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Learning to take the plunge come what may

A lot of people dream of running their own business, but never get around to doing it because they are held back by uncertainty and failure. But when is the best time to start? How can one ensure one won’t lose the start-up money? And what if there is failure?

There are no universal answers to these questions, but waiting for the perfect timing — for the moon and the stars to align — may just lead to nowhere. In some ways, starting a business is like taking a leap of faith. Every aspiring entrepreneur wants to succeed, but nothing is guaranteed.

“I’m a strong believer that if you keep waiting for the right time, you’ll never feel it’s the right time,” said Salam Saadeh, co-founder of UrbanBuz, a customer loyalty platform targeting small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Sometimes, perfect is the enemy of good … so you shouldn’t wait for everything to be perfect and everything to be aligned.”

But at the very least, any aspiring entrepreneur should have personal knowledge of the business chosen and mentors who can offer some advice. “When you feel you’re confident enough, jump right in and then try to swim. You’ll learn along the way, eventually,” Salam adds.

With the economy back on track, more people like Salam have joined the ranks of business owners. As of the fourth quarter last year, Dubai’s Department of Economic Development (DED) issued 4,573 licenses, up 12 per cent year-on-year. The UAE is now home to more than 230 small enterprises employing 42 per cent of the nation’s workforce and contributing 40 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

When Loulou Khazen Baz, a Lebanese expatriate, quit her job in a UAE-based venture capital firm about three years ago. Little did she know what awaited her. “I just stopped working, but I didn’t have a concrete business idea at that time,” she said.

There was one thing Loulou was certain, though. She didn’t like the idea of tying herself down to a regular office job. She wanted more control of her life, the freedom to make decisions and to generate money at the same time.

She later learnt there was a gap in the region’s employment market that needed to be filled. “I realised there are millions of people out there who are educated and have a work experience, but don’t want to work for 9 to 10 hours a day. They want freelance work,” Loulou said.

In 2012, she decided to set up an online platform that specialises in the placement of skilled individuals in part-time or contractual positions. It was in the same year when she beat over 2,000 aspiring entrepreneurs from the region to win a reality TV show, ‘The Entrepreneur’, the Middle East counterpart of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice.

Today, Loulou’s online community called Nabbesh boosts of about 33,000 members from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. “Before I started Nabbesh, I never actually saw that I had what it takes or I was ready and had enough experience to start a business. This is one of the things that hold people back most of the time,” she said.

Janine Bensouda always knew she was an entrepreneur at heart, but the tipping point was when she felt she could no longer go one more day sitting on the sidelines. A Moroccan who has lived in Dubai for most of her life, Janine had previously worked in the financial services, management consulting and marketing industries.

Although she was passionate about what she was doing, a constant source of frustration was the perennial office politics in large corporations.

Like Loulou, she decided to call it quits after working for about 20 years. She had no alternative to fall back on at that time. “I just felt there were more reasons to do it than there were reasons not to do it,” Janine said.

“Also, there was something that really rang through me. I went to a conference one day and one woman said, ‘Sometimes, I feel like I’m a caged bird’. So, against all odds, I quit. I just said, you know what, it’s over.

Janine later founded Bensouda Consulting, a consulting firm specialising in customer service and experience management. Now, more than six years later, she’s seeing measurable results.