Badr Jafar is an Emirati impact entrepreneur who serves as Managing Director of the Crescent Group, a family business group, operating in the UAE for 44 years. The Group today consists of two main companies: Crescent Petroleum, the region's first independent and privately-owned petroleum company in the Middle East, of which Badr is President; and Crescent Enterprises, the company's conglomerate operating across six core sectors of the global economy, of which he is Chief Executive Officer.
Within as well as outside of the family business, Badr has extensively explored social enterprise and joined and founded initiatives which focus on how business affects society and its reciprocal effect.
In 2010, Badr founded the Pearl Initiative, a non-profit venture in cooperation with the United Nations Office for Partnerships to promote a corporate culture of transparency and accountability across the Gulf Region of Middle East. As a part of his efforts advocating social entrepreneurship, he sits on the Global Board of Education for Employment (EFE), is a member of the Synergos Arab World Social Innovators (AWSI) Program Board of Governors, sits on the Global Honorary Board of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and is a Founding Board Member of Endeavor UAE, an initiative encouraging high-impact entrepreneurship.
Badr is active with higher education institutions, serving as a member of the American University of Sharjah's Business Advisory Council, and as a member of the Research and Innovation Advisory Council for The Centre of Excellence for Applied Research & Training (CERT) at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi. Badr also chairs the Alumni Advisory Council of the Cambridge University Judge Business School and serves as Board Member of their International Advisory Board.
Dear Husam, Your encouragement alone is a very good start! I actually started my first business here in the UAE when I was around your children’s age....
Your encouragement alone is a very good start!
I actually started my first business here in the UAE when I was around your children’s age. Thanks to my parents’ encouragement and moral support, I found the courage and ability get my vendors to take me seriously and to be able to launch my business.
Today there is no lack of entrepreneurial seminars, competitions, forums, and various other events that anyone of any age can participate in. Such events are generally age agnostic and only take into account the viability of a business concept and of course the team behind it. Your sons should have no problem participating and presenting their business at such events where they would also be able to find mentors and advisors that can coach them on the way forward.
They might even be able to find such programs at their school. Entrepreneurship programs have found their way into the education system and are now becoming a vital part of many academic curriculums. In fact, this is even extending to primary schools now. I was recently very pleasantly surprised to hear a story from a friend whose son is attending 2nd grade in a school in Dubai. He was working on a project that required him to come up with a new product or service for a multi-national company, do a “feasibility study” and put it into a proposal that was actually sent to the company’s CEO. Of course this would have been done on a very basic level, however, the goal of such projects is to get children in to that entrepreneurial and business frame of mind from a very early stage.
I see you’re listed on the website as one of the advisors to your sons. Again, I believe your support is crucial and is surely to provide for a fantastic learning experience for them.
Dear Yusuf, Thank you for your question. My short answer would be that such businesses are generally viewed as more scalable and less capital intensive...
Thank you for your question.
My short answer would be that such businesses are generally viewed as more scalable and less capital intensive. My more detailed answer, however, would be that the perception you have of incubators applies to incubators the world over and not only in the UAE.
Incubators by definition are meant to provide their services over a relatively short period of time and in a relatively small space. Their performance is measured by the number of “graduating” companies they produce annually.
With that in mind, it is only natural to opt for industries that can provide for scalability, small workforce, lean operations, short incubation periods, and low capital expenditure requirements. Hence, the focus on technology and media.
That being said, it is important to note that non-tech incubators do actually exist in the UAE.
Only recently I was made aware of a food & beverage incubator being setup in one of the local universities here. This would be an incubator purely focused on developing concepts for the F&B industry.
I have also recently been having a conversation with one of the local government entities in the UAE looking at developing non-tech incubators for other sectors relevant to the development of our economy.
Depending on how much development and investment your idea requires, and given it sounds like it falls in the clean-tech space, incubation might not be the right solution for you.
You may want to approach the likes of Masdar Capital, who actively invest in the development and commercialisation of clean technologies. Although they generally invest in later stage concepts, they might be able to point you in the right direction.
Dear Sarvesh, Thank you for your question. You touch on an area that does tend to create confusion as the type of free zones you’re referring to are relatively...
Thank you for your question.
You touch on an area that does tend to create confusion as the type of free zones you’re referring to are relatively new and governed by local rather than federal laws.
