5 Things A Start-Up Needs To Be Successful

Zamin Dharsi, Brand Director & Head of Marketing / Communications

So you’ve been there, done that and it’s time to embark on a new journey. After all, this is the heartland of startups in the region.

According to 2016’s Global Entrepreneurship Index, the UAE sits in first place among its fellow MENA contemporaries, coming in at #19 overall. This is in part due to the various incubators it is home to, like our very own client Sheraa, who makes the dream of starting a business come true every single day.

In fact, a recent study revealed that 64% of people in the UAE workforce are interested in starting their own business. You may even be in that same boat.

Imagine you’re sat in a shisha café one night scribbling away when you’re hit by a flash of inspiration. Days later, you’re still toiling with it in your mind, and before you know it – you’ve got a full presentation deck, a financier and a resignation letter to hand in.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?

You’ve finalised the licensing and visa process, dealt with real estate agents, and when it’s eventually the day to cut the ribbon on your new venture, you’re pretty exhausted.

So now you can sit down and relax a little, right? Wrong!

What most people forget is setting up a business is only about one quarter of the actual work. You have to run it successfully if you don’t want to go back to your old job. And that’s where we come in.

Often people neglect the importance of branding and marketing. But a strong plan can be the ‘it’ factor that separates you from your competition or a business that goes bust in a few months.


Here are my five recommendations for what a start-up needs in order to be successful:

1. A strong brand

What exactly is a brand? Quite simply, it’s your company’s identity. It’s both visual, vocal and mental. It’s how your brand – and you as their chief brand ambassador – looks, dresses, talks and walks.

A lot of people start with a logo and do it because they have to, but it goes beyond that. Think of all the successful businesses you know – those of the caliber of Emirates Airlines and Dubizzle and what sets them apart. When you close your eyes and think of the company – you can see it – the colour that represents them, the font, the type of work they do, their logo on a billboard.

And that recognition is what you are trying to capture in the mindset of your audience when they someday think of your brand. So you need to start by making sure you have a solid, consistent, simple set of visuals and tones that represent you and your company.

2. Active, consistent social media

Do I need a Twitter handle? What’s Snapchat? Can social media actually help my brand? There’s a hundred and one questions that people ask us on a daily basis about social media – and there’s a hundred and one possible answers. But the most common one is this: it depends. It depends on your audience, on your brand, and on your product or service.

Imagine you’re a vendor selling oranges on a cart back in ancient times – would you stand in an isolated alley hoping for people to come to you? No, you would go to where the people are: the busy souks and courtyards and the bustling marketplace. In 2017 – social media is the virtual version of that busy souk. It’s where the people are, and many may be interested in what you have to offer just waiting to be converted. Go there first.

3. A social media strategy

Ah – the most common misunderstanding. You’ve created your Facebook page, and occasionally you’ll share a selfie #WorkingHard or a cool article (15 dogs that look like their owners!) – but how’s that supposed to get you more business?

It won’t. You need strong, strategic, engaging content that gets into the mind of your consumer. If you’re a burger joint – what can you do on social media to make your target audience’s mouth water –  day in and day out? A strong social media strategy is about 3 things: engagement, visuals and consistency. It’s a formula that must be repeated daily, overcoming the various algorithmic challenges that may keep your content from your audience – not to mention the thousands of other messages they’re bombarded with.

Pro tip: if you want your audience to see your content: spend the ad dollars. PPC and promotions are a necessary evil.

4. A marketing strategy

Now that you’ve got a strong social strategy – it’s time to emulate that across the rest of your business. A study suggests that we are exposed to 174 pieces of content every single day. As much as 99% are filtered out – so how do you make your brand live in that top 1%?

Let’s go back to those brands I mentioned earlier. Why is Emirates one of the most successful brands globally? Because they’re everywhere: on your Facebook feed, in the mall, and in the streets. Do you remember other airline carriers in the same way? Likely not – because most only leverage their brand on one or two platforms. If you want to stick – you’ve got to be ubiquitous – and have a strong strategy to back it up.

5. A crisis plan

Finally, number five is often what people forget: the need to safeguard against a potential crisis.

What happens if (God forbid) a renowned personality dines at your restaurant tomorrow and contracts food poisoning? Or your website gets hacked and a key customer is attacked with illicit content? There goes your reputation and sales figures for Q2, 3 and 4. Many start-ups plan for the best and forget to prepare for the worst. But we live in a duality. Forewarned is forearmed.

A few years ago, a previous client that shall remain nameless, got caught by the media doing things that were directly opposed to not only their brand ethos – but the function of their company. Imagine you are a business built on doing one thing and emphasising again and again that you are proud of doing that thing – and you get caught doing the exact opposite. For many start-ups, this nightmare scenario would be the end. But luckily for this anonymous company, we had a plan prepared – and in no time, it was ancient history.

The moral of the story: do the homework, prepare today for tomorrow’s potential PR crisis, and watch your brand soar.


I’ll leave you with a simple quote as old as time: “If you’re going to do something, you better do it right.”
Ideally the first time.

Zamin Dharsi is the Head of Marcomms for Alsayegh Media. Winner of a MEPRA Award for his campaign for Jaguar Land Rover, Zamin was recently featured in Campaign Magazine’s ‘30 under 30’ to watch in the MENA advertising industry. In his spare time, he likes to collect materials for DIY project he will never get round to doing.