A Playbook For Entrepreneurs: Five Lessons Startups Can Learn From Expo 2020 Dubai

With Expo 2020 Dubai having come to its end, one cannot but stop to admire and applaud what has been, without doubt, one of the most challenging and fascinating events ever pulled off in recent history.

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With Expo 2020 Dubai having come to its end, one cannot but stop to admire and applaud what has been, without doubt, one of the most challenging and fascinating events ever pulled off in recent history. The scale and finesse of the entire event has just left the entire global community in awe, and at the same time, it comes as no surprise to many who have been witness to the amazing planning and execution abilities of Dubai when it comes to mega structures and mega projects.


Indeed, it can be said that Dubai has mastered the art of dreaming big and executing the impossible. And it's a fitting tribute to this relentless pursuit of excellence that Expo 2020 Dubai will go down as the best ever, having clocked in more than 20 million visitors- and mind you, this is in spite of so many travel restrictions in the past six months and on the back of a depleted airline footprint globally. Virtually, more than 175 million visitors have enjoyed Expo 2020 Dubai so far, and I'm sure when the final data comes in, this number will be a lot higher.

As someone who has been following the buildup to the Expo, the many challenges it faced with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, its postponement, its spectacular launch in 2021, and, of course, its roll-out over the last six months, I believe that there have been several invaluable lessons we -especially startup founders- can glean from it. Let me list some of the key lessons that I've realized, and while this is in no way an exhaustive list, it's an attempt to savor the best of the best.

1. Build it, and they will come Expo 2020 Dubai is a shining example of how you need to stay the course and not compromise on your product vision. The organizers didn't stop building the Expo, even as they went head on against the biggest challenge mankind has faced in the last 100 years, and not for once did they compromise or short-change the final consumer experience. Every aspect of Expo 2020 Dubai is a beacon of planning and impeccable execution. The entire customer experience cycle, from entry to exit, has a touch of class in it- from eco-friendly buses to high-tech entry gates to well-planned walkways, you have it all. Often, entrepreneurs are tempted to take a shorter and easier route to see a challenge through, but the ones that really go on to becoming iconic are the ones that have spent time and resources to build as per their original vision. Startups will always do well to stay the course and reap great success, as Expo 2020 Dubai has shown.

2. Deliver what you promise Expo 2020 Dubai promised to be "the world's greatest show," and boy, did they deliver. Every day of the six months of the Expo has been special- indeed, the communication was true to the product offering, and it went all in and committed the biggest and best to the consumers. Companies, many a time, fail to live up to its brand promise. It's very important that while you are selling dreams to the consumer, it needs to be backed up with a very strong product. After all, you are better off with your reality being better than your perception, instead of the other way around.

Related: Building A Legacy: Tala Al Ansari, Director, Scale2Dubai, District 2020

3. The world is your oyster From a historical perspective, World Expos have been a playground for participating countries to primarily showcase business and trade opportunities. This, in turn, attracted the business community and their respective ecosystems to be the major participants in the previous editions. But Expo 2020 Dubai turned this premise on its head, and transformed a trade fair into a mega carnival. After all, we saw the best of culinary and culture as an integral part of this edition of the Expo, and most country pavilions went out of their way to make this possible. Indeed, every significant festival in the last six months was celebrated in full gusto. We also had some of the world's best artists performing at Expo 2020 Dubai, with the Al Wasl Dome now having a special place in history as being among the best performing arenas in the world. Such efforts made families flock to the Expo like never before, and we saw schools bringing out their students by the droves– some of them even held convocations here! Every participating country pavilion has benefited from this expanded consumer base. I think this is the single most defining feature of Expo 2020 Dubai, and it has surely set the template for all future World Expos.

4. Cash in on the network effect For a successful venture or a project, you need the power of your network working for you. See how seamlessly it worked for Expo 2020 Dubai. If you took an Emirates flight into Dubai, you were rewarded by an Expo pass. And once you arrived, you couldn't escape the promotions around Expo 2020 Dubai- from the hotels you stayed in, to the malls you went for shopping, to even the radio stations you listened to in your Uber, everyone was cheering for it. Everyone wanted to ensure that this was the best Expo ever, and they went out of their way to push this- it was a clear win-win for the entire ecosystem. After all, everyone gains when a monumental event like this is a success. It's the same for startups- you need to sweat your network up to a point that it starts working for you on its own. Look around at the successful companies we often talk about- all of them, without a single exception, have reaped the power of the network effect.

5. Every testimonial is priceless Nothing beats the power of a product testimonial. In the hospitality business, they say that the true success of a city business hotel is when the locals flock to their coffee shops and restaurants, and not just the visitors. The same is true for Expo 2020 Dubai- it's the love and the positive feedback that the local population bestowed on the event that made it such a big success. Not only were they loyal returning customers, but they were also fierce brand ambassadors for this mega event. The word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing Expo 2020 Dubai earned has been truly phenomenal, and it has worked wonders in making this a repeat destination for the locals. Your startup needs to find this WOM magic for itself- that's when your customers become evangelists, and that's the ultimate recipe for success.

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