Julie Barbier-Leblan is a French serial entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in disrupting innovative technologies and strategic partnerships. She founded Merit Incentives, a global engagement technology and solution startup in the GCC that has become one of the fastest-growing startups in the region.
In 2021, Julie closed the $5 million series A round with GCC VCs, led by Impact 46 and Tech Invest from France. Before entering the startup world, Julie had a successful career in finance law in Europe.
She launched her first startup in Dubai in 2012, which was a B2C digital gifting startup. Four years later, Julie set up Merit Incentives to cater to the B2B growing demand for rewards and digital gifting for large enterprise clients such as Riyad Bank, Saudi Investment Bank, Shell, Adidas, Ikea France, KLM, Discover, and HSBC.
Julie was born in Nantes, France, and spent most of her time in Strasbourg next to the German border. She studied mathematics and music in high school and finished early. Julie then spent seven years studying law in France and the UK, specializing in finance law.
She worked in private practice and banks on both sides of the system, which taught her a lot about working with large enterprise clients, and corporate firms, methodology, structure, precision, and detail orientation, while also thinking about the big picture.
Julie then decided to put her career on hold to have children and moved to Dubai, where she decided to become an entrepreneur.
Julie admits it was challenging to switch to technology, but her experience in finance law gave her the right set-up to start her career later on as an entrepreneur.
When she moved to Dubai, she took a break to think about what she wanted to do and became an entrepreneur when she had her second son. Julie was looking for an idea that she was passionate about and decided to focus on technology, which had always been an interest of hers.
She financed her first startup with her own money and began working on mylist.ae. After four years, Julie launched Merit Incentives to cater to the growing B2B demand for rewards and digital gifting.
Despite the challenges of handling payments from a global market, Merit became successful over time. Julie faced more challenges in Europe than she did in the Middle East, where the culture of respect for women and their hard work prevails. She signed her first seed investment while pregnant and gave birth to her daughter soon after.
The Middle East proved to be a good environment for female entrepreneurs. Leyla expanded her company to Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. She opened Merit in Saudi Arabia as a foreign investment company, one of the first Western women to do so.
Julie believes that the culture of respect in the Middle East is what sets it apart and that Dubai is the future of business for the next few decades. Despite the challenges of competition and the difficulty of the Saudi Arabian market, Julie remains optimistic and believes that the entrepreneurial spirit can thrive anywhere.
Julie had some great advice for women saying, for young women looking to start their own company, the key is to leverage their differences and be confident while also being open to learning and growing.
Entrepreneurship is a long journey, so it's important to take care of oneself and be prepared for the long run. Ultimately, success in business comes from challenging oneself and continually striving to do better.
Julie's definition of success has evolved, as she initially felt unsatisfied and constantly striving for more during her first 10 years as an entrepreneur. However, as she has started to invest in and mentor younger entrepreneurs, she has come to realize the value of giving back and closing the circle.
Overall, Julie's success is not just about achieving her own goals, but also about making a positive impact on others.
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