How do you raise $18 million USD in the Middle East? It’s not easy. Last week I sat down with Ahmed Alkhatib, the man behind the exclusive online shopping club MarkaVIP. Since he started the company three years ago, Ahmed has raised $18 million in venture capital and expanded offices into several countries. Here’s some of his advice on how to run a company that can justify raising that much cash. Also – you didn’t hear it from me, but rumor has it that there’s more cash on the way for MarkaVIP.
Lead from ahead
Running a startup isn’t quite as glamorous as it appears in The Social Network. The best way to get others motivated is to show them how hard you work. “I’m the first one in the office every morning,” Ahmed shared. “The only person who arrives before me is the guy to unlock the doors.” He’s also the last one in the office every night. This is sure to impress employees, but it also impresses investors. When raising rounds of capital investors “want to see a realistic, tribal leader who has the guts to follow through.”
Hire the right people
In our brief meeting, Ahmed revealed that “we don’t keep anyone around after a month if we don’t think they’re going to cut it.” Nobody wants this pressure during the first few weeks on the job, but in a startup environment, it’s often sink-or-swim. Unlike established corporations, startups don’t have the resources to waste on under-performers. MarkaVIP currently employs 350 people, but Ahmed admits that they have gone through about 1,500 employees to find the right 350. “If you’re not a self starter, we’re wasting your time and our own time.” He personally recommends following the advice of Harvard Business Review columnist Greg McKeown: hire slow and fire fast.
Design a culture or you will inherit one
“My biggest role here at MarkaVIP is to make sure we don’t inherit a culture, but that we actually design one ourselves.” A startup doesn’t have time for “office politics or hidden agendas,” Ahmed said. In an effort to make MarkaVIP one of the best places to work in the region, Ahmed dedicates a huge space to video games, bean bag chairs, a pool table, and ping pong. There are a lot of other ways you can shape your own culture; one of my favorite Quora threads has an incredible list of startup culture hacks.
“I wouldn’t say we’re successful – at least not yet,” Ahmed says. For him, success isn’t an end goal, but an ongoing process of trial and error. “A proven entrepreneur is someone who has failed many, many times before they succeed.”
Balance your life
You don’t want to get burned out. And you definitely don’t want to lose sight of the things that matter most. Ahmed follows a strict daily routine: “I used to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week. But [now] I have four boys. And so in the past year or two I really started paying a lot more attention to spending quality time with my children. I block my time from 3-8 PM every single day to spend with my children.” A balanced life will keep you and your team happy, motivated, and ready to achieve the impossible.
I promised I would teach you how to raise $18M, but what I really shared is how to build a great company. If you focus on the right things, fundraising will be easy. Remember – it’s not your idea that gets funded, how you propose to go about executing it.