Lockdown Economy Lebanon in a Planner & Notebook business with Mirélie Manih
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Tapasya Das
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Mirélie Manih, the Founder of the Art of Scientist, a Planner and Notebook business, in Lebanon. The Art of a Scientist is known for planners and notebooks that are personalized to the smallest detail, using the client’s preferred colours, themes, quotes etc. by offering a wide range of customization in design and printing. Mirélie Manih, the founder of the business, wanted to offer her client not only a unique design concept but a tool where people can continue planning their daily lives, dreaming for their future and staying motivated during lockdown to live normally as if the virus didn’t exist. The business started selling in March 2020 and was accompanied with several challenges; from one side, she had to build up her business plan during a pandemic and from another side, she had to develop a pricing strategy that would be affordable amidst the economic crisis and currency exchange fluctuations the country was passing through. In the context of being a young entrepreneur, the lockdown in a way prompted her to start selling, validate her business idea, understand her purpose. She mainly focused on executing her business idea in a period where she needed to understand her customer’s desires and rely on the skills or resources that the social media was offering to expand her audience and grow her business organically.
It’s a pleasure to have you today as a guest in the Lockdown Economy series. So let’s start with the “Art of Scientist”. Tell me what do you do as a business and what is the concept about?
Mirélie: So my name is Mirélie and I am seventeen. I design planners and notebooks. It mainly started as a really small business, and it’s all handmade. But it thankfully evolved and now we have a lot of new products. So basically my concept isn’t just any design concept and it has a twist, which is customisation. Basically, I take the preferred colours, themes and quotes that my clients give me. I create a layout, we discuss the digital copy and then we print the design on the desired item so that my clients are motivated during the lockdown and they continue to plan their days, take notes and live as if the virus did not exist.
I love it how you are putting it into a concept to help people to overcome the challenges that they are having and help them plan better for 2021, as it brings a lot of hope. So tell me, how long have you been doing the business and who helps you to execute it, bring the design and print them?
Mirélie: I started in 2019. I was planning this new idea but unfortunately, there has been a big economic obstacle in Lebanon. There was an increase in the dollar rate exchange prices. So I didn’t want my dream to end and I didn’t want to cancel this plan. So I studied again, I calculated my expenses, I looked for suppliers, I looked for ways to keep my business and to enjoy it. So the “Art of Scientist” was born in October 2019 but I started selling in March 2020. I took orders first and I was overwhelmed. I was scared, to not be able to fulfil the customer’s desire. But then I met with a supplier who is a single dad of four. It was through my business that I support him. He does everything related to printing and I do everything related to design. So my small business helps another small business.
It’s a kind of collaboration and when small businesses come to help, it is better. Especially as you highlighted, many people are not aware of the Lebanon crisis. It has been a challenging year, on top of a pandemic, there were issues with the exchange rate as well, then with the suppliers reaching Lebanon. So we usually outsource most of the items that the business requires and we need to collaborate with another business that would create economies of scale and we will be able to expand more hopefully. I hope you will make some radical impacts through these small steps hopefully for the future generation, the Middle East, starting from Lebanon. So you mentioned that you are collaborating with another business. Do you have any employees who work under your business?
Mirélie: I do not work on my own but I get a lot of help from my family. I also operate with a logistics company for the deliveries. So it is easier for me to not have employees since I am a small business. But I do get a lot of help and I’m thankful for that.
Well, I am sure, we have to start from our inner self and trust in our own capabilities. It’s only a true example, how an entrepreneur can start, notwithstanding his age. He only needs the guidance of other people to just figure out the business. There are challenges and there are ideas about perfecting the business. You are surrounded by your family and there are other relationships, like that with the supplier, that lets the business grow. I hope that I would be able to have another interview with you to see how the business would be doing in 2021. So at the moment, can you tell me who your customers are? How many clients did you have from when you started taking orders in March? Obviously, that was the beginning of a pandemic that we will talk about later. But who are your customers and what is their preference?
Mirélie: At first, my audience was my neighbours. They are people who live around me, my family members and my cousins. Then it went from story to story on Instagram and other sick media platform. My audience expanded and I started to reach people from very different walks of life. I started to receive clients from the mountainside. I live in the city and I didn’t know what these people were like. They have another taste and so I got to experiment with different topics. I got to make designs of different themes and I was not prepared for that. It was challenging but I liked it as I got to design for different people. They were not al all like me; there were grown-ups, there were kids, there were older people. So I got to meet a lot of clients. Seeing my audience grow was something that made me really happy. When you see that your clients like your products, no matter who they are or from where they are, it makes you really happy.
I can sense that effect as well. Interacting and connecting with people from different backgrounds preferences and age groups, as you mentioned, would harness your creativity side and will give you ideas to customise this business. It’s your core business and it’s embedded in your value proposition to customise based on orders. You fabricate planners, for something that is very personal for the individual who is planning his life or future or day-to-day activities. So we are talking about the lockdown period and many things were happening. It impacted and dominated most of our conversation. I want to go back. Although you mentioned a little bit that the business started selling in March 2020. So how did the lockdown affect your business? In particular, can you tell me about that?
Mirélie: During the lockdown, I mainly realised that being productive doesn’t mean being busy. It means having a purpose and actually achieving something. So because of the lockdown, I realised that a lot of people need daily planners. So just as I did, I shared my passion for the design and for planning and being organised during the lockdown. This was what prompted me to start selling. So if the lockdown didn’t happen, I would have had some doubts about my business.
