The recent sale of Souq.com has certainly increased the degree of pontification about the value and potential scale of technology startups in MENA, with opinions varying on the timing and value of the deal. No one, however could deny the significance of this deal on boosting (the morale at least) of an already burgeoning ecosystem, and giving investors and founders a weapon to add to their arsenal as they raise funds.
The news will certainly attract more people into tech entrepreneurship, but the reality remains that transforming ideas into products would require much more than a stellar education or a fancy corporate resume. It requires a mixture of market readiness, capital, a bit of luck, and most importantly, startup experience, something that a nascent ecosystem is still in the process of accumulating and hasn’t yet started assimilating.
While building technology products has become more affordable due to the various off the shelf solutions, the truth remains that building a scalable and custom solution is going to require a fairly large investment. It is much more than hiring a developer to build a website or an app.
We’ve had many entrepreneurs looking to build products approach us at Nabbesh, and we often find ourselves having to educate these entrepreneurs about transforming ideas into products. Our recommendation to entrepreneurs is always the same, before you approach us or any other supplier or even any potential hire, you need to think long and hard about what you’re trying to build and why and we often ask them to do the following.
1. Write it down, map it out and visualize it
When the eureka moment strikes and your heart is consumed with passion for an idea, start by putting together a wireframe. What is this product going to look like? What features does it have? What is my customer journey? What type of operation is required to support the business? What is my go-to market strategy, and the list goes on. Basically you need to map out how your product is solving a consumer problem and what you need to build to get you there. At this stage it is highly advisable that you get some validation from stakeholders and especially future customers. Do not, and we often stress on that, do not be scared about sharing your idea and getting feedback. It is the only way to highlight potential gaps before wasting precious resources (time and money) on building something irrelevant.
2. Do not expect the agency/freelancer to do your work
Once you know what you want and decide to approach an agency or a bunch of freelancers, you need to be clear on what it is you need. Do not expect the service providers to build your product specifications, work on your copywriting or add images on your behalf and honestly for them to care beyond the fact that you’re a client and they are there to deliver a service for you. Take control of the outcome right from the outset by having a clear idea of what you want or brace yourself for some nasty surprises.
3. Set a budget- and multiply it by 3
If I had a dollar for every time an entrepreneur tells me “I want to have impact on a budget.” Well, don’t we all? But that is an oxymoron. While I understand that entrepreneurs need to be frugal, you need to prioritize where the money has to go and there are areas that require a proper investment to get the intended results. If you have a small budget, reduce your feature set, and build an MVP instead of trying to build a spaceship, which won’t have the necessary fuel to lift off. It doesn’t have to be this way- read the book The Lean Startup.
4. Set a timeframe, and be realistic
Let’s face it, things take time, and there is no reason for entrepreneurs to set unrealistic expectations and rush the idea incubation process. Whilst speed is important no doubt, there is a difference between building something fast due to efficiencies and clarity of brief versus rushing an agency or freelancers for the sake of creating a sense of urgency. You want speed? Put more planning and more bodies on the project and it will move faster.
5. A developer is no magician
I have developed a lot of sympathy for the developers in our region. The poor guy/ girl is often expected to work on design, wireframes, writing product specs, coding, writing content, finding images, and unit testing, while of course falling in love with the client’s project- but that just isn’t going to happen. We must learn to manage our expectations, as this is the job of three, or maybe four, people. Building a product requires UI experts, product experts (this is generally the entrepreneur), multiple developers depending on whether it is a custom or off the shelf solution and copywriters, graphic designers etc.
As more people in the business world jump into entrepreneurship (and it is a welcome step), we need to work together on raising the bar when it comes to building world-class products and executing on a well-defined vision. New entrepreneurs need to leverage the knowledge of other more established entrepreneurs who have had a few battle scars.
As an entrepreneur who’s looking to share knowledge and learn from the ecosystem, I hope the aforementioned points will help put all you wannabe entrepreneurs on the right track of building something sustainable for the long run. Good luck!