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10 Common Mistakes among Lebanese Entrepreneurs

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Ali Chehade Hacker Noon profile picture

@alichehadefarhatAli Chehade

Founder & CEO

As someone passionate about entrepreneurship, I got the chance to coach and work with hundreds of young Lebanese entrepreneurs.

These opportunities made me realize several common problems among many Lebanese entrepreneurs, especially those working on their first venture.

Below are 10 common issues I see among Lebanese entrepreneurs, and a few thoughts on how to overcome them.

1- Not taking validation seriously

This is by far the most common problem among first-time entrepreneurs. They are so passionate about their idea that they ignore the market needs altogether. They focus on building the product before making sure that the market needs it. This is understandable after all; building is the fun part; interviews, surveys, and studies are the boring (and scary) parts.

A common symptom of this issue is using phrases like

  • “Of course people want this”
  • “I asked my friends and they said they are interested”
  • “Who would say no to this?”
  • “I need to build the product before I can ask people if they like it.”
  • “People do not know what they want.”

This mistake, more often than not, results in wasting time, effort, and money.

If you would like to know more about some simple ways to validate your ideas, leave a comment below.

2- Complaining about the lack of opportunities

If there are three things that are the pillars of our culture, then they are the cedars, the tabboule, and complaining.

I often hear Lebanese entrepreneurs complaining about the lack of support, the lack of investors, the lack of resources. Sorry, but NO!

If there is one thing Lebanese entrepreneurs have an overflow of, then it's all of the above. However, many of us expect a phone call that tells us how awesome we are and how the person on the other line would like to, unconditionally, offer us all the support we need. This is not how things work.

Lebanon, for its size, has TOO many opportunities. There is plenty of early-stage support from accelerators, incubators, competitions, networking opportunities, and workshops; many of which come at no cost to the entrepreneur.

If you are someone who thinks there is not enough support in Lebanon, then allow me to say, you have not done your part of the work.

3- Ignoring how small the market is

Reality check: Lebanon is a SMALL country.

Very few businesses can thrive in a market of this size. If your goal is to make a few thousand dollars a month, then by all means; a good business that fulfills a decent need can achieve that. If your dreams are any bigger than that, you will need to consider regional or international markets.

If you prefer staying local, think of businesses with a high rate of repeat purchases (there is a reason why the food business is the most lucrative in Lebanon). Stay away from businesses that limit your transactions with the customers to one or two transactions.

4- The lack of the 10x mindset

Many Lebanese entrepreneurs are afraid to think big. I do not blame them. The resources we have, and the political/economic situation we live in, does not allow us to dream big, neither does it reward big dreamers.

While other people are building startups that change life as we know it (Space, genetics, engineering, governance, sustainability), we are more comfortable building startups that solve simple life problems.

I have found that traveling around the world to countries with pioneering industries (USA, Europe, East Asia) opens the eyes of our entrepreneurs to think bigger. There are hundreds of events and networking opportunities around the world that can improve our mindset. So, next time you are on a vacation, look up networking events, and even competitions and hackathons to participate in.

5- Thinking of competitors as a threat.

Our culture is a VERY competitive one. We fiercely hide our secrets, we don’t share our numbers (profits, expenses, investment, losses), we don’t disclose resources, and we rarely collaborate.

On the other side of that coin is the common comeback many entrepreneurs hear to their ideas: “But XYZ is already doing that” .. Many of us assume that if there is ONE other company doing or trying to do something similar to what we do, then there is no point of moving forward with our startup idea.

It might be a good mindset to embrace competitors, learn from them, and even think of ways to collaborate for the bigger good.

6- Ignoring regional and international opportunities

Do not limit your search for support to Lebanon. Search abroad.

In addition to the many resources available in Lebanon, there are tons of regional and international opportunities are Lebanese entrepreneurs are eligible for. A good place to start from is https://www.f6s.com/.

This, of course, comes at a price: you will need a highly competitive and more innovative business to get support at a regional or international level.

7- Building a brand without a product

Some entrepreneurs focus too much on building a brand and marketing something that doesn’t really exist. They focus on creating an awesome logo and an active social media presence. They produce cool videos, print tshirts, spend money on fancy business cards, talk about their product on every media outlet, they make promises, all while not giving the product development what it needs.

Many startups start, grow, get famous, and end before they even launch or build an actual product.

Don’t let the “image” of your startup distract you from building an actual business.

8- Getting taken away by the silicon valley culture

Inflated pay, beanbags, fun times, pool tables, game rooms, flexible hours. There is a reason these words rhyme with Silicon Valley startups: “Talent competition”. Startups in Silicon Valley (and similar markets) try REALLY hard to attract the best people to work for them. In those markets, there are not enough skilled professionals to cover the needs of the large number of startups and companies.

Let's be real, this isn’t the case in Lebanon. We do not have hundreds of startups, and we DO have THOUSANDS of students graduating every year with not enough jobs in the market.

Many entrepreneurs seem to be more excited about the “fantasy” of a startup than about the startup itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a party pooper; there is nothing wrong with having a Babyfoot at your office, but any startup which got one can confirm that it eventually turned into nothing but a giant obstacle in the middle of the office. And anyone who actually visits Silicon Valley will realize that most of these “perks” go to waste, as they lose their sparkle after some time. They end up being an extra expense and a distraction from focusing on what really matters.

9- Mistake media attention for success.

Media coverage is like a drug. Gives you a false hype for a short while, until you discover that it did more harm than good.

I come from a media background. I have personally interviewed tens of Lebanese startups for TV, many which do not exist anymore.

Media outlets are always looking for stories, and they usually care more about that story than the actual product. And in Lebanon, it is VERY easy to get media attention compared to more competitive markets.

The problem with this is that it gives the entrepreneur a false sense of success, which often ends up in this person chasing publicity opportunities instead of focusing on building their business.

In many cases, this publicity is premature, especially when an entrepreneur wastes a media appearance to talk about a product/service that people can’t yet use.

Do not say yes to every media appearance opportunity. Publicity needs to be well studied. I always advise entrepreneurs to only appear in the media if their potential customers have the ability to take action (buy the product, download the app, or at least just film a form).

10- Worrying too much about someone “stealing” your idea.

I left my biggest pet-peeve till the end.

Let’s set this straight: If your idea is too easy to be stolen and to be successfully implemented by anyone who hears it, then the barriers to entry are VERY low, and this business might not be worth your time anyways.

Even the BIGGEST companies with all their legal resources are unable to protect their “ideas” (think Apple vs Samsung or Instagram VS Snapchat). Also, whether your idea is patented or not is a virtually negligible detail in the bigger scheme of things. And keep in mind, almost all successful businesses today were NOT the first to do what they are doing.

It is not the idea that makes a successful business, it is the resources, the market strategy, the successful execution, and the team behind it. And I have always believed: if someone can successfully “steal” your idea and build a better business than you, then they deserve it more than yourself.

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