Eight Things Founders Wish They Were Told Before They Ventured Into Entrepreneurship In The MENA Region

Insights from some of the key speakers during the first edition of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology's open online course, Entrepreneurship Adventures.

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Once you become an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get sucked into the eye of the storm and get entrapped by a mindset that is focused purely on keeping the business afloat and running. But a bit of introspection would often allow the founders of these businesses to realize that things could have been done differently- or not done at all.  

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This is the question we asked a few of the key speakers during the first edition of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s (KAUST) massive open online course, Entrepreneurship Adventures, conducted earlier this year: what do they wish they knew about entrepreneurship before they ventured into it?  

Well, here’s what they said- and their notes are definitely worth keeping in mind if you plan to be a part of the newest edition of Entrepreneurship Adventures starting in January 2022, registration for which is currently underway. 

Mohammad Ghassan Zekrallah, co-founder and CTO, Cura  

1. The road to success is a ten-year long journey, at minimum, in the MENA region “I thought that a moderate success could be achieved a timeframe of 3-5 years. What I didn’t realize is that the road to success in our part of the world will take much longer, because the entire ecosystem is not as developed as in other regions, and thus, your marketing, penetration, adoption, and growth is always slower. And, not to mention that we’re still struggling with things that should be taken for granted for any digital startup success. The ecosystem and infrastructure are definitely growing and catching up very fast, but it's still not as mature as in other places, so be patient.” 

2. Working with people is harder than you think “You can solve the hardest technical challenges in your product, own your market, master your digital advertising channels, unlock your product/market fit, and yet be unable to work, manage, and scale people easily, thus hindering any chances of your future growth. It’s a totally different skillset that you need to master as a founder, and have building people's skills and hiring skills as one of your serious top priorities to learn. Also, always hire very slow, and fire very fast, especially in your early stages, where each new hire has a contribution rate of at least 20% to your success.” 

Mustafa Mousa, co-founder and CEO, Sadeem International Company  

3. Keep your eyes on the end goal “To create an impact, you need resources, the rightly skilled team, an action plan, vision, and motivation. Missing one of these can lead to doubts, random decisions, loss of focus, and even worries. Therefore, assess your needs and prioritize them, because every day you will solve a different problem that will eventually lead you to your goal.” 

4. Assign jobs to the experts “Do not try to do everything on your own! When you are in a leadership position, the best thing you can do is to assign tasks to the people skilled enough and right for it. Remember, the people who create the company don't necessarily have to be the people who manage the business too.” 

Ameena Bucheeri, co-founder and CEO, Raed 

5. Take investor advice with a pinch of salt “Fundraising can be an exhausting process, and it is a full-time responsibility for founders. During this time, you may receive a lot of varying advice from investors, which can be confusing. So, take feedback from investors with a pinch of salt to avoid confusion and distraction.”   

6. Expand as soon as possible “In the case of Raed, Bahrain is a small market. So, I really wish we had worked on expanding to Saudi Arabia much faster, since consumer behavior there is very different in comparison. As a founder, it is important to understand the market, and to predict user behavior to adjust the business accordingly.”   

Wael A. Kabli, founder and CEO, Cura 

7. If a door is closed, use the window “Opportunities never appear in the form of opportunities. They usually appear as challenges instead. Very often, you will face challenges that make you think it is the end of your company. But if you insist on solving it from a different perspective, you may discover greater opportunities that you never knew existed, and also solve the challenges in the process.”  

8. What you see in the media is often only one side of the story “The success stories of other startups are often what you will get to see and hear. But what you don’t get to hear about are the tough times and the failures. I would advise to learn from the failures of others, because most successes have no unified guaranteed recipe. But failures often have clear patterns, and they can be learned in order to avoid them.” 

Related: Entrepreneurship, Community, And Confronting The Fear Of Failure