Mohamed Al Banna, CEO & Managing Director of LEAD Ventures Shares His Vision

Lindsay Judge   |   04-10-2022

Mohamed Al Banna has had entrepreneurial spirit since he was a child. Born and raised in the United Arab Emirates, he expressed his forward-thinking business side at just 17 when he invested in a car to make money, along with his best friend and his brother.


At that time, he didn’t know this was an entrepreneurial business move, but it was a sign of what was to come. After graduating from University in Dubai, Al Banna began his career as a banker at RAK Bank, selling credit cards to customers. It was then that he realised that the way to navigate successfully in life was to work smart, not simply work hard, and he began to understand the importance of building strong relationships and gaining the trust of others. Despite being one of the most challenging, this was also one of the greatest experiences in his life that would prepare him for the future. 



After leaving the bank to work for a finance company, Al Banna became the youngest team leader in the company, and he realised that he was born for sales. He loved people, networking and building good relationships. At this point, he started to see life differently and realised he could fulfil his full potential by becoming a businessman. He believed that the secret to a successful business was to have the right people around him, as well as being human and honest. He decided to open a consultancy company to assist those who wanted to buy properties in the UAE. He would handle the logistical processes for them and charge a fee for his services. This was the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey and although there have been many ups and downs along the way, today he is the founder of a network of successful companies across many different sectors. Here, we find out more about Mohamed’s business journey, his most recent venture into the virtual world and the opportunities it can bring.



Can you share the beginning of your journey as an entrepreneur?

In 2008 I owned around twelve properties with my business partner as we used to buy properties together and flip them to make money. This was when the global financial crisis happened and it became scary as no one knew what was going to happen, so I wanted to come up with a plan. I spoke to my best friend (the same one that I bought the car with when I was 17), and we decided to open a restaurant. My thought process was that even if there is a crisis, everyone still needs to eat and drink. So, we invested in a restaurant concept together. The greatest part was that we made it happen, but the challenging part was that we did not assign the right people to the right jobs and unfortunately, we didn’t have the success we anticipated.


After six months, we decided to sell and exit the business and we lost a lot of money. It was a big learning curve and yes, it was a setback, but you must keep trying. A few months later, my best friend and his family were inspired by the restaurant, and they came up with their own concept and invited me to be involved. Of course, I said yes because we made a deal when we were kids that we would take on every business opportunity together. It was a great success and we started to make our money back within the first year. It helped my cash flow and allowed me and my friend to recover from the previous loss. This was a challenging period, which some might call failure, but for me, it was more of a challenge that we turned into success.


In 2016, I was selected to work as a senior director and decided that I wanted to create a platform to set expectations for companies that were entering the UAE. Dubai is an amazing hub, and everyone wants to bring their businesses here, but there is a challenging part that they don’t know about. People think they will come to Dubai and invest one million dollars and get ten million dollars back within a year. They think they can introduce a product or service, start selling it and immediately make money, but this is not often the case. I wanted to be that person who advises them on what they can expect because there are many things they will need to do to be successful. And because I had done it myself and failed, I could use my experience to advise others, as well as help them with the logistical processes.


Let’s say you come to the UAE with a product or service that you feel has great potential. You have two options: the first is that you do everything alone, but in my opinion, this is a risky option. The second is that you work with a strategic partner who has the experience, is trusted, and has a great network. This is where I come in; I will act as that strategic partner throughout the process to assist and make life easier for the business owner.  



Tell us about LEAD ventures and the vision of the company.

My vision was to create a one-stop-station for businesses coming from abroad. LEAD Ventures will assist with all aspects of the business from company formation, to marketing and PR, to business development and sales. We will be there through every step of the process and continue to be there after the company has formed. I always say that your network is your net worth and contacts mean contracts and we will also utilise our network to help the growth of the business.


I work closely with His Highness Sheikh Juma Bin Maktoum Juma Al Maktoum, who is a strategic partner which is a great pillar for new businesses in the UAE. One of the services we offer within our platform is the support of His Highness with certain businesses that have the vision of the UAE as part of their strategy. For these businesses, he will give his approval and support and as a senior advisor, I will take this forward and help with the development of the business. 


Once we set up your business, we will handle the PR and marketing strategy to put the spotlight on the person and the vision of the company. And of course, when you are seen to be aligned with successful people, you will immediately gain trust from others. We assist with anything related to your business plan and market research and we will also be available to help with business development. This is our unique selling point. Of course, we cannot guarantee success, but we will only work with companies that we think will be successful, based on our experience and knowledge. 



We know you have already expanded the company – what can you tell us about that?

My vision for LEAD Ventures was to be a one-stop-station for all industries. Over the past few years, a group of companies has been growing under LEAD Ventures and I want to continue this growth to be present in all relevant industries. My method is not to recruit people or outsource projects but to strategically connect and partner with the right people and therefore grow into a successful partnership. For example, one of the companies YMJ, an events company, was developed with partners that I spent time searching for in the market. I found the right people to work with and within a year and a half, we are competing with big names in the industry. So I am not just supporting companies coming to the UAE, if there is something that I really believe in, I will give you my services and investment and we will go into business together. 




Can you tell us about Connect LEAD?

