It has been a big year for Naif al Mutawa ’03. The founder and creator of comic book company Teshkeel and The 99, an Islamic comic book series based on the 99 attributes of Allah, opened the company’s first theme park in Kuwait in March, and last weekend al Mutawa was honored with the Social Entrepreneur Award in the Middle East by the Schwab Foundation. Public Offering recently spoke with him about his adventures with superheroes and his advice for entrepreneurs.
How is a comic book a social enterprise?
I wanted to create alternative heroes that wouldn’t disappoint and would be positive. In so doing, I knew I needed to create something that would have legs in U.S. and Europe and Asia. One of the ideas that I send out through the series is that the values implicit in the 99 attributes of Allah tie us all together as people. Our focus is on the values that humanity shares while building a business around it and to create an alternative to those who would have others believe that there is a clash of values between Islam and the rest of the world.
How does the company fit into the larger trend of social enterprise?
We are a social enterprise through our values and the medium is comic books. It’s our philosophy that we are doing well by doing good. You hear about the philosophy of business at the School; this is the business of philosophy.
In the nearly five years since you launched the company, what has surprised you?
I have had to switch our focus. At first, we focused on protecting the property and creating the concept with [the artists] … We were covered extensively in the press and had a lot of positive publicity before we even had a product. I mistook that to think I could expand outside of the region, but that time might have been better spent focusing on the region. So we let go of that a little and we raised a second round of financing. We converted the company to an Islamic company and that allowed us to be accepted in new places, which led to the opening of the theme park and that allowed for more opportunity for us in the Middle East.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs starting out?
Networks are very important. Never burn a bridge and don’t let your ego get in the way, because an opportunity may come down the road. It is also important to know the difference between luck and skill and don’t confuse the two — we got extremely lucky.
Photo credit: World Economic Forum/Nader Daoud