The dream of setting up a communications agency started taking shape in 2010 while I held the position of a VP-Client Servicing at my previous workplace, The Classic Partnership Advertising (a WPP Group company). Initially, the images of that dream were scattered based on perceptions of industry benchmarks. After a couple of rounds of iterations of the business plan, what emerged was a clear vision to that dream.
Blue Apple was conceived as a full-service brand communications agency offering integrated solutions in the areas of communication, engagement, and experience. What started off as a three-member agency in a 500 sq. ft. office in 2010, has now evolved into a team of 45 multicultural specialists from 12 countries housed in a 3,500 sq. ft. office in Dubai Media City with two other network offices in Muscat and Khartoum.
Today, Blue Apple works closely with a host of regional and international clients offering its services on the practices of advertising, branding, PR, digital, social and retail environment solutions. International awards for creativity from Cannes Lions and Dubai Lynx Award festivals have added a further boost to the morale of our team to continuously develop world-class creative solutions for our clients.
Given my experience with my own venture, here are the three guiding principles that helped me realize my entrepreneurial dream:
1. Vision: seeing your way forward
While most of us have professional ambitions or dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur, only a few dare to take the plunge. Whether it’s the lack of capital or the fear of failure, the reasons that keep others away from doing so are personal to every individual, but one of the most critical reasons behind the first lot who emerge successful after the plunge is having a clearly defined and thought through vision of their entrepreneurial ambitions. This vision is what becomes the essence of your company, and acts as a guiding force to your staff, as you add blocks of progress to your offering of products or services in the marketplace.
My vision of Blue Apple was twofold– one was to build an integrated communications agency versus a standalone service agency, hence everything we do is integrated. Today, over 50% of our business comes from clients whom we offer integrated services under one roof, and the other 50% comes from our other specialized services, thereby reducing the risk of being a niche player offering only one or two types of services.
The second aspect of our vision was to invest in people. The eternal debate of first getting business vs. hiring people in a startup will continue for years to come. In our case, I went for the latter. Senior specialists from the best agencies were handpicked to build a strong foundation, and best practice standards were well defined. This way, to the client, Blue Apple comes across as a boutique agency that offers fully integrated communication solutions in a personalized manner (much like the relationship managers in private banking), managed by a team of experienced and multicultural enthusiasts.
2. Passion: fueling your drive
While a clear vision is critical to define your destination, it’s passion that will take you there! The journey to achieving your business goals is most likely to be filled with challenges and obstacles in today’s competitive world, and it’s here that only undiluted and single-minded passion will come to your rescue. Be ready to face speed bumps and roadblocks like finding new business opportunities. Defining the right pricing strategy to market your products or services, competing with larger established players in your industry, and more, are never-ending challenges. In the absence of the fuel of passion, your journey may end midway to your destination.
Back in 2010, we needed capital to set up, and while we had a strong business plan, no banks were willing to finance us as a startup. They wanted at least one year of balance sheets and proof of business on-hand. Those were highly disappointing and struggling times. Since I was all charged up to go ahead with my dream, the only choice was to open our box of savings- but that turned out to be insufficient. I then decided to sell off the only property I had, and these funds combined got us closer to the required seed capital. It was a huge risk, but with the support of my wife, I went ahead! Fortunately, we survived, and today when I look back, it was worth the efforts and nothing but a dream come true. As a budding entrepreneur, while you may get the capital to set up your dream business, it will only be a brick and mortar structure- it’s your passion and drive to walk the talk is what will add soul and bring your venture to life.
3. Commitment: the key to continued sustenance
The final aspect of reaching your milestones is commitment and perseverance. What comes along with a growing business enterprise is a bigger team, increased operating costs, delayed payments from clients, cash flow issues, and above everything else, the pressure to perform and deliver! Successful team leaders keep their chin up and continue to be the inspiration for their staff, colleagues, and their family members, be it sunny or stormy weather. The journey to success needs nothing less than 100% commitment to deliver and sustain. While your vision, passion and commitment will work together to keep your head up, and hard work, sincerity and team spirit will make the task easier, don’t forget to continue enjoying every moment of your journey.
My company is now in its sixth year of operations, and the climb up is a lot tougher than before. Operational challenges and maintaining a motivated team are always challenging, while industry-related factors on the other side keep throwing up new stumbling blocks. We have just redefined our vision and mission for the next five years, and upped the momentum to be recognized as a reputable regional communications agency that truly delivers T (trust) = R (reliability) + D (delight) for our clients. What keeps me going through these exciting times is my belief on the motto: “Life is a journey; enjoy the drive!” So come one, get going, and start pursuing the dream that will give you a sense of personal satisfaction and professional achievement.Related: Prioritizing Your Business' Growth: Three Key Areas Entrepreneurs Should Focus On