Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Hisham Shehabi OLY: Propelling The Sports Industry With N3XT Sports

We recently had the opportunity to interview Hisham Shehabi OLY, Co-founder, COO, and Head of MENA Regional HQ at N3XT Sports. Hisham’s vast experience in sports business, finance, and technology led him to co-found N3XT Sports. Previously, he spearheaded Sports Intelligence at the International Olympic Committee, focusing on eSports, media revenue distribution to Federations, and the inclusion of new sports in the Olympic Movement.

With N3XT Sports, a specialized agency in the sports industry, Hisham and his team work with their clients on strategy development, operational support, and end-to-end data and digital transformation. Let’s dive into Hisham’s journey and vision behind building a leading business in this region.

Genesis Of N3XT Sports

We started the interview by asking, “Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey and the motivation behind starting your business?”

Hisham Shehabi OLY shared, “Before co-founding N3XT Sports in 2018, I led Sports Intelligence at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), with some highlights including leading the IOC’s eSports agenda, the calculation of the distribution of media revenue to International Federations, and the structuring of the program to include new sports in the Olympic Games. It helped me gain experience – and a network – in global sports business, finance, and technology.”

 “After six years of rapid growth, our vision remains the same as when we started the business: to empower and propel the sports industry in this rapidly changing landscape. We’re now entering into our seventh year on this journey, and have expanded our team, client base, and expertise to serve both the European and Middle Eastern markets.” He added.

Hisham Shehabi OLY-Staying Ahead Of The Curve

Eager to learn how Hisham Shehabi OLY ensures his company stays updated with all the latest developments and adopts them into business operations, we inquired, “How do you stay ahead of technological advancements in your industry, and how has this impacted your business model?”

He replied, “At N3XT Sports, we have a DBOT mindset. We are involved in Designing, Building, Operating, and Transferring systems and transformations that help future-proof sports organizations. This means we are involved in cutting-edge trends, and putting in place the foundational elements for success in the modern age.

 The diversity of our team and their deep passion and understanding of sports allow us to stay relevant in diverse settings. Indeed, we are operating in Europe and MENA, with countries that have varying technology, data, legal, regulatory, policy, and investment ecosystems. Thanks to our team which is made up of 70% elite ex-athletes from 14 sports, who speak nine languages and hail from 19 nationalities, we have an additional edge when serving our clients across countries and regions.”

 “Our commitment as a company is to evangelize the new operating and business models of sports. Our DNA is to share this information far and wide. This is why our team is encouraged to participate in career fairs, university lectures, research projects, and innovation projects, across sports.

 “Annually, we contribute and present at over 20 worldwide events and conferences, helping us expand our network. Our network of close to 10,000 contacts within global sports allows us to have our ‘finger on the pulse’. This is part of the value of being a client of our company – we happily and proactively share this network with our partners.” Hisham added.

Redefining Businesses With AI

We further asked, “What role does artificial intelligence play in your current operations or plans?”

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already being used throughout the sports industry across multiple verticals; however, the big step-change will see sports organizations leverage AI to help manage the large volumes of data they ingest daily. At N3XT Sports, AI is not a trend, it’s a way of doing this. Internally, we have leveraged it to optimize our processes and increase quality and agility. With clients, we are modernizing their technology stack by integrating AI and machine-learning models.

 “One of our latest offerings to our clients is N3XTAI, which helps scale new data analytics infrastructures and make data easier to find for sports organizations. Our clients are benefiting from N3XTAI through specific use cases that optimize their operations,” he replied.

Overcoming The Challenging Phases

Challenges are an inevitable part of every business. To learn how Hisham Shehabi OLY overcame the obstacles in his business, we asked, “Can you share a significant challenge you’ve faced in your business and how you overcame it?”

He shared, “The Covid pandemic, as for many businesses, was an incredibly challenging period, and we are still seeing its impact today. As the sports industry navigated such a turbulent time in recent memory, it’s fair to say that the event has not only changed how sports organizations operate but has also accelerated their direct-to-consumer (D2C) strategies and transition towards digital-first operations.

 “We seized the chance to invest in our digital transformation services and capabilities, recognizing the sports industry’s need to bridge its digital gap due to limited expertise and resources. This was an important step in N3XT Sports’ journey, turning one of the greatest challenges the industry has ever faced into a catalyst for our company’s growth and in turn the maximization of value towards our clients. Now, we can offer this unique value proposition to clients across the sports industry in Europe and MENA.

Strategic Planning Approaches

To gather Hisham’s insights on strategic planning for his company, we asked, “How do you approach strategic planning and decision-making in your organization?”

Hisham Shehabi OLY replied, “Our company is an ultra-fast growth company in sports. We witnessed a 20% annual revenue increase since 2021. Since December 2021, we have four times the number of employees – we call them N3XTIEs in-house. Now, we are present in two very different regions in Europe and MENA.

 “To approach strategic planning, we encircle the company with trusted advisors while working with specialist firms to strengthen the backbone of our company. The operations of a three-man team in 2018 are different from the operations of a 30+ person team in 2024. We have evolved our governance and decision-making structures accordingly, strengthening the role of our management team.”

He further added, “Indeed, we are proud of the growth of our team members into the company’s leaders today. Beatriz Indurain joined us in 2019 as a marketing coordinator and now sits on top of a team of close to 10 people in the Growth Department. Lara Ammar joined us as a contractor in 2021 and now leads the beating heart of our project delivery structures at the company as VP of Project Excellence.

