How to deal with obstacles in entrepreneurship

2016_08_01_khalid_al_mutawa_niu

Khalid Al-Mutawa, Kuwaiti who started his own company right after the college, and built hundreds of projects for other companies, is the star of our newest blog post. Since he is very active in Kuwait’s startup community and also an entrepreneur for the last couple of years, recently we had a chat with him about obstacles in business and how to deal with them.

At this moment he is focusing on three main startups – StudentHub (recruitment platform for students and fresh graduates), Plugn (Instagram comment management for teams), and The White Book (event planning platform). On August 2nd he will be a speaker at Coded Talks, where he will share his previous experiences in startups with the audience.

Anyway, Khalid says the biggest obstacle for him was shifting from a developer/tech mindset to a business mindset.

His initial thought process was next:

  • I’ve heard its difficult creating a company license, so ill hire someone else to do that for me.
  • I like building things, so I’ll do it for free for whoever asks me to do so.
  • I can do this in 5 minutes, do I really charge for this?
  • Do we really need to talk about pricing?
  • Why do I need to do accounting? I can count what’s in my bank account.
  • What’s an investor? Do I need that?
  • I can just get more employees and it will increase the amount of money I make.

This is what he realized along the way:

  • People fear what they don’t know and make it sound difficult. Just because someone else couldn’t do something, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it yourself.
  • Creating a company is not difficult if you go through the process yourself and learn the process and requirements.
  • Everyone likes free stuff, you do something for free and people will take advantage. Be sure to always get something in return even if it’s of low value.
  • If it was something someone else can do as well within 5 minutes, they wouldn’t be approaching you in the first place. Your 5 minutes are probably worth 5 hours to someone else.
  • Pricing is always important to discuss, there’s no reason to avoid the topic.
  • I believe building a business requires basic knowledge of what investors are and why they invest, just to make sure nobody takes advantage of you.
  • Recruiting the right people is difficult, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

As an entrepreneur, Khalid advises you to do your best to stay motivated and keep working regardless of what obstacles you face. You should fail, learn from your mistakes, and start over keeping in mind what to do to avoid or bypass that same obstacle.

He believes there is no obstacle that an entrepreneur can’t pass with the correct mindset. The biggest obstacles are psychological ones: fear, greed, lack of patience, and emotions faced when things are not going the way you planned them to.

We would like to summarize this blog post in two funny images chosen by Khalid, which describe what he sees as being the biggest obstacle for entrepreneurs – emotions.

2016_08_01_entrepreneur_emotional_cycle

2016_08_01_day_life_entrepreneur

Main photo: niu

“How is business going?”

Almost every day I pump into someone (a friend, a fellow entrepreneur, someone I don’t even know) and they ask me “how is business going?”. It’s a very tricky question to ask for a startup founder. Things at a startup are 90% of the time going bad. I used to hide from my parents to avoid answering this question!

So how to answer this question?

99% of the answers I get if I personally asked this question to another founder “very well” or “Great!”, then after few months I hear that the startup is shutting down!!  I used to do the same, my answer was always “great” but now I changed. My answer depends on who is asking me the question.

If an entrepreneur is asking me then I tell the truth as it is, I usually answer “it sucks” at difficult times. You need to understand that a founder will actually not be happy to know that you are doing great while his startup is falling apart. Even if your startup is doing amazing and the founder of a startup that is doing bad asks you “how is business” tell him “is doing ok”.

Its a tough life and we as entrepreneurs only have each other to talk to because the rest of the world just don’t get how difficult our life is. If you said you are doing fantastic then the conversation is stopped here and the person will do the same and the conversion is done. But if you said “trying to stay alive” the conversation will be different and he will probably say “same here” and you will start talking about your struggles, at least you’ll not feel lonely.

As I said my reply depends on who I’m talking to, below some examples:
My parents: Very good
Non-entrepreneur friends: all good, we did this and we did that, things are very promising
Investors: amazing, soon will be millionaires
Startup founders: sucks, surviving, trying to stay alive, ok, not bad

Next time a fellow entrepreneur asks you how is things, its ok to tell him that things are pretty bad, you’ll both feel good about it.

Most events are a waste of time!

As you might know, I’m now living in Dubai and there are tons of events for startups every week and almost in a daily basis. To be honest most of the events are a waste of time. Focus in building your business better than you go to events. The worst events (aka conferences) are the ones that you need to travel to go to them. Such a big waste of time and money! Especially the ones that convince you that you’ll find investors, pitch your idea and give you a booth to meet media and PR. These events are now everywhere around the world and most of them are just waste of time and a big distraction.

It’s rare to find an event were I learn something useful that I can use in real life. Most of them have a fancy title and when you go you find the talk is pretty general and you end up learning nothing!

Of course not all events are a waste of time, especially if you know what you want to take out of them. For example Mix N Mentor from Wamda is pretty good, especially if you are a new startup. It’s a good opportunity to meet interesting people that might help you with your startup and great way to find mentors and advisors. If you are going to a talk about for example SEO, and the speaker is super amazing then yeah maybe you can learn something there. Or if the event is a great way to find customers, then hell yeah, you probably should attend. Heavy technical events are pretty good as well if you are looking for a technical co-founder or a potential hire.

One more example when events become useful is when you are in a new city or town and you need to build your network quickly, then yeah events are pretty useful. Go to as many as you can until the faces get repeated then you know that you have a good network and you can stop going to them.

