Tips & Learnings from Successful MENA Entrepreneurs


By: 
Arab Business Review
Reading Time: 
5 minutes
Brief: 
  • 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

 

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