Being A Female Tech Entrepreneur In The MENA Region: Opportunities, Challenges, And Lessons Learnt Don't obsess about what is holding you back. Think about your opportunities, how you will exploit them, and fulfil your potential.
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There are many principles to follow, and lessons to learn, to succeed as a female entrepreneur- and no magic bullet exists to shortcut what is a rollercoaster ride. In my experience, the following tips will be helpful to all entrepreneurs. They include putting gender in perspective, appreciating the MENA's business culture, recruiting wisely, judging when to seek external investors, understanding your market, and the role of mentors and how they can ease the loneliness of the entrepreneur's life.
My first advice is your gender is not as important as you think. Your ideas, dedication, and drive are what really matters.
You have nothing to prove for anyone but yourself. Other women have already blazed the trail, are achieving great success and being recognized for it. There are various rankings and Oscar-type awards that demonstrate being a woman in a patriarchal society should not hold you back. The greatest obstacle to becoming a success is in a person's head. It is about attitude, not being female or male.
So, don't obsess about what is holding you back. Think about your opportunities, how you will exploit them, and fulfil your potential.
The next lesson is to appreciate the MENA region has its own business culture. You need to understand it, its reliance on building relationships, and the trust they engender. We live in a globalized world, and understanding other cultures is vital, especially if your team, your suppliers, and especially your customers are from other regions. The book The Culture Map by Erin Meyer opened my eyes to how important others' expectations are, and how to react and behave.
As a meeting point of international trade, the MENA is a rapidly growing and changing kaleidoscope of opportunities, and an ideal location to start a new enterprise. It really is the place to be, with support and encouragement available if the government's economy and visions align with yours. So, ensure this alignment happens by being flexible.
Another key pointer: recruit well! Fleet of foot as an entrepreneur is key, but so is having the right team. Choose your co-founders and formative hires wisely; an entrepreneur has to build a team, and then be the glue that keeps it together. Growing teams need to have complementary skills, and to be culturally aligned to startup life. Leaving "big company" life into a startup isn't for everybody. Trust your instincts, but learn rapidly from your mistakes.
From a personal standpoint, analyze your own strengths and weaknesses– what is your skillset? Ask yourself if you need a partner complementing you by filling any gaps. An exact duplication of skills makes little sense, but having someone with the same passion and drive so that you can spark off each other allows you to recharge your batteries, while also being inspired to reach new heights.
When it comes to money matters, be prepared to initially develop your ideas with a fraction of the funding you'd ideally have from investors. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to build big and innovate before raising money, and then the rest would follow. In other words, know your investor audience, and what excites them. That requires a commitment to invest your own capital to get to a level where investors can see what your dream can deliver, and thereby make their buy-in easier. Speaking to potential investors is important, but it shouldn't precede refining and developing the unique concept you cherish.
You should be ready, mentally and physically, for the entrepreneur's journey. It can be a lonely and exhausting one. An entrepreneur's mind is constantly buzzing with new ideas- either being excited about how you are going to change the world, or how to solve today's crisis! Much creative time is spent alone, burning the candle at both ends, craving the moment to pause and think clearly. Embrace these moments as part of the journey, and accept how public holidays and a traditional social/family life may have to take a temporary backseat.
Market intelligence is crucial. Know your potential customers and your competition. What does the former want or need? What does your opposition provide? It's not just about your strengths, but your strengths as an alternative to your competitors' weaknesses, and what customers will actually pay for.
Finally, the benefits of having a mentor should be obvious, but need restating. You're not the first ever entrepreneur. The challenges of sectors, geographies, and eras are quite different, but you can learn much from wise people– who have all made their own mistakes too. Their insight will save you much time, stress and money. Find someone willing to share insights with you before you make decisions that will shape your future, and that of your team. Choose someone connected in business, a confidant to give moral support and encouragement, but who won't sugarcoat an uncomfortable truth- and it will be invaluable. The ideal mentor will have overcome their own setbacks and help you through yours, removing much of the loneliness in -the ultimately rewarding- journey of being an entrepreneur.