When you’ve lived and worked in Dubai for as long as I have, you would be forgiven for becoming almost desensitised to the rapid acceleration of the city. Barely a week goes by without word of another new development, or murmurings of the next big startup that’s about to break through.
Despite cautious whispers about slowing growth that seem to pop up every few years, Dubai continues to surpass expectations and take its incredible evolution to the next level. There’s no doubt that this is still very much a city that is booming.
In his speech at the UAE Economic Outlook Event 2017, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of the Economic Development Committee in Dubai, made clear that he expected the city to exceed last year’s economic growth of 2.7%, up to 3.1% in 2017.
But while the upward trajectory of Dubai may seem unstoppable, that’s not to say doing business in this part of the world is without its challenges. Just like any major business powerhouse, there are certain pitfalls to be avoided and obstacles to overcome. However, providing you go into business with your eyes open and aware of the hurdles that may lie ahead, there’s no reason why the driven and dedicated entrepreneur cannot see success in this amazing city.
So let’s take a look at five of those common challenges to keep in mind.
1. Getting known: In Dubai, things can go from zero to one hundred in a flash. But that doesn’t mean you are going to step off the plane and start generating business from day one. Yes, it’s possible, but Dubai is a melting pot of networkers and most likely your first job will be making yourself known. The business culture here in Dubai is very much about personalities – people want to know about you on a personal level before they form a business relationship. That’s very much ingrained in the culture of the city. This needn’t be a daunting prospect. Just put yourself out there in the right places and those connections will come.
The business culture here in Dubai is very much about personalities – people want to know about you on a personal level before they form a business relationship.
Of course, how you put yourself out there is crucial. The key is not to spend all day everyday trying to get someone to buy into your idea. Rather, immerse yourself in the business culture, listen to those already in the game, and consider what worth you can bring to them rather than only what they may be able to do for you.
You probably know the famous quote from ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie: ‘You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.’ But what Carnegie says next is perhaps even more striking in its bluntness. ‘People are not interested in you. They are interested in themselves – morning, noon and after dinner.’
Keep that in mind as you build your network.
2. Keeping the mania in check: Dubai is the kind of place that you can easily get swept up in. There’s a palpable excitement and almost manic work ethic that vibes through the city and for new arrivals it can take a little time to gain some perspective. While some can get a handle on things quite quickly, many others understandably find the high-energy approach to almost everything rather daunting.
The key to ensuring you keep your sanity while adjusting to Dubai life is to find that work/life balance as quickly as you can: Set reasonable hours and take the time to switch off. If you don’t, you could find yourself burning out before you know it.
Burnout is much more than tiredness or even exhaustion. I have seen it many times and it can have a devastating effect. Essentially burnout is a state of chronic stress that impairs your cognitive function, blurs your thought process, and in extreme cases can lead to total detachment from the world around you.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, should you be one of the unfortunate ones that reaches burnout, it will undo all of the hard work that got you there. In the ‘Handbook on Burnout and Sleep Deprivation’ edited by Travis Winston, one of the many studies cited actually demonstrates that the effects of burnout on the brain not only lead to poorer performance levels but in some cases the problems can last several years.
3. Managing the money: Here in Dubai, managing your money extends way beyond your business. This is the city of money, after all. The natural default position out here is to spend. And why wouldn’t it be? Dubai is an incredible place to have fun and let loose and there are of course many fantastic ways to spend your money: Fine dining, fast cars, watches, art, fashion and plenty of other things that you really need but, well, don’t actually need.
And of course, the same applies to your business spending too. Once again, there’s plenty to splash the cash on – not least many highly desirable and impressive office spaces.
But keep this in mind: The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants found in their study that 82% of startups fail as a result of poor cashflow management. So, unless you want your time here to be incredibly short, it pays – literally – to get your spending in check pretty fast.
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants found in their study that 82% of startups fail as a result of poor cashflow management.
4. Building an organised workflow: There are some who say you’re either an organised person or you’re not. While I agree that maybe some of us find it easier than others, I believe that like any skill, organisation is something that can be learned. But for some reason – most likely because of how quickly things move out here – many Dubai-based businesses struggle to stay organised.
It is not uncommon to find relatively large organisations with workflow management systems that aren’t fit for purpose – if they even have a formal system in place at all. On the flipside, you often find businesses that have information split across several systems where they have patch-worked CRMs, accountancy software, project management tools and Excel spreadsheets together over time as the business has grown.
However you choose to do it, understand that organisation is key to any business’s success. As legendary American businessman Harold Geneen once declared: ‘The five essential entrepreneurial skills for success: Concentration, discrimination, organisation, innovation and communication.’
5. People management: Of course, this one is not unique to Dubai. How you manage your people will have a huge bearing on your success anywhere in the world. However there are a few factors that are unique to the city. Perhaps the most notable is the level of diversity present in most workforces across the emirate. You will be dealing with people from many different countries and backgrounds, so one of the key challenges for new arrivals is to increase their levels of cultural sensitivity and awareness.
For most, this is an easy adjustment to make – and it comes with some big benefits, and not just in the sense of broadening your horizons. A study in 2015 by McKinsey that looked at more than 350 companies found that those in the top 25% for ethnic and racial diversity in management positions were 35% more likely to have above average financial returns. Perhaps one of the reasons Dubai businesses tend to perform so well? Cultural dynamics aside, your job as manager will be first and foremost to hire the right people. But that is very much just the first step. Once they are on board, you then need to take the time to get to know them on both a personal and business level. Engage with them, find out their strengths and most importantly what makes them tick.
A study in 2015 by McKinsey that looked at more than 350 companies found that those in the top 25% for ethnic and racial diversity in management positions were 35% more likely to have above average financial returns.
And engaging with people brings about great results – as recently highlighted by a Gallup study. The meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees found that organisations with high engagement report 22% higher productivity along with lower absenteeism and staff turnover.
And the beauty is, out here, investing in people never feels like a chore. On the whole, the Dubai workforce is dedicated, passionate, bright and hardworking. Just one of the many reasons why, for me, there’s no better place in the world to do business.