"It may not be a perfect story, but it's your story and is perfect enough." These are the thoughts of Tanzanian national Javed Akberali, 38, who was born and raised in Dubai. He adopts progressive thinking challenges the status quo and believes in unlearning and learning to make it happen.
His parents, who were born and raised in Tanzania, migrated to the UAE to seek better opportunities and worked hard to make a better life for the kids.
Akberali did not get pocket money, a concept that never existed in his family. His parents ensured to meet all the family needs well. He acknowledged that this had created a sense of discipline in him to only ask for money when needed and keeps the ‘asks’ in check while maintaining the ability to live well.
I started at a very junior position and paved my way through the years into senior roles, which gave me confidence
No pocket money meant no burden of budgeting
He added that no pocket money meant no burden of budgeting, but it motivated him to dream big and believe that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. Now, Akberali wants to build a legacy for future generations.
He became a father at 23 when his first daughter was born and now has three girls. Driven by his early realisation of creating a future for his family, he took a leap from corporate to the world of entrepreneurship.
His career started with the traditional way of getting a job out of college and landed him in a role at a financial services start-up that helped him develop a full range of entrepreneurial wisdom and let his corporate financial potential emerge.
"I learned some of the biggest lessons of life here. I started at a very junior position and paved my way through the years into senior roles, which gave me confidence that I was doing something right. I was the youngest vice president in my company."
“Entrepreneurship is a massive mental undertaking”
“Entrepreneurship is a massive mental undertaking,” Akberali said as he explained why he took time to start his venture. It only happened after 17 years of working for someone else, building businesses for the owners, getting enough exposure and understanding the business skills.
Lesson #1: Some entrepreneurial expenses are inevitable and worth the risk
From his work experiences, he had learned that some expenses are inevitable and worth the risk, while some, no matter how tempting, must be avoided.
He began his entrepreneurship journey in 2020 and co-founded an InsurTech platform Wellx, which motivates users by offering cashback in exchange for taking care of their health. So customers set their goals and earn two months’ of their insurance premium as cash vouchers when they achieve targets.
The start-up, which was started during the pandemic, partnered with technology companies to track and monitor people’s physical activities and uses data analytics tools to incentivise fulfilment of certain lifestyle and health goals. He launched the start-up with his business partner Vaibhav Kashyap.
What has been your experience in setting up a business in the UAE?
Being raised in Dubai, Akberali has seen the city transform into a global destination. "Living in this country gave me a privilege that most of our family who remained back home would be in awe of. But with privilege comes a sense of responsibility and purpose of giving back."
He added that there are many options and perks of doing business in the UAE. These include varying and scalable cost structures, depending on the type and jurisdictions built to support entrepreneurs.
"For our business, initially, the funding came from friends, family and savings. The money comes when you set out trying to build something that hasn't been done before in the region. The challenge is to keep that supply of cash running," Akberali added.
"Different expenses for us included company setup, technology build, marketing to build up our brand and identity, and a host of general costs that come with setting up a business. As a technology company, our most considerable cost (50 per cent) has been building the integrated wellness ecosystem. The other expenses were 10 per cent spent on legal, 30 per cent marketing and 10 per cent was for miscellaneous costs.
"The DIFC Innovation Hub [which provides accelerator programmes to tech firms] has been an incredible blessing from an access and office space perspective. Apart from initial licensing expenses (including the virtual desk or lease), there were no other 'setup' expenses."
Lesson #2: Deal with the unknown with an entrepreneurial approach of trial and error
When starting a new venture with a new concept, Akberali opined that one needs to be prepared to deal with the unknown with the approach of trial and error, failure, pivot, and reset and reboot.
He said, "The business of experience has always been close to heart; to create meaningful experiences that change the way people live their day-to-day lives has always been at the core of everything."
In spite of having spent years in the finance world, as an outsider looking in, he was incredibly perplexed by the number of hurdles to overcome. "The biggest challenge has been the fear of the unknown, from signing up with vendors to building a website and contracting a lawyer for legal services."
Different expenses for us included company setup, technology build, marketing to build up our brand and identity, and a host of general costs that come with setting up a business
Even after getting recommendations, referrals, and a track record – what he quickly realised is what works for some may not work for others.
"Trying to bring something to market for the first time without the power of deep corporate pockets has been incredibly difficult. Because they don't know what we need and neither do we. The only ones that know this is the ultimate customer. So trial and error, failure, pivot, reset, and reboot is the way to navigate this world of the unknown," added Akberali.
“The unknown might be exciting, and that's where success lies but only when you believe in what you want to get is bringing a life solution for the people of today.”
Lesson #3: Seek business opportunities when navigating through times of economic difficulties
From a very young age, navigating through multiple economic cycles the highs (or lows) of the recession of 2008 and the pandemic of 2020 – was an incredible motivation for Akberali to find opportunities to thrive.
"I stand by these wisdom statements to never shy away from learning, follow and get inspired by successful people. Focus on the big picture whilst making each day count.
"Coming to terms with the unknown. Accepting it. Taking it in our stride. Not being bogged down by what was but looking forward to what will be, all of this is essential. Keep your eye on the prize, remain committed to the cause, persistent, resilient – stubborn on the ultimate goal and being flexible on the journey has been our recipe for success and continues to drive us every day."
He summed up his experience in a single word - Resilience. "No matter the challenge, there is always a solution – if you're crazy enough, you will find an opportunity spring up from nowhere. That has been my biggest learning."