginative and loyal.

Q: How did you know that a new type of marketing (ie, guerrilla campaigns, bus stop advertisements, etc) would work in the context of the Kurdistan Region? How did you brainstorm these kinds of ideas? 

A: To be honest, we did not know that such a business would work in Kurdistan. However, we believed it was worth the risk finding out. We were hungry to own something of our own rather than be a middle man. That is how the bus stops came into being. Heja and I sat down and brainstormed a number of ideas and spent many hours researching what would best fit in with Indigo’s already established aims. Eventually, we decided to pursue the idea of bus stops.

With guerrilla advertising, we wanted to be able to provide an extra service that was not common and that would set us apart from others. For example, Indigo was the first company to place a car on the rooftop of a building in Suleimani as part of a very successful marketing campaign.

Q: What would you recommend other startups do to differentiate themselves from others in Kurdistan, like you have?

A: Fundamentally, I would have to say that when you make the decision to commit, you must wholeheartedly commit 110%. This tenacity will instantly set you apart from others. Furthermore, I would strongly recommend thoroughly researching the industry you plan to go into so that you are as prepared as possible. And of course, always offer the best service as quality is key.

Q: What is the best part about being an entrepreneur in Kurdistan? How did you take advantage of working in your specific environment?

The best part for me is the ability to make decisions that can have an impact on everyday life and businesses in this relatively new market. If I want to introduce new ideas and concepts to this region, I have the power and freedom to make it happen and the results are noticeable within a relatively short period of time. That gives me great satisfaction.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you faced in starting up your business, and what is the biggest challenge you face today? Do you have general or specific suggestions for how entrepreneurs should approach common challenges?

A: Cash flow! My biggest challenge to date is cash flow. The most challenging aspect of my role is ensuring that there is enough cash in the business at the end of each month. There are things I have identified throughout my career to improve on with regards to managing cash flow. Having a good relationship with suppliers is one of them as it is vital.

Furthermore, I would strongly advise anyone intending on setting up a business to look painstakingly at all the relevant legislation and regulations concerning your chosen industry so that you don’t get hit with any nasty surprises in the future. The better equipped you are with regards to this knowledge, the better the decision making process will be.

Q: What strategies do you have to make your team more productive and creative?

It is really important to me to allow my team as much freedom as possible. I do this by creating a working environment whereby they feel confident to express themselves and are encouraged to contribute new ideas and concepts to help us grow as a company, together. I see Indigo as a family and within our family everyone is valued as they play an important role in our success.

Q:  Are there any last things you would say to those reading this article, either in Kurdistan, or the rest of the world?

A: Ideas are plenty and an idea is essentially just an idea. It is the people behind the idea who cultivate it into something great. It is fundamental to have a great team around you and that you urge them to be as involved as possible. I believe this is why we have enjoyed working with such an honest, committed and talented group of individuals, both past and present, who have been united in championing our common goals and have subsequently enabled our success.