Talal Bayaa is the co-founder and CEO of Bayzat, a UAE-based startup providing businesses with smart insurance, HR, and payroll solutions. Prior to setting up Bayzat, Talal worked for a private equity and corporate finance firm, followed by two years at an investment bank.
Startups need champions. In February this year, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor released its 2020 index, which measures cultural, social, and governmental factors to determine how suited an environment is for the creation and growth of a business. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was proclaimed first regionally and fourth globally, outperforming the US and several European nations, including the UK and Germany.
Then in July, Dubai announced the launch of the National Program for Programmers, which enlists the help of some of the world’s biggest names in tech — such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, and Facebook — to turbocharge the UAE’s digital economy by training 100,000 programmers, creating 1,000 digital companies in a five-year period, and increasing investment in UAE startups from $400 million to $1.1 billion.
This is what it means to be a champion for entrepreneurs. The UAE invests heavily in incubators, accelerators, and mentorship initiatives such as Hub71, which concentrates on helping businesses become the best they can be, putting them in touch with investors and arranging access to markets. But regional success stories like Careem, Souq.com, and Kitopi do not come about solely on the basis of strong support from the government. Their founders followed a certain path, all achieving certain milestones.
Here are some tips on what early stage founders can do:
1. Stay focused
Entrepreneurs should always define their company’s purpose within the context of its customers. Mission, vision, operations, messaging — everything should be built around the customer. Often in business — especially since digital technologies introduced new agility to industries — we hear the word “pivot”. Reacting to changing markets is certainly tempting when you operate in a competitive space but leaping before you are ready is not prudent.
Keeping your focus often means saying “no” more often than you say “yes”. In the era of digital transformation, more and more businesses do not begin life in a factory, mall, or high street; they are born in the cloud and surrounded by opportunities to build out their capacities. But always remember the fundamentals. Any pivoting should align with customer needs, with the value proposition of the change put front and centre.
None of this best practice stops you from prototyping and experimenting, but such testing should occur in such a way as to not drain resources from your core areas. If your experiments bear fruit, then they can deliver value in future operations, but your feasibility studies should not be thought of as core operations.
2. Raise capital
Maintaining a flow of funding for the business is the primary focus of any successful entrepreneur. You will close one round, only to focus on the next. Rejection is part of the story, so get used to it. But use every pitch as an opportunity to strengthen your pipeline and learn more about — and categorise — your potential investors. Some will be risk-averse and need to be convinced of your ability to hedge. Others will be more ambitious and need to be dazzled by your vision. Narratives must be tailored to the audience.
Take advantage of any accelerators and incubation schemes that may help. Hub71, Dubai FinTech Hive, and Dubai Future Accelerators are fine examples of government-run initiatives that get founders ready for their VC pitches by ensuring their offerings’ market fit.
3. Spend wisely
Today, markets are focused very differently to what they were even five years ago. While growing sales is always important, in the age of analytics and app ecosystems, B2C entrepreneurs are focused on product metrics such as user acquisition and retention rates. Choosing the right metrics for your business can be as important as anything you do, so ensure you focus on market fit.
Meanwhile, founders of B2B enterprises can still drive initial revenue by being sales-driven, so they should direct their expenditure towards acquiring and retaining the best sales talent.
Beyond initial growth though, companies should look to their marketing function. Whether B2B or B2C, and regardless of industry, a good rule of thumb is to increase the marketing budget in equal proportion with revenue growth.
4. Build your team
Acquiring the right talent starts with entrepreneurs educating themselves. The HR and recruitment industry invests heavily in frameworks and research. It pays to make similar investments in your own HR function, and not rely on agencies at the outset. Discovering the right people and onboarding them can be time-consuming. Conversion rates can be low. However, it makes sense to maintain a sturdy candidate pipeline to ensure you meet staffing targets.
Integrate exercises into the interview process regardless of role, and do not forget the simple power of reference checks. In the early days, you will find that you sell the company more than candidates sell themselves. The best options for talent are people who buy into your vision.
5. Create the right culture
When hiring, alignment with culture is vital, but you need to consider how you build that culture in the first place. Never be afraid of feedback, as your employees can let you know the pros and cons of your current corporate environment.
Also remember that you cannot please everybody every time. So do not try. Instead, try to build a diverse, inclusive workplace where everyone can feel heard. The ‘right’ corporate culture can vary greatly from one organisation to the next. No matter how you choose to define this, it’s vital to ensure the people you hire buy into your organisation’s culture.
6. Grow as a leader
A successful entrepreneur will remain reflective of their own strengths and weaknesses through day-to-day team interactions, feedback, and their own ongoing research. There are many mentorship resources in the UAE and beyond. Never be afraid to leave your comfort zone for the sake of education.
Founding a business and making it grow is not easy, but as we often hear, nothing worthwhile ever is. Entrepreneurs who make it will falter and learn and grow themselves before bringing that progress to their enterprise. If you are one of these successful founders, reach out to entrepreneurs in the early stages of their journey. Share your failures and successes to ensure the next generation can peak more quickly.