5 Entrepreneurial Lessons for the New Year

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Over a month ago, one of the world’s most influential technology investors and startup accelerators in the world, 500 Startups, visited Dubai’s MAKE Business Hub through their “Geeks on a Plane” (GOAP) initiative.  GOAP is a high-profile, global initiative that “brings entrepreneurs, influencers, and press from around the world to convene in regions with burgeoning, high-growth market potential.” 

Dave McClure, the founder of 500 Startups, opened the event with a somewhat fresh perspective on entrepreneurship, one that is more grounded and realistic than the usual hype heard across the region (and maybe the world).  Unexpectedly, McClure started his talk with sincere advice to not become an entrepreneur, explaining that there were “many other ways to be well off and much happier,” and that despite the excitement, starting a company is still gruesome roller-coaster. McClure emphasized that while several costs related to starting a company have gone down in many markets, the rate of startup failure globally is still stubbornly constant.

For those “crazy enough” to still want to be entrepreneurs, Dave had more advice that we can reflect on as we think of more startup ideas for 2013:

  1. Don’t get too caught up in the technology. Find a customer and solve their problem.  Customer acquisition is the key to any successful business and it is “much easier to pivot around your consumer's need than changing the actual consumer.”

  2. Even if you’ve found the solution to a customer’s problem, that’s still the easy part. The solution “can be hacked over a weekend, but learning how to launch it and distribute is the real challenge.”

  3. While developing a successful product, behavioral psychology and the ability understand how your customer will react to certain changes is becoming as important as understanding how to program and design. As such, very few people now have the required experience and skills for online marketing.

  4. McClure cautioned Middle Eastern entrepreneurs about bragging or being influenced by their investors to overreach when success was around the corner. “If you have a 20% shot at building a 10 million dollar business, keep in mind that you have a %2 shot of building a 100 million busisness,” he warned.
  5. McClure also gave insight into which industries he thought had the biggest potential going forward, and what was “hot in the valley”: enterprise software, social games- “not social deals”, photosharing, and big data – “whatever that means”).  

Perhaps one of McClure’s most insightful comments came in the form of a question to the parents in the room: “Is there any amount of money you, as a parent, would not spend on your kid, between the ages of 0 and 7, to make sure they are educated, healthy, and safe?” After an “aha” moment that swept the room, McClure ended with: “There is a huge opportunity here that is being missed because most entrepreneurs are single and men.”  Can the women entrepreneurs in the region please stand up! 

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