x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

SME corner: entrepreneurship takes bravery

I have the money but not the couarge to start up my own business. So, how do you know if you are a real entrepreneur?

I have a number of business ideas up my sleeve and potentially the money I need to invest in a new business. But I don’t know if I have the courage to go it alone. I earn a high salary and enjoy the perks that come with my job, and while I have always fantasised about running my own enterprise, I don’t know if I have the entrepreneurial flair to succeed. So how do you know if you are a true entrepreneur? SD, Abu Dhabi

Most of us have had an inspiring business idea that has captivated our imagination. Then the fear of the unknown sets in. The path to setting up and then running a business is paved with ambiguity and it is perfectly rational behaviour to cling to your comfort zone. In my experience, entrepreneurship is all about embracing the ambiguous and kicking your comfort zone to the kerb.

In 1992 I returned to London from a holiday in Kenya with the idea of selling hand-carved wooden and stone artefacts I had seen in Nairobi’s craft markets. I did some research and felt there was indeed an opportunity to wholesale these artefacts to home and gift retailers in England. My friends were discouraging and my parents were distraught that I was considering leaving a traditional career path.

A few months later I quit my job as an accountant to seize the challenge. After two years of frustration and perseverance, the business grew rapidly and began turning a profit. Relative to most of my university friends and what I might have earned had I stuck it out with my professional job, my salary was meagre for the first few years. However, an unwavering, almost irrational belief in my business idea kept me going.

In 2008 I stumbled across Jones the Grocer in Wallpaper* magazine. The financial crisis had begun to bite chunks out of my successful wholesale business. Being a consummate foodie, I had always fantasised about running a restaurant. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. Within a week of reading the article I was on a plane heading back to London, having signed an agreement to open five stores in five years in the UAE.

As the plane touched down at Heathrow, I remember feeling excited and a little scared about the enormity of the challenge I had taken on. I had never run a business in the UAE before, but I had sensed a tangible opportunity when I came here on regular holidays. Three close friends promised to chip in to raise the investment capital. I spent six months writing a business plan while fending off disbelief from friends and family.

Then, just when I had the first Jones the Grocer lease signed up, two of my investor friends pulled out. They both earned high salaries with all the perks and were unwilling to risk their capital. My third friend, a seasoned entrepreneur who’d left a third-generation family business to strike out on his own, stepped in to fill the capital gap. He loved the business plan and knew that I had the perseverance to see it through.

When I look back at my life-changing decisions in 1993 and 2008 (there were a couple of others in between, too) I can confidently say that I only thought about how to seize the opportunities and capitalise on them. Family members found me focused and perhaps a little selfish. To most outsiders I appeared irrational. Here are two comments that capture the sentiments of my friends and family:

“Why on Earth would you leave a relatively comfortable life in London and uproot your young family for a venture where the odds of success seem so low? “

“What do you know about running a business in the UAE – a restaurant at that?”

The risks my friends and family saw were challenges that I was perfectly happy to tackle head-on. I never contemplated failure, but I constantly thought of ways of maximising opportunity and minimising risk.

To live your dream you’ve got to build it in the world you live in. Turning your fantasy into reality means an unwavering belief in your idea and the persistence and courage to step out of your comfort zone to deliver it. True entrepreneurship embraces ambiguity and risk. If this seems irrational to you, then perhaps you are not cut out to go it alone.

Yunib Siddiqui started his first business in London at the age of 22. He is the chief executive and owner of Jones the Grocer in the UAE. He can be contacted at SMEbizCorner@gmail.com