“Not every day is a sunny day. Sometimes you're the pigeon, and sometimes you're the statue,” Abhay Pandey, 36, recollected this advice his parents gave him as he grew up, which is an age-old adage that simply means that while certain days go well, other days won’t be as rewarding.
“I followed my parents' values throughout my career, which became a strong foundation for becoming an entrepreneur,” said Pandey, when recalling how his parents often advocated always working with good intentions and striving for excellence, and that money will naturally follow such a pursuit.
He was born and brought up in India in a small town of Gorakhpur, in Uttar Pradesh, where there was no electricity until he completed his higher education. He moved to Delhi in 2007, during his post-college years, and started working in multi-national firms (MNCs).
Pandey’s arrival to Dubai eight years ago was not a planned trip, but he came here to work, out of obligation to a friend. But he regretted his decision within a year, forcing him to quit and look for a new job and make a fresh start in the UAE.
I followed my parents' values throughout my career, which became a strong foundation for becoming an entrepreneur
His first job experience taught him to turn knowledge into money.
"As an associate consultant in program management in Delhi, my job gave me access to experts when it came to learning about managing money and controlling costs. This gave me an all-round learning about the corporate world, leading me in a direction to grow."
The growth-oriented culture and learning opportunities it provided changed his thought process, taking a small-town boy to India-based MNCs such as IT service provider HCL and global auditor KPMG.
"My lifelong interest in learning the conceptual side of various business functions further helped me make the best use of my time and money before fueling my entrepreneurial spirit."
When did you decide to start a business?
Pandey did not have a business pedigree like many other consultants in the industry. But he had an affinity for businesses of all sorts.
“It didn't take me long to understand that simply taking a plunge into business can cost you dearly,” Pandey explained.
“So, for around 10 years, I worked for reputable companies, enhancing my understanding of IT, management consulting, project management, business units (BU), profit and loss (P&L), etc.”
He did not limit himself to the working hours and the usual targets; his curiosity led him to push the boundaries and gain experience in finance, cash flow management, and administration. His inquisitive nature helped him conceptually understand the workings of a business.
“I have been in various profiles during my job, which helped me to learn about business support and the workings of associated departments. I also learnt to centralise the business support function to minimise overheads and decentralise sales and delivery to maximise revenue,” explained Pandey.
“I always aspired for a business that was not just about being a boss but about helping clients. It's a great feeling. That's how the concept of starting a tech consultancy firm ‘MAST’ – which advises on IT and cybersecurity, among others – came to be in 2016. Knowing how to handle a business unit helped me in the early days. Establishing this business was the tipping point of this steep learning curve.”
It didn't take me long to understand that simply taking a plunge into business can cost you dearly
What were your different expenses when starting the business in Dubai? How was it funded?
Pandey's business is entirely self-funded. "Our initial costs included Dh38,000 on licenses (DMCC), Dh6,000 on PRO (Public Relations Officer) services and an office lease for 900 square feet was for Dh52,500 plus a security deposit of Dh3,500 and an agent brokerage fee of Dh3,500.
“The other charges were office utilities – Dewa and chiller connection cost of Dh7,000, office furnishing expense of Dh 10,000, IT assets worth Dh10,000, software tools to help manage customer relationship (CRM), accounts and emails for Dh2,500 and a Dh10,000 website."
When he left a high-paying job and started this venture, he expected the journey to be packed with challenges. "It began with the time-consuming process of getting eligibility for the first purchase order.
"My business is a service portfolio with a 2- to 3-month sales cycle, so I started working parallel for approaching customers, exploring opportunities while company setup was in progress."
"While getting the licence was the first step, there were more; a business bank account took three to four weeks; tax (VAT) registration that depended on the bank account took an additional month after that. We could mitigate the time taken by simultaneously conducting business development activities."
Pandey shares four vital business lessons he learnt from his entrepreneurship journey
Lesson #1: Be prepared to not get all information from start-up consultants, so always do your research and ready yourself for it in advance.
Pandey explained that there is a step-by-step process for everything that starts with licence, then office lease, then bank, then VAT etc. But gathering this process information is not always readily available. He had experienced that even consultants do not provide the proper guidance. "They may promise to help you in bank account opening, VAT, etc., but they don't."
He suggested doing your extensive research, understanding the process, and readying yourself for it in advance. "Be prepared with all the required documents, business plan, documents proving compliance, and shortlist at least two to three banks to approach for bank account opening etc."
Hiring people as a start-up company has been another challenge for Pandey's firm. "Many professionals, even known ones within the network, get cold feet to join a start-up. Despite facing a few roadblocks, after learning some much-needed lessons, I persevered and got my consulting firm running, never to look back again."
Lesson #2: Understand all trade processes when you are thinking of getting into the business world as an entrepreneur.
Pandey had always vouched for the notion that there is no shortcut to success. He stated that money and time are equally important, while also adding that you must do justice with your hard-earned money at every stage and take time to focus on sales and business development.
"Outsource activities that can save your time which is costlier than money spent. Moreover, get acquainted with everything, from setting up a company to business development, sales, delivery, etc. It is not about being a jack of all trades but understanding the processes, knowing how it works, etc. Otherwise, it will turn into a very costly affair," he explained.
Lesson #3: Be patient, trust the process and learn to stay motivated despite facing rejections as a newcomer in the market.
Pandey experienced adaptability in the ecosystem as the biggest challenge. "I remember in the beginning, few times, we faced rejection because we were a new entity in the market, which was demotivating your own and team's credentials, which you earned over the years working in the industry.
"Initially, we did some free work to build references on a new entity. We earned respect and reputation through our work and started getting more engagements with the same clients. I always saw the brighter side and found ways to keep myself motivated. Despite facing a lot of rejections due to being new in the market, I was patient and trusted the process. I followed two rules then and even now: ethics and integrity, which helped me scale remarkable heights in business quickly."
Despite facing a lot of rejections due to being new in the market, I was patient and trusted the entrepreneurial process.
Lesson #4: Minimise overheads in a balanced and strategised way, as it helps maintain good cash flows.
Pandey knew that if he worked the traditional way, having people for sales, marketing, business development, delivery, etc., the core business function would quickly burn his entire share capital. He considered it could also cause inter-profile conflicts, unaffordable at any stage.
"I took on a business strategy of minimum headcount with maximum output. I facilitated a management consultant with domain and subdomain expertise and linked incentives on revenue generation and delivery for all employed consultants. They had to sell and deliver both,” he added.
This is how Pandey was able to cut down his core business support overhead spending by approximately 25 per cent to 30 per cent, which helped him to also maintain good cash flows for the business.
"I also do monthly spending analysis. I have structured and streamlined every finance-facing function from day one. Every consultant is linked with minimum utilisation on customer engagement apart from their contribution to sales and business development. We have structured measures and analyse them every month. Any under-utilisation directly hits finance. We started this on day one and continued."