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Karim Sabri

the journey by enty
Founder of Expat Republic
How I Turned My Passion for Connecting People into a Thriving Business: the Inspiring Story of Expat Republic
Business is not only about money and paperwork. Most of all, it’s about people, inspiration, and passion. With that in mind, we present you the Journey — a project where entrepreneurs share how they started their business, what made them successful, what drives them, and how they came up with what they ended up doing.

Our today’s guest is Karim Sabri, the founder of Expat Republic. His company helps expats in the Netherlands integrate into the local community by providing educational content and hosting events with opportunities to meet new people.
People here don’t want to stay home and watch Netflix on Sunday. They want to go out and make friends

Moving To the Netherlands

I moved to the Netherlands from Canada on a highly skilled migrant visa. My first job here was as a software engineer for an aviation company. At a certain point I transitioned from engineering to project management, and then to sales. I got a lot of my knowledge about business from these larger companies and having a few mentors. But back then I was not really an entrepreneur yet.

I’ve made a lot of friends while working in corporate. I’ve always been a social person, really good at meeting people. Even as an international in a foreign country, it was relatively easy for me to make connections here. But I also realized this might not always be the case for other expats.

The thing is, a lot of people who move to the Netherlands don't know where to go. Imagine moving to a new country, a new culture. You don’t know anyone. You are a stranger in a strange land. The opportunities for networking and making friends are rather limited for someone in that position. But you need to find a way to live a fulfilling social life, or else you’ll end up working all the time. You don’t want your life to be all about your job — that’s not healthy. I think it’s important to find your own community, to spend time around people who get you.

Embracing the Passion

for Connecting People

Since I had a knack for meeting people, I felt a strong desire to create some kind of environment where expats and locals could come together and make lasting connections. So while I was working for this company, I began to do these small parties on the side. They started off as simple expat drinks.

Over time these parties would evolve into larger themed events with some sort of concept to them — my favorite of those was probably the one where we all dressed up in James Bond-inspired costumes. But at first it was just drinks. Back then Sunday gigs were the biggest ones because people here don't want to stay home and watch Netflix on Sunday — they want to go out and make friends.
As an expat from Canada with Egyptian roots, I realized that I could leverage my mixed cultural background to create a unique vibe for these parties. Middle Eastern culture has a very special approach to hospitality. Making people feel welcome is considered a very important trait there — there’s a whole philosophy behind that. So I thought, since I’m Canadian-Egyptian, I can take that distinct Middle Eastern warmth, mix it with the multicultural nature of Canada, and create an environment where people from all cultures can come together and socialize. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a foreigner or a local — as long as you’re open-minded about meeting new people, you can always come by and have a good time.
That type of vibe resonated with people. In hindsight, I think this approach to hosting that I came up with contributed to the popularity of these events. You also have to account for the fact that social media platforms weren’t as saturated back then, so it was relatively easy to build a sizable following. But I’d say the most important thing at play was just word of mouth: someone comes to your event, they like it, then they tell others about it. And then one night about 500 people showed up at my beach party, and I was like, “Wait, are you serious? What am I doing here? How did this happen?”

Transitioning From Passion to Business

I value the freedom to set my own targets and to choose the clients I work with
As the popularity of these drinks and parties grew, companies started approaching me to promote their brands at my events. At first, I didn't know what to do about these requests. I was shocked and wasn’t sure how to react, so my initial response was: “Sorry, we can’t promote you. It's not what we do.”
I was terrible at business back then. It never occurred to me that these parties could become popular to the point where companies would want to put their logos on my event. All of a sudden, I had to start learning the ropes of entrepreneurship and media and to figure out how to navigate the opportunities that were presenting themselves to me.
I felt that I needed some sort of guidance, so I sought assistance from an expert in the media business. Her mentorship helped me understand the value I could offer to these companies and develop a clear business strategy. Now it was time to turn my event hosting endeavors into a formal business. That’s how I established Expat Republic.
Once the company was up and running, I focused on growing the brand and expanding our reach. I built a website for Expat Republic to promote my events and started writing articles about life in the Netherlands to engage with the community. After a while, I began to hire freelance writers and editors to contribute to the content.
As the company gained traction, we began working with small businesses and larger companies, offering marketing and promotional services tailored to their needs. Of course, we also continued to host events and gradually expand our audience. It wasn’t long before we became a well-established brand in the Netherlands.

Overcoming Personal Tragedy and Doubling Down on Entrepreneurship

The COVID-19 pandemic brought personal tragedy into my life. While I was on a holiday in Canada, my father contracted the virus from someone at his office and passed it onto me. I had the emergency pick me up at 3:00 in the morning when I collapsed in the middle of the night. I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s eyes when she asked me if I was still alive. Me and my father were both in the intensive care unit at the same time. Unfortunately, he passed away.
This was the most devastating thing to ever happen to our family. I'm very grateful for the team I have — they all stepped up and worked hard. I also got a lot of support from our partners and clients, which was really touching. Their kindness and understanding helped me navigate through these difficult times.
After recovering from COVID-19, I decided to double down on entrepreneurship. I stepped up to help support the family business in Canada alongside my sister and dedicated myself to growing it along with Expat Republic. Let me tell you: hiring good managers and people is so critically important. I try as much as possible to really be “managing” instead of “doing”.

Staying Independent and Focused

As I continue to grow my business, people often ask me if I plan to seek external funding or investment. While I understand the potential benefits of funding, I think it comes with added pressure and expectations. Once you bring in investors, it’s no longer just your company. There’s always someone you have to answer to. If at some point your goals no longer coincide with those of your investors, you’ll face the risk of having to compromise your vision and the integrity of your business. I wouldn’t want that. I value the freedom to set my own targets and to choose the clients I work with. So I’d say it’s a double-edged sword.
Let me put it like that: I'm open to the idea of it, but I wouldn’t sacrifice my independence for the sake of raising money. If I had an opportunity to bring in investments without giving up the autonomy, I’d probably go for it. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.
It's funny, my dad was the same way when he was starting his company. He didn't chase after external funding. So I think I've kind of followed his model in that sense.

The Journey Continues

Starting my own company was a life-changing experience. I was not born an entrepreneur. I had to develop that kind of mindset. When I began to do these fun gigs on the side, I never conceived that in several years I’d end up running two successful companies. This transition was challenging, but the fulfillment it brought was worth every step.
Managing two businesses at the same time is anything but easy. My days can be pretty much all over the place, but I’m grateful for where I’m at. I’m grateful for my team and for my clients. While we work with large companies a lot, the core of what we do has always been helping small businesses.
When you bring customers to a small business, you know that you’re helping someone to support their family. That’s an immensely rewarding feeling. So yeah, every day brings new challenges and it all can be quite overwhelming sometimes, but I guess knowing that you make a positive impact on the lives of others is what keeps you going.

Thank you for reading Karim’s story, hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you are looking to share your story, please leave us the form below and we will contact you back. Cheers!