Scaling up in Dubai

“What’s the most significant difference between bootstrapping and scaling up in Dubai and the Middle East vs the West?”

It’s identical

For all the thrill seekers out there: it’s identical and not easier. Scaling up is scaling up. There are no books “Scaling up in the West” and “Scaling up in the Middle East”.

You need to focus on a clear purpose to create a community with the right people who do the right things right at the right time to solve problems for customers who want to pay for your solution and become your ambassadors. To create a flying wheel. It’s as “simple” as that. You have a dream, you make a plan, you execute, you listen, you measure, you fail, you adapt, you try again, you become a magnet, you create recurring revenue… and maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it. You get the picture: it’s very hard, and chances for success or very low. 90% of start-ups fail, and that’s a global phenomenon.

Another big mistake most people make is that they believe the addressable market is bigger and “there’s a lot of money”. The local addressable market is smaller than Belgium, and takes a lot of time to penetrate; the regional market with KSA is big but not so easy to penetrate. The start-up/scale-up investment scene is not at the Western levels, yet. The future outlook is very promising when you look at the speed this region is reinventing itself.

It’s not identical

However, growing your business is about growing thyself. To grow thyself, context and time are key. And that’s where Dubai makes a massive difference.

The context is different

I believe that your relationships and your context “define” who you are. You create a magnetic field to attract the right people on your journey and start conversations. Dubai gave me a better context to grow myself further in this stage of my life. Just like New York did many years ago. New York taught me how to scale, and Belgium taught me about quality and efficiency(and surreal humour).

The history, the present and the future plans of Dubai help me to reflect daily on leadership, relationships, conversations, engagement, trust, purpose, well-being and metasystems. And to apply those lessons in my daily life.

Dubai is like a scale-up. Not a unicorn, but a camel. So yes, I can confirm that Dubai created a great context for a founder to grow.

Dubai has a footprint culture

Energy, healthcare, education, entrepreneurship, foreign policy, politics, tax, safety, climate, religion, family, purpose, logistics, convenience, customer service, culture, lifestyle, media, banking, legal, housing… you name it: everything is different here.

“Different” is not the right word. “Aiming to be the best of all worlds” describes it better. The UAE is managed like a company, and as a founder, I learn a lot about how the wise leadership of the UAE built this ecosystem in only 50 years. How the majlis plays a vital role in the process. How relationships, conversations and trust are key in an ecosystem with an unprecedented diversity of proud people.

In the culture maturity model of Herculean Alliance, we would conclude that Dubai has a footprint culture. In a footprint culture, leaders are humble and “positive dissatisfied“, and people feel they have a personal impact on the success. It’s the same feeling as a sports team who just won the World Cup. It’s the same feeling I experience when I worked for Telindus.

Time is elastic

Focus, working hard and discipline are probably the most important aspects of growing thyself and thus your scale-up. If you can work while others are wasting time, you “win”.

Looking at my nearly 50 years in Europe and my last 2 years in Dubai, the amount of time I win here is just mindblowing. To name a few areas:

  • Maintenance: Need a plumber or an electrician? Is tomorrow ok? From the villa to the apartment lifestyle means no daily gardening or fixing stuff anymore. I win at least four hours per week.
  • Shopping: thank god for Instashop, Careem, Talabat and so many other apps. At least 2 hours per week won, and I’m eating more healthy.
  • Digital government: There’s an app for everything. I’m treated as a customer and not as a potential criminal. Even paying a traffic fine, energy bill, housing tax or VAT is “fun and convenient” here.
  • Commute: everything is maximum 30 min away, public transport is affordable and works great, and the world can be reached in max 8 hours. Driving the kids to school or social activities? They take public transport. Four hours won, at least.
  • The sun always shines: no more dark and depressing days. Need a break? Step outside and get loads of vitamin D. But it’s not just the sun. There’s so much less negativity and so much diversity. And I experience now how much time you lose trying to cope in a negative context.

Empty house feeling.

On top of that, I’m suddenly confronted with an “empty house feeling”. My wife is physically here only 40% of the time, my oldest studies in Belgium and is currently in Sri Lanka making the world a better place, my boy will leave in 6 months to study abroad, and the youngest is very independent.

Time won.

Let’s say I win on average at least one workday just because I’m living in Dubai. That’s already 14% of extra time I can spend on my scale-up instead of wasting it on meaningless activities. Add the new family context, and I easily win 2 days. And because of the sun, the purpose and the context, my productivity is also higher.

Conclusion: scaling up in Dubai is fun

Stay curious, name your obstacles, look in the mirror, be the change, surround yourself with positive people who are doing the same and see every day as a fresh start full of opportunities to conquer the status quo. Another chance to grow and transform thyself.

So create that footprint culture and leave that legacy. Why not become the best version of yourself? That’s how you increase the chances of building that legacy of yours. And that’s exactly what Dubai inspires you to do. So yes, scaling up in Dubai is fun 😉

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