Seven Lessons (From Firsthand Experience) To Prepare You For Your Entrepreneurial Journey
My startup, ekar, had three employees in December 2016, and will have over 100 employed by end of 2018, making ekar one of the fastest-growing startups in UAE history.
The road to creating a brand that you want consumers to love, and most importantly use, is one riddled with pitfalls and stress. But, ultimately, when you make your dream a reality and bring your idea to conception, the rewards far outweigh this sometimes problematic journey. Four years ago, I was in my swimming pool –where all the best ideas happen– talking with friends about my positive car share experience in Europe, and saying it was a shame that the UAE didn’t offer the same mobility solution.
Fast forward to today, I am fortunate to be CEO of the first and most rapidly growing car share program in the Middle East, ekar, boasting more than 50,000 members who pay per minute to use over 500 cars via a mobile app. Thanks to the guidance and support I received from the early stages of ekar’s humble beginnings, I now envisage the Middle East as having car share members outnumber car owners by 2025. This vision will be achieved in major part by successful capital raising and staffing. We are achieving a 20% average month-on-month growth since inception, and secured over US$4.5 million by our Series A in January 2017, and are now closing our Series B round with a $20 million capital injection.
Since the launch of ekar’s partnership with the RTA, Etihad, and Emirates in 2017, we have witnessed a car share revolution– but it could not have been possible with the mentorship of those around me. ekar had three employees in December 2016, and will have over 100 employed by end of 2018, making ekar one of the fastest-growing startups in UAE history.
As such, I wanted to share my key learnings with other budding entrepreneurs, in a bid to share the valuable lessons learned.
1. Be smart with your business plan
The business plan is where that little idea you came up with in a swimming pool becomes more than just a thought. Seeing your idea on paper is exciting, but tread with caution. It is good business practice to overestimate costs and underestimate the potential success of your new venture. Forecasts are never perfect, they are a guide, but why add undue stress to yourself by making unrealistic figures that you may not end up hitting? The most important factor is not numbers, but the vision and passion you put into creating your brand; we have no crystal ball, but you can count on grit and determination to be your friends in the process.
2. Build your tribe
It is said that, as an individual, you are the culmination of the five people you spend the most amount of time with. If these five people are sporty, most likely, you will be too; if they are into video games, you will no doubt spend quite a bit of time on the sofa doing the same. When I started ekar, I decided that I wanted to surround myself with like-minded entrepreneurs who I could share ideas with, and talk openly about any issues or difficulties I was facing.
3. Mentor up
Be sure to have mentors, and surround yourself with the grey-haired rockstars who have been through the set-up cycle, and have learnt lessons in the process. One of my key mentors throughout the startup process was Bob Farrow, who now sits on the ekar board as an advisor. Bob poked holes in the business plan, and grounded my expectations, which was just what I needed, and looking back, ekar couldn’t be where it is without his advice and mentorship.
4. Cater your business to the customer
Having spent most of my working life handling B2B companies and campaigns, I can’t reiterate enough how completely different the B2C market is. And as such, market research is key, and something to invest time and energy into. Doing the research legwork upfront at the start will diminish costs in the backend. Also, speak with other players in your market to learn about their experiences.
5. Your enterprise has to be social
Social media is your friend! This is the best way to communicate with your existing and potential consumers. Don’t worry if you don’t feel confident in handling any social media campaigns yourself– this can be outsourced (and at great pricing) to make sure that you don’t miss out on reach, which is crucially important as you gear up to launch your company.
6. Put together a dream team
When building your team, remember that the compatibility between partners, investors, and employees is equal to, or even more important than, their skillset. Your corporate culture is what builds a great brand, and ensuring that all involved are aligned to the same vision is critical. Each and every person who works for with ekar is a potential brand ambassador, with a wide network of connections to positively endorse the brand, so we work to ensure that there is strong compatibility between all stakeholders.
7. Find investors who are right for your enterprise
Building capital is so crucial in launching your brand so selecting the best investors is critical. When we were speaking with partners for our Series A raise we had four interested parties offering four very different services. In the end we chose to work with Audacia Capital as they wanted to not simply invest financially but also added huge value in investing their time to offer counsel and strategic insight, they became an extension of our team and we enjoy working with them collaboratively to this day.