Finding Solutions: Roundtables at MENA ICT workshop 4 scenarios facing entrepreneurs

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The Wamda team took over the Zain Innovation Campus (ZINC) in Amman last week at the MENA ICT Forum 2014, as it hosted a session of head-to-head roundtable discussions aimed at generating creative and actionable solutions, timelines, and prototypes meant to address a number of challenge-ridden scenarios and topics that are often encountered by the region’s entrepreneurs. 

Entrepreneurs from the Jordanian startup ecosystem were split into four groups, each assigned with a scenario or topic - the brain of a VC, scaling to the GCC region, acquiring the first corporate client, and scaling to new markets - and were matched up with relevant experts from across the region, who helped facilitate the discussion and offered valuable insights.

The hour-and-a-half long session was divided into a number of phases that included assessing challenges specific to their scenario, coming up with corresponding solutions, and designing an execution plan, timeline, or map to success. 

Overall the lively event was highly engaging and productive as all four tables came up with sound, insightful solutions to their perceived challenges, solutions that you may find useful as your startup attempts to successfully navigate any one of the aforementioned situations. Here is a non-comprehensive table-by-table breakdown of the what teams came up with:

Table one: The Brain of the VC

Central point: Entrepreneurs must establish overall transparency with the VC, which will help them with the following challenges and can be ensured by the following solutions:

Key challenges and solutions:

C1: Establishing traction for product idea:

S: Entrepreneurs need (1) metrics, data, and feedback; (2) need to understand VC’s criteria for traction; (3) to create a sense of validation about their product/startup

C2: Targeting the right investors and understand their needs:

S: Entrepreneurs must do their homework about the VC: (1) reach out, look for comparable experiences; (2) introduce yourself and talk to other portfolio companies before approaching VC; (3) find different angles on/opinions about on the VC

C3: Managing the time cycle that investors ask from them:

S: (1) Have a sense of urgency; (2) always ask yourself “When is our next shareholder meeting?”; (3) keep the engagement with the VC constant

C4: Educating risk averse investors 

S: (1) Entrepreneurs must maintain deep data and metrics; (2) establish traction; (3) have a business conversation with the VC

Table 2: Scaling to the GCC

This group came up with a step-by-step timeline that startups should follow when making a move to the Gulf. 

Step 1: Conduct market research to ensure product is relevant to GCC market; localize the product; look for potential partnerships

Step 2: Establish regional company structure, clean up old organizational structure

Step 3: Determine best time to enter the market

Step 4: Keep burn rate low until first customer is acquired to to maximize runway length and avoid financial difficulties 

Step 5: If needed, hire interns/part-time employees

*During these steps, the founder(s) should be constantly traveling to target country to facilitate their completion.

Step 6: Secure first customer either by yourself, with a sales rep, or through a partnership

Step 7: Analyze KPIs and come up with sound metrics to assess your business in GCC

Step 8: Create a two-year budget to help with financial stability and assess potential need for fundraising

Step 9: Hire full-time business development manager/sales rep; coupled with physically moving to country (physical presence may not be necessary, use market research to determine)

Step 10: Use PR as a motor for traction

Table 3: Acquiring first corporate client

Biggest problem: making the first sale 

Step 1: Find ambassador within the company (doesn’t have to be CEO or C-level exec); rely on friends, social media, business networks to connect with ambassador

Step 2: Find trusted references who can refer you to the company

Step 3: Engage, don’t sell: don’t impose product, sell by engaging

Step 4: Stay at corporate campus to understand needs and establish presence

Step 5: Have a niche product needed by company

Step 6: Offer friendly prices; be transparent about profit margin

Step 7: Upsell product as it becomes more developed

Step 8: Once initial sale is made, use it as a case reference to secure additional sales

Table 4: Scaling to new markets

Central point: Think globally today. When developing product always have in the back of your mind that you want to scale and access new markets later on.

Key challenges and solutions:

C1: Acquiring and managing talent:

S: (1) Offer equity in company so employees have skin in the game; (2) have entire team help hire new employees to ensure chemistry; (3) Offer internships for local employees in new markets to reduce costs

C2: Accessing capital:

S: (1) Avoid need by bootstrapping; (2) utilize crowd-investment platforms; (3) tap into accelerator networks; (4) if necessary, raise funds through VC

C3: Organizing company structure:

S: (1) Find what works and create automated processes that can easily be applied in new markets; (2) have constant meetings; (3) have knowledge sessions so that knowledge can be passed to offices in new markets

Please don’t hesitate to use the comment section below to share your experiences with the above scenarios by highlighting specific challenges that you and your startup faced and the solutions you used to overcome them. We’d love to hear from you.

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