ByRobert B. Tucker & Hani A. Al-Menaii
Throughout Middle Eastern countries today, entrepreneurship is a growing trend. Some new businesses being founded are simply more of the same: another restaurant, dry cleaners, or auto-detailing shop. But increasingly, today’s generation of business creators are putting a new spin on the traditional business. They are adopting the latest technologies to give them an edge. Some are adding unique, exceptional and differentiated value in the process. Result: customers are voting with their feet, mouse-clicks and pocketbooks for the products, services and solutions these innovative startups are providing.
Take for example Talabat, which is an online food ordering & delivery platform, started in Kuwait in 2004. Talabat has grown to cover all six of the GCC countries. Instead of calling a restaurants delivery phone, you visit Talabat’s website and look at a large selection of restaurants, browsing through their menus, and when you decide you make the order and pay the bill. Then you have the food delivered to your address, also you could track the order and know the time expected for it to arrive. (The German e-commerce group Rocket Internet acquired Talabat in early 2015.)
Businesses like Talabat demonstrate the difference between the classic entrepreneur and the innovator. For example, a person opening a new McDonalds is an entrepreneur, even though he is guided (and restricted) in how he operates his franchise by strict rules. The new breed of innovator does something more than simply open a new business. He or she not only opens a new business, but looks to create a better way to fill the customers needs in that industry, or solves the customer’s problem in a superior way.
If you’re looking to join this entrepreneurial bandwagon, here are four principles to keep in mind:
1. Be alert to the unmet needs of customers. Great opportunity spotters do not have a different genetic composition. They simply are more alert to moments of frustration with the way existing businesses serve customers. Innovators listen to that little voice inside that says: “Wait a minute, this is inconvenient, or slow or frustrating.” The innovator thinks: “other people must be having this problem, maybe there’s a better way of going about this.”
I (Robert) once asked Fred Smith, who founded FedEx, where he came up with the idea. Smith told me that he was the owner of a small company that refurbished aircraft, based at the Little Rock Airport. The idea came from noticing how business people were showing up at his little company. They were practically frantic to get a package to its destination urgently, and had no way to do so at the time. They practically begged him to charter one of his planes to ship it, even though that wasn’t his business. The existing freight businesses were oblivious to the growing demand.
Similarly, what the founders of Talabat.com did was to sense certain customer needs that were using traditional phone delivery systems for the restaurants. They rethought needs like: customers not wanting to be annoyed by the over- selling of the order taker in the restaurants; or the customers desire to see how the meal or the sandwich looks like before ordering; or the need to make sure the order is exactly as the consumer wanted it.
Would be entrepreneurs are encouraged to “walk in the customers’ shoes,” and experience their impressions and frustrations with the standard ways most businesses in that industry operate. How might you eliminate waiting? How might you understand what gives the customer true satisfaction and value? In asking such questions, and considering emerging technologies, you might just come up with a superior and unique way of satisfying customers.
2. Rethink industry assumptions. Challenge what everybody in your industry, country or city believes to be true (but may no longer be). For example, a decade ago, if you were a furniture manufacturer in the United States, the assumption was: “You have to move your manufacturing to low cost China to survive.” The industry was hard hit, but not everyone accepted the prevailing assumption.
Bassett Furniture, based in Virginia, got busy rethinking its options. They cut costs they partnered with their workers, and invested in cutting edge equipment. They rethought what their distressed dealer network needed from them that would help them to survive. The answer: greater speed of satisfaction in delivery, more customization of fabrics and colors, etc. Bassett ships custom orders in 24 hours, something that was assumed to be impossible. This allowed retailers to carry less inventory, cutting their costs, and Basset offered more favorable financial terms. Meanwhile, the trends began to work in their favor. Wages in China have risen, while raw material and shipping costs continue to rise. Result: Basset not only survived, but today the company is thriving.
Ponder this: what assumptions surround your industry? What are standard ways of doing business that now seem cumbersome, bureaucratic, and inefficient? Out of this “assumption assaulting” will come insights that could lead to better ways of creating value for customers in the future.
3. Look for the unarticulated needs of customers. A “business model” is how a company plans to make a profit by providing certain goods and services that customers need to purchase. Often, business models are built on providing a partial solution for the customer. Nobody challenges this accepted set of practices. But then an innovator like you comes along, spots the “better way,” rethinks what “total solution” would look like for the customer, and succeeds. For years, Blockbuster dominated the movie rental business. A decade ago, they had over 9000 stores. But then came Netflix with a new revenue model: instead of charging customers per rental,, they offered a flat monthly subscription fee. Customers could obtain movies by mail just as fast as they could watch them and return them. Consumers loved it. And Blockbuster began its painful decline.
Zoomaal.com, a crowd funding website for new startups, surfaced an unarticulated needs of countless entrepreneurs in the Arabic region. By allowing entrepreneurs to post their projects in Arabic, it allowed them to solicit funding from non-English speaking people in the Arabic region. Also by targeting the crowd-funders in the Arabic region, it allowed entrepreneurs to create projects that were more in alignment with the culture of the region and addressed the needs of people of the region.
4. Do lots of research. Serial entrepreneur Richard Barton, whose startups include Zillow, Expedia, Glassdoor and others, hatches billion-dollar ideas by repeatedly asking a simple question: “What piece of marketplace information do people crave and don’t have?” Once he gets an idea, he does lots and lots of research to make sure his idea is solid. Is it sustainable, scalable, and profitable?
The only way to find out is to gather as much information as you can to determine if the idea is viable or has some fatal flaw. Seek feedback from everybody, especially people who might be potential customers. Build a prototype or at least a tangible mockup of your idea, so people can understand your vision, and give you their input. If your idea is solid, this research phase will strengthen your resolve. If it’s flawed, you’ll be the first to know and you can adapt accordingly.
When we say research it doesn’t mean the traditional market research (like focus groups & questionnaires), but research that focuses on understanding the real needs of your potential customers, and the research that allow you to test (very fast and with low cost) the viability of your ideas and are they going to be accepted by your customers.
Lots of the entrepreneurial projects in Zoomaal.com are doing a great testing and research in the early stages of their ideas, they are looking to see if there is an acceptance for their products and services by asking people to pre-order they are testing the viability of their products and services. Also by listening to the feed back from the people (on zoomaal.com) they could get lots of suggestions and improvements ideas from some of their potential customers.
The Arabic region has great potential for entrepreneurs who are willing to be innovative, and who seek to integrate cutting edge technology to offer the customer something new, unique and exciting. The percentage of youth in Arab populations, combined with great changes that are taking place across the region, are creating an innovation suitable environment like never before.
These can be great times for those entrepreneurs who are willing to create disruptive innovations in different fields and areas in the region. So our advice to you if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, find an innovative idea with the help of these four principles, and create the next mega-success in the region.
Robert B. Tucker is president of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group in Santa Barbara, California, and the author, most recently, of Innovation is Everybody’s Business, and is a frequent speaker in Middle Eastern countries on innovation and entrepreneurship. He can be reached at www.innovationresource.com
Hani Al-Menaii is a co-founder and the CEO of Specialized Training Company in Kuwait, an author of How to make Your Initiative Successful? , and a consultant and trainer in marketing and innovation in several countries of the Middle East. He can be reached at www.al-menaii.com