Traditionally, free zones such as Jebel Ali Free Zone were meant for doing business exclusively inside of them and with the rest of the world. They would be treated as separate geographic jurisdictions and hence anything going in and out would have to pass through customs.
The more recent free zones such as Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City, Knowledge Village, DIFC, Healthcare City etc., which I’m assuming your business is registered in, were setup primarily to house service providers.
In that respect, there technically shouldn’t be any issues with providing services to and doing business with UAE-based companies just as any foreign company would. It is with the transfer of goods that the complication arises since these are “open” free zones that are not closed off the same way Jebel-Ali Free Zone is.
That being said, providing services to UAE based companies would be subject to the same conditions applied to any foreign company. For example, some government entities may stipulate that suppliers providing services to them are required to be locally registered in the emirate in which the service is provided. This, however, would be project-specific rather than a law.
With regards to hiring people, as I understand it you can hire people to work on projects in the UAE. They would go through similar immigration and labour department processes as any UAE-based company employee, and would have more or less the same rules that apply to them.
One thing to keep in mind is that due to the young nature of free zones in the UAE, and the UAE as a whole for that matter, it is very important to keep up to date with the changing regulatory landscape by continuously checking with the relevant authorities and/or legal advisers on such changes.
For example, the government just announced that a new UAE Commercial Companies Law has been issued on April 1st, and will come into force three months from the date of publication in the Federal Official Gazette, which is likely to positively impact the economy and clarify matters to foreign investors and entrepreneurs.
Dear Chahira, That’s a question I believe every would-be entrepreneur asks themselves at the start of the seemingly overwhelming journey. With a mountain...
That’s a question I believe every would-be entrepreneur asks themselves at the start of the seemingly overwhelming journey.
With a mountain of tasks to complete, documents to prepare, and research to conduct before opening a new business, you can very easily get bogged down trying to cross-off things that are not contributing much to your end-goal of getting the business going. Therefore, and in general, it is critically important to take your time to plan comprehensively and, more importantly, prioritize correctly.
I’m of the school of thought that entrepreneurship can be learnt just like any other skill. If this is your first foray into the world of entrepreneurship, it is always good to browse through some relevant articles online and even books on the subject. A good book I would recommend is “The Startup Owner’s Manual” by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf.
If there’s one piece of advice I would give a new service industry entrepreneur such as yourself, it’s to focus on your customer. Test your product/service with your customers as often as possible and at every step of the way.
This might seem like a trivial thing to do, but you’d be surprised how many people get so emotionally attached to their business and are so convinced about its flawlessness that they forget to do the simplest thing… getting feedback from the market.
That doesn’t mean getting feedback from one or two or even five customers. This is about getting feedback from dozens, if not hundreds of customers, at EVERY STEP of the way. Do this over and over again, and be very open to pivoting along the way.
Enjoy the journey,
Dear Iman, Thanks for your pertinent question. It sounds like you’re already thinking about your dilemma in the correct manner. The fact that you can use...
Thanks for your pertinent question.
It sounds like you’re already thinking about your dilemma in the correct manner. The fact that you can use your existing overhead and trade license means you’re probably looking at the right sort of areas for expanding your business without exposing it to excessive risk.
All successful companies are constantly looking for ways to improve/innovate and expand their offering in the most effective way while of course utilising as much of the existing resources as possible; the idea being to try grow the business with the least possible amount of incremental investment and risk.
In the short-term, you need to make sure that any known risks in the new offering are mitigated, and that the negative cash-flow of the new investment doesn’t impact your existing business’ solvency.
In the long-term, you need to ensure that in the scenario where the entire new investment is lost, there would be minimal residual negative impact on your original offering, brand equity, and existing client relationships.
In order to test these sensitivities, some simple questions to ask yourself include:
• Will I need external money for this new investment?
• Can this investment be used to expand and improve the existing offering?
• Will the new offering strain existing resources?
• Will the new offering have a negative impact on existing clients?
• Will the new offering require learning a new industry or skill set?
Of course without knowing the details of your business and contemplated expansion I can’t be more specific, however, in broad strokes if the answer to all these questions above is no, then your decision will be easier to make.
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you’ll need to carefully assess whether the new benefits out-way the costs and associated risks.
