What Is Being Taught By New Entrepreneurs?
This two day gathering in Dubai is such a moment. I believe we will look back on the history of global entrepreneurship, which is really the essence of so much of history overall, and say this was a moment that coalesced a spirit and substance of a new generation of people to step up with courage and create things that were never there before.
Over 2,400 people were gathered from throughout the Middle East, each with their own story and ambition. I met a young Kuwaiti who created iPhone and iPad game apps solely for his own amusement only to find that over one million people found and downloaded his product. I met a 19 year old young man who is a coffee entrepreneur in Yemen, who insists that every aspect (including the packaging, most often outsourced to China) be done among people in his community. I met computer graphic animators doing things that may make 3D look antiquated in small offices in Damascus. I met an Egyptian entrepreneur who developed a technology, using air, to blast less water through showers to dramatically save consumption without sacrificing a quality bathing experience.
Perhaps my favorite was an 18 year old woman, covered from head to toe from Saudi Arabia. She has designed a beautiful, even luxurious, holder for mobile devices and other items (like note pads) battery powered to ensure our devices are comfortable, charged, and elegant. She has spoken with FOUR different manufacturers in China and is wrestling whether to simply raise money to buy her own machinery to sell her make her first batch of 1000.
Thematically, there was the enthusiasm and energy one expects in a gathering of entrepreneurs, but completely without the arrogance and hubris that marks the “who’s in and who’s out” gatherings in the States. Rather there was mostly the feeling of “our time has come, our dreams are accessible.”
Perhaps the most consistent theme discussed — one near and dear to us all, and the focus of my presentation — was the fear of failure. There are clearly cultural issues around failure unique to this region, but as I argued the essence is in our heads: nothing is worth trying without risk of failing, and we all fail. But to fear failure is also to fear to a great extent what others perceive of you. “Do you want to be what you want to be, or what others expect you to be?” I asked. For me, this is the fundamental question for any entrepreneur.
There is almost a cliché that Americans love failure, wear it as a badge of honor. I hope I made clear that NO one loves failure, and that failure, bluntly, sucks. It is lonely, debilitating, and often costly at least in the short run. But it is always — always redeemable. And there is wisdom gained from those willing to learn from it.
I believe the essence to great entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship is less about making money in and of itself, but about passion — creating things one loves, one needs, one wishes to share with and make better the world. As the great journalist Ben Bradlee once told me, “you gotta want things that matter in your teeth!” Success, personal and financial, has the highest chances of following starting there; willing to accept and work through defeats and failure; surrounding yourself with great people — on your team, among your mentors, among other entrepreneurs who go through what you go through.
This region — and I’d suggest the lion’s share of what was once called the developing world unleashed by technology, surrounded by resources to make dreams so — is locked and ready to go.
Tonight, among other direct commitments, over 300 entrepreneurs and institutions pledged $25,000 each to build a research capability to support entrepreneurs and the government institutions learning to embrace them. Millions were pledged for angel and early investment.
I was honored to be a part of this, to learn by sharing, but mostly learn by listening. The infectious enthusiasm of this gathering not only put entrepreneurial spirit on a global scale, but reminded me — refreshed me — of the basic principles and goals that make our company and our team truly great.