Rabih Bou Rached, a UAE-based Lebanese expat in his 40s, saw himself as an entrepreneur for as long as he can remember. But before setting off on a decades-long entrepreneurial journey, he recalls waiting on tables in his teenage years.
But even though it was a low-paying job as a restaurant attendant, it gave him an influx of money because of how well he was tipped. After working in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, Bou Rached went on to set up a restaurant by age 21, equipped with the financial lessons he learnt.
"In my teens, I didn't know how to save or invest my money and spent most of what I made on unnecessary expenses. Over time, I learned how to save and, more importantly, evaluate and decide what expenses were necessary," said Bou Rached, who now runs a commercial drone service provider.
His chance encounter with drones in 2013 became a light bulb moment for him when he realised the potential impact this technology could have in different industries. Since then, it has been his resolve to launch a drone-operated commercial service company in the UAE.
In my teens, I didn't know how to save or invest my money and spent most of what I made on unnecessary expenses
Gaining business experience before entrepreneurship
Bou Rached came to Dubai 9 years back, looking for a place to start his Middle East-focused commercial drone operating business and found UAE to be the ideal business hub. However, before he started, he operated a brand-building consultancy in the African region.
He gained valuable experience from this business on how to raise a brand from being an unknown concept to being widely recognised. He brought that knowledge to his company and used it to introduce new technology in the region.
"Even though, when we started, there was no classification for our type of business, we were allowed and even welcomed to start up, grow, research, develop, and bring new and revolutionary tech to the region."
Today, Bou Rached’s business provides commercial drone services in the fields of surveying and mapping, inspection, construction monitoring, and aerial filming.
How did you fund and manage expenses in business?
Bou Rached self-funded his business for the first two years, after which the company became self-sufficient in managing its operations with the revenues it generated. The initial investment he made to self-start the business amounted to about Dh4 million, he revealed.
Every average start-up has a list of expenses that are well known to all. "But with my current business, the main difference came when we were trying to acquire specialised talent and get the technology itself," he added. "Back in 2014, it was extremely challenging to find talent, so we had to look abroad and make it enticing enough to relocate to another country."
As a drone company, an additional cost was for Ground Control Points (GCPs), which are large photo identifiable targets that are placed on the ground within the boundary of your drone survey, and this cost made up 10 per cent of his total expenses.
About 5 per cent of total start-up expenditure went into marketing activities like exhibitions, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), which is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website), among other advertising requirements.
Meanwhile, office space, utilities, and human resources (which falls under ‘OpEx’ or operational expenditure) made up 18 per cent of total costs of his business, while other costs that went into setting up the business and legal expenses made up 20 per cent and working capital was at around 9 per cent.
Here are three money rules Bou Rached lives by as a serial entrepreneur
Rule #1: Spend what you need and save everything else.
This approach has helped him self-fund the business and get it off the ground. "I am not suggesting that people should forgo fun and entertainment. After all, social interactions and fun are fundamental needs of humans, but there should be a proper balance."
However, Bou Rached avoids social traditions that hurt financially, such as big expensive social gatherings, lavish weddings, a car, or similar activities. He said, "If I were going to spend a lot of money or dip into my savings, it would have to give me a ‘return on investment’ or ROI."
Rule #2: Learn to expect to adapt when undertaking an innovative idea for a business.
Bou Rached said, "When we were looking to set up the business, this type of business classification didn't exist. We had to acquire special permits and change our trade licenses multiple times in the first years to keep up with changes in the regulations."
Changing licenses even cost him extra money, but he had expected it to happen, as the regulation for this industry hadn't established when he started.
"The main takeaway from starting and running such a new kind of business is that you don't have to learn things the hard way. From the beginning, focus on high quality- everything from your operations to your bookkeeping and interactions."
Rule #3: Ensure proper budget planning, get the number and double it.
"In budget planning, get professional assistance, ask your friends, crunch the numbers and triple-check everything. Then when you have the correct number, double it," added Bou Rached.
"I set the initial budget myself, but we brought in professionals within a year of operations. We leveraged their experience and expertise to catch mistakes early on and rectify them before long-term issues could manifest."