Saudi Entrepreneurs: Dream Big or Die Small

Dream Big or Die Small

Photograph courtesy of Bob Bob.

When you come into my office, I ask you how you are going to make a billion dollars. You don’t like the question. You tell me you want to start small with your business and see how things go. Someday, you say, you will be selling in New York and Tokyo, but for now, you just want to get the ball rolling in Saudi Arabia.

But your small thinking keeps you small.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need a dream big enough to carry you above the day-to-day grind of running a business. If you think small, your energy will get sucked into everyday operations, and you will be too tired to think about scalability. When you finally find time to think about scaling up, you will be in too deep to update your business model, and you will not have the resources set aside to do so.

If you really want your business to make it to New York or Tokyo, let me share how you can start preparing for it right now.

The Secret to Becoming the Next Mark Zuckerberg

The key to growing beyond an ordinary small business and creating the next Facebook or Apple is to have a scalable business model. With a scalable business model, each extra dollar is cheaper to earn than the last, and growth does not rely on hiring more employees. There is no such thing as an infinitely scalable business model, but some business models allow for much more growth than others.

With my involvement in Destination Jeddah’s Enlighten and Mentor program, the Makkah Business Accelerator Program, and similar initiatives, I have seen more and more entrepreneurs entering the Saudi market every day, but most of you do not have a scalable business model. Not all of the programs and training centers that are supposed to be supporting you are teaching you this very important concept.

As one of the moderators of Startup Weekend last year, I decided I would just focus on scalability when speaking to the entrepreneurial teams. Not one of them had a scalable business model. When I talked to them and showed them how to scale up through licensing and other strategies, they told me they just wanted to start small and then grow. (By the way, at the time of writing, I haven’t heard of any of the Startup Weekend teams actually launching a business. If you know of any Saudi participants who have done so, please let me know in the comments section below, or tweet me.)

I understand. I thought the same way when I was a new entrepreneur. My first company, launched in 2004, is now closed, and the second one has required a huge strategy change to scale up. Multiplying the number of transactions you are making by 1,000 does not happen on its own.

The sad thing is that many of the businesses we have in Saudi Arabia could scale up beautifully. The problem is not a shortage of good products and services. The problem is a shortage of dreamers.

The Treasure Hidden in Plain Sight

Many Saudi companies have the potential to scale up successfully, but are not taking the opportunity. I know a publication that has an excellent brand and improvement record, and they could spread to every city in the world. It took this publication 5 years to launch in a second city, and I think it will take them another 5 years to launch in a third. But if they focused on scalability and had the right partners, they could launch in a new city every 3 months.

We also have excellent fashion designers in Saudi Arabia, but they are staying at the boutique or multi-branch level. They are not thinking about how to become the next Armani or Calvin Klein, or how to make sure their designs reach the U.S.

A few entrepreneurs are starting to wake up to this opportunity. Lately, I have had more young entrepreneurs making appointments with me, coming to my office, and discussing how to make their business ideas scalable. As with everything else, it will take time for people to adopt this mindset. As entrepreneurship becomes a bigger part of Saudi life, people will start to realize that they need to consider scalability from day one. Then we will see entrepreneurs asking themselves whether they have a million-riyal business idea, a 10-million riyal business idea, or a billion-dollar business idea from the beginning.

Until then, I will keep advocating for the importance of scalability in local magazines, on my website, during speeches, and in YouTube videos. I believe that once entrepreneurs like you understand the importance of scalability, our economy will transform.

Aiming for the Moon

Once you have a scalable business model, you will be able to see your path to a billion dollars, but many other people in your life will not. They will try to push you back into the mindset of starting small and scaling up someday. Turn it around and tell them you want to start with a billion-dollar idea and scale it down to fit the resources you already have.

There will always be people who say you are aiming too high. When you hear that, remember what W. Clement Stone said: Always aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Looking for feedback on your business model?

Please send me your business plan or schedule an appointment with me through so I can help you create your billion-dollar business model.



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