 “Motasem El Bawab joined us as our CIO and Head of the Digital Transformation Team, overseeing both our own data and tech frameworks as well as leading project implementation with our team of digital consultants, data scientists, and engineers. Beatriz, Lara, and Mota are effectively the guardians of the company’s culture because they directly manage 90% of the company. Mounir Zok, our CEO, and myself as COO round out the management team, whose job it is to drive the company forward.

 “We prioritize solving our client’s problems and have become trusted partners. Our focus on creating value has led us to launch a Client Loyalty Program, offering benefits such as speaking opportunities, early access to research, training initiatives, and a client summit. We are dedicated to exceeding client expectations and providing valuable resources beyond project work.”

Promoting A Healthy Workspace

We were intrigued to learn more about the approaches adopted by Hisham Shehabi OLY to lead and promote a healthy work environment. So, we asked, “What is your approach to leadership and fostering a positive company culture?”

Hisham said, “Our company is a place where people want to build their careers because we are working on the next generation of strategic initiatives and projects for sports organizations across Europe, and the Middle East – arguably the fastest-growing sports market in the world.

Like in sports, our company culture is about playing as a team, winning as a team, and continuously improving as a team. Through constant communication, our management team sets the goals and adjusts them, whilst making space for all N3XTIEs to contribute and provide their input.

 “Leadership entails creating a framework that offers support and allows room for personal development. Embracing failure as part of the innovation process is crucial. Our extensive knowledge from Silicon Valley, Europe, and the Middle East enables us to adapt to the new. We prioritize providing a secure environment for our N3XTIEs to foster leadership and pass on our culture to future members.”

A Journey Of Constant Learning

We asked, “How do you ensure your business remains adaptable and responsive to market changes?”

He replied, “As a father of two young boys, I’ve become more intrigued with neuroscience. For example, I learned that in the first three years of life, the human brain develops the largest number of connections than any other period in life.

“This ability to continuously learn drives adaptability. We are experts at ‘disruption in sports’, from the elite to the grassroots, and have the capability to uncover and lean into new trends in global sports. I believe that our company embodies a self-driven-learning mindset, and thus is always adapting and evolving.”

Hisham continued, “We pride ourselves on the diverse network we have built for learning. We connect with universities, research initiatives, clients, partners, investors, tech partners, suppliers, athletes, and coaches, expanding our network within the sports ecosystem and beyond. Our focus is on accelerating the development of the sports ecosystem in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East region. Furthermore, we are now systematizing and documenting these learnings to create extensive and easily accessible knowledge bases for our team and clients.

 “The company’s history is open to our employees; all past projects are dissected in post-delivery reports, with insights shared by the team delivering it, feedback from clients and partners included, and all deliverables being available. We are continuously finding ways to scale the ‘N3XT Sports Brain’ to new N3XTIEs, to new projects, to new partners, to new clients.”

Recent Developments By N3XT Sports

To have a glimpse of the notable triumphs of N3XT Sports, we asked, “Can you discuss a recent innovation or project that has been particularly successful for your company?”

He said, “Since the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, N3XT Sports has been working with United World Wrestling (UWW) on a multi-phase digital development strategy which has seen the International Federation (IF) transform, in the space of three years, from a once social media-oriented entity into a diverse, digitally focused media house.

 “This included the integration of UWW’s first-ever mobile app, an integrated video hub, and customer relationship management (CRM) capability during the implementation phase carried out through 2022. UWW’s dedicated mobile app was an instant hit, topping sports app rankings for downloads in several of the federation’s key markets.

 “Following an uplift in audience engagement, in 2023, our team oversaw the development, integration, and launch of the dedicated UWW+ over-the-top (OTT) streaming service, via web and mobile, and advised senior executives on how it should be connected to UWW’s wider digital ecosystem and bring paying customers into the federation’s fan-marketing funnel. This project has positioned UWW to open up new commercial opportunities in the Olympic cycle from Paris 2024 to LA 2028, which is a massive win.”

Plans For N3XT Sports

We were curious to learn about the long-term plans Hisham Shehabi OLY has for N3XT Sports. So, we asked, “What are your long-term goals for your business, and how are you working towards achieving them?”

He shared, “We want to stay true to our vision of propelling the sports industry forward. Principally, we want to continue to be an organization that continuously delivers value to the wide ecosystem of stakeholders we work with. This means our clients need to find value, our N3XTIEs need to find a fulfilling career, our suppliers and partners need to grow with us, the cities where our N3XTIEs are based must feel their impact, and so on.

 “Additionally, we will create data-driven white papers and research reports to showcase our expertise. We are focused on key growth markets such as Switzerland, the UK, and Saudi Arabia, aiming to increase market share through strategic partnerships.

 “In the medium-term, we are exploring how to grow our business organically in these markets, whilst being proactive about setting up new ventures underneath the N3XT Sports Group. We have a growth mindset and plan to expand our regional reach beyond Europe and MENA. Whether this means going East or West, we will learn this along the way.”

Words Of Wisdom For Beginners

Seeking guidance for aspiring newcomers in this field, we ended the interview by asking, “What advice would you give to emerging entrepreneurs in your industry?”

Like any business in any industry, it’s about having the right team and people around you. From your co-founders to advisors, to team members, this is the number one ingredient for success; passion alone is insufficient to sustain a sports business.

 “Make sure to understand the business of sports in your target region or sector, including sales cycles, competitors, margins, regulations, influencers, and decision-makers. Plan but prioritize action over excessive planning. Moreover, don’t give your clients, employees, suppliers, or anyone you work with the short end of the stick. You’re building for the long-term and you need good karma coming back your way always,” Hisham Shehabi OLY concluded.

Follow Hisham Shehabi on LinkedIn.

Find N3XT Sports on LinkedIn and visit their website http://www.n3xtsports.com

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