Highlights from the third Arabian Business StartUp Academy

The third Arabian Business StartUp Academy in 2016 was held under the theme ‘How to Scale Up a Business’
Highlights from the third Arabian Business StartUp Academy
Noor Shawwa, managing director of Endeavor UAE.
By Tamara Pupic
Sun 25 Sep 2016 10:41 AM

The third Arabian Business StartUp Academy in this year’s series was held at The Address Dubai Marina last week under the theme ‘How to Scale Up a Business’

The breakfast workshop featured David Ashford, chief information officer at The Entertainer, Noor Shawwa, managing director at Endeavor UAE, and Michael Lahyani, founder of PropertyFinder.

David Ashford, chief information officer at The Entertainer.

Ashford shared with the audience of more than 150 entrepreneurs how The Entertainer, a homegrown concept of two-for-one voucher books set up in Dubai by Donna Benton, the company’s CEO, in 2001, successfully ventured into the digital world.

“There are two main reasons why we decided to go digital,” Ashford said in an on-stage interview. “One is because our customers wanted it. They did not have the convenience and spontaneity that they wanted because they would forget their vouchers at home, and so on.

“However, it made a lot of sense for us because we were able to go nimble, to gather immense amounts of data, which is a key part of our business strategies.

“We worked incredibly hard, we did a lot of research and a lot of planning, but we also worked incredibly fast. As an organisation we are entirely set up in an agile manner. We can prototype, try, test things, and we can change them if they don’t work.”

The Entertainer App was launched in 2013, a year after Riyada Enterprise Development, an investment platform of Dubai-based investment firm Abraaj Capital, acquired a 50 percent stake in the company, which fast tracked their growth plans.

Speaking about the process of developing the app, Ashford said: “We made a point of employing experienced people at senior levels who had done this before. We also structured the company in a certain way, for example, we created a department called E-Business, which led the change.

“We worked with a couple of talented businesses when we started out and they were amazing, but then it got to the point that we needed all of that in-house because we had to work 24/7 sometimes, and we needed to do things quickly. We built our engineering team in Lahore, Pakistan, where the actual engineering is still being done.”

When asked to advise entrepreneurs thinking of developing an app for their business, Ashford said that they should build an app that people want to use. “With The Entertainer, you are buying a product and you have a period of time to use it. That is the stickiness of the app, you get great value for it,” he explained. “But to any business that is considering launching an app, my personal advice is to check whether they really need an app or just a website that is fully responsive on a mobile phone, which is great as well.”

Shawwa, the second speaker at the event, presented Endeavor UAE, the local chapter of Endeavor, a global nonprofit organisation that supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

Noor Shawwa, managing director of Endeavor UAE.

Endeavor in the UAE launched during the organisation’s 51st International Selection Panel, held in Dubai in 2013.

Sharing his main learnings taken from coordinating and mentoring this group of 21 locally-based entrepreneurs, Shawwa said that they mainly faced challenges revolving around access to markets, access to capital, and access to talent.

“As a start-up, they have a very central decision-making process,” Shawwa added about common trends he had noticed among Endeavour UAE entrepreneurs. “They tend to have a team that can implement very effectively, but the entrepreneur makes all the decisions.

“When they get to a scale-up stage, that set up becomes a bottle-neck, so they start to take specialists on board. They need to bring onboard CFO, COO, and a sales manager. What I personally see is that they recruit a CFO much later because they are expensive. However, that is an indicator of the maturity of the entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs realise the importance of having a good CFO onboard only when they get into trouble. Sometimes it is too late.

“Another challenge is when the entrepreneur realises that the people who have helped the company to reach a certain level, who are usually very good friends with him/her, are not the people who will take the company to the next level. There is often this dilemma between letting these people go and recruiting new people.

“Lastly, the most consistent issue that I see is focus. As a start-up, you look at different opportunities that work, and some entrepreneurs end up doing 10 different things at the same time. In this situation, the entrepreneur should stick to what works for them and to double down on that in order to grow.

“It becomes very important for the entrepreneur to say no to certain things.”

For other highlights from the event, which was supported by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, AJSM Investments, ADIB Business, Creative Zone and Emirates Auction, please follow this link.

The fourth Arabian Business StartUp Academy will take place on December 5, 2016.

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