June 6, 2022

We learned from the Lego business module during the crisis

Aisha Salman is the motivated and creative CEO and founder of Waragami World, a paper art company based in Amman, Jordan. She demonstrates the importance of helping micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to grow. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” says Aisha.

Aisha Salman grew up in As-Salt city, a hillside town near the capital of Jordan. During her childhood, she practised her paper art hobby late into the night, building different shapes using paper like the famous archaeological site, Petra, as well as animals and birds. “During my childhood and high school, paper art was just a hobby,” says Aisha, now CEO of Waragami World. 

In 2016, Aisha and her colleague established Waragami World. The name of her company is inspired by the Arabic word ‘Warag’ and the Japanese word ‘Gami’, which both mean ‘paper’. Waragami World uses the power of paper art origami and quilling to create unique shapes and designs and offers kits with all the necessary tools, materials and guidebooks for different age groups and skill levels. Waragami World defines itself as a great way to develop the user’s creativity, patience and motor skills.

In 2012, Aisha started her journey to pursue her Bachelor’s degree at Al-Balqa Applied University with a major in Business Administration. Aisha used to be active during her studies with different institutions like King Abdullah II Fund For Development KAFD and The Deanship of Student Affairs, which helped her meet others who shared her hobby of paper art. 

Just one year into her undergraduate education, Aisha started devising plans to establish her business in paper art. “I started organising workshops inside the university in partnership with other institutions, with people who also share this hobby,” says Aisha.  “But it was not easy for us because the raw material for such art was not available.”. 

With the ongoing workshops and increasing number of students interested in such an art, another colleague and Aisha agreed to take the idea to the next stage: developing the concept, finding the right name, securing the raw material, and participating in entrepreneurship incubators and competitions. “And then we discovered Waragami world,” she says.

“I started reading the different paper art themes, thinking more globally. I researched different strategies to prepare for the start-up and company plans. But I went about it differently: I did not search for successful people. I searched for people who have a passion for this kind of art,” Aisha added. 

The co-founders worked together to build the brand of the business, working with schools and several civil societies, and signing deals with vendors to supply the needed raw materials and digital marketing. 

“Like any other business and any other entrepreneurs, we faced challenges initially, but we were happy with the success we reached and focused on sharing our idea through workshops with the communities across Jordan,” says Aisha. 

Sample of Waragami World products ©2022, SPARK
A group of kids during Waragami World workshop ©2022, SPARK
Wargami kit for paper art, beginners level ©2022, SPARK
Aisha designs a logo of one of the big companies using Waragami World services ©2022, SPARK

Adapting to COVID-19: “We learned from the Lego business module during the crisis” 

The COVID-19 crisis forced Waragami World to shut down its business for three months and cancel all offline activities. At that time, Wargami had to consider a new business model to sustain the business. Furthermore, Aisha’s business partner and co-founder decided to withdraw from the company. “It was a mess at that time, and I had thoughts of stopping the business. It was the toughest period of my life, but suddenly I decided to scale up the business instead of shutting down,” Aisha explains. 

Aisha joined SPARK’s programme, Economic Resilience through COVID-19, financed by Qatar Fund for Development to benefit from customised coaching sessions and training to scale up her business. “When entrepreneurs want to scale their business, they use affordable learning as a stepping stone to growth, so I was looking for an affordable coaching opportunity. I found a free one with SPARK,” Aisha says. 

During the programme with SPARK’s implementing partner, Manafeth, coaching sessions helped her develop her business ideas to adapt to the pandemic’s new realities. 

“During the crisis, reports indicated that Lego doubled its profits, and we seized the opportunity and learned from the Lego business module during the crisis,” says Aisha. Waragami World offered kit delivery during the lockdowns so that people could enjoy the creative pastime at home. The team also provided online learning sessions where they worked with the customers on the kits. 

Additionally, the specialised coaches helped Aisha find other possible revenue streams, including decoration for businesses and events using Waragami art and organising paid workshops with schools and institutions. 

Waragami World increased its revenue by 30% since the beginning of 2022 and is hiring two more team members. Also, Waragami World focuses on digitalising its services by creating a mobile application and building its website. 

I believe in Waragami World, and we will scale up. 

“SMEs may face additional hurdles in understanding the market and the various regulations for packaging, labelling and registering, as well as a lack of contacts and brand awareness,” says Aisha. “But we are sure we will scale up soon.” 

Waragami World has plans to expand to the MENA region and Qatar, which motivated them to join the import and export customised coaching, but they are looking for investors to support the scaling process. 

 “I have learned a lot during the past year, and I will always say where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Aisha concluded.