Hello Ayesha, Finding angel investors is about networking (in person and online) and making sure you’re rubbing shoulders and exchanging bytes with anyone...
Finding angel investors is about networking (in person and online) and making sure you’re rubbing shoulders and exchanging bytes with anyone and everyone that might be interested in your particular offering. And if you’re not having much luck reaching potential investors themselves, then at-least try connect with people who can introduce you to them. This requires interacting with people from the industry you’re in by going to relevant events, trade shows, conferences and even social gatherings.
There are also various online entities and platforms that connect you with angel investors and support crowd-funding. Such networks and platforms are increasing in prominence and include the likes of Eureeca (http://eureeca.com/), Angel’s Den (http://angels.angelsden.com/), Angel List (https://angel.co), and of course Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/). With interest building up in strengthening our entrepreneurial eco-system, there are more and more angel investors appearing on the scene.
When it comes to e-commerce, it’s never been easier or cheaper to start an online store. The fact is a double-edged sword however! The barriers to entry are so low and business is now so borderless, that it has become very that much more difficult and expensive to stand out from the rest.
First and foremost, you need to be providing a unique product or service that you’re confident would be in demand with your target audience. Once that’s been established through focus groups and a pilot, you need to start building traffic. Although capital intensive, online marketing can be extremely effective if managed properly. The ability to measure ROI so accurately using online marketing technology is unparalleled, and is a very good way to get immediate returns on marketing spend. It just needs to be managed by someone with experience in that space.
To summarize, start by refining your offering until you are confident that each and every aspect of the experience is one that your target audience actually wants, and then build traffic through calculated and precise online marketing.
Best of luck to you.
Hi Hanane, It sounds like you are doing really interesting work that is very much needed. Although building the entrepreneurial ecosystem is a topic that...
It sounds like you are doing really interesting work that is very much needed. Although building the entrepreneurial ecosystem is a topic that is regularly making business news headlines these days, we are still at the beginning of the journey to becoming a truly entrepreneur-friendly environment. However, I genuinely believe that we’re heading in the right direction, and as long as we have more and more people like you helping to build that road, we’re sure to get there.
It’s always challenging to take a great idea and see it through to fruition. A key success factor is the right sort of exposure, and connecting with your potential market in order to achieve your business targets. The fact that the entrepreneurship topic is always in the news can play to your benefit. Take advantage of the fact that you’re working in that space and use the media for low cost or free exposure by participating in industry events, getting yourself into radio interviews, magazines (such as Arabian Business StartUp magazine), or even publish your own articles on business platforms such as LinkedIn. You’re in the business education space and can really benefit from and give your services credibility by becoming a thought leader on that topic.
In terms of getting responses from potential partners, of course, it’s always preferable to be referred by someone in common rather than cold-call. Again, it is a relatively small community we work in and you’re bound to find someone that can connect you to the person or business you’re targeting. This is also a function of the network you build and maintain by always attending the relevant events and making sure to rub shoulders with the right people.
Please continue doing what you’re doing in helping develop the start-up ecosystem.
Hi Assia, It’s unfortunate you feel that way about the events you have attended; I don’t believe that has to be the case. There may always be people with...
It’s unfortunate you feel that way about the events you have attended; I don’t believe that has to be the case.
There may always be people with that attitude at networking events, however, you’re also bound to find people willing to listen and provide constructive, honest and selfless advice, especially if you pick the right events to attend. For example, the Mix and Mentor event that Wamda hosts allows you to sit with mentors and learn from their experience by sharing your challenges and discussing solutions. The Impact Hub in Dubai also hosts similar events.
Just be sure to target the right events where you’re likely to find self-made entrepreneurs who have been in the same situation you’re currently in.
Hello Sallyann, Focusing usually pays off. It’s easier to gain business in a space that you’re familiar with and have experience in. Generally speaking...
Focusing usually pays off. It’s easier to gain business in a space that you’re familiar with and have experience in. Generally speaking, that should be your priority. That said, it is also good to widen your horizons and always be on the lookout for alternative avenues. Getting out of your comfort zone, whilst sometimes daunting, has the potential to generate some unexpectedly useful results. Therefore it can’t hurt to be exposed to different interest groups by attending events outside your specialty.
Dear Siham, I don’t believe it would be insulting to any mentor for you to seek feedback and advice from others. Sharing ideas and discussing them with...
