Mentors to startups, 13 ways to build your brand #Mixnmentor

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“What is your purpose in life?” might seem like a grand question to be asked at a job interview but it is one that Careem cofounder Magnus Olsson likes to pose to potential hires.

Olsson, speaking at the opening panel for Wamda’s Mix n’ Mentor Dubai on December 15, stressed that when startups begin the hiring process, the founder and their staff must be on the same page.

Asking “what is your purpose in life and can you build it through Careem?” helped them make good hires, he said. They had a mission to draw people that had a vision to grow.

LMTD's Will Hutson lending his expertise on user acquisition. 

Mohammad Asfour, cofounder of entertainment platform Kharabeesh, concurred saying that “you can be an entrepreneur and work for someone else, we look for people like us.”

The one day Mix N’ Mentor event saw table discussions on fundraising, user acquisition, working with corporates, and fintech. The afternoon included workshops on ecommerce, led by Payfort’s Omar Soudodi; user acquisition with LMTD’s Will Hutson; and branding and marketing led by Wamda Capital’s Lina Shehadeh and Tarek Jundi of Intel.

With over 80 entrepreneurs buzzing around at the Dubai Future Accelerator, there were a lot of questions posed and pieces of advice exchanged.

Here are 13 of our favorite.

Don’t be obsessed with the competition. Inevitably, someone raised the point about Uber, and how Careem is working to not be buried by them. Olsson’s advice for all, however, was “don’t get stuck looking at the competition … you have to look at the market you’re in.”

You don’t always have to take the advice of others. Kharabeesh’s Asfour was initially told that the fact that there were five founders was a hindrance and going to be a problem. They didn’t listen. “It’s probably now our strength,” he said.

Focus on one vertical. Wrappup cofounder Rishav Jalan got some advice from Olsson about his note recording platform. “The product does a lot of good things but the next main step should be to focus on one consumer vertical first and master that, as that will help us be more focused with better achieving our goals and growing,” said Jalan.

Outsourcing works. Having done it herself in the early days of her business, Mumzworld founder Mona Ataya said that while starting up, outsourcing parts of your business, from payment gateways to logistics to cataloguing services, is not a bad idea.

Content is key. Ronaldo Mouchawar, founder of Souq.com, advised those sitting on his ecommerce-focused table that when starting out, and with a limited budget, the best way to spend the money is to focus on the site’s content and become “a voice” and that will attract users.

Wamda chairman Fadi Ghandour leads the first panel of the day with Mumzworld's Mona Ataya, Careem's Magnus Olsson, and Kharabeesh's Mohammed Asfour. (Images via Wamda)

Become an authority in a niche market. Laith Zraikat of Arzan VC advised entrepreneurs to “start a discussion board, open it up for people to ask questions, and encourage controversiality. This helps driving repeat users.” He added it is an opportunity to have marketplaces like Souq.com that allow smaller players to ride on their services, making some worries like ad placement cheaper and simpler.

It’s OK to not always play by the book. Houssam Shbaklo, founder of newly established Akaryana, a portal for new real estate developments in the Middle East, was impressed by the advice of Olsson who told the story of how they expanded to Qatar by just turning up at the airport one day and hiring 10 drivers in one day. “Sometimes it’s better to not wait for the approvals,” he said.

Utilise the youth. Wamda Capital’s Lina Shehadeh said interns for any new company were vital and shoudl be embedded in the recruitment culture. “This is how Aramex and Wamda grew,” she said.

Your brand is more than just a logo. Khizer Hayat, cofounder of Rigbasket, said that the best piece of advice he got was from Shehadeh. “She basically said that your brand identity is more than just a logo, it represents your mission and the true purpose of your organization. I found it to be very useful especially for early stage startups.”

Keep track of your thoughts. Write everyday. Thoughts often disentangle themselves passing over the lips and through pencil tips. This was advice cofounder of maintenance services marketplace Hammerheads, Abdullah Jassim, was taking home with him. “Writing helps crystallise your vision, strategy and learnings.”

Souq.com founder Ronaldo Mouchawar discussing ecommerce with entrepreneurs.

Don’t go for the big fish straightaway. GE’s Hany Bayaa was repetitive in his advice to the entrepreneurs at the ‘corporates’ table that they should start small when it came to the clients are after. “The time and money spent trying to catch the big guys when starting out is a waste,” Bayaa said.

Know your customer’s journey. Founder of marketplace Kooot.com, Luma Boorishly, found that the advice from Mumzworld’s Ataya was crucial for approaching her own business.  “Identify all touch points in the customer experience,” said Ataya. In her case that was 26 points. It’s critical that each one works.

Build local rather than international. Zraikat, in response to all the chatter about Souq.com being acquired and how there might be a lack of ‘orginal content’ coming from the region, advised entrepreneurs to listen to the local audience. “For 10 years now people in the region have been trying to build the ‘Google’ and the ‘Youtube’ of the Arab region. It is time to realize that the Youtube of the region is actually Youtube, and learn how to innovate locally.”

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