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Six ways to succeed as a startup founder

Essential tips for first-time entrepreneurs in the Gulf

Gulf startups UnsplashPer Loov
Successful startups founders in the Gulf often solve a problem they have themselves rather than chase a random market opportunity

The best startups are driven by resilient founders and solve real-life pain points, and the Gulf is no exception. Here’s how to to succeed as a startup founder.

1. Validate your business

One of the most common mistakes made by first-time entrepreneurs in the Middle East is that they fall in love with their own business idea.

They will spend months building what they believe to be the next game-changing startup. Then they launch… and nobody buys, nobody cares, nothing happens.

Instead, confront the problem you are trying to solve for your customers, and validate that your business idea is a problem worth solving. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch again if necessary.

2. Address your own pain point

Scratch your own itch. Solve a problem with your startup that you have yourself – something that is near and dear to you, rather than a random market opportunity.

When things get tough, if you’re simply chasing just the dollars, or a random market opportunity, you won’t have the fortitude to stay with it. 

A case in point: Jordan’s Little Thinking Minds (LTM) was founded by Rama Kayyali and Lamia Tabaa.

When Rama had her first son, she noticed a lack of engaging Arabic language audiovisual content for children.

All local video and television programmes for young children were produced in the West or Japan and not localised, even when dubbed into Arabic.

Today, LTM is an award-winning ed-tech company focused on providing Arabic language literacy tools for school-age students committed to improving learning outcomes, advancing skills and increasing connectedness.

LTM platforms are used in more than 500 schools, including public schools which cater to low-resource and refugee populations.

In other words, if you have a pain point, the chances are that others may have the exact same one. 

startup foundersLittle Thinking Minds
LTM is an award-winning ed-tech company focused on providing Arabic language literacy tools
3. Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Perfectionism is a curse. Innovation is messy. Test, learn and improve. Often new entrepreneurs wait too long to put their product out in the market. 

With limited resources at hand, it’s crucial you get an MVP out as soon as possible and start gaining traction.

Take the feedback of users to iterate and improve your products. Not launching fast enough is a mistake you simply cannot afford to make. If you want to gain an edge over others, launch now!

A UAE-based case in point is Sarwa – the first automated investment platform in the region, with a mission to make investing accessible to everyone regardless of age or net worth. 

Owned by Mark Chahwan, Jad Sayegh and Nadine Mezher, the DIFC-headquartered company officially launched its platform in February 2018.

It onboarded its first clients under an Innovation Testing Licence – awarded for the first time by the Dubai Financial Services Authority to kickstart fintech innovators.

Its tagline was ‘Sarwa – Get on the list’, and it created a buzz. Sarwa had only an innovation licence and regulation was still blurry, but launched to great acclaim with just its MVP.

4. Founder risk

Avoid being a single founder. Creating a company is hard work – most startups fail.

The one characteristic you need above all others is resilience. You need to be relentless and work harder than the competition and even then you will have tough times. 

With a co-founder, there’s someone to share the load, to reflect with and to lean on. It’s not impossible to find success as a single founder, but it’s easier as a team.

5. Hustle the right way

Sometimes we think that hustle is about becoming a workaholic or adding a lot of stuff to our lives.

But hustling is an act of focus, not frenzy; it’s about subtraction and addition. It’s not about doing more – it’s about focusing on the things that you need to do.

6. Fall over… and get back up

There are many ways to fail. You need to accept failure may be a risk. It’s how you recover from failure that’s the important bit. Current and potential investors will be watching.

Lucy Chow is secretary general of the Dubai-based World Business Angels Investment Forum and general partner of the WBAF Angel Investment Fund

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