Let’s start by asking an important question. What are the main requirements founders in my country need to have in order to establish a successful startup? If you are familiar with the setup and culture of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, it is very likely that your answer to the question above is going to list the following:
- A lot of money to spend on a lot of advertising and marketing
- A politician to get your paperwork processed and approved
- And a foreign partner to attract the money and the politician
I don’t disagree with you!
The above might be what you need to start a successful business in our setup and culture. A startup however, is different from a business. A startup is turning an idea into a business. A startup dreams big, but starts small. It values speed over perfection, and testing assumptions constantly. Therefore, a startup requires a different setup and mindset. In my opinion, here are the three realities you need to check in order to establish a successful startup:
1- An Innovative Business Idea
The world is changing more rapidly than ever before. Peoples’ needs, desires, demands, and taste change continuously. What is an attractive service or product today might be obsolete tomorrow. What is an effective marketing campaign today might be totally outdated tomorrow. And the story is true for all aspects of a business. Therefore, innovation is at the core of any successful business, whether well-established or early startups, but it is more important for startups.
Having an innovative business idea attracts talents, creates markets, and most importantly attracts funding. Yes, innovation doesn’t come as a full package from day one and it is an evolving process. In fact, a major task of startups is to develop and verify the innovative idea into a business model. However, it is very important that the seed for an innovative business idea is there from day one. Consequently, all activities of the startup evolve around verifying and refining this idea unless a total pivot is necessary at a later stage.
2- The Right Talents
Let’s admit it. We have talent gap in many areas in this country, especially, areas that are necessary for building startups. Digital marketing, graphic design, business development, software development, client acquisition, and many more. Most startups, especially ones with innovative business ideas, suffer from this phenomenon. Not only startups, but also international companies suffer from this phenomenon. Well-established businesses can afford outsourcing their specialized jobs to staff abroad or bring in expatriates. For startups however, this is much harder to achieve due to limited resources and recognition.
One of my founder friends stated this phenomenon in a very honest and effective confession. After struggling with finding some talents for his startup, he once said: “now I think that my competitor might have similar ideas to mine as well, but he too cannot find the talents to implement them”. He admitted that he had learned that the challenge is not a visionary founder, but the lack of the people who turn the vision into reality. Therefore, it is important that you locate and recruit people who can turn your vision into reality.
3- Full Dedication to the Startup
I honestly don’t want to get started on this issue here, but I believe that this is another major problem that is facing founders of startups in this region. It might not be lack of dedication because of lack of passion, but it is because of lack of time and focus. In my many years of being involved with startups and meeting entrepreneurs, I have yet to meet the founder or co-founder that has fully dedicated, at least, one year of his/her life to making the startup work.
Establishing a startup is a big challenge. It is a big change in life and lifestyle. It is as big as getting married, or starting your postgraduate education, or moving from one country to another. It is a lot of hustle and a lot of new territories to discover, to navigate, and to master. It can only work out with a lot of time and dedication. Establishing a startup and employing someone to run it from day one because you are busy doing something else is not recipe for success. Do it when you are fully ready and available.
There might be many other points that can be listed here, or in a similar article. For example, you need funding, you need information on how to develop a startup and run a business, you need a lot, and I mean a lot, of paperwork to go through, and an ecosystem to support you. However, I believe they all come as consequences of these three requirements. I believe if you have an innovative business idea, the right talents to turn your idea into reality, and you are fully dedicated to making it work, then you are ready and equipped to overcome the rest.
Photo Credit: The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani
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