Connect LEAD is a consultancy arm of the company that I set up after COVID-19 to make it easier to help those businesses who do not want to invest in our full services. With Connect LEAD, we again connect with businesses wanting to come to the UAE but we offer smaller packages to strategically fulfil their needs. We can assist with a three-month trial and test the waters with the business. I will take the product or service and instead of making initial investments we will study the market in real-time and see what the reaction is from potential clients. In this way, we can get feedback before any large investment is made and we can make the decision about whether to continue or not. I would love someone to do this for me if I was entering a new market with a new idea and I want to help others do the same. On the other hand, if I feel there is something I cannot do, I am honest and transparent about that and I tell them they will lose their money. I would never take advantage. 



What is the plan moving forward?

My vision is to offer 360 services. This means I will have a company in each sector, be it real estate, events, art, education, hospitality etc., my vision is to cover all in one place. We want a person or business to be able to utilise my services and lower their costs by coming to me for all their requirements. We are planning to launch Venture Capital which will allow us to build our portfolio of money and invest in start-up companies. 


I also have a consultancy side to my business which is more of a passion where I am working with a university as a mentor, and this is something I would like to do more of. I enjoy sharing my experiences and knowledge and being a mentor to students who have great ideas. I want to inspire others and I truly believe that everything we do in the world is connected and will come back around. 


What do you have coming up in the near future?


In October 2022 I will be launching Belvedere Art Space in DIFC. It is a gallery that I am opening along with my two partners. We want to turn it into a hub where people can be educated on art, how to turn art into NFTs and everything around that subject. We want to build a community around this and bring opportunities to artists both locally and internationally and develop their artworks into NFTs. We are also working with members of the royal family and showcasing their artwork and these are the kinds of initiatives I want to explore with this space. 



Speaking of the virtual world, we know you have started exploring new opportunities in this sector – tell us about that.

I had been thinking of starting something related to crypto and NFTs for some time, but I didn’t understand that world. I felt there was a gap in the market to educate people on NFTs – what to invest in, how to create their own wallet etc. and I wanted to do something even bigger than that. This is the ‘why’ behind my project Crypto Arabs, but I needed to find the right people who believed in my vision. I found a fantastic partner and we began working together. 


I knew I wanted to educate people and I learned that with any NFT project you must create a story and you have to create utilities (benefits). Once we had our team, we had to decide on a character for our NFTs. We wanted to create something emotional. I thought of my friend who is the owner of “Shaabiat Al Cartoon”, a 16-year-old cartoon that as Emiratis we watch every Ramadan. We decided to turn the characters of this cartoon into NFTs and immediately I knew it was a great idea. With this project, I want to build a community which will be there for many, many years. The platform brings interesting and successful people together in unique circumstances. The next step will be to create more utilities. The platform will enable us to educate people and bring this community together through monthly masterclasses for those who own our NFTs. These digital tokens are the tickets to the membership to be in the community. This is the greatest utility as it will open up access to people who are experts in their field.



What is your opinion on NFTs – long-term investment or a fad?

What I believe is long-lasting is the community created around NFTs and the opportunities that it provides and that is what we are trying to offer. You are not just buying something digital, you are paying money to become part of a community to learn and meet like-minded owners of the NFTs. This gives you the option to firstly make friends, and talk to people you may not have ever been able to talk to otherwise and then from this, you can benefit from the opportunities of meeting people within this network. 


And finally, we are working with The Rashid Center for People of Determination as our strategic partner meaning that part of the money made from the sale of the NFTs will go to the Center to help support their work and the people there. We will be announcing something very exciting around this soon. 



What is the plan moving forward with this company?

Once all of the NFTs have sold, if someone wants to be part of this community, they will have to bid to buy the NFT from another owner in order to join the community and that is how our NFT owners will make their money. It’s not just about buying the cartoon; it’s about being part of the community. I am now in the process of expanding our consultancy services to educate people on launching their own businesses related to the metaverse or NFTs. If we have experience and the right people, then I believe we can educate others and that is what we plan to do with the consultancy services. 



How do you manage your time?

I work very smart. I know how to manage and delegate and I have the right people around me. I book slots for each part of the business, and I also handle everything myself without my assistant. This allows me to keep on top of my time, manage everything well and create time for the things that I feel are a priority. 



Who or what inspires you?

When it comes to family, my father is the person that inspires me. He was the motivation for me to be who I am today. He failed many times and picked himself up and I believe I learnt from that. 


Secondly, I am inspired by the author Simon Sinek. He wrote a book called “Start With Why” and this is the method that I live by when it comes to business. I always start with the ‘why’ behind everything. I like to listen to his books and get inspired by them.  



What do you say no to?

At the end of 2021, I learned how to say no. Because I’m working in a platform where every day, I receive something amazing, it can be very hard to say no. I used to say yes to lots of things, but now I try to say no until I finish what I’m already working on. Right now, I have enough, so I need to say no! But if I can do something within my means then I will find a way to assign it to one of my businesses or delegate it to one of my team. I also believe greatly in partnerships, so if there is something that I can’t do, I will hand it over to one of my partners and that is why I have lots of amazing partners that I enjoy working with. 



What is the professional motto that you live by?

When it comes to business, people are always saying “the sky is the limit”, for me I say, “the sky is just the start.” I don’t see limits, I dream big, and I believe that it will happen. 


Secondly, “the more you give, the more you get in life”. I always try to give positively to others and eventually it will come back around.