The United Arab Emirates has spent decades making itself into the land of opportunity, attracting businesses and investors to the Middle East. The world has watched in awe as graceful skyscrapers rise over Dubai and the other emirates, fueled by new startups and diverse international companies. But this kind of success doesn’t happen overnight. Your dream can also fall flat if you make certain mistakes or push forward along the wrong path. Nobody can guarantee success in business, but before you roll the dice on starting a business in the UAE, take stock of yourself, and honestly answer these seven questions.
Are You Comfortable Dealing with Uncertainty?
Nothing in life is certain, but as an employee of a large company, you’ve probably learned to take some things for granted. Your paycheck, for example, is one of those things you’ve just come to expect, and you’d be unpleasantly surprised to find it missing one week. When you’re on your own, certainty goes right out the window. Losing a client – which can happen anytime – could hobble your whole company. A change to your insurance rates might drastically alter the way you use company vehicles. Before striking out on your own, ask yourself: are you good at thinking on your feet and rolling with sudden, impossible-to-expect surprises?
How Good Are You with Money?
Business owners have to be good with their funds. Before you take out your first loan, seriously ask yourself how you are at handling money. Everybody likes to think they’re good money managers, but what does your track record really look like? If you’re forced to admit you fall short with financial horse sense, consider taking classes in accounting for a year or two before starting up your own firm.
Can You Sell Yourself and Your Ideas?
Nikola Tesla was a brilliant inventor. Tucked away in his lab, he practically invented the 20th century. His lifelong rival, Thomas Edison, was a carnival barker who mostly supervised inventors who were more gifted than he was. That Edison went on to fame and fortune while Tesla languished alone and broke proves that raw talent is only half of what you need to succeed. When you start your own business, be prepared to sell, sell, sell. After you sell your idea to early investors, can you sell your company to the first employees? Can you sell your vision to the public? How about selling your stock in a bear market? Whatever line of work you want to get into, as an entrepreneur, you’ll always be selling something.
Is There More to You Than One Big Idea?
Big ideas are great. Lots of successful companies are built on a single great concept. You may have a big idea, too. But is that all you have at this stage? As anybody who’s ever been asked “What’s the big idea?” can tell you, big ideas are never enough on their own. Do you have the patience, focus, and dedication to acquire property, get your paperwork in order, hire good people, manage teams effectively, meet with regulators, and organize your finances? These are the daily tasks that business owners in the UAE have to handle between 100-story elevator rides in their skyscrapers and relaxing trips to the air-conditioned beaches. Big ideas are a fantastic place to start, but successful ideas are always followed by years of patient muddling through.
Are You Organized Enough to Handle Paperwork?
Speaking of paperwork, be ready for lots of it. Obviously, if you’re starting the UAE’s first uranium-processing plant, you’re bound to have a mountain of forms to fill out (to say the least). But what if you just want to import ice cream? In the UAE, that’s eight documents and three business weeks of work. Think you’d like to export your surplus to Saudi Arabia? Apart from SA’s own papers, that’s another approval process in the UAE. Another form, another waiting period, and probably another hour (at least) consulting with your local attorney to make sure you don’t check the wrong box. If you’re serious about getting off the ground and you plan to work by the book in all things, be ready to write a book of your own in the UAE, one made entirely out of single-spaced forms with at least a dozen stamps on each of them.
How Big Is Your Network?
If you’re a foreigner in the UAE, do you have a friend whom you’d trust with a 51-percent stake in your new company? No? Well, you need to find one, because local sponsors are required for doing business with the government or the public outside of the limited “free zones.” Joining some kind of professional or social association is an often-overlooked first step in starting a business in the UAE.
Do You Think You Can Evolve?
Change is, ironically, the only constant you can really count on. That great idea you started out with can easily morph over the years into something radically different. Nintendo, for example, started as a playing card manufacturer in the 1950s and only later became an industry leader in video games. That kind of flexibility buffers you well against market changes, new technology, and the uncertainties of the global economy.
Starting a small business is exciting, and there’s no better place to do it than the UAE. You still have to plan, and a winning plan starts by asking the right questions.