Have you ever wondered why countries like the US create so many companies that compete on a global scale, with many self-made millionaire and billionaire founders?
Certainly, if we think of technology, most of the biggest names in tech are American. In fact, to underscore America’s dominance in this sector, only four tech brands from outside of the US appeared among the world’s top 20 most valuable tech brands in 2020. Tencent and Huawei from China, SAP from Germany and Samsung from Korea were competing with the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Oracle, Cisco, Intel, Adobe, Dell and Google.
So, why is that the case? Some might argue that it’s an entrepreneurial spirit, chasing the American Dream! Is it a cultural asset? That never-say-die attitude with overriding self-confidence?
I would say that is partly true. Certainly, if we make a comparison with the Middle East and the UAE in particular, it could be a cultural issue. But more about that later. First of all, let’s look at funding opportunities in the Middle East.
There is a widely held view that funding for start–ups continues to be a major challenge for entrepreneurs in the Middle East. On average, almost 50% of seed capital is provided by the founder and approximately 25% comes from family and friends.
So, is it all down to lack of funding? Is that what is holding back our entrepreneurs? When it comes to pre-seed start-ups, the UAE and Egypt are home to 35% and 27%, respectively. So, they are dominating the funding space at the moment. But can entrepreneurs still do more? Surely.
For those of you who may not be aware, I am a proud board member of the Emirates Angels, a non-profit organisation that aims to support UAE entrepreneurs with early-stage investment, or seed capital.
Generally, this should provide a start-up enterprise with enough money to get the initiative off the ground. And if the business proves to be viable, it can move forward into further rounds of funding.
My passion is PropTech and I sit on the association panel. So, I get to see a lot of new and exciting start–up presentations. I must admit, there are some very talented and creative minds in the UAE. Time and again, they’ve come up with great ideas that have been executed really well.
But then, there is something lacking – a sense of naivety perhaps, which is perfectly understandable. These are start–ups after all. But then again, it goes a little deeper. The creative genius is not matched by realism. And realism is the key word here, because it shows up in all of the qualities that an entrepreneur requires to succeed. Whether it‘s finance, market reach or size, dedication, commitment or risk management, being realistic would make it, well, real.
Therefore, given my experience, let me summarise my top five tips for all budding entrepreneurs. In fact, it reminds me of one of the greatest entrepreneurs that ever lived, Conrad Hilton. When asked what his top three characteristics were – when looking to develop a new hotel – he coined the phrase “location, location, location“.
- Be realistic – about the amount of funding you can achieve for your business idea. Not every initiative is a potential multi–million–dollar investment.
- Be realistic – not every idea works. Be prepared to fail. Richard Branson had seven major failures, but always bounced back. Does anybody remember Virgin Cola?
- Be realistic – about the amount of commitment and perseverance that is required to turn an idea into a successful business. Timing can be crucial.
- Be realistic – about your market reach. This is the UAE, not Silicon Valley.
- Be realistic – entrepreneurs need to be risk inclined, and not risk averse.
These values drive successful start-ups. So, if you feel that you could become the next Souq, Careem or Dubizzle – get real and your start–up dream could become a reality.