Tips & Learnings from Successful MENA Entrepreneurs

Tips & Learnings from Successful MENA Entrepreneurs

  • Believe in yourself
  • Have a vision
  • Burn the boats
  • Know our business inside out
  • Think big (regional and global) and not small (domestic)
  • View competition as an enabler
  • Focus on creating a structure
  • Have the right mix of talent and attitude in your team
  • Be observant, have an open mind and continue reinventing yourself
  • Surround yourself with positive people, and block your ears to the naysayers

Middle East entrepreneurs, empowered by technology, are ready to take entrepreneurial challenges and improve their lives and society, by launching firms focused on bringing never-heard-of concepts to life. Over hundreds of start-ups make a beginning every year. However, do all of them have the ability and planning to survive or get past the 10 year mark? What is the learning’s from the ones who have been successful in doing so? It will become clear when we discuss the experience shared by some successful MENA entrepreneurs and experts.

Believe in yourself. People will follow you when they believe you and they do believe you when:

  • You believe in yourself.
  • They have to believe in your path.
  • They believe your approach, system, methodology.
  • They believe in your capability to execute the process, system, approach offered.
  • It is tough to re-define reality and hence, having a strong self-belief is the key.

Have a vision of what the market will be like in 5 years or 10 years. An entrepreneur needs to make others believe in their vision and thus, he needs to create that vision. Making a desire into reality is the job of an entrepreneur, not only to push himself to achieve greater heights, but also to make his followers believe in him.

Burn the Boats. The entrepreneur should not leave himself any option other than success. The aim should be to conquer or perish. While executing a project it becomes important to have a plan B; however, for the entrepreneurs, it is not advisable to have a plan B as all it does is hamper plan A. The key is to remain committed and dedicated to one line of action and doing away with all the disturbances. According to JC Butler of Dubizzle, a Dubai-based start-up that offers free classifieds on its web platform, “Rid your heart of ‘I will try my best’ until all that’s left is ‘I have decided’. If one has a deep belief in his vision, then failure is not an option.

Know your business inside out. You may or may not have university degrees but you need to understand your business in and out. It may require spending lot of time and significant investments in learning about your industry and the tricks of the trade. A few ways to understand the industry can be attending trade shows, hearing speakers and being ruthless in the quest of relevant information.

Think big (regional and global) and not small (domestic). The success stories of Middle East entrepreneurs suggest that they had a plan to expand to at least five countries. This has benefited entrepreneurs from the smaller countries such as Jordan and Lebanon who have achieved more success than entrepreneurs from Saudi Arabia. This suggests that not being over-dependent on the domestic market, however large it may be, is a key to success for MENA entrepreneurs.

View competition as an enabler. This is especially true if you plan to launch a venture in a niche market segment, as any competition will help grow the overall market, and will likely bring in more business for you than taking away. However, if the competitor is big firm that poses a real threat, then get flexible and nimble. In such cases, it always helps to have a great company culture, which becomes your brand and cannot be copied.

Focus on creating a structure. Business initiatives revolving around the intangible concepts need a structure to hold them together. The structure helps to add frameworks and tangibility to these ideas. For example, Pharmacy1 stores have same appearance and customer experience with things located in the same place in every store, irrespective of the size of the store. Hence, it is necessary to ensure a structure in all aspects of business, be it action plans, resources or roles. The structure also enables smooth transformations when required.

Have the right mix of talent and attitude in your team.  It is important to pick people who can be groomed as future leaders. According to Tahir Shah, the founder of Pop-up Pakistani street food concept Moti Roti “People make things happen, you cannot learn and do everything. Hence, it becomes imperative to begin with a team with the right talent across right areas”. It is seconded by many other successful entrepreneurs like Amjad Aryan of Pharmacy1 and JC Butler of Dubizzle who believe in hiring people smarter than themselves.

Be observant, have an open mind and continue reinventing yourself. It has been observed that after initial success in the business, the mind tends to get complacent and keeps reveling in the success. Here again, competition play its role in making you realize your position and the potential of the market you operate in. So, continue to reinvent yourself to stay in the game.

Surround yourself with positive people, blocking your ears to the naysayers. That’s the advice from Amjad Aryan, a businessman who wanted to start a pharmacy business when he was a 23-year-old Palestinian immigrant cleaning carpets in Chicago. There, he had a chance to experience the efficiency, expertise and product selection at CVS Pharmacies.

Case Study: Pharmacy-1 & Amjad Aryan’s goal of creating the CVS of the MENA region

While he was studying at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston, Amjad Aryan got a chance to do an internship at CVS. He joined there as a manger and became a store manager later. In 1997, he bought his first pharmacy, Roberts Drugstore in Miami, a large self-service store with a supermarket and cash machines. He renamed it as Pharmacy 1 and expanded with four new branches.

