Entrepreneurs and startups

Startup Do’s and Don’ts

The life of an entrepreneur is often a tough one. But as Marwan Juma has learned during his kaleidoscopic career in tech, there are ways to make it easier.

By Laith Abou-Ragheb

When it comes to Jordan’s tech sector, there isn’t much Marwan Juma hasn’t tried his hand at. Amongst the many roles he’s carried out during a career which now spans over 25 years, Juma has been the Kingdom’s ICT minister and founder at Kinz and dot.jo.

Out of all these roles, he said by far the most challenging and rewarding involved setting up a business. “I’ve pretty much done and tried it all: general staffer, mid-level manager, CEO, and lastly owner/founder. And I can say without a shadow of doubt that the most difficult yet equally gratifying of all four is that of an entrepreneur,” he said. “Obviously being an entrepreneur is not for the faint hearted, especially in our neck of the woods where the ecosystem hardly supports you and many relish in your failure. But when you succeed it is by far the best feeling in the world and makes it all seem worthwhile.”

Juma is now eager to pass on what he’s learned about being an entrepreneur in Jordan’s rough-and-tumble startup scene. Here are his top 10 tips for anyone thinking of going it alone with their own venture.

You are most likely going to fail. But that’s OK

Most entrepreneurs succeed the fourth time around, which obviously means they failed the three times before. Your success greatly hinges on your ability to swiftly get up and bounce back while learning from your mistakes. Yes, your college degree may sometimes come in handy. But real life experience is by far the best teacher out there. But remember, if you make the same mistake twice, that’s no longer a mistake, it’s a choice. And of course, always remember that those who claim to never have failed are in fact the ones who never tried.

Don’t do it if you’re in it for the money

Contrary to popular belief, the likelihood of you striking gold and becoming rich is right up there with winning the lottery on the probability scale. In fact, you will have to make ends meet with a whole lot less than what your last job paid you. And no investor will consider looking at your venture if most of the money is going for pay. So if you’re in it for the money, think again, and more importantly, stick to your current job. In some cases you may go on for as long as a year without any compensation, so you have to plan for this potential scenario from the very beginning. This means you must have some savings put aside, otherwise financial obligations will overwhelm you.

Don’t do it if you’re in it for the fame

For every Steve Jobs and Richard Branson out there, there are tens of thousands of unknown soldiers. There’s absolutely nothing glamorous about being an entrepreneur. In fact, it’s all blood, sweat, and tears. So if you’re in it for the flash of the paparazzi cameras, and the movie star red carpet treatment, your odds are better if you pursue a career in singing or the NBA.

Don’t do it if you’re in it to save time

If you’re tired and weary of the demands of your 9-to-9 job, and you’re under the illusion that by being your own boss you can finally have some free time on your hands, well think again. Time will be the absolute rarest commodity, and your last job will seem like child play compared to the rigors of building your own venture, and even when resting you will still be 100 percent mentally consumed by your venture. You will also barely have time to eat or sleep, your friends and family will hardly see you, and all your old routines will be shot to hell. Also, get ready to kiss that summer vacation goodbye.

Put your ego aside

Yes, your business card will state Chairman/Founder/CEO.  But in reality you’ll be the coffee boy/sales rep/secretary. In my case, I had to make the sudden and abrupt shift from setting national policies as Minister of ICT to picking up subscription forms and knocking on friends’ doors to sign deals for as little as JD200. Mind you, nothing beats closing a sale, but you have to be ready to be rejected by those who at one time were at your beck and call. That’s the nature of the beast, so be ready to put your ego aside and remember that at the end of the day people will be impressed by your product and not by your title.

Try to keep an even keel

The life of an entrepreneur is the ultimate roller coaster. You will be faced with constant ups and downs where in one given day you will feel smarter than Jobs to dumber than Curly from the Three Stooges. Don’t get too high on success or too low on failure—that can result in a nervous breakdown. Try to stay even keeled and keep your eye on the big picture.

If your business makes business sense, value will come on its own

I’ve seen many entrepreneurs get overworked for that million-plus valuation without even having a prototype. While this may have a nice ring to it, I advise you to focus more on building your product and generating revenue, for true value will then come. And if you close an early round of funding at too high a valuation, it may be rewarding for your ego and your pocket in the short-term if you make a small exit, but the pressure to meet expectations and generate returns for your latest investors can be a real killer.

You must have the three Ps

No, these aren’t the marketing Ps. I’m talking about Pain, Passion, and Perseverance. If you can easily identify the pain, or the problem your product is looking to solve, you’re 70 percent there. Second is passion. If you don’t love what you do, and if your team isn’t equally passionate about your product, you will definitely fail. And last is persistence. Doors will be slammed shut in your face, prototypes will fail to meet expectations, and key staff will leave you for a more secure job right before a major product launch, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise nor should it bring you down. Stay the course, hang in there, and don’t give up.

The only thing worse than having a bad product is having no product

Delaying your launch until your product is 100 percent perfect means you will most probably never launch at all. I know first impressions can be long-lasting, and I’m not advocating crappy products here, but if you get too anal, the chances are the opportunity will pass you by. So don’t wait; launch, test, seek feedback, fix, and launch again. Make it clear to your initial users that you are in a beta-testing phase and that their comments will be taken into consideration which in turn will build brand loyalty.

Seek mentors

Never assume you know it all. Try to seek out serious and seasoned mentors who can provide you with valuable advice, while helping you avoid some of the pitfalls they may have previously encountered during their career. And always remember that at your stage, free and genuine advice can come in real handy.