In hindsight, there’s one thing in particular that Siddiq Farid, who founded SmartCrowd in 2018, regrets not having done: listening more to others who had gone through the hardships of entrepreneurial life before him. “It’s an ego thing. Like, I’m a smart guy, I know everything, I can do it, I don’t need anyone’s help,” he recalls, adding with pangs of regret, “One of the key elements that, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, you should have is a mentor. If, when I started, I had known the things I know today, my journey would have been so different.”
With a that in mind, Farid shares insights that any entrepreneur could benefit from.
1. Be Focused and Honest with Yourself
The energy and optimism inherent to entrepreneurship can sometimes backfire. You have a vision, you have opportunities, but they can lead you to overcommit or spread yourself too thin.
So, “Set targets and goals and don’t lie to yourself. Stay focused on mastering your domain. Figure out what your product is, what you’re doing well, and do more of it until you become a dominant player. Then, start branching out and doing other things,” says Farid, who specifically warns against the dangers of trying too hard to please your investors. “Sometimes, you get caught up and, if you don’t have sophisticated investors who have done it before, they will misguide you. Many investors and VCs are not entrepreneurs themselves; they’ve never built a business. They’ll throw everything at you and you will take it on believing that they probably know what they’re doing. That’s why it’s important to learn to say ‘No, I’m focused on this one thing and we’re going to do it really well.’ Have clear milestones and goals in your journey.”
Importantly, if you miss those milestones, reevaluate whether it’s worth going to the next level or call it quits. “Don’t rationalise your failure, don’t lie to yourself, and hold yourself accountable. There’s probably a reason why you weren’t able to achieve your goals and that’s okay. You can go do something else. Your second startup is always better than your first one,” says Farid.
Indeed, honest feedback is critical, including when you’re failing. And that cuts both ways, for founders and investors. “Celebrating failures is missing from our ecosystem. No VC will go to a founder and say, ‘We got this one wrong. You’ve worked hard and you’ve validated certain elements but it’s not going to work as a business so let’s wrap it up. It’s okay,” explains Farid, adding, “Many businesses probably should have had that conversation with a VC at some point. Instead, the VC will keep encouraging them, hoping they will eventually get their money back one way or another. But failure in itself is not a failure; the biggest failure not taking learnings from your shortcomings. Unfortunately, in our region, we don’t do that.”
2. Find the Balance between Aggressiveness and Conservatism
Especially when dealing in FinTech or any industry where customers trust you with their hard-earned money, you have a fiduciary duty. This not only means that you want to go to bed knowing that you haven’t wasted anyone’s life savings but also that you can’t be too aggressive, which comes at a price.
“When you’re trying to build a hyperscale tech business, you have to be aggressive and sometimes take risks. You want to accelerate your business but then, you also want to be conservative in your approach to not mislead people, which can come back and haunt you. You have to not cross the line but get to the edge. Finding that balance is difficult,” says Farid, who advises, “It’s a long-term game that requires patience. Don’t scale your business and become a success story overnight only to suffer in the long run because it came at the expense of your [stakeholders]. If you take care of them and make them money, they will keep coming back and give you more and more money. That’s a slow burn but a lot more sustainable growth.”
3. Find the Right Investor for the Right Business Model
Not every type of investment is a good match. As Farid explains, it starts with understanding your business model. “Is your business venture-friendly or not?” he asks, adding, “Not every single startup is supposed to be venture. If it is not, it’s okay; look for other means of financing. There’s more patient capital available in the market; it’s only a bit harder to get.”
And even if you think venture is the right approach, “Don’t just take money from anywhere; find the right venture partners. It has to be about more than money. Have the right people who align with your vision and your way of doing things, who share your values and will give you proper support. If there’s a disconnect, you will struggle. So, do your homework,” says Farid.
In fact, as he explains, “most entrepreneurs don’t realise that you’re selling yourself as much as the VC is selling you, because VCs deploy capital and there’s only so many good deals available. If you do things right, if you have the right story, the right team, the right attitude, investors will chase you. So, make them work hard too.”
4. Remember You Don’t Have to Do It All Alone
Founding a new company can be an emotional roller coaster, so be prepared for how this new project can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
“Some days – no, some hours – you want to be on top of Burj Khalifa and pound your chest. By evening, you want to go find a hole somewhere, dig your head in it, and never come out,” says Farid. “Being an entrepreneur is so taxing mentally. You have to make so many decisions.” This is why the best way to mitigate the stress is to build proper teams early on, so you can delegate. “If you keep too much for yourself, you will burn out. You’re not superhuman, you will mentally get fatigued and that will impact your decision making,” he warns, adding that “It’s critical to not cheap out on good talent early.”
Also, learn how to communicate with this team. “As an entrepreneur, you have your vision, but it’s important to articulate it to your team members so they can be on that journey as excited as you are. If you’re unable to communicate and get them on the same page, you will struggle,” says Farid.
5. Siddiq Farid’s Four Ps
Farid summarises his advice to anyone aspiring to go on an entrepreneurial journey with 4 Ps.
Purpose. Really understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. If it’s money, go do something else because you won’t make money initially. It has to be more and it’s very important to write it down to commit to your vision, because that will fuel your passion.
Passion. People invest in people rather than ideas, etc. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing with a purpose, you are not going to persevere.
Perseverance. You get a lot of noes in intrapreneurship. You get knocked down and you need to get yourself up and keep at it. If you don’t have a clear purpose and if you’re not passionate about it, you’re going to give up and walk away.
Patience. Things don’t happen overnight. It takes time. As an entrepreneur, you’re moving at a rapid pace but not everyone around you can function at this pace. Be patient with your team. Be patient with your stakeholders. Be patient with your investors.