The author’s shorthand for Happiness Index, Infrastructure, Talent, Regulations, Access and Capital. The six pillars that make the UAE a great place for a startup.
Starting a business is always an optimistic thought. Pessimists do not make good entrepreneurs. We all know that most startup businesses fail. But what we do not realise is that businesses may fail but good entrepreneurs do not. There is no genetic code that makes one a better entrepreneur versus another. Or even a methodology. Experience indicates that it’s about broad characteristics that act together as a whole.
What does success mean to you?
This is perhaps the most important question to ask. Is it having enough to feed yourself and your family? Or is it about living in a mansion set in 40 acres of forest? Or is it mitigating poverty and illiteracy? It will take you time to envision and think about it. Do this after a long sleep when your mind is totally rested. Focus and write it down. Sleep on it and read what you wrote again. Keep refining it till you are fully satisfied with your answer.
Are you hungry?
Chicken or egg. Whether hunger comes first or your idea of success. These could be two sides of the same coin. Hunger is always more immediate. It could be real hunger as in the lack of basic food. Or an insatiable competitive hunger for wealth, respect and/or power. Or a hunger to get out of debilitating personal, social or political situations. Nothing creates focus like real hunger.
Do you know who has the money and how much?
Many startup gigs want to look cool – they want to be in Fintech, Biotech, be part of accelerator programmes, participate in investor presentations and so on. The most important factor for success is not finding money from investors. It is figuring out who will buy into your proposition. Many entrepreneurs make the colossal mistake either knowingly or otherwise of confusing equity or capital with revenue. Revenue is money that comes to you from customers. For example, Snapchat’s customers are not the ones who are posting images and comments in the app but the companies that advertise through it. Revenue is purely advertisement-driven. The investors in Snapchat have done so on the premise that the investment will get paid back through future revenues. Which means that the entrepreneurs behind the Snapchat enterprise understand their target audience of advertisers and have a reasonably good assessment of how much money is available with them for digital marketing.
Can you provide value in exchange for money?
Again, many entrepreneurs begin with an idea or a concept and then apply all the cool new techniques to “make it happen”. Lean startups, agile methodology, design thinking, minimum viable proposition, scalability, pivoting, Business Model Canvas. the list goes on. I like to paraphrase what Peter Thiel says – Is there something that you are doing that is 10X better than what the current state is. In some way or another? If not, forget about it. If you start a tea-shop, something about the experience or the product has to be 10X better than the competition. And it has to be tangible and measurable. Are you 10X closer to your intended market of tea-drinkers than your closest rival? Do you offer 10X more convenience than DIY tea or some other factor that makes your offering stand out?
Are you willing to be hungrier?
Hungry as you are, the evidence suggests that you will fail. Which means that hunger will increase. You can either pull the parachute safety cord to a soft landing with a corporate job or go back to your family business. If you have no options, you will remain hungry because there is no other way. In a sense, it’s probably good to not have a safety net. The Vikings burned their boats when they landed on new shores. Entrepreneurship is not self-torture. It is really meant for people who have no other options or choose to have no other options. And chances are that entrepreneurs will get very hungry.
Do you have the humility?
You are reading this column in English. Which probably means that you are one of the privileged few to be able to read and comprehend a global language like English, French, Spanish and increasingly, Mandarin. Quite often, the most successful business people are people who have none of the privileges that many of us take for granted. Are you willing to start from scratch and learn from the examples of people who may be younger or less “to-the-manor-born”? Are you willing to reexamine your idea or your proposition to see how much of your ego is incorporated into it?
Do you have the discipline?
Hard work, long hours. That’s par for the course. But labour and toil is not a predictor for success. It’s a hygiene factor. Do you have the planning and project management mentality? Are you capable of or willing to learn how to document all the steps required, build an execution plan and then follow it? If you are unable to even begin a simple to-do list everyday, forget about becoming an entrepreneur. It’s not going to happen. In recent years, a surprising number of stay-at-home moms have burst into the entrepreneurship scene. Life has taught them the discipline of shopping lists, cooking food at home from scratch, taking care of rather helpless little humans, school and college admissions, getting homework done, innoculations and doctors’ appointments, social events – the seemingly endless and complex set of tasks that is required to run a home and bring up children successfully.
Can you let go?
Apart from letting go of your favourite idea or your seemingly well-received proposition, are you willing to fire yourself or others? You may have spent years getting to the point where you are, but you will need to be able to let go of the rope-bridge to failure before you are over the deepest part of the chasm. This is probably the most difficult quality to acquire.
Can you be blameless?
Can you be so perfect that there is nothing that you can do wrong? Really, really important. Because unless you are in this space, you will end up blaming everyone else for the shortcomings that you have. Many partnerships, collaborations and startup teams self-destruct because entrepreneurs are unwilling to blame themselves before doing so to someone else.
Are you willing to look after yourself?
Entrepreneurship is not torture. It is a path that you choose. During this journey, finding time for relaxation, for healthy living, for reading and for self-introspection are crucial. Entrepreneurship is a journey of the mind. It is imperative that the mind, the body and the seemingly indefinable soul are taken care of.
The writer is founding partner at Bridge DFS, a bespoke financial advisory firm (www.bridgeto.us). Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy. He can be contacted at [email protected]