During the early stages of Careem, cofounder Magnus Olsson saved every single dirham he could and devoted his whole self to the growth of the business. That included taking a bus from his home in Abu Dhabi to his office in Dubai, a two hour ride each way, and sometimes driving customers himself.
At a recent panel discussion on “What makes or breaks a creative entrepreneur?” Olsson shared how he even brought in his wife to pitch in at one point.
“I’ll never forget this,” Olsson began. “We had a big corporate client in Abu Dhabi and we didn't have any cars. I then called my wife who was in the mall with her old mom and our three-year-old son.” The client had to get to the airport.
So, the Olsson’s Volvo then became the Careem car with his wife as the ‘Careem Captain’.
"Your whole life becomes what you do. There’s absolutely no room for anything else,” said Olssen, who was a McKinsey consultant living a “relatively premium life” before joining the entrepreneurial collective.
Today, Careem runs operations in 26 cities and 10 countries, employs more than 250 team members and in 2015 acquired $60 million in Series C funding.
Part of the inaugural Abraaj Week, Olsson joined Rula Galayini, founder and creative director of fashion brand Rula Galayini, and Valerie Konde, cofounder and CEO of Collectionair, at the panel moderated by Mohamed Parham Al Awadhi, cofounder of WePress.
Taking a hefty salary cut like Olsson did, is not for everyone. “It is very important to be honest with yourself,” Galayini said. The “challenge is that there are only more challenges.”
So if one decides to take the risk-ridden entrepreneurial path, remaining committed and having a deep understanding of personal motivations are key steps to choosing a venture to pursue. Olsson and his cofounder, Mudassir Sheikha, created long lists of their interests and shortlisted industries they wanted to impact. Transportation was not on their initial list.
“It never comes quickly and never comes easy,” Galayani said. “Mine was two fold- it was having an obsession with form and function…and wanting to portray this region in a positive light.”
Branding and brand building, both fortes of Galayani’s, are necessary. She chose to wait for five years before going to investors. “When you decide to go for funding is key. [If you wait], you have proof [and] that gives the investors extra confidence.”
Launched in 2007, Galayini raised $112,000 through a crowd investing campaign which she closed with 18 new shareholders and was overfunded at 165 percent.
One sure way of building a brand is to travel and intentionally grow a network of clients, partners and colleagues, said non-panel member but interested listener, Australian designer and creative entrepreneur Peter Gould. A 2015 Islamic Arts Award winner, Gould recently completed a month long residency at Astrolabs.
“How is it possible [that] some dude in Australia is doing all these things here?” he explained. “To be an entrepreneur and grow a network… I had to move around a lot. What that meant is this fantastic global network personally, but [also] connecting communities together- getting insights in what happens here and there, and being able to correlate things.”
Ultimately, the age-old mandate of having a solid vision helps maintain the focus and the motivation. The entrepreneurs on the panel each wanted to build something meaningful. Olsson wanted to deliver “one of the first true institutions from the region”; Konde wanted bring art into people’s homes more easily.
Olsson added: “Does it come at a personal cost? Yes, it does. It’s a daily battle, personally.”