This article is a crosspost from Nuwait.
For Kuwaiti entrepreneurs looking to scale their startups, Saudi Arabia is very obviously an attractive market.
Yet fears of having insufficient funding or resources to grow in Saudi have hindered many from moving there.
When Zaina Albader founded beauty booking app Bookr in 2015, she wasn’t even considering the move. She came from a non-technical background, outsourced app development to a company that turned out to be unprofessional, and started her journey with no previous know-how in running a business.
It wasn’t until she joined Zain Great Idea incubation program in 2015, that she realized she shouldn’t wait until her product was perfect. Albader launched a minimal viable product (MVP) and quit her job to focus on Bookr. She was able to build a name for her product in Kuwait and she is now launching operations in Saudi Arabia.
There are a few factors that were important for Albader when making the move to this huge market.
Find solid ground. Before thinking about moving to another market, you have to make sure you're generating stable revenue and growing. Once operations are running smoothly and growth is stable, entrepreneurs can start thinking of growth opportunities, like moving to another country.
Avoid being fooled. After some success I was approached by many potential partners in Saudi Arabia who wanted to help me scale. Partnering could either grow the business or crush it, you need to be careful when selecting partners and do as much due diligence as possible. I was fortunate to have discovered many friends in common with my new Saudi partner, which ultimately helped me feel more comfortable and safe.
Have a prenup. Don't sign anything official straight away. Instead, prepare a memorandum of agreement as a first step, before securing a more formal contract. This way, you are able to test the partner, ask them to suggest solutions to local challenges and measure their commitment and interest.
Say no to franchising. Be particular about brand identity and the company culture, and make sure that the quality and culture of the company carries through in the countries where you hope to expand. Franchising will not give you as much control over your business.
Don’t micromanage. Once entrepreneurs find the right partner, they should not micromanage but trust in their ability to deliver. Give team members milestones to uphold so they are clear about expected deliverables. That said, managers should take the time to explain their vision and strategy to the partners so they’re all aligned.
Go where you’re needed. Before taking the decision to scale to Saudi Arabia, I wanted to move to Dubai. Yet the latter was a saturated market and Bookr wasn’t going to offer added value, compared to local UAE competitors like Vaniday.
Understand the culture. User your connections in a new community that you want to scale to, to better understand that community. Test any assumptions you might have, call on friends you might have in the country, and ask the questions needed to understand the bigger picture.
Feature image, Zaina Albader at Mix N' Mentor Nuwait.