Do consultants make good entrepreneurs? Advice from a founder in Dubai

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Lately, it seems that more and more entrepreneurs have made the leap into starting businesses after a few years in consulting. Bana Shomali is one of them.

While she was working at McKinsey in Dubai, Shomali, originally from Jordan, knew that consulting wasn't her dream job; ultimately, she wanted to be more operational. After six years, she finally quit her job to launch Movesouq, a website that helps UAE residents connect with movers and compare them easily.

Making moving easy 

In late 2012, Shomali began getting the itch to start a business. When a friend of hers complained about how painful it is to move apartments in the UAE, the idea clicked.

Last April, she launched the site, which allows customers to register for a specific move, noting when, where, and how much they'd like to transport. MoveSouq then pitches the request to various movers and informs customers about their quotes.

The service is free for the users, but charges the movers a fee for the listing and marketing, which is typically far less than they would spend on marketing otherwise, says Shomali.

As MoveSouq started only a couple of months ago, they've collected several movers on the site, and have had a handful of requests coming through, but they hope to scale progressively.

How a consulting background helps

While being a consultant doesn't typically involve taking on your own risk, Shomali explains that several aspects of being a consultant helped her when building her company. 

  • Finding solutions. On every new case, Shomali had to solve a different problem. "Consulting changes your mindset to always think of ways to improve something" she says.
  • Doing her homework. When Shomali started MoveSouq, she didn’t know a thing about building and promoting a website or about the moving industry, so she read, met with potential customers and clients, and finally understood what she needed to understand. Working on various projects taught her how to conduct research before launching a product, she explains. 
  • Iterating. Shomali wanted to launch as quickly as possible to be able to test, get feedback, and adjust her product, an approach she also learned while working in consulting. Drawing inspiration from the Lean Methodology, and works to continually improve the site. For instance, the first thing she learned from calling her clients after each move was that she needed to have better segmentation on her website, as different users expected different things from their movers.
  • Understanding how to manage a team. While consulting, Shomali learned how to manage a team; she now meets with her team of 4 twice a day for a huddle in front of a white board, to focus on "visual management." Focusing on figures, goals, and communicating weekly about what's working and what's not have helped her keep her small team focused and agile.
  • Building a network. A large part of being a consultant and dealing with various clients is that you continually build a network. Shomali's existing network came in handy when building a team, as she could rely on the recommendations of those she knew and trusted.

Is that enough?

One thing that stands out about Shomali is that she's very organized, and seems ready to cope with various hurdles. But is her readiness for entrepreneurship something she learned in consulting? Can good research methodology and management skills prepare you for the risk that starting a company necessitates?

Akram Benmbarek, a Moroccan entrepreneur who used to work as a consultant, thinks not. Even after working as a consultant, "we're never prepared enough[...] because [entrepreneurs have to] embrace uncertainty."

However, both of them agree that there is one challenge they're not prepared to cope with: choosing what to do. There are only 24 hours in a day, and not enough money or employees to do everything, so an entrepreneur has to carefully choose what to do that will bring the best outcomes and grow the business the most.

What about you, if you've made the jump from consulting to entrepreneurship, were you prepared?

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