I don’t believe it would be insulting to any mentor for you to seek feedback and advice from others. Sharing ideas and discussing them with different people gives you a new perspective. It’s one of the most important aspects of starting a new business. A good mentor will know this and encourage you to do so.
Hi Sallyann, It’s not easy to say no in many situations, not just this one. There’s obviously a reason why you may not choose to mentor someone. If it...
It’s not easy to say no in many situations, not just this one.
There’s obviously a reason why you may not choose to mentor someone. If it’s due to your own time and availability, then it should be easier and more understandable for you to say no. If, however, you feel it’s due to the relationship not being a two-way street, meaning you probably feel the person who approached isn’t prepared to be mentored, then point that out.
Give that person candid and honest feedback on their lack of readiness for mentorship, give them some advice on how to be better prepared, and ask them to get back in touch when they’re ready.
Hi Hebah, You’re correct in that people may not be very comfortable approaching strangers out of the blue. However, I do believe that anyone worth approaching...
You’re correct in that people may not be very comfortable approaching strangers out of the blue. However, I do believe that anyone worth approaching is someone that would love to listen to and discuss new ideas.
One way to overcome the discomfort of approaching a stranger is to do your homework, understand who they are, their background, and what you have that may interest them. You should, of course, also understand what it is that you want from them and how you can get them interested in what you have to say. Armed with all this information, it becomes much easier and more comfortable to strike a conversation that leaves an impression rather than just exchanging business cards.
Hi Tamim, I find Twitter great for spreading and receiving instant information from specific sources. I have to be honest and say that I do not use Facebook...
I find Twitter great for spreading and receiving instant information from specific sources.
I have to be honest and say that I do not use Facebook or LinkedIn personally, however I am well aware that they are also a very useful business as well as social networking platforms that can effectively keep you visible for the people you have in your network.
Maintaining your network is also just as important as building it. You need to be able to keep in touch with your contacts, and there’s no better way than through social media these days. Of course, you shouldn’t be doing that by bombarding your contacts with irrelevant information. You can keep in touch by sharing relevant news stories, congratulating people on their achievements, publications, job changes, or even by commenting on their posts in a relevant manner.
Etiquette is the same online as it is offline, be polite, concise, and respect people’s privacy.
Hi Khalid, As I mentioned in a previous answer, networking is a two-way street. It’s not all about you. To be effective at networking, you need to be able...
As I mentioned in a previous answer, networking is a two-way street. It’s not all about you. To be effective at networking, you need to be able to give as well as take. Know who you’re targeting and what they’re interested in, understand what you have to offer and why they may be interested in it. Have your elevator pitch prepared and be very concise.
As for getting them to meet with you, if you’re armed with the right information, and you’re able to get them interested, then you should be able to get their contact info and confirm an appointment on the spot. Show that you are flexible and willing to accommodate their schedule of course, then follow up with an email the next day.
Hi Eli, Getting the most out of your network is all about knowing exactly what your business needs are. Once you have that, you’ll know what type of people...
Getting the most out of your network is all about knowing exactly what your business needs are. Once you have that, you’ll know what type of people you need to connect to. And once you know that, you should be able to find a common contact that can make the intro, or if not, then target events that these people may be attending. Before making a connection, however, you should always be fully prepared. Do your homework about the people you’re trying to connect to, who they are, what interests them and why they would want to give you their time. What value can this connection bring to your business and, more importantly, how can you add value to them. Networking is a two-way street.
When it comes to cultural awareness, we live in a conservative society that values privacy. Always keep that in mind when approaching someone for the first time.
Dear Rami, I do agree that meeting someone in person beats an online introduction any day, however, in today’s fast-pace digital world it is very difficult...
I do agree that meeting someone in person beats an online introduction any day, however, in today’s fast-pace digital world it is very difficult to meet everyone you’d like to in person. I believe tools such as LinkedIn are very good for finding certain people relevant to your business, and fast.
However, the way in which you connect to someone is even more important. Rather than “cold-calling” a person, it is always preferred to connect to them through a common contact, or one that can make a relevant referral. That is where the strength of tools such as LinkedIn come to light. You are easily able to find common contacts and take these routes to get an affective introduction to the right people.
