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.

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2016_08_01_day_life_entrepreneur

Main photo: niu

Three lessons I learned from Startup Weekend (Kuwait)

Last week, the third version of Startup Weekend Kuwait took place at The VIVA Coded Academy. The whole weekend was exhilarating and intense! Over 120 people participated, forming 21 full teams that built MVP’s, put together business cases, and presented in front of the judges and audience after 54 hours of non-stop work. The turnout, energy, and resounding success of the event showed how far the startup scene had come in Kuwait over the past 18 months!

It’s always amazing to see how real life situations and decision making play out in teams over the course of the Weekend. Mobile or Web? Focus on marketing or building the product? Subscription Vs Freemium? Designs Vs Functionality? I saw every team dealing and struggling with these decisions, as would a real startup in “the real world”.

Along the same lines, as an organizer and observer during Startup Weekend, I learned a thing or two (or three) about what it ultimately takes to be build a successful startup:

Lesson one: It’s (mostly) about the team, not the idea

One of the participants, called Mohammad, was looking for a team to join late in the first day. Most teams had already formed, but I knew Mohammad personally, and knew that his marketing and event management background made him him a valuable member to any team. As I was walking around with him trying to find a team, I was surprised that several teams declined his offer to join them. Eventually, we found a team that had only two members who I knew to be talented and driven, just like Mohammad. He like their idea and they recognized the value they brought to them (both of them were coders/ designers). They formed a small but strong and balanced team of three.

Their initial idea was ambitious, but they pivoted to something entirely and extremely different. It wasn’t as ambitious, and I personally thought there were at least 4 or 5 more exciting ideas in the competition. I didn’t like their chances. But, lo and behold, Mohammad’s team won first place. Their idea, Mukancom, is a platform to find co-working space in Kuwait. Arwa and Shahd, Mohammad’s team mates, did a stellar job building an MVP. But, going by the judges score cards, what really set them apart was Mohammad’s final presentation. There might have been better ideas out there, but Mukancom’s overall execution and presentation was superb, and their team was strong on all fronts, and that made all the difference. (There’s another lesson here about pivoting too).

 

Lesson two: It’s not about the money, money, money

One of the things that caught my attention was the participant’s seemingly lack of interest in the cash prize. Over 210 people had signed up as participants before we had event announced the money reward. I made the announcement on stage during the event, and I distinctly remember listing the non-cash prizes first (free co-working space at Sirdab Lab, free UX consultation from Catalyst) and leaving the cash prize at the end, anticipating it would get the biggest cheer. That wasn’t the case. The non-cash prizes got a lot more noise and excitement than the cash prize announcement.

In fact, not once during the Weekend did I hear people talking about the cash prize. I got asked a few times about the non-cash prizes. It seemed that no one really cared about the money at the end of it all. And yet here there were, 21 teams working 54 hours straight without much regard for the possibility of monetary reward.

You often hear successful people say something like “Don’t start a business for the money” or “At the end of the day, it’s not about the money” but those sayings often get dismissed as idealistic mantras reserved for the already rich and successful. But the lesson I learned here is that passion, competition, and the desire to build something worthwhile are far bigger motivators than money. (I’m happy to report that the top 5 teams have all continued working on their startups after the event!)

 

Lesson three: The true value of having a co-founder

In Startup Weekend, most dropouts occur late in the second day. It’s around that time when participants start feeling exhausted, and the finish line is oh-so-far without any guarantee of success. Our lead organizer tells me the following story: two participants from the same approached him around midnight on the second day. One of them, the “CEO” of the team (she came up with the startup idea), told him she wanted to quit. She was mentally drained and didn’t think her team had a chance of winning, so she wanted to pack up and go home.  But her teammate (the co-founder) insisted she stays. She was asking the organizer to convince the CEO not to give up. She was begging her friend to see it through until the final presentations, for the sake of the team, because she knew that if the CEO quit, the rest of the team would too. The CEO, quite literally with tears in her eyes, decided to soldier on.

That team ended up winning second place, and were in close contention for first place.

It goes to show that, above all else, the greatest benefit of having a co-founder is having someone to lean on when you’re ready to give up. In the emotional roller coaster that is a startup, co-founders must take it in turns to support each other through the tough times.

 

I can’t wait for next year’s Startup Weekend, where I’m sure the ideas will be even bigger and better!

