My story with entrepreneurship in Arabia, beyond the fairy tale

August 16, 2014 — 1 Comment

They call me a “social entrepreneur”, but I always prefer to call myself an “entrepreneur wannabe”. Regardless of the naming; it should revolve around a purpose, about having an entrepreneurial idea that goes into life by someone, along with all it entails.

It sounds so sexy, and for me it was also hard to pronounce, yet entrepreneurship is way beyond a fairy tale of establishing a company and succeed or fail. For 5 years, I’ve been trying so hard to make it through that entrepreneurship roadmap, I got a lot of PR due to the fact that I introduced a totally new concept to the region through Nakhweh and because I served a niche that no one thought of serving before through my company, Ideation Box. PR is good, it could often be very harmful as well.

Probably the wake up call I got was my biggest PR hit, a success indicator rather than a failure; being listed in Forbes 30 under 30 back in January took me through a period of exceptional fame and put me on cloud #9 for a couple of weeks, until I felt the impact of the wake up slap I actually got. My talk to self was as simple as: “ok, this is being overrated, big time. Let me pause and reconsider”.

During 5 years of an entrepreneurial mission I was directly and indirectly involved in the so called “entrepreneurship ecosystem” in Jordan in specific and in the region in general, and I’m of the luckiest entrepreneur wannabes to have the finest support team helping me throughout the whole thing, including family, team members and mentors.

It’s about time for me to say the real things that people don’t hear about entrepreneurship, things that are not being addressed by those who are working to promote it as the perfect thing one could do:

  • Entrepreneurship in Jordan is a bubble that has been inflated a lot, due to a PR game that didn’t really reflect the reality of the scene. Maktoob was a success story, but what happened next? Where are the next potential success stories of Jordan?
  • You can’t, as a founder, do everything; and it’s hard to recruit founders, unless you all had the same idea and started together and have the synergy and chemistry to make it happen, and equally split the mission between you.
  • Money spoils entrepreneurs at the beginnings, especially ones who are not well experienced. What makes entrepreneurs creative enough is that they have to deal with the limited resources.
  • Starting with someone else’s money makes you spend that money right, left and center and irresponsibly (aka easy come, easy go); don’t seek investment before you really realize how important money is for you.
  • Failing forward is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be a trend and something to look up to. It doesn’t makes a success story out of you, it’s failure by the end of the day.
  • Corporations and governments need real education on how to go beyond personal connections and work with innovators rather than vendors, they are yet to realize the importance of entrepreneurship for them and for the community.
  • No matter how easy or cheap it seems to be, the attached strings of establishing a company and the government bureaucracy are things that you can never get rid of, and they get worse as things evolve.
  • Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean being the master of everything, learning is an ongoing process.
  • Angel money is not very angelic, except for some few cases.
  • Entrepreneurship is beyond fame, its innovation that adds value and creates job opportunities, which means that making money is essential and a priority.
  • Mentorship is not about a business plan or a cash flow, it’s about the entrepreneur and all it entails to be one.
  • Acquiring talents, building your team and maintaining it are the hardest things you could ever do.
  • Being an entrepreneur means more discipline, not more freedom.
  • You have to focus, you can’t do everything that crosses your mind at once, you have to let go and prioritize.
  • If you knew something wouldn’t work, stop doing it, don’t waste your time in building something useless.
  • It should be rational, emotions are good to keep you going, but it’s business and your brain should be leading it.
  • The first step to overcome your weaknesses is to admit that they are ones to yourself before anyone else.
  • Face it, no one can work for 24 hours/day, stop bluffing, balance is needed in everything.
  • Clean ethical competition rarely exists in the Jordanian culture, or maybe in the Arab culture; changing this is part of your mission as an entrepreneur.
  • Over promising always leads to under delivery, and that ruins your reputation.
  • Dealing with the attitude of clients who consider themselves superior to you requires a lot of patience and diplomacy.
  • Communication is one if the most important things you should take care of: http://bit.ly/1v09eOM

I can keep counting, but the above mentioned points are enough to portray the reality of entrepreneurship, from my experience and personal point of view. Given that I had my own negative experience almost with all these points, and I lived in denial for the longest time, I thank Forbes for making me realize it.

Luckily enough, I was able to acquire the right advice from a few entrepreneurship role models on how to act after I portrayed my case.

Concurrently, my good friend Habib Haddad, who happens to be a Nakhweh advisory board member, offered me a bigger involvement in Wamda, which I volunteered with since it was launched. The offer I got from Habib & Wamda was never an option for me, but looking at it from a different perspective made me reconsider this opportunity, regardless of the amount of confusion and stress it took me through.

Probably a lot of people were surprised with such a move, especially close friends who see a success story in me; but when I reach the point that makes me realize something wrong is going on, I’m capable enough to decide on how to deal with such an opportunity that leads to giving up on things that I would’ve never given up on a year ago.

I found in the opportunity with Wamda, that doesn’t really conflict with my work on Nakhweh or Ideation Box, a learning curve and a real value for me to tie up my loose ends (i.e discipline, working with people beyond my comfort zone… etc), and I saw in myself a real value for a company which has a mission that falls under my passion of being a proactive Arab citizen, especially that I have my personal experience with entrepreneurship.

Nevertheless, I will always #KeepTheNakhweh using the Power of Yalla :)

One response to My story with entrepreneurship in Arabia, beyond the fairy tale

  1. Great write up Kamel. I enjoyed your candour and agree with many points mentioned. Look forward to your next phase :)

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