With the advent of social media, the traditional 6 degrees of separation have been drastically shrinking with a recent study suggesting there are on average 3.74 degrees of separation between any one Facebook user and another. This number is probably much smaller when looking at a single region, country, or industry.
Hope this helps.
Dear Abdulmalek, I definitely do not think networking is a waste of time. In fact, in my experience, most business ideas and deals come to fruition when...
I definitely do not think networking is a waste of time. In fact, in my experience, most business ideas and deals come to fruition when coincidentally meeting the right person at the right time.
Networking is an ongoing process, so don’t get disheartened. You should be looking to continuously build your ‘list’ of contacts, and maintain it through regular communications until a specific need arises that may require the support from someone on your list. You just need to be patient until the right opportunity comes along. And the best outcomes happen when you least expect them!
Dear Nelum, As you correctly point out, “old-fashioned” offline networking has indeed changed, however, probably in that it is now even more important...
As you correctly point out, “old-fashioned” offline networking has indeed changed, however, probably in that it is now even more important than ever before.
In fact, with so many more people being easily accessible online, it has become more difficult to standout and make a personal impact. While a person or people you’d like to meet is getting dozens of online requests and introductions, it is the face to face personal meetings that are more likely to leave a lasting impression. So even though online networking has made it much easier to find the people you’d like to meet, the traditional personal meeting still makes it easier to be remembered.
Hello Aisha, Regardless of how a business is performing, marketing in some form or other, even if not deliberate, is crucial for the sustainability of...
Regardless of how a business is performing, marketing in some form or other, even if not deliberate, is crucial for the sustainability of a business. Now, if budgets don’t allow, there are several cost-effective methods that can be utilised to raise awareness and expose your business. Social media is one method that has proved very successful with F&B outlets, but also fun and creative promotions (videos or competitions perhaps) can become viral quickly and won’t cost you much. You can also look into setting up a simple loyalty programme that keeps your customers coming back.
Regarding the marketing professionals, it’s always a good idea to keep them in your network. You’d be surprised how much you can learn over a friendly cup of coffee!
Hope to get to visit your coffee shop again in the near future.
Hi David, There’s no doubt about the importance of market research, however, as you pointed out, how do you know what data to look for and when to trust...
There’s no doubt about the importance of market research, however, as you pointed out, how do you know what data to look for and when to trust it?
It is generally assumed that no business plan is complete without solid and reliable market research, wherever possible. Depending on the industry, there are reliable sources that you can use to get macro-level data. Metrics like market size, competitive landscape, and pricing are usually possible to assess through determined online research, however, the best research you can conduct for a start-up is customer research specific to your product or service. Nothing will provide you with relevant and substantial data as much as your target audience themselves.
It is critical that before even launching a product or service, customer feedback is being used continuously during the design process. We generally tend to design products and services based on our own preferences, however, we need to always remember that we ourselves don’t necessarily represent the target audience. More often than not, customer focus groups and surveys will result in the final offering being significantly different and a lot more relevant from the initial idea.
Getting this first-hand customer input during the design phase also provides for more credibility in the business plan if you’re looking for funding.
Every entrepreneur needs a helping hand. With so many aspects of business to untangle, understand, and master, expert advice is not simply a bonus – it’s essential.
With that in mind, Arabian Business has teamed up with one of the region’s most prominent and successful entrepreneurs and business leaders to give you invaluable one-on-one information and advice.
CEO of Crescent Enterprises and Emirati serial entrepreneur Badr Jafar will host the Arabian Business Entrepreneurs Clinic, answering your questions about the things that matter most to you.
As well as CEO of Crescent Enterprises, Jafar is also MD of the Crescent Group, President of Crescent Petroleum, founder of the UN’s Pearl Initiative, board member of Education for Employment, member of the Synergos Arab World Social Innovators Program Board of Governors, founding board member of Endeavour UAE, and much more.
Active in higher education, the arts, and countless entrepreneurial projects, Jafar is also a board member of the Young Presidents’ Organisation, was honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and is vice-Chair of their Global Council of Energy Security.
Whether it’s funding, licenses, staffing, or any other aspect of starting and maintaining your own business venture, Jafar will hand-pick some of the most common, confusing, and pressing queries to answer from our inbox every month.
The current topic for the Entrepreneurs Clinic is ‘Navigating the law’. Go ahead and ask away by clicking on the “Ask a Question” link above.