"If a dirham knocks at your door and doesn't find another dirham to greet him, he will leave and move on to the next house," UAE national Saleh Hamed recalled his grandfather words, who told him that it's not hard to raise funds, but you need to have to make sure what you offer is of greater value than what you are asking for.
Hamed is an Emirati entrepreneur who started his business at age 40. Before starting his entrepreneurial journey, he spent a decade working in IT and ended up in executive management, transforming digital products. His experience taught him that success lies in service, helping others, and teams can do magic.
Starting a business is beyond mere concept, money
Hamed learnt a valuable lesson about business at a young age: an effective business requires a good team, not just an idea or finances. He used to buy and sell video games at garage sales, set up newspapers and radio stations at school and university, and was also a part of a rock band. "These activities taught me that great ideas couldn't beat a fine team and good relationships."
Hamed's father, a successful entrepreneur, had guided him to choose the right customers and ensure good cash management to run a business effectively. "Businesses, especially startups, live and die by their cash flow and having the right customers ensures you get paid on time. But this doesn't start after the business begins operations; it begins at the first idea of starting a business," he talked about his father's advice.
"Sometimes, we have great ideas, but the concept seems less attractive when you think about your customers' behaviour. Therefore, designing and building a business around your ideal customer becomes a vital step for every startup."
How did you think of custom-making and selling kandoras online?
Hamed observed that Instashop, Uber, Careem, and Talabat were all virtualising - different segments, but the kandora experience was left behind. He had felt like his identity and culture were being left behind. "I didn't see why this should be the case and thought - well, someone has to do this, so why not me?"
Being a computer science graduate with an EMBA focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, Hamed set up ‘CanCan’ to solve a challenge he and his friends faced by conveniently getting kandoras custom-made. The online platform uses AI body-scanning technology and modernises how the kandoora, a traditional dress worn by Arab men is tailor-made and sold.
What are the different expenses you had in launching your business?
When starting his digital business, Hamed said the first significant expenses were developing the proof of concept and the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), which all come under software development.
"We worked to convince others of our vision, demonstrating that we are creating value, something that is working, functional and appreciated by customers. This first step was crucial, and without it, you cannot confirm that the business has merit.
"Once that's completed, the costs scale up, taking a simple application and building an entire business around it. As we set a digital business, expenses were evenly split between software development and digital marketing."
Hamed and his three friends initially funded the business. "We bootstrapped our way until we had created a working MVP and then sought further investment to grow the business through private equity and bring in long term strategic investors. The initial prototype cost us about Dh293,848 ($80,000), but we spent approximately Dh1.3 million over the following two years to build it up to a functioning business."
Two essential entrepreneurial lessons Hamed learnt
Lesson #1: Be focused on your idea and not deviate from the goal (but don't be afraid to experiment)
Hamed said they reached a fork in the road early in their business journey and decided to spread the bets and cover an extensive range of scenarios. He stated that staying focused and not getting distracted by all the 'nice to haves' could be challenging.
"Luckily, one of our partner supplier's CEO had a chat with me and advised against taking this route, explaining how the risks would outweigh the rewards.
"Thanks to that conversation, we changed track and focused on our core value proposition – which has been a great success. And it wasn't a waste; with the slight deviation - we invested time and effort in covering several different scenarios, resulting in creating some functionality we hadn't thought of that proved helpful later on."
Lesson #2: Gauging how time affects the value of money
Hamed said it is vital to know how a dollar (or dirham) today is worth more than the currency tomorrow. "If you have a dollar in your hand today, you can put it to work and start gaining a return on it.
"For example, with considerations for inflation, let's imagine that a dollar today will be worth 3 per cent less in a year, which means that Dh3.67 ($1) today is equal to Dh3.56 ($0.97) a year from.
"And it's not just the inflationary element; if you took that dollar today and just put it in a savings account at, let's say, 6 per cent, then in one year, the $1 would be worth Dh3.89 ($1.06) and adjusted for inflation would be worth approximate Dh3.78 ($1.03). So having cash in your hand today is worth more than the same amount in the future."
Hence, he doesn't have any savings plans other than a pension scheme, which UAE provides to its citizens. "We can retire after 25 years of service with 80 per cent of our basic salary plus accommodation allowance."
"I believe in using my resources to pursue more knowledge and understanding to experiment and grow. I've continuously invested my money in new projects and learning opportunities. My strategy is to continue contributing to the development of Abu Dhabi and the UAE throughout my professional life and ensure my government provided pension is secured, ensuring security for my family.
"I also want to get on to the property ladder, develop some passive revenue streams, and pursue starting more entrepreneurial businesses that further diversify the UAE economy and create impactful change."