Stories of a Startup from the Sands…

“Starting up your own business is not for the faint-hearted”… “You need sharp teeth to run a business”… “You won’t last two months”…

As an entrepreneur shifting from the traditional corporate ladder, all of the above were phrases I had become used to hearing. At times it was all very disheartening… other times just taking inventory of my growth gave me enough reason to smile the rest of the week. However, while I still stand, almost a full year later, I can safely say – the journey has only just begun, and it has been tough from day 1 and comes with the promise of many many more challenges.

Before I start talking about one of the biggest challenges any entrepreneur faces, and one which has brought me to my knees several times, I want to talk about the fabulous events on this rocky road. Funny enough, both challenge and charm have been the same thing – PEOPLE.

Our startup has been blessed with the support of many from the ecosystem, pushing us in their little ways to move forward, to keep going, to hand a word of encouragement and even better words of caution. We have been lucky to be part of the Women-able programme by the Cherie Blair Foundation, and soon after, we secured incredible support from Sheraa and the Rulers of Sharjah. Through them we have met these incredible people, keepers, who shape us in many ways from what we started as to what we are now. I am almost always amazed at the incredible feeling of community and brotherhood amongst the startup community, people taking it upon themselves to mentor, grow, stretch and help. I am also always in awe of the brain power these people possess, and the best ones come with a bag of humility too. It is really quite incredible! My advice to anyone who wants to really take the accelerated route to personal and professional growth, would be to actively become involved in the startup ecosystem. The more you give, the more you will get holds not only true, but also prompt in the startup world.

It is not all stars and dreams and unicorns and milk and cookies though. As a startup, you will also find those that want to take more and give less. My personally sour experiences, unfortunately, have been in the area of people too – recruitment. Building a team that is honest, loyal, hardworking, resilient, and just plain good is one of the hardest things I have tried to do, and failed, often. I have encountered crooks that promise the world and don’t deliver, some that try to run away with precious assets, some that are unreliable, and more than anything, people that are just plain lazy. Working in a startup requires grit, and a can-do attitude, characteristics that are rare and mostly possessed by the Type A personality. My turnover in the past year has been 2x, that is 200% more than any staff turnover I have experienced in 12 years of my life. The struggle to build a world class team continues, but at least now I can safely say I am not as easily fooled by a pretty resume anymore. I am also no longer in tears when someone from the team has to be let go for the right reasons.

Team KEZA is smaller now, but tougher too. It is not complete, but it is powerful. As an entrepreneur, my biggest mistakes and costs lie in the domain of poor HR choices. I have learnt that when you hire, attitude takes precedence over skill any day. These are the people that will be spending 12 hours a day or more with each other, the only way a lasting team can be formed is when they all come with the attitude of pulling the startup to success, and in the process – each other and themselves.

KEZA means to innovate. Innovators are tough and smart cookies. We are in the business of baking long lasting changes, shortbreads just won’t fly – anymore.


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