He sought to bring this concept to the Middle East, where he found out that the pharmacies were small family-run business characterized by a laid-back attitude towards service and an old-fashioned view of the retail pharmacy. After he had identified the need for quality pharmaceutical healthcare and customer service in the region, he also believed in its success. Using his savings, Amjad opened the first Pharmacy 1 in Amman in 2001. It has now the largest pharmacy chain with over 110 branches in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This has created over 800 jobs and the chain is the largest recruiter of pharmacists in the region.

What has Amjad done?  He had adapted an already successful business model, adopted some of its best practices and customized it based on the regional requirements.

One of the biggest challenges faced was acquiring talent in the region. In order to address this, he started a pharmacy university internship program with a three-month simulated pharmacy at colleges. He also hired people better skilled than him. All his seven VP’s were specialized in their fields. These executives focus on their work, while Amjad looks after the expansion projects.

All the Pahrmacy1 outlets have the same appearance and customer experience. In the first couple of years, Amjad standardized customer care, prevented prescription errors and speed up product replenishment, which brought consistency. Today, Pharmacy1 is known for convenience, professionalism, expertise staff (result of extensive employee training), and excellent customer service.

However, Amjad does not seek to build a successful company only; rather he seeks to build CVS of the MENA region. Amjad’s belief in the power of “I can” and in giving second chances; makes him give time back to society, make difference by empowering youth and change mindsets to promote the potential and ability of youth in Jordan.

Source: Arab Business Review Research

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review


How to fail like Steve Jobs

How to fail like Steve Jobs

  • Great companies have taken risks and failed. The greatest companies encourage creativity, reward innovation, and see failure as a part of the process.
  • Many people equate success not as a measure of doing great things, but by not making mistakes.  Do you work from a place of creativity or a place governed by fear of failure? 
  • Do you encourage your team to take creative risks in order to achieve greater results?  

Creativity – new competition collateral

When’s the last time you made a mistake at work?   I mean an actual mistake of commission and not omission.  A misstep because you tried something new, something innovative, and didn’t just follow the pack or old way of tackling new problems?  If fear of failure is part of your career DNA, perhaps taking a look at creativity as a method of competing to win and overcoming your fear of failure may just do the trick.

If you remember the story of the genesis of Apple computer, you may recall Apple’s flop the “Lisa”.  Now Lisa failed brilliantly for a host of reasons, but the key is what it was intended to be.  Jobs had a vision for a machine to change the world…..again.  After the many failures, the real win was the refocused efforts that followed and resulted in the first Macintosh.  The rest is history and the stuff of well-deserved legend (he says as he types on his MacBook Air).

The secret Jobs knew way back then is there’s a new competition collateral and its intelligence expressed through innovation and creativity.   This means addressing what you bring to the table; how you think outside the box to help your organization thrive and lead in the marketplace.  Even how your creative solutions may change the world.   It’s a new model in competition to achieve success—overcoming your fear of failure to contribute creatively to success.

It is no wonder why Jobs’ Apple or Google and others foster competition among employees and creativity as critical employee characteristics.  Not too long ago, Google even posted a billboard outside of its one-time rival Yahoo with an equation to solve by applicants interested in jumping ship.   While this tactic clearly tested intellect, it was a creative conversation it initiated as a way of engaging candidates in an interesting way.  And on their commute no less!

Do mega-corporations want smart people? Of course they do. But they and smaller organizations need creativity even more so, because they know thinkers and not robots make the biggest differences within their employee portfolio.  They understand problems are better solved, not when all in the room agree, but when there is heterogeneity within their ranks.  The data proves over and over those groups offering the best solutions are found to be those showing diversity in thinking. Creativity within a loose corporate framework may provide a logical direction when it comes to problem solving with the corporate milieu.

There is, in many organizations, a consensus driven non-creative bias.  These organizations are designed for efficiency and productivity, where process takes priority.  To resist the pull of this bias, I often share what has helped me, the advice I received earlier in my career, when I thought success depended on conformity and compliance.

Shortly after taking on a new role, where I was playing by the rules and felt I was meeting or exceeding expectations, I received one of the best pieces of advice ever.   “You really haven’t messed up yet!  If all you do is follow the rules and you don’t try anything new or out of the box, you will never do anything great.”

All the things I had learned had programmed me to think my success was tied not to doing something creative or great, it was linked most directly to following the rules and not messing up.   It was like playing football— keeping my defense back near the goal the whole game.  They could be helping score; helping to create plays, but I was leaving them back to be sure I didn’t fail.

And though taking creative risks, being innovative, and really trusting others to be on board with new ideas so the great things can be accomplished is scary and hasn’t always worked out, I know failing is a part of learning and I want to fail like Steve Jobs.

The article is written by Jonscott Turco for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review