People are usually surprised when I tell them that I first landed in Dubai in 1988. That gave me a front seat to all of the UAE's boom, I saw it in real time and it has been magnificent.
That embodiment of opportunity, speedy growth and continuous evolution is everywhere in the UAE. The UAE itself is the biggest 'startup' there is; it is a dream that is building with each passing day. What the UAE has done in the last 30 years, the last 10 years, is exactly what startups do in any traditional environment.
Emiratis look at a normal way and rate of doing things and shake their heads. Nothing is good enough, we can always do it better and faster. From the outside, it looks like overkill, people look at the glam and say 'wow', especially when you see the modern-day spectacles; but as someone that's been part of this journey from the inside - you know it's more, it's the spirit of the place - the ambition and the pride we are raised with that make the impossible possible.
So, this is where you should be to start new ideas before scaling them to the region, if not the world. Sure, there are still many challenges, many regulations and there's still a long way to go. But, all the new better regulations, the fast-growing community and the new inspiring stories we hear every day is a testament of that innate UAE desire to be a hub for startups.
But that's for other analysts to say, when it comes to the UAE's startup community, I am relatively the new guy on the block. I will not claim to know the secrets of the startup industry in the UAE, as I am learning myself, but I do want to share some of my fresh learnings I gathered from being "in the trenches" of this fast-paced environment. Maybe I could help others make the move and be members of this success story in the works that is the UAE startup scene.
1. 'Steal' experience from community resources. If you are unfamiliar with the rules, you can use the medium and learn only from the success stories out there already, what works or not, with the first easy step being to educate yourself. Whether you are still a fresh graduate or a mid-career corporate/SME employee, you need to 'look under the hood' first. Some great resources are:
a. Startup gateway: Magnitt: magnitt.com/which is dubbed as the 'gateway to the Mena startups ecosystem' for all the news and key stats plus even internships and jobs in the startup world across the region.
b. Skills/workshops: Try to get some startup-specific courses in areas you feel you need some help in from the likes of AstroLabs, Laimoon.com and others. As an entrepreneur, you need to have good basic knowledge across the whole business until you build a team as you grow. So, round off the edges.
c. Hubs and incubators: There are many already and more popping up. Be sure to visit them to get a better feel of the environment and the many talks/events they offer - AstroLabs, Dubai Chamber Startup Hub (DSH), Shereaa Hub, Dtec, In5, Flat6Labs, StartAD and many others.
d. Licences: Venture Souq and Latham & Watkins have recently launched a great new tool called 'The Freezone Navigator' to better understand and decide licence choices.
2. Get your hands dirty, ASAP. It's easy, especially in Dubai's active social environment to get absorbed, but don't get too comfortable and complacent, start getting involved.
The many entrepreneurs in the community surely need some help and expertise in many areas they are not familiar with. So, whatever your background, you can help and learn in the process. If you're at the beginning of your career, then internships with startups are the best way, and if you're an experienced professional, look into your wider contact network to help someone, and look into some great new platforms that make such a process easier and bring some structure, like NewShifts.
Typically, what you hear is people being 'afraid' or having 'commitments'. Remember, nothing beats first-hand experience. So, get started with those easy ways to get the comfort and experiences you need. Eventually, you have to start somehow.
3. Good things come to those who wait. One of the biggest mistakes people make in the UAE, more so than anywhere else, is they think short-term. Many people see themselves in 'transit' for a few years. People think they wouldn't need to build something fundamentally strong, something sustainable, but just to make a quick buck or a quick success before moving on.
This mentality is dangerous for the entrepreneur and for the entire community. Failures are expected and can happen, there's nothing wrong with that and nothing to be ashamed of, but fail with pride, not due to rash short-term mindset and decision.
Envision the future, plan for long-term success and focus on executing the short term with all that in mind.
What makes any startup industry great? It's the environment and the people in it. The UAE has gone to great lengths, and continues to do so, in order to provide entrepreneurs with the best chances of success. Then, it's really up to the entrepreneurs and their teams to keep this momentum of change. to keep trying, keep learning, keep sharing and doing all this fast. What we need in the community is more people with more ideas who can come in to create more success and failure stores, to push the community in evolving the rules and the standards, and helping make a flourishing startup ecosystem even more exciting for new entrepreneurs and investors to join. So, embody the UAE's innovative essence: get inspired by it and get involved.