I am lucky that I get to talk to entrepreneurs on a daily basis; it’s made me very optimistic for the future of Arab entrepreneurship. However, many first timers have misbeliefs about the journey, and I think it could be helpful to go through a few.
1. It's easy being an entrepreneur. [tweet this]
It's actually hard being an entrepreneur. You wake up one day thinking you are the king of the world and the next day, you completely question your decision to start a company. You will need to sacrifice, forget your social life, and forget fancy dinners and nice vacations; you’ll need all the time and money you can get. When I started Yamli, at one point, I had to sell all of my furniture and just keep my bed. I lived with only a bed for a few years until we were able to figure out our business model and scale our revenues. Make sure you’re mentally prepared ready for the journey. It’s very hard, but truth be told, I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world.
2. It's all about the idea. [tweet this]
It's not all about the idea. And please don't expect investors to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) so they don't steal your ideas. Chances are if you have a great idea, 100 others have the same one, and if you are working on your great idea, 10 others are as well. It's all about the execution. I would much rather invest in a great team with an average idea than an average team with a great idea.
3. Getting funded is half the journey. [tweet this]
No- getting funded marks the beginning of the journey. My favorite quote on this taken from Quirky's founder's blog: “Congratulating an entrepreneur for raising money is like congratulating a chef for buying the ingredients.”
4. Getting rejected by investors means you suck. [tweet this]
Skype was rejected 40 times by investors before they got funded, and look where they are today. Investors are human beings at the end of the day and are not exempt from making mistakes. Make sure you always ask for feedback. Good investors will give you useful feedback that you can build on even if they pass on investing. That said, do not drink your own Kool Aid (meaning, don’t completely fall in love with your idea). Know when to take a step back, question your original assumption, and pivot, or simply close down (yes, close down) and move on to the next one.
5. Getting press coverage for your startup means you rock. [tweet this]
The press wants stories and outlets often copy each other’s stories as well. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to get a lot of press coverage for Yamli, but it’s critical to understand the limits of its impact. Getting coverage means that you have some validation and have leveraged it for exposure and clients, but it doesn't mean that you just simply rock for getting covered. Don’t confuse a tool with a result.
6. You are alone. [tweet this]
You are not alone. There are plenty of fellow entrepreneurs out there working on making their dreams happen. Find them, network with them, and try to get an office next to them. I have a group of entrepreneur friends I always go to when I am in need of a specific help or even just to vent or celebrate.
7. You have to do everything yourself. [tweet this]
Surround yourself with a great team and don't try to do everything yourself. Entrepreneurs tend to take on a lot of the work themselves, but learning how to hire the best and delegate makes all the difference.
8. Build it and they will come. [tweet this]
You can build the best product in the world but if no one is using it, it just won't matter. Distribution is key and tech entrepreneurs usually make the fatal mistake of ignoring that. Focus on building the product, but also focus on testing it with potential customers and assessing the market demand.
9. Investors are sharks. [tweet this]
Good investors act as real partners, helping you recruit, strategize, perfect the sales pitch, and even develop the product itself. To assess their style, talk to their portfolio companies and do your own due diligence before you decide to work with one versus another.
10. Copy Paste is Easy, and it's Bad. [tweet this]
There is no shame in being the second, third or 100th to market for that matter. The method of Copy, Paste, and Innovate, as Fadi Ghandour calls it, requires a high amount of craftsmanship when it comes to execution, especially in an emerging market.
11. You need to do an extremely detailed analysis before you start your company. [Bonus] [tweet this]
No! In fact it's much faster to just start building than it is to write endless business plans that will become irrelevant a few months down the line as you realize that many of the assumptions you initially made were wrong. So don't spend an endless amount of time strategizing. Do spend time identifying your assumptions, building your product, getting user feedback and iterating. The faster you go through this cycle the faster you will succeed (or fail).
[Note: the main picture was taken from a drawing at the Wamda office].