 

 

 

 

 

RECAP: StartupQ8 Monthly Event (August ’15)

Every month, StartupQ8 hosts two speakers from the startup world to talk to the Kuwaiti startup community about some of the lessons and experiences they’ve went through, and talk about the startup they’re currently working on. Last night, the event took place at The VIVA Coded Academy. The two speakers were Ali Abulhasan, co-founder of goTap, a new payment ecosystem for Kuwait, and Saleh Almusallam, co-founder of Prodesign IT, the makers of FanScan (Instagram based app that has over 3 million downloads).

The two topics of discussion were mirrored around how a technical founder deals with the business side of a startup (Saleh’s part), and how a business founder manages a technical project and a development team (Ali’s part).

Both speakers offered valuable insights on their respective approach. For Ali, he admitted having initial trouble bridging the gap between himself and his technical team. One of the ways he mitigated that was by educating himself on some of the fundamentals of software as related to his field (payments) in which he already had previous experience. The other way was for him to board on developers who had the right mindset for a Tap’s philosophy of focusing on user experience. Ali admits that he would love to have more developers on his team, but that a lack of coding talent has restricted him greatly in that sense (we hope our Coded students can solve that problem!). To combat that issue, he tries to work with freelancers who might have the potential and intention to become full-timers at Tap.

As for Saleh, he faced a different dilemma. Saleh is a technical founder, and has had experience launching a few applications and websites. In his talk, he discussed the importance of learning on how to stay “lean”. He warned that the biggest pitfall for a technical founder was not in disregarding the business side, but rather the need to perfect a product before launching. Saleh advised the audience that “done is better than perfect”, alluding to the importance of launching a product early to gain feedback and data on usability. As for dealing with the business side, Saleh is a believer in first making something people love, than backing that up with venture financing and a strong business model that comes naturally with the product. He did, however, warn against sticking to a single revenue stream or remaining inflexible when it comes to changing the business model.

 

Stay tuned for more of our monthly events to hear more from startup founders and entrepreneurs! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram @startupq8

Is your company a Scalable Startup or a Small Business??

Is your company a small business or a scalable startup??
Scalable Startups: are companies with founders that have a vision to become big and world class company. Their goal is not just to make enough money to feed their family, no, they want to make something worth a lot of money or NOTHING at all.

They believe their company will make more than US$10M/year. They only employ the best because they want to be the best in their market. Moreover, they believe they are the only team that can make this vision happens.

In the other hand, small businesses are just the opposite. The founders just want to create a company to have a source of revenue to feed their family. They are small and they resist to become big.

To see the slide in bigger version here.

I’m so happy to see companies in Kuwait such as 6alabat.com, Maachla.com, dishdasha express (dish-a.com), Kuwait Food concepts (Open Flame restaurant) and Yabila.com. These companies have a founder teams with big dreams and huge passion of what they are doing. These companies can and will grow so big that they will start recruiting a lot of people. They will put Kuwait in the map, they will attract global talents and they will help in increasing our skills and competitiveness regionally and globally.

These type of companies will be the pillar of Kuwait economy when oil goes cheap (believe me this will happen in less than 20yrs). They will create jobs, pay salaries and will be happy to pay their taxes if they know it will be reinvested wisely. We need more of these types of companies, we need to encourage them, make things easier for them and treat them like hero’s. These startups need funding, they need mentors and advisors, they need legislations to change, they need a working place, they need talented labor and they need the government to do their  job.

I’m not saying we should stop supporting small businesses (such as franchise businesses, fashion stores and small food businesses), but we should realize the differences between them. While Scalable Startups disrupt their markets, create lots of jobs, attract talented skills and creates tons of value and money, small businesses just try to full-fill an increased demand in an established market and make enough money to feed their families. As a Kuwaiti I wish to see more of Scalable Startups and hear less buzz about Small Businesses.

You can read more about this topic in Steve Blank blog.

A startup is not a smaller version of large companies

People treat Startups like a large company. They use the techniques and strategies that they learned in big companies and apply them for startups. It doesn’t work that way. Even the things that I learned in the MBA don’t apply to what I’m doing right now!!

The major difference between large companies and startups is that startups are based on assumptions, nothing is proven yet. You think you know your market, your customer and your revenue model…etc. However, the truth is that all of these are just assumptions that need to be proven. In contrast, in a large company you know your market, customer and how to make money and you are ready to execute on them.

Business Plans are execution plans they work great for large companies, but they will destroy your startup. Startups should use Business Model Canvas instead. They should understand their assumptions and move towards validating them. Once they are 100% validated, the startup is ready to execute.

I made this slide to illustrate the differences between a startup and large company. You can also find it here

Most of the content above is based on the thoughts of the guru of Startups Steve Blank. You can also find more about this subject in Steve Blank blog

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