Khawlah Madoudi is the founder of Deerasa, an online platform and an app that helps start-ups and small businesses to create professional business plans without paying high fees.
Focusing solely on business plans was hardly what Madoudi envisioned her job would be when she was earning a B.A. in Finance from the University of Business and Technology, followed by an executive MBA with a specialisation in Islamic Finance from the Cass Business School in 2013. But the young Saudi woman was eager to solve a problem hindering many start-up enthusiast from turning their ideas into viable businesses.
In 2014 Madoudi launched Deerasa to provide step-by-step guidance to fledging entrepreneurs on how to clearly explain their business idea, identify revenue streams, and all other aspects of a concise business plan which can easily persuade investors and funders whilst guiding their management team.
Before founding Deerasa, Madoudi worked as a financial advisor and consultant in the investment banking and private equity industry for more than seven years.
In an exclusive Q&A Madoudi explains how she made her mark as a successful female entrepreneur in Saudi Arabia.
Why did you choose to leave your successful corporate career and start up a business?
Honestly speaking, I liked my corporate career, yet I chose to make a bigger impact.
I have been raised in an entrepreneurial family so the spirit of adventure was already there. That has facilitated so many things.
However, the process itself was gradual.
Deerasa was created to solve an existing problem because I knew how to solve it. As I could not handle working for a private firm and running my own business at the same time, I decided to quit and jump into entrepreneurship to create more value. At least, this is how I see it. It was well worth the risk.
What would be your advice to our readers who are currently thinking of doing the same?
I had a background that allowed me to start my business.
I come from an entrepreneurial family and Deerasa is not my first start-up. So, I knew my strengths as well as weaknesses, such as areas in which I would need some help.
Since I noticed that a low cost business plan solution was really in demand, it came naturally to me to offer a product that responded to that specific need.
Having said this, I would advise anyone who is thinking of leaving a corporate career to start up a business to spare enough money because it will take some time before the business starts generating net profit.
Secondly, passion only is not enough, so study what your market needs! You should come up with a solution to a real problem. Make sure to anticipate your customers’ needs and do research on how to satisfy them. This is the only warranty that your product or service will be remunerated. Also, learn the experiences and best practices of others to avoid common pitfalls.
Finally, build strategic partnerships! Being an entrepreneur is hard. Although you are the leader of your business, your partners and co-workers, who can perform things you cannot, are a major resource. So be aware of your capabilities and act accordingly!
Have you set up milestones and goals for your business and how have they changed ov er time?
That is crucial for any business because after each stage you can feel the movement and realise how much you have evolved. These milestones are the goals that enable you to evaluate your performance and adjust your speed, your investment and your plans accordingly.
However, a professional swimmer sees the end of the pool as a target, but he takes his head out of the water from time to time to breathe. Small goals are there to allow your project to take enough force and “oxygen” to reach the final objective.
What challenges have you faced as a woman entrepreneur in Saudi Arabia?
Honestly, I prefer to avoid such topics knowing that when you are ambitious enough as an entrepreneur and as a woman, nothing can stand in your way. Yet there have been situations where people were hesitant to work with me. It may be because I am a woman or because I am young.
We cannot really know as these judgments remain untold.
But, I choose to look at the bright side and I have had many positive reactions from people.
Deerasa offers three packages - Entrepreneur, Advisor, and Incubators/Accelerators. What challenges do each of them face?
The main issue for entrepreneurs is related to the high costs of consultancy. We offer them an easy-to-use platform to build their business plans for affordable fees.
To advisors, we offer a professional tool that can help them share their business plans with their clients easily.
At first, we did not have a package for incubators and accelerators. But then we learnt from a few consultants who worked at incubators and venture capital funds, that it was easier for them to review the plans submitted in the same format.
It is a good solution that saves them time and energy.
What are the major mistakes that start-up founders make when creating their business plans?
People think that a business plan is fixed and that it should contain many details. This is a big mistake, especially in this fast-changing and competitive environment.
It is not a matter of slides and pages, but it is about the reasoning behind it and how the founder and his team view the connections between all business elements, namely the team, the product, and the resources.
Hence, our mission in Deerasa, is to show them how to adopt the right entrepreneurship mindset.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs working on their business plans as we speak?
Focus on the value you want to offer, study your market well by using relevant factual and numeric data, and make it simple and clear.
As for the things to avoid, I would say that they should run away from exaggeration. Don’t overdo it, but be realistic because the market is not always promising and there are usually more risks to consider. Be clear and don’t use jargons!
What do entrepreneurs need to know to deliver a successful pitch to investors?
Investors are results-oriented. They are giving you their money to get returns. They need to hear about when they can expect to get them as well as how you can make it consistent and growing.
They want to see how you master your field and the idea of your product, and how you will use all the resources in practice.
They talk in numbers, so you should be comfortable with using them as well. They also look for charismatic people, and your personality is a key factor in earning their trust.
Generally, they look for an open, flexible, and committed personality.
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