Five Lessons I Learned In My First Year Of Entrepreneurship Don't let the glamorous thought of being your own boss fool you. Entrepreneurship is tough.

By Sharifah Alhinai

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About a year ago, Manar Al Hinai, my sister and co-founder, and I clicked on the button that launched Sekka, our startup. I still remember the excitement and terror I simultaneously felt as we both squished on one chair and watched the platform that we had been working on for the previous 10 months finally unfold before our eyes… and the rest of the world's. A million questions raced through my mind. Were we doing the right thing? Will people like it? Was it going to be successful? Were we crazy for doing this fulltime, without other jobs to fall back onto?

But I reminded myself of one thing: we wanted this. Ever since we were teenagers, my sister Manar and I had envisioned ourselves in the world of publishing. But school, college, and work took us on a little detour. It wasn't until I had finished my master's and Manar had quit her job that our dream came chasing back.

We pursued it this time, though, and did so wholeheartedly. By October 2017, Sekka, an online platform that's dedicated to uncovering Khaleeji stories and sharing them with the world, was up and running for the first time ever.

It's been a rollercoaster ride since. There have been ups, downs and everything in between. But most of all, it's been a year of learning that I'm sure every aspiring entrepreneur can benefit from and every startup owner can relate to.

These are the top five lessons I've learned in my first year of entrepreneurship.

Lesson 1: Entrepreneurship is tough

Don't let the glamorous thought of being your own boss fool you. Entrepreneurship is tough. Being at the top is lonely. You don't have someone to pat you on the back every time you do something right and there's no handbook to tell you what to do when something goes wrong. It helps if you have a co-founder; you can discuss things together and you become each other's support system. But if you're a solo entrepreneur, you have to learn how to trust your instincts and be your own cheerleader.

Lesson 2: Your startup is never going to be "perfect" and that's ok

As a perfectionist myself, this was probably the toughest lesson I've had to learn, and I was forced to learn it very quickly. We had just launched Sekka a few hours earlier, and had told everyone we know about it, when parts of the website began to malfunction. To make matters worse, I got a phone call from a relative pointing out an error we had made on our platform. Because the website was down, I couldn't access the backend to fix that mistake, and seeing that it was midnight, our IT guy was fast asleep. It was a perfectionist's nightmare: staring at a mistake they couldn't fix, for whole eight hours! Since then, there have been numerous other mistakes and errors, and I've learnt to become more tolerant and relaxed with each. I still spot things that I'd like to change or improve whenever I browse through our website and log on to our social media channels. But I've come to accept that my startup is always going to be a work in progress. And that's totally fine. You should always be improving and reinventing your startup.

Lesson 3: Don't be afraid to experiment

The end goal of any startup is to appeal to consumers and get them to consume the product or service the business is offering. If you're noticing that people aren't finding your product, service, or marketing methods, attractive, don't be afraid to change things up and do a little experimenting until you find something that works. At Sekka, we've been experimenting from Day 1, whether it's with the stories we share or social media posts we post. We're constantly trying to understand more about what our audience likes and dislikes, especially as it continues to grow literally every hour. This experimentation has given us invaluable insight that has helped us operate better and reach our targets more effectively.

Lesson 4: It's vital that you take a break

No doubt, part of the appeal of being an entrepreneur is the (faulty) idea of being able to choose your own work hours. What I've discovered over the last year is that, a lot of the time, you don't get to dictate your work hours; the hours dictate you. A startup, especially in the beginning, is a lot like an infant. It needs constant care and attention, and much like a newborn baby, it doesn't care if it demands that attention at 3.00 PM or 3.00 AM.

In fact, I've spent the majority of 2018 working 14-hour days, with almost no days off. My sleeping patterns were all over the place and my social life suffered. I quickly learned the errors of my ways when I experienced a major burnout over the summer. I didn't even want to look at Sekka anymore. But after a brief hiatus, which my sister insisted I take, I was as good as new. I even came back excited, with fresh ideas and proposals. When we immerse ourselves in the day-to-day dealings of our businesses, we forget to take a moment to step back and see big the picture. My break gave me the chance to do that without me intending it and it's been tremendously beneficial for us in setting our long-term strategies as a startup. I've since imposed a limit on the number of hours I work a week that I cannot surpass and have set weekly days off for myself. It's been smooth sailing since.

Lesson 5: Things take time. Be patient.

Results take time. It's easy to forget that in a world where instant gratification rules the day, and Hollywood films make the road to success look quick and effortless. But, if you're still dissatisfied with or concerned about the speed at which things are progressing, don't be afraid to ask for help. Consult someone more senior in your field that you can trust or join a local incubator. My time at Sheraa Sharjah earlier this year taught me much of what I needed to know as a first-time entrepreneur. It was also a chance to meet with like-minded people, discuss common issues and even network!

Related: Making The Leap: Three Tips On Moving From Being An Employee To Becoming An Entrepreneur

Wavy Line
Sharifah Alhinai

Founder, Sekka and Khaleeji Art Museum

Sharifah Alhinai is the founder and Managing Editor of Sekka, and the founder and director of the Khaleeji Art Museum. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and The School of Oriental and African Studies, and the recipient of the Arab Woman Award 2020. She tweets @sharifahalhinai


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