A failed startup is not the end.
Jean-Pierre Mondalek, general manager of the motors division at Dubizzle, is not ashamed of his failures. Speaking at a recent Young Arab Leaders UAE event, the Dubai native didn’t hesitate to introduce himself as a failed startup founder, despite many career successes in New York and Dubai. Mondalek recently followed up by sharing with Wamda some lessons he learned from his failures as he continues contributing to the development of the Dubai startup ecosystem.
Chances are you’ll fail. Go in knowing that 90 percent of startups fail and that you want to be part of the 10 percent. If you do fail, which is very likely to happen, it's good to embrace it and share that experience with family, friends and other entrepreneurs. Wear it as a badge of honor, not shame.
Don’t be afraid of the stigma. Experienced entrepreneurs in the region have had their fair share of failures and know to embrace it instead of treating it like a tragedy. Fadi Ghandour often says in his talks that he'd rather back an entrepreneur that has tried and failed rather than one that has never tried at all.
You will need a mentor. It's essential to have mentors who are not involved in your startup that can give you objective feedback. Whether you take that feedback is up to you. Ideally, that mentor has startup experience or knows well the space you are trying to play. We had a mentor who pointed out certain concerns he had with our business; regretfully we did not take his concerns seriously enough as we were so enamored by our ‘baby’.
Location, location, location. If customers want to see you where you are situated it needs to be convenient. It is important to speak with customers to understand product/market opportunity, fit, and customer preferences. My team had made a decision early on to set up at Dubai Investment Park. We wanted customers to see we were a professional set up, however, many had to travel 30 to 40 minutes to see us. While our choice of location seemed logical and prudent to us, customers ultimately found it inconvenient and would have preferred a more central location even if it were at the expense of facility quality.
Research, research, research. To avoid committing the same mistake above that hurt my team, you need to make sure that you truly know your target customer. Don't assume your customer is like you. You must understand what their needs are: do that by going out and talking to a them via focus groups, surveys and other methods, like participating in relevant forums.
Company structure is critical. Every member of your founding team needs to have the “you have to be in it to win it” mentality. Our founding team of three maintained their full time jobs, while day to day management was handled by the third cofounder who came from the automotive industry. We thought this setup enabled the business to have access to seasoned marketing and business professionals that a startup couldn't afford, but in actual fact the setup was flawed because the majority of the team was occupied with the obligations of their day jobs and could only spare nights and weekends to focus on the business. This prevented issues from being addressed swiftly and created an imbalance of responsibilities that ultimately overloaded the full time cofounder and led to several fatal business mistakes.
Change lanes when things don’t work. One misstep doesn’t mean someone can’t rise up and win again in the future. I focus energy on helping startups raise money and until this day advise and invest in startups as an angel. You should analyze your strengths, weaknesses and passions and find a way to align your work in the right direction if things don’t work out. My automobile industry-centric startup failed, so the next best thing was for me stay involved with the topic I love - that’s how I got where I am now.
Pay it forward. After the ups and downs you may experience, it is important to give back. Whether speaking publicly at startup community events about lessons learned or mentoring individuals who are early-stage entrepreneurs participating in MENA, initiatives like the new Dubai aviation industry startup accelerator Intelak, we can all find ways to give back. Ultimately, our startup ecosystem can grow even more when we share our experiences with each other, including the difficult ones.