'You learn entrepreneurship skills by doing things practically; although excellent resources exist, they will only give you insights,' said Peter Davos, 43, a US expat who has lived in Dubai for over a decade.
He recalled his growing years when he obtained the best education and life skills from observing and working with his father, a self-made entrepreneur.
"My father was a lifelong entrepreneur, and I learnt money management, innovation, risk-taking, and persistence from him. He taught me that you could achieve anything with hard work and vision. Everything I learned through the formal study was all secondary."
Davos started working at the young age of 12 and became an entrepreneur at 33.
His father had told him that because no one owes his anything, so he had to earn his way through his growing years. He worked from shovelling snow in the neighbourhood after a snowstorm with his friends in the US city of Boston to selling magazine subscriptions door to door.
I worked at a video store, coffee shop, on-campus restaurant, and bookstore at the university, and later in real estate development and brokerage offices
He also worked at a video store, coffee shop, on-campus restaurant, and bookstore at the university, and later in real estate development and brokerage offices. "I was also taught the importance of interpersonal skills and how to deal with and communicate with people."
He said, "Always remember the people that helped you along the way, show gratitude, and be a sponge for knowledge. You can only learn by reading, doing, and interacting with individuals that are more intelligent, experienced, and successful than you are. I have always actively sought knowledge in these ways and still do."
Another invaluable resource for him has been the membership in EO, a global organisation for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. He said, "I entered their accelerator program (that provides business support for startups) for nascent entrepreneurs and was their first graduate in the UAE.
"Without the support of my accelerator mentor, Mathew Mazhuvanchery, I never would have graduated to become a member of the main EO organisation, which I have been part of for five years.
"Being an entrepreneur is the loneliest job in the world and realising that my problems were not unique and having the support and insight of fellow EO entrepreneurs has been invaluable."
Why did you start your business in the education sector?
Education played a pivotal role in Davos' journey, and he dedicated his life to empowering students to enjoy the same privilege he had.
He said, "I was fortunate to study at Johns Hopkins, London School of Economics (LSE), Oxford, and Harvard. I am a first-generation college graduate, an American, and the son of Greek immigrants.
"I realised a gap in Dubai regarding the support students needed and what was available to them. When I started ‘Hale Education’, it was just me for the first year - zero employees. Now for the last ten years, this is all I have done - and I hope to continue to do so with the support of our amazing and growing team."
‘Hale Education Group’ mentors and guides students who want to study at universities in the US and Canada.
How did you fund the business?
Davos had initially self-funded the business using his savings, investing Dh500,000 to get the company off the ground.
"I bootstrapped the operation from the beginning. As my business is focused on education consulting, the main initial expenses were rent, licensing, marketing materials, technology (website and software licensing), professional licensing and education made up most of my running costs."
Davos shares the lessons he learnt in becoming an entrepreneur.
Lesson #1: A successful business loses money the first year, breaks even the second year, and then turns a profit the third year.
"I wish I had this insight before I started. I was not prepared for how long it would take to generate sustainable revenue to the point where I would have positive cash flow.
I had initially self-funded the business using his savings, investing Dh500,000 to get the company off the ground.
"Even with relatively low overhead, I burned through money much faster than anticipated and should have budgeted 2x for expenses. My revenues were much slower in coming than I could have ever imagined. I made Dh10,000 in the first four months, and I don't think I made Dh100,000 top-line the first year."
Lessons #2: Have enough cash to sleep at night, which helps weather the most violent and unexpected storms.
Davos said he faced new and unexpected challenges every day since he has been in business, from the very first day. "Starting a business is like raising a child; once you feel like you have a handle on a particular phase, the company grows a bit, you enter a new phase, and you have to learn all new lessons. You must adapt and innovate constantly.
"For example, some businesses prospered during the pandemic because they could adapt and innovate quickly, while others were crushed because they could not. Many times, through no fault of their own, simply because of their space."
Therefore, having enough cash helps weather the most violent and unexpected storms. "I was fortunate that my business focuses on one-on-one counselling, so the transition to online service provision was seamless during the pandemic."
Lesson #3: Hard work will beat talent every time, but you need both to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Davos considered he succeeded due to his unwavering conviction that he was born to do what he is doing now. "I never lost faith in my fundamental belief. Without this confidence and my wife's support, I would have never survived past the second year," he said.
"I worked primarily in real estate, where I learned the value of strong mentors and hard work. In my previous job, working for a real estate capital markets firm, we had mandatory 6:30am morning meetings and had to work a minimum of twelve hours a day.
"It was a cakewalk compared to the demands of being an entrepreneur because, at least at that job, I could switch off when I left the office. Now, I have to consciously try to switch off - which is still a challenge but empowering the right team members is becoming easier."
What has been your strategy for maintaining investments and savings?
"My business is my investment vehicle, and I own my own home. However, I am not highly diversified, for better or worse. My kids are 2.5 and 5 years of age, but I have a structured savings plan for kids for their college expenses before they were born."
As a money rule, he follows, "Not to take on any bad debt ever - i.e. always pay off your credit card balance, don't take loans on depreciating assets - and don't be afraid to take on good debt for a good reason. Always own your own home."
Lastly, he said to treat every mistake as a learning experience and every failure as a step toward success.