British expat Adam Bradford, 29, occasionally describes himself as an 'accidental entrepreneur'. However, his life's journey makes him rethink it, as venturing into the business world has not been a random incident in his case.
When at the age of 13 in secondary school in England, he was given Dh125 (GBP25) as part of a competition that encouraged start-ups. He said, "From an early age, I had taught myself how to use computers, program them, and build them from scratch.
"Our school had just been installing a new batch of equipment, and I set about creating programs such as quizzes, educational software and games to help teachers make their lessons more interactive. The micro-business won numerous awards in the business competition, and this experience sparked a thirst for entrepreneurship inside me."
Growing years ‘challenging’
Bradford found school challenging, mainly because he has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. He added: "I often found that I was lonely and did not fit in with my peer group, and unless I was surrounded by things that gave me comfort, I felt very pressured. Business seemed to provide me with an outlet, a way to exercise my passion and work at my speed. In a way, it was therapeutic."
Later in his teens, he was headhunted to study at British television show Dragons’ Den investor Peter Jones' Enterprise Academy. He learned a specialist course in entrepreneurship rather than going to university.
After his education, he began to work in the charity sector, designing projects and programmes that fund young people's business ideas and working on international programmes that encourage social enterprise start-ups."
"For many years now, I have owned my consultancy, Adam Bradford Agency, which implements CSR (corporate social responsibility) and sustainability projects for companies and assists with educational and entrepreneurship programmes that focus mainly on social impact ventures."
What was your experience in starting a business in the UAE?
Bradford stated that starting a business in the UAE was a different experience than in the UK. "In my home country - England, you pay one fee to the company regulator to incorporate and open your business.
"However, in the UAE, you need to be aware that you will need to use the specialist services of an agent to help you choose the correct company type and license type. Before writing your business plan, you will have to consider the differences between each when considering moving to the region. These compliance expenses are, of course, separate from your usual start-up costs such as website, office space, business cards and marketing."
How did you fund your business?
Bradford had used his savings to invest in his business's initial setup costs, such as visas, trade licences, and setup fees, to start the UAE branch operation.
"The main expenses were the trade licence and visas, appropriate insurance and professional advisory services to help with starting.
“Our licence cost us approximately Dh36,731 ($10,000), including all visas, agent fees and other setup costs. I also moved over here and rented short term as we set things up. This was funded out of our previous trading profits."
3 lessons Bradford learnt from his entrepreneurial journey:
Bradford said setting up any business is like venturing into the unknown. Even with the most thorough business plan in the world, you cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, he added.
Lesson #1: Know your strengths and be open to seeking help when needed
Bradford's learning curves have been in his resilience in building up strength and confidence. He said, "As an entrepreneur, I know my strength lies in bringing others together, connecting the dots and having a vision for something new that others haven't seen yet. I also know that I cannot do this alone. Therefore, when I hit a challenge, I ask for help or go to my network to seek strength.
"I respect and appreciate the diversity of the business world and know that we can always all learn from each other. Mentors have been essential in my journey, particularly other entrepreneurs who have been there and done it."
He considered collaboration better than the competition, stating that there is no need to reinvent the wheel as everyone has something unique to offer in the economy.
"We love to partner with others to make a more significant impact. Moreover, supportive networks such as the British Business Group, a representative body of UK companies and individuals, have also helped me launch my vision and get connected with the right stakeholders, enabling the business to thrive.
"Our work involves consulting with clients, attending events, and hosting training sessions. The pandemic helped us see new ways of working, such as webinars, digital mentorship and training for our clients, and this has also saved us thousands in costs."
Lesson #2: Triple check the affordability of projects and purchases.
Bradford witnessed times when money was a struggle, and those moments taught him to value what he had. Never chase money because then your relationship with it could become toxic, he added.
"Some entrepreneurs become very money-focused, and for us, considering the social impact is vital, and we prioritise making the most significant impact with our work."
He further said being careful with money and prudent around expenses is also critical in business. "We are careful with our spending. We have seen instances where entrepreneurs take on big contracts or raise investments and burn through the money quickly, leading their business to become unsustainable and sometimes lead to bankruptcy.
"I always apply the principle of being able to afford things three times over to keep our financial planning realistic and safe. I have always learned to have enough space in our cash flow to spend on what we need to with enough backup reserves. If we want to spend Dh500, we should have at least Dh1,500 budget available.
"We haggle and negotiate when necessary, especially in new ventures where we want to protect our investment. Often, especially post-COVID, we opt to use digital tools as much as possible to cut down costs and increase efficiencies, such as digital project management, virtual instruments, and team working facilities.
"There have been times I have gone without salary for the company, but when you have built up savings to help with costs, the position is much better and less stressful."
Lesson #3: Start to love your work and embrace teamwork.
Before starting the business, Bradford was a youth consultant at his local council, advising organisations and public sector bodies on how to engage with young people.
"We did a lot of work like market research surveys, marketing campaigns and events to bring young people closer to their city. I learned a lot about interacting with diverse groups of people and the importance of having fun in whatever you do.
"We were a diverse and extensive team of over ten youth consultants with distinct personalities. Our experiences included dealing with challenging issues and crime, education, health, politics, etc., had helped me embrace teamwork.
"If you can go through every day without feeling like working, I believe you have the best job. I strive to make every day at our company like that," he stated.
What money values did you learn and acquire from your parents?
Bradford’s parents have had a massive influence on his focus and career. He said his mother is a keen shopper who has an eye for finding a bargain, and her negotiating is second to none.
"Even today, I use that skill to help manage expenses. My mother constantly encourages us to save, be diligent and reminds me always about the value of respecting other peoples' views and being inclusive."
His father had a corporate career and has been his sounding board for new ideas. He is an honorary member of the board at Bradford's company.
"Being an accountant, my father did an excellent job of giving us tools for budgeting from a young age, such as listing expenses, planning for investment and savings."