They call me a “social entrepreneur,” but I always prefer to call myself an “entrepreneur wannabe.” But regardless of the name, what we do should revolve around a purpose, about having an entrepreneurial idea that someone brings to life.
It sounds appealing, but entrepreneurship is way beyond the fairy tale of establishing a company and succeeding or failing, and for five years, I’ve been trying very hard to make it through that entrepreneurship maze. After I launched Nakhweh, the first volunteerism and development network in the Arab World, and Ideation Box, providing impact communication solutions for the development sector, I got a lot of PR. But that too can sometimes be harmful.
It turned out that the thing I got most PR for was actually my wake-up call. In January of this year I was listed in Forbes’ 30 under 30 and this took me through a period of exceptional fame and put me on Cloud 9 for a couple of weeks, until I felt the impact of the wake-up call. What entrepreneurs need to remember is that PR is good as long as you know that it's only a tool, not a benchmark or an ego booster.
Kamel making his way up the proverbial entrepreneurial wall.
In the years leading up to 2014 I was directly and indirectly involved in the so-called “entrepreneurship ecosystem”of the region, particularly in Jordan. I can safely say I’m one of the luckiest entrepreneur wannabes with a great team and support from family and mentors.
There are a lot of things about being an entrepreneur that people don’t know about, things that are not being addressed by those who work to promote it as the ideal path. I’d like to share some of those with you now.
- Due to a PR game that didn't really reflect the reality of the entrepreneurship scene in Jordan, the bubble has been inflated a lot. Maktoob was a success story, but what happened next? Where are the next potential success stories of Jordan?
- You can’t, as a founder, do everything but it’s hard to find partners if they were not there when you first had the idea and executed it. Working with others, with whom you have the synergy and chemistry to make it happen, is the ideal.
- Money spoils entrepreneurs at the beginning, especially ones who are not well experienced. What makes entrepreneurs creative enough is that they have to deal with limited resources.
- Starting with someone else's money can make you spend that it left, right, and center, as well as irresponsibly; don't seek investment before you really realize how important money is for you.
- Failing forward is a good thing, but it shouldn't be a trend and something to look up to. It doesn't make a success story out of you, it's still a failure.
- Corporations and governments need real education on how to go beyond personal connections and work with innovators rather than vendors. For many they are still yet to realize the importance of entrepreneurship for them and the community.
- No matter how easy or cheap it seems to be, the attached strings of establishing a company and the government bureaucracy are things that you can never get rid of, and they get worse as things evolve.
- Being an entrepreneur doesn't mean being the master of everything, learning is an ongoing process.
- Angel money is not very angelic, except for a few cases. Because of the money they invest some think they can intervene to a point that is damaging, especially if they are not familiar with the company’s industry. Be aware of this.
- Entrepreneurship is beyond fame, it’s innovation that adds value and creates job opportunities, which means that making money is essential and a priority.
- Mentorship is not about a business plan or a cash flow, it's about the entrepreneur and all it entails to be one.
- Acquiring talents, building your team and maintaining it are the hardest things you could ever do.
- Being an entrepreneur means more discipline, not more freedom.
- You have to focus, you can't do everything that crosses your mind at once, you have to let go and prioritize.
- If you know something won’t work, stop doing it, don't waste your time in building something useless.
- Stay rational, emotions are good to keep you going, but it's business and your brain should be in charge.
- The first step to overcoming your weaknesses is to admit that they are weaknesses to yourself, before anyone else.
- Face it, no one can work for 24 hours a day, stop bluffing, balance is needed in everything.
- Clean ethical competition rarely exists in the Jordanian culture, or maybe in the Arab culture; changing this is part of your mission as an entrepreneur.
- Over promising always leads to under delivery, and that ruins your reputation.
- Dealing with the attitude of clients who consider themselves superior to you requires a lot of patience and diplomacy.
- Communication is one if the most important things you should take care of.
I could keep going but the above mentioned points are enough to portray the reality of entrepreneurship, from my experience and personal point of view. Given that I had my own negative experience with almost all of these point, and that I lived in denial for the longest time, I thank Forbes for making me realize it.
Luckily, I was able to acquire the right advice from a few entrepreneurship role models on how to behave once I had shared my story with them. At the same time my good friend Habib Haddad, who happens to be a Nakhweh advisory board member, offered me more involvement with Wamda, with which I had been working on a volunteer basis since its inception. The offer I got from Habib and Wamda had previously never been an option for me, but looking at it from a different perspective made me reconsider the opportunity, regardless of the amount of confusion and stress it created.
I found that in working with Wamda, an opportunity that doesn't really conflict with my work on Nakhweh or Ideation Box, a learning curve and the chance for me to tie up my loose ends (things like: discipline, working with people beyond my comfort zone), and I saw in the company a mission that falls under my passion of being a proactive Arab citizen.