Why Now Is As Good A Time As Ever To Be An Entrepreneur
“I’ve decided I need a break. I need some time for myself, to figure out what it is I want to do next,” I spoke into the receiver, staring out the window from my modest flat in Newcastle. I had telephoned Siddharth Singh, my former colleague at Accenture, who had recently left London for sunny Dubai.
Over the years, we’d frequently visited Dubai for short holiday jaunts with our group of friends and even pooled in money to invest in an apartment. Siddharth (or Sid, as the rest of us at Accenture called him) was very piqued by the energy and excitement in Dubai, a city that seemed to be emerging onto the global stage overnight. The two of us had been working closely together as analysts at Accenture, getting our feet wet with a variety of technology projects, working at different client sites with the aim of driving business transformation through technology.
I had been feeling dejected and directionless in the last few months. Seeing Sid make such a dramatic move halfway around the world had me doing some serious reflection about the kind of work that inspired and interested me. I knew deep down, I was not truly passionate about my work as a consultant anymore.
The initial sheen of working for a Big 5 consultancy, being in the thick of major technology projects, travelling across the UK, being exposed to the finer things in life, quickly wore off. Instead, what emerged was a regimented, almost automated corporate culture that did not genuinely offer meritocracy, instead rewarding people who played by the “rules” regardless of whether they put in long hours or scored real results.
That afternoon, I told Sid I was going to take a six-month sabbatical. Business had been slowing down somewhat and it seemed the perfect opportunity to take a step back and really see what I wanted to do for myself.
The year was 2008. We were two “geeky” guys with next to no business experience but big ideas and a burning desire to just build an enterprise of our very own. Today we are the co-founders of one of the region’s oldest and largest property search portals, JustProperty.com, and the leading enterprise software for the real estate sector, PropSpace.com.
How did it all begin? Back during a time not very different from today, when the economy seemed to be sliding and unpredictable, eventually slipping into what we now know to be the world’s worst financial crisis in modern history.
We took the leap during troubled times. And you can too. Here’s why:
1. You’ll learn to be lean
Yes, there are murmurs that market conditions in the UAE and the MENA region are not as buoyant as they seemed merely a year ago. That’s the normal ebb and flow of markets, as economists tell us.
We did not let the financial crisis of 2008 derail us from launching a business. In fact, it provided us with the impetus to make our business work and to make ends meet. We set aside some savings to tide us through those six months and came up with a budget that we strictly adhered to. Gone were the expensive lunches and dinners. We knew that if we kept our business model lean and mean, focusing on what was really important--our product and value proposition--we’d make it through the recession. And if we could survive the worst of times, we’d shine when it’s boom time again.
2. A downturn doesn’t mean diminishing market opportunities
We all know that the market is murky and some companies, big and small, have begun cutting corners on their expenses, even making staff cuts. Yet, it’s in times like these that companies look for providers, technologies and services that can offer an easier way of doing things, with more value for money and a demonstrable ROI.
We stepped into a property market that had yet to fully adopt the Internet as an advertising medium. Newspapers were the de-facto marketing channel, but we knew that online was the future and made that our focus when developing the product and showing companies how they could benefit from monitoring the reach of their advertising online, as opposed to in print.
It’s in times like these that long-held ways of doing things change. And your business could be driving that change.
3. Today’s ecosystem is more dynamic than ever before
When we launched our company in 2009, there were no accelerators, tech hubs or regular meetups for startup hopefuls, certainly not in the UAE. There was no “buzz” about entrepreneurship back then, like there is now.
Today, the overwhelming plethora of events and opportunities for engaging with startups, SMEs, investors and VCs makes for a very inspiring, optimistic and supportive environment that any aspiring entrepreneur can leverage to their benefit.
Go ahead and take advantage of it!
4. Being a first mover is optional
When we launched JustRentals.com, we were not the first online property portal in the market at that time. Bigger (and better funded) competitors were already in existence. Did that deter us? Not one bit.
Instead, we used it to our advantage. We studied our competitors’ sites and looked for opportunities to do things differently and better. We listened to prospective clients tell us about the deficiencies they saw in existing sites, the nice-to-have features they wanted.
We constantly sought and acted on this intelligence to build a portal that we knew stood head and shoulders ahead of our competition. Just because you’re a second, third or tenth-mover doesn't mean your product has to lag behind.
5. Accept and prepare for insecurity, but don’t let it hold you back
If you’ve been a worker bee until now, the idea of leaving it all and taking the entrepreneurial leap can feel daunting- perhaps even terrifying for some. You may think that you’re lucky to have your job and that it’s a tough market out there and if you don’t make it as an entrepreneur, you may not have a job to go back to.
When we took the leap to focus full-time on getting our idea off the ground, we faced a lot of questions from our family, colleagues and friends. Here’s our take: if you’re smart, have stayed open to life’s lessons and grown from them, have made it this far living in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, you’re incredibly more privileged than a vast majority of people who did not have all those opportunities.
You have your own set of gifts and if you feel you can do more with them, then why wait? The world needs new ideas and new products, new companies that create new jobs. Even if your idea doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you failed. Remember, you’re trying to make things better and every effort counts in the long run.
Now may be the best time to work on your business idea; if not full-time, then as a side project while staying in a job that provides you with regular pay, so you can test ideas along the way.
Ultimately though, staying in a job will not make you any more secure because remember, your employment is not in your hands. But your destiny is.
Alex Nicholas is a Founding Partner of JRD Group, an Internet company based in Dubai operating JustProperty.com and PropSpace.com. He co-founded JRD Group in 2009 together with Founding Partner Siddharth Singh.
A self-taught coder, Alex developed an interest in technology while working as a management consultant at Accenture’s public sector practice. He is passionate about leveraging the power of technology to revolutionize the real estate experience for professionals and consumers. Alex has a profound appreciation for design and considers form as much a part of function as function itself, championing the adage that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Under his vision and leadership, JustProperty delivers a rich experience and essential information to the millions of individuals in the Middle East. Alex is overseeing the expansion of the Group’s products in the MENA region and imminently further afield.
Alex holds an M.A. from Oxford University and has previously worked in marketing and communications at the International Tennis Federation. He is also a keen tennis player and follower having represented his university tennis team.