How to Succeed during a Revolution: Words of Advice from an #Egyptian Entrepreneur


Remember the Nike slogan: Just Do It. When it comes to starting your own company, it’s all about the first leap of faith. You have an idea and you make the leap of faith to execute it. I graduated as a pharmacist with no business knowledge or experience, yet I managed to successfully launch the first and only online pharmacy in the Middle East,, with a monthly budget of $9 and in the middle of a revolution. Amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic. If I can just do it, you can too.

Less about the story more about the lessons

Every entrepreneur has a story about how they raised capital or how they managed to pull off a great feat against all odds. This however, is the story about what I learned while living my “entrepreneur story.” Each and every one of those lessons was important to me and not one was more important than the other. Without them would not be what it is today.

E-commerce sites in the Middle East are a dime a dozen, so when it comes to picking what to do, sticking with what you know is a good place to start. I’m a pharmacist, and I figured if I stuck with what I did best, I’d eventually make it. I did. I could have sold big screen TVs or Cameras online, in fact, companies that did, got funding before Staying focused on what I knew how to do, was my key in staying out of the competitive traditional retail market and gave me a unique edge. Focus on what you know and do best.

In Egypt, frustrations are opportunities. Living in Cairo is a daily hassle; it’s a city with a population of 20 million. Spending an average of four hours a day in traffic gives you plenty of time to think about how to make your business thrive. Taking time to think about your business direction and future opportunities gives you a chance to take your idea further or to pivot if necessary. Take time to think.

In the beginning, I remember having to deliver some products to a customer’s doorstep and even getting a tip. In the early days you can’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty. It teaches you a lot about the operational side of your business and what you need in future staff and in logistics capacity. Get your hands dirty.

Build your company like an Egyptian pyramid. It’s good to have an instant monetization model, but it’s more important to have a long-term plan that will give you a lasting competitive advantage that will later be difficult for competitors to overcome and may even last for over 5,000 years. Have a long-term plan.

Your team are your troops in battle – cliché’ but fact. Middle-Eastern employees are emotional; everyone is willing to work the extra hours if they feel they are part of the team rather than a wage-earning employee. Guess what, most people are like that. Some sincere words of support like “You’re doing a great job” can equal two hours of extra work that your company cannot afford. Sometimes it’s a good word; sometimes it’s ordering pizza. Pay employees with recognition.

We all know that bad attitudes can be contagious. So when you’re hiring, trust your instincts even if you lack the hiring experience and try to hire people with the right attitude. If you later realized you made a mistake, pull the plug and pull it fast.

Not that I’m superman, but when Superman first became aware of his powers, things got a little hairy. If you are too excited about your plan or your company’s vision, you are very likely to end up stalking investors or pressuring your employees. When you get the feeling you’re becoming a little draconian, use this energy for self-improvement – work out or learn something new, better yet go do something fun. You need it. When you are back at the desk your work will still be there. Be a Superman and channel your emotions.

Getting investors’ attention is tough. If you stay cool and work on generating revenues and networking, they will come knocking on your door. If you can’t actually stay cool, fake it.

Start by asking for advice from people you admire in the field of your business. Go back to them when you have followed their advice and succeeded or when you can praise their mentorship with intelligence and proof. Mentors can eventually become your investors.

Now what?

Overnight success really takes five to ten years. With an Egyptian revolution, it might take an extra two or three years. If you’re not really into the business, you will not have the energy to reach the finish line. The idea you choose will be your life for the next few years—at least. So remember to be persistent and oh yeah, never run out of cash.

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