For sure I can see your direction, in terms of observing and also monitoring the ways where you can improve what you are doing. This is only because you have a passion and a drive to succeed and bring your work to life. You mentioned that you carry everything with you. When you are executing your job and it happens to be something that you love to do, what are the key challenges that you faced? Considering that you rely on maybe your inner drive and your intuition, how did you solve them?
Mirélie: The situation in my country was quite challenging. We faced a lot of problems. During this short time-lapse, I made sure to keep my prices really affordable and tried to provide my clients with something trendy that they have never seen before. So I was sure that my products would be attractive because I did not just provide my clients with something basic. I attracted them and I made sure that they know that my products are here for them to help them plan their days and to stay motivated despite everything we are going through.
I really like the way how you put it. It is moving forward and it will keep going regardless of the elements that might hinder us. So we just figure a way to push through, get over it and find a solution. In that sense, I am sure that the customer base has been affected and you have noticed a change in consumer behaviour or in any other aspects of your business. So can you tell me how you try to stimulate the business front and attract the customers?
Mirélie: I really worked on customer care and after purchase care. So I wanted the feedback if someone was seeing improvement after using a planner and how they shifted their focus to productivity. Then I used to track what they are doing. So instead of having empty days, my clients started to be more organised. I was really happy because this reflects me as I am a really organised person. Seeing my clients become organised, really helped me understand that this is my purpose, this is where I want to be.
So I liked how you put the fact that you try to understand and be present where your customers are, in words This perhaps makes you understand more, how to create the message, the brand communication and awareness. So in this term, do you know how your customers are doing and the competition. I know you collaborated with suppliers, just in order to deliver the materials and the resources that will help you print them. Now you are expanding. So do you know how the competition in the market that is presenting something similar? What are your customers doing at the moment?
Mirélie: So as I mentioned before, I started in March. But as soon as I started to advertise my work on Instagram, which is my star platform. I have started to see a lot of competitors that I like. Like our supporters that started to copy my work and I used to see similar products, captions and similar designs. So I did not think of this as something bad or something that should stop me. But I took this as motivation because my business was just two months old. It started to get haters but they were secret supporters.
So I liked how you are putting this. There is a mindset, I think when we see working people tend to encourage it in their own way and perhaps try to take it. I don’t want to use the word copy. It’s possible that we might have the same ideas as someone else. You don’t see this as a competition or a threat because this drives you forward and pushes you to do better. You are the only one who is responsible for your success. I see that when you are talking about your business and how you search to improve and be better at what you are doing. So let’s talk about the business now. How is it going and what are your plans for the coming few months? I’m really interested to know about the holidays. How is it and how are the people ordering in the coming few months during the festive season?
Mirélie: So during the season it was really overwhelming because I was working on so many orders on my own. I didn’t want to disappoint any clients. So I was working really hard to deliver all the orders and prepare everything. So we had Christmas boxes in the month of December. I used to customise boxes as well and include items that are themselves customised. So the box would really reflect the person who would receive the gift. So this season, I didn’t launch any new product because I was really overwhelmed with the orders. But starting January I am going to launch a lot of new items that are really exciting. I wish I could tell you more. For the future, I have one big project in mind, which is an international delivery. I would really appreciate if my products were featured in other countries and I hope this is going to be available very soon.
I look forward also to see your products reaching Europe, Barcelona and other areas as well in the Middle East and GCC. So we can understand that you are trying to increase the business offering side and work in collaboration to introduce new elements to your services, which is embedded in your creation, arts and design. So all that you are going to bring to this industry in Lebanon, would be interesting to check and follow in 2021. So with that, we want to ask you the three things you need to help with to grow and to scale the business forward for 2021.
Mirélie: I need to reach another audience. So this is why I will not limit myself to one platform which is Instagram. I plan on growing more, having a website and maybe another platform on another app. So this is one thing. Another thing is I need more recognition as a Lebanese designer. We are naturally recognised around the world but the creatives I got to meet on my way really pushed me and encouraged me to speak more about my country because we really have competitive designers. I’m really proud to say that I am not just a designer. I’m a Lebanese one. And the third thing must be international delivery because this is something I am really looking forward to. But I will not be able to achieve it on my own. So, of course, I am going to need help with this.
Alright! So that being said, I am proud to say that a young entrepreneur who still has a lot of ideas in her mind, brings her creations to not only Lebanon but also the world, as a designer. Although the environment has been challenging for her this year, she was able to defy all the rules and have a strong base for her start and launch. So I want to wish you all the success and may your dreams for the future be recognised through the work that you are going to put in and have a lot of happy customers. I hope that one day I will be able to deliver one of your planning, journals and other services that you are going to work on. For that do you have any final words that you would like to say to all the young entrepreneurs who are thinking of opening a business or have opened in 2020?
Mirélie: It was challenging. I have one sentence only that I would like them to think about. Take the risk or lose the chance. So if you don’t go for it, you might lose it forever. If you don’t start now, you might regret it later because what you build at a young age is your strong base and you are going to build bigger empires after that.
About the Guest
Mirélie is a young entrepreneur who started a business in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic crisis. She always liked two include two things to her life, the first would be a personal touch to her belongings and the second is planning! This is mainly what prompted her to start this concept, planner, and notebook customization. She studied the exponential price increase in the Lebanese Market, and in March 2020, The Art of a Scientist was born.