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Entrepreneur Diaries: Cooking up a start-up


Shant Oknayan, co-founder of GlamBox.ME, reveals what ingredients you need to start a business.

December 19, 2013 2:06 by

Ever since I have become a father, I have been delegated and taken on more household chores. While it’s fair to say I would gladly do away with most of them, I did take quite a bit of interest in cooking. You see, cooking requires flair, innovation, sharp taste buds, quality ingredients, preparation, a well-equipped kitchen (with a good oven) and a good sense of timing. In fact, it occurred to me that cooking and starting up a business are quite similar.

So, what do you need to cook up a start-up?


A foolproof recipe

So, you have an idea that addresses an existing market need or perhaps anticipates a new set of needs – essentially a new dish you’ve come up with that you believe people will be excited about and enjoy. Naturally, this idea is scalable and can be profitable. So, you get to work and draft the plan – or in cooking terms, the recipe. The secret to a good plan is to make the execution foolproof, so it’s not a letdown. You need to keep it simple yet strategic, so it addresses all priorities and concerns that anyone dealing with or interested in the start-up has. You also need some degree of flexibility, so the recipe can be improved, new ingredients added or replaced. Your recipe needs to be short and tempting to sound convincing and absolutely doable.


One full cup of start-up team

Everyone will tell you that people are the single most important ingredient in your start-up. However, it’s not just the skills or experience that each person brings to the team, it’s more about the capability, drive and resilience that it builds collectively, and the way it functions as one. The team of a start-up is typically lean. Most of the time it’s just three to five people filling in the critical roles – business development, technology, marketing, operations. The way these individuals work together is what defines the work culture of a start-up. The work culture of the likes of Google, Facebook and Mashable – the start-ups that we all look up to – was defined in that initial stage and it quickly became part of their DNA. When we founded GlamBox, we had the exact same goal in mind: Bring in the best people we could find, who were not only excelling in their own sectors, but blended very well and created a strong team.


One pack of proof of concept

Testing a concept is where the recipe for start-up success either turns into a scrumptious chocolate dessert or a deflated soufflé. It is the most crucial stage, because it proves whether a business idea stands the market test. It’s also a very resource-intensive step in the start-up, because, at this stage, you have no angel investors, no VCs and there’s no one footing the bill for the ingredients list. On one hand, you need to make every dirham count and last, but, on the other hand, you can’t compromise the proof of concept.  When we started GlamBox, this was one of the hardest things to balance. We decided that it was crucial that we would make no compromise when it came to the consumer experience, so we did the best job we could on that front and we took on a large part of the production process involved, for example, the manual assembly and packing of the GlamBoxes.


A heaping portion of funding

Our start-up, which is an e-commerce business at its core, tested very well in the market from the very beginning and started generating a revenue stream from day one too, which was particularly attractive to investors. However, not all start-ups – even if they are viable business models with huge monetisation potential – are in the position to generate revenue immediately. Tech start-ups, in particular, need a longer period of development. However, more importantly, even when your business starts generating revenue from the beginning, this is not by any means adequate to building and running a start-up in its initial stages. You need the start-up money. You and your partners need to seed fund the business, so you know exactly how much you have to spend, which may sometime come short, when compared with the amount you actually need. After the proof of concept has been demonstrated, securing financial support is the most essential ingredient in a start-up. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity is not that large. All you have it approximately one year to do all of the angel investor and VC rounds until you find the funding you need.


A dash of good attitude

Building a start-up has its rewards – typically in hindsight – day to day, all you get most of the time is a tiring and draining experience. As with cooking, if you can’t stand the heat, maybe you don’t belong in the kitchen. So, what keeps you going?  The right attitude, a mélange of patience, persistence, passion, optimism, resilience and humour.

And there you have it – all of the elements for putting together a kick-ass start-up. Bon appétit.

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