Failure must be normalized for start-ups to ultimately succeed: Emirati entrepreneur turned mentor

“It was difficult and heartbreaking to let go of my first failed start-up. After six years [2013-19] of the hard work I had put into developing Jamalytic, a FitBit-like camel tracking device, failed to take off, ”UAE citizen Saeed Alnofeli shared.

In a region where camels are an integral part of Arab culture, one would expect such a unique concept to click. A graduate engineer, Alnofeli has developed several prototypes with the hope of launching a unique product. But the start-up hasn’t even managed to enter the market despite having won many competitions.

Although the idea was unique, it was ahead of its time and required large-scale funding. Even though Alnofeli has won several competitions, he hasn’t been able to get that kind of funding.

“Today, when I look back, I feel that reaching investors from the same space would have been prudent. I should have tapped into the ecosystem of investors in countries like the US interested in hardware startups instead of trying to get grants and funding locally, “shared Alnofeli.

Entrepreneurs are known for turning ideas into reality. This may not always be the case, and not for everyone.

During an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Alnofeli, who is currently the director of in5 Innovation Centers and tutor of start-ups in the country, stressed the need to overcome the fear of failure, also touching on how the entrepreneurial landscape of the Emirates has evolved. Arab years.

If bankruptcy is a reality in the startup world, how can it be used as a positive reference point instead of using it as a tool of discouragement?

“There is a real need to normalize failure. Having open, honest conversations about failure instead of treating it as a shameful incident can help start-up founders overcome their fear of failure. Even though my start-up went bankrupt, it taught me the importance of accepting failure gracefully and that risk is a constant in business. If anything, surviving a failure has given me the certainty that, if necessary, I can do it again. “

What lessons did the failure of your start-up teach you?

“The concept was exciting and based on research conducted at the Abu Dhabi-based Masdar Institute. But he was farsighted for the time for two reasons. The idea of ​​introducing a health monitoring device for camels was unknown and required a lot of understanding and education. In 2013, the entrepreneurial ecosystem was not as mature as it is today. For context, there are still not many hardware startups in the region today. At that time the start-up ideas that were incubated and accelerated alongside mine were mostly software-based. Of course I felt a little directionless due to the lack of mentoring in the hardware space. Being first in a market with an innovative product is not enough if the market itself is not ready for it. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned from the failure of my start-up. Apple also didn’t launch iPhones until June 2007, although the product was ready nearly 10 years earlier. The telecommunications infrastructure had to be ready to support a product like the iPhone. “

Even though my start-up went bankrupt, it taught me the importance of accepting failure gracefully and that risk is a constant in business.

– Saeed Alnofeli

Would you advise entrepreneurs with forward-thinking ideas to pursue them even if the time isn’t right?

“Is the sector ready to accept a highly disruptive idea? Is the right technology available to develop the idea? Is there a strategic plan to cultivate the idea with investments while building a community of people who will support the idea and adhere to it? These are some key questions an entrepreneur needs to ask themselves. If the answers are yes, I would suggest to the entrepreneur to go ahead even if the idea seems ahead of its time “.

In case a hardware start-up fails to bootstrap, is it okay to raise money at an early stage?

“I would recommend a hardware start-up to bootstrap for as long as possible, then launch a campaign to raise funds. Try to reach out to angel investors first while keeping the venture capitalists for the next stage. The overall lending landscape has improved with the entry of numerous investors eager to invest in early stage start-ups. That said, I don’t see many hardware startups yet [building niche products] in the region compared to the western world. Perhaps the investor landscape that has evolved considerably needs to become more mature. “

Saeed Alnofeli: “The overall financing landscape has improved with the entry of several investors eager to invest in early stage start-ups.”

When to step up and when to quit are some crucial decisions that entrepreneurs often face? What is your advice to start-up founders on these two aspects?

“Trial and error are an important part of a start-up’s journey, at least until the initial stage is reached to validate the idea and assess whether the concept is catching on. The problem is that once a start-up sees some traction, they become impatient and often unwilling to wait for feedback. We always recommend that start-ups see if within 6-18 months 30 to 40% of their customers return organically. It is then that the start-up can think of growing “.

“It is essential to know when to increase as much as when to stop. For example, the hardware boot ecosystem has developed dramatically in recent years. If I were to launch my startup today, I could easily have gotten $ 300,000 [Dh1 million] in financing with the existing prototype. At that time, I couldn’t even secure a Dh 300,000 loan. But today I don’t have the push to relaunch the project. This is why timing is so crucial ”.

Trial and error are an important part of a start-up’s journey at least until the funding stage is reached to validate the idea

– Saeed Alnofeli

Your message to the start-up community.

“If you are eager to start a business, enjoy the journey, the creation process, the learning and even the failure as much as the result. Sometimes entrepreneurs are led to believe that they can get rich quick by starting a business. Investors are also led to believe that simply by investing money they can get rich overnight. That’s where it all fails. Only after my start-up failed to teach me several lessons, did I fall in love with the idea of ​​building businesses that should always be based on the desire to solve a problem “.