I’m saying that and I’m the founder of StartupQ8 Event, so controversial right! Well, if you are a startup and between attending the event and working on your startup, then I’d recommend you check what is the subject of the event and who are the speakers. If it’s not interesting enough then don’t come, no issues, we understand that you should focus in your startup. It’s a challenge for us, we need to make the content of the event super useful so that it is worth your time. Moreover, we are very sensitive to time, if you are a regular StartupQ8 attendee you’ll realize we always start on time and finish on time even if Obama is going to speak at our event!

In short, events are over rated and sucks most of the time; don’t go to them unless you know exactly what you want to get out of them.

If you disagree please write in the comments, will love to hear your feedback 🙂

Failing is not cool (the Lean Startup hype)

Failing is becoming too cool these days. I agree that it’s ok to fail, but it shouldn’t be a reason to give up easily. Listen to Marc Andreessen talk about this (watch starting from minute 18 to 21):

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYYsXzt1VDc

He doesn’t want to invest in someone that gives up easily, someone that tried then tried then tried until things started to work. The journey will probably take longer than what you think. I know lean startup teach us to fail quickly and move on. I don’t agree on that, I think you should keep trying until the end. Some startups pivot, some need to Grind, read this post by Fred Wilson titled The Pivot vs The Grind:
http://avc.com/2014/12/the-grind-vs-the-pivot/

Entrepreneurs are inpatient, but you really need to wait sometimes, don’t give up easily, you’ll not see results as quickly as you thought. Waiting 2yrs till you see some good traction is normal. Waiting 3yrs to reach breakeven point is also normal. Sometimes you just need to wait!

The biggest reason for startups to fail it’s because the founders give up. There is a difference between failing and giving up. I see many founders give up in their startup quit easily, they couldn’t withstand the pressure from family, friends and life. I can totally understand how intense it could be, but unfortunately thats the game, it’s so f***** difficult to build a startup.

90% of us will fail, and it’s ok. I appreciate the courage to try something new and appreciate what you learned during this journey. Failing is OK, but not cool.

Am I going to smile again in my life? Founders and Depression

That’s the feeling I got the first time I felt depressed while building my startup. I remember this moment very well. It was two years ago and business was tough, no bookings coming and starting to get doubts about everything. I was driving my car in Kuwait, heading to Starbucks just to do something other than work. I was thinking, am I going to smile again in my life! I was so depressed. Then things flipped very quickly after reading something in Tech Crunch, a fishing startup called FishBrain won the best startup in Sweden. The news is not even about us, but I don’t know why, I started to feel much better. I got depressed so many times after that, but I started to get used to it. I know something good will happen later that will make me feel better. The longest depression I had lasted a couple of weeks, it was in summer 2013 after I moved to Dubai.

We always write how awesome it is to be an entrepreneur. Now being a tech entrepreneur is considered the coolest thing a person can do, even cooler than being a doctor in some countries. Well I have a news for you, being a startup founder sucks sometimes and in so many ways. It sucks during the time you are raising money, it sucks when you need to fire someone, it sucks when you need to go to work with a happy smiley face while in reality you were depressed and didn’t even wanted to leave your bed, it sucks when your family asks you “how is it going with business?” and you reply “great” and try to change the subject quickly so that they don’t dig deeper, it sucks when a customer give you a bad feedback about your product and it sucks when you start asking your parents for money to pay the salaries of your employees.
It sucks big time, you’ll feel depressed, lonely and desperate.

It is shocking how things can turn from bad to good in a moment. And this is the good news, as bad as things can go, things can get better, quickly. Whatever was the situation, things will happen and the bad feeling will disappear and in some situation you’ll even feel happier, it is really a roller coaster ride. Moreover, with time you’ll be more immune to bad situations, you’ll start recovering faster. If it used to take you a week to recover, it will take you days, then just hours to recover.

I do some things that makes me feel better when I feel down:
1- Talk to Jose my co-founder: this guy is always calm even in the worst situation, I don’t know how he do it, but talking to Jose always makes things much clearer to me, and together we find a new plan to solve the problem
2- Talking to one of our advisors: I usually talk to one of our advisors either Abrar, Omar Koudsi, mohammed Alzubi, sim whatley, Abdulaziz Alloughani. It will shock you how talking to an experienced entrepreneur will make you feel better, these guys have seen it all. No money in the bank, no growth in the company, the angry customer, the bad hire, you name it they’ve seen it. Just chatting with them about their stories and how they overcome them, makes you feel better and gives you ideas how to solve your own problems.

3- Talking to a friend entrepreneur. I have a friend doing food business, non-tech, talking to him just gives an inspiration on how he solved a similar problem in the offline world. We are always trying to do things online or in the cloud, when things can actually be solved in a good, but maybe old fashion way.

4- Talking to your team about: when things gets really bad and some changes need to be done, then you better communicate it to your team. You’ll be surprised how supportive they will be, and they will even start to work harder. They will appreciate your honesty and they will really feel part of the team.

Here you go, that’s the bad side of being an entrepreneur and how you can deal with some of the down times. I’ll end with this hybrid quote (part I read in twitter and other part from Mandala (or Gandhi not sure) and the other I came up with):

Being an entrepreneur is like being punched in the face 10 times every day, and the punches will get harder with time. The more you resist these punches the stronger you get. You will be punched to the floor, the ones who stand up every time are the ones that win at the end.”

%d bloggers like this: