A successful business often begins with a good idea. But as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson wrote in a recent blog, many people have good ideas – but not everyone becomes an entrepreneur.
To succeed, he advises a combination of critical thinking, business plans and risk assessment – and then backing your idea with time, effort and an unwavering commitment to success.
Deena Bibi-Lee, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of the Dubai-based post-production boutique NestedVFX, uses a common analogy to illustrate the difference between an idea and enterprise. “The ‘big idea’ is a seed. A seed alone doesn’t produce a tree, or a fruit. It needs the right soil, the right conditions, the right weather, and steady access to water and nutrition,” she says.
“A business requires the same. It needs the right market, a steady demand, an opportunistic time, and reliable access to resources – be it financial, technical or a competent team of people – to make sure it grows. And those are the exact stars that lined up for me in 2020 when I decided to start Nested VFX. It was important at that stage to stay grounded and be pragmatic, despite the excitement of the idea.”
Entrepreneurship is more popular than ever across the UAE, according to a recent Bayt.com survey of 2,727 respondents across the MENA region. Just under two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents in the UAE said they wanted to be self-employed or have their own business if given the choice.
Planning for success
The first step to making that big idea a reality is to interrogate it thoroughly, says Ashish Punjabi, Chief Operating Officer at Jacky’s Retail and Jacky’s Business Solutions. He is also President of the Dubai chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE Dubai), a Silicon Valley-founded network that aims to foster entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, education, incubating, and funding.
“You need to be clear when starting a business at understanding what are you making better or what problem are you solving,” he says. “If you’re solving a problem or making something better, how are you doing that? What is your vision and what do you want to achieve? The answer gives you clarity both in terms of what sort of markets you can address, now and in the future.”
One way to evaluate your idea’s potential is with a business plan. As a vital step on the path to profit, this written roadmap can help achieve your goals from financial, operational and business development (or marketing) perspectives. More important, it helps start-up teams formalise and demonstrate their intentions to investors and potential collaborators alike.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki talks about four ways to make your business plan stand out in his book The Art Of The Start. He suggests: a credible referral source to attract the reader’s attention, a list of customers ready to provide a reference, real-world market knowledge, and graphics and data to illustrate complex points.
At the same time, it’s important not to let the plan define the business, Kawasaki says. Rather, he advises considering it as the basis of an ‘emergent’ strategy, as a sort of starting point for opportunistic action as and when required.
That’s something Rupal Panjani and Sai Talwalker encountered with The Marigold Story, the home and apparel e-commerce marketplace they founded in 2019.
Like other businesses, they were hit hard by the pandemic and it took a while before the highs of their early start-up days returned, says Talwalkar, an educator-turned-mumpreneur.
What helped, she explains, was staying focused on what they wanted to achieve and on how far they had come. “We realised that success, for both of us, meant creating something good together. That has kept us committed to the business, to the idea and to our purpose,” she says, explaining how they used the downtime to onboard new brand partners, improve their e-commerce channels, introduce new products and phase out what didn’t work for us.
Financial and human resources
Perhaps the next thing that keeps aspiring founders up at night is finance. “The easy way to get cash initially is from the three Fs – friends, family and fools,” Punjabi says. Here, it’s important to understand your needs: not just how much money you need but how long a runway you have, and whether your seed funding can last that long.
Once you’ve raised enough cash – or have the requisite commitments in place – it’s a question of understanding your business needs.
“A lot of entrepreneurs underestimate the finances required and can get over-optimistic in their projections. I think it’s always better to be a little more conservative instead. Revenue projections are great, but make sure you have another set of projections for the worst-case scenario,” he says.
Finding the right people goes hand in hand with chasing down funding. Each recruit can significantly impact the company’s future, so entrepreneurs should look to interested and motivated people who are experts at what they do.
Here, consider taking a leaf out of the good manager’s handbook. “Entrepreneurs need to find a balance and ask for help. Seeking support from talented specialists and investing in them is definitely a lesson in prioritisation that most entrepreneurs struggle to learn,” Panjani says.
Think of it as being the conductor of an orchestra, adds Bibi-Lee. Despite not playing a single instrument during the show, you’re the one responsible for the music, she says.
She and her co-founders were hands-on when they founded Nested VFX, editing and colouring films themselves alongside business development and client servicing roles.
“This was detrimental to the client experience. So we hired a senior editor whose work stood by itself, enabling us to focus on building the vision we had in mind, without worrying whether the clients we bring in are being provided with a premium service,” she says.
“You are building something bigger than yourself. The brand is where the big idea has evolved into an entity of its own. If that idea is truly ground-breaking, you must allow it to live in its own space,” she says. ●