There is a need to normalize startup failures to eventually succeed: Emirati entrepreneur turned mentor

“It was hard and heartbreaking to give up on my first project that failed. Six years later [2013-19] Emirati citizen Saeed Al-Nawfali said:

In a region where camels are such an integral part of Arab culture, one would expect to click such a unique concept. Al-Nawfali, an engineer by degree, has developed several prototypes in the hope of launching a unique product. But the startup failed even to enter the market despite winning many competitions.

While the idea was unique, it was ahead of its time and required extensive funding. Although Al-Nawfali won several competitions, he could not secure this type of funding.

“Today when I look back, I feel that reaching out to investors from the same space would have been wise. I should have taken advantage of the ecosystem of investors in countries like the US that are interested in hardware startups rather than trying to secure grants and funding locally.”


Entrepreneurs are known to turn ideas into reality. This may not always be the case, and not for everyone.

During an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Al Nofali, who is currently a Director at 5 Innovation Centers and mentors startups in the country, emphasized the need to overcome the fear of failure while also touching on how the entrepreneurial scene is evolving in the UAE. the years.

If failure is a reality in the startup world, how can it be used as a positive reference point instead of as a tool for frustration?

There is a real need to normalize failure. Having frank and honest conversations about failure rather than treating it as an accident can help startup founders overcome the fear of failure. Even though my startup failed, it taught me the importance of gracefully accepting failure and that risk is constant in my entrepreneurial endeavors. If anything, surviving failure has given me confidence that if necessary, I can do it all over again.”

What lessons has the failure of your startup taught you?

“The concept was exciting and was based on research done at the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi. But it was forward-looking for two reasons. The idea of ​​introducing a camel health tracking device was unheard of and required a lot of understanding and education. In 2013, the entrepreneurial ecosystem was not yet mature As it is today.For context, even today there aren’t many hardware startups in the region.At the time, the startup ideas that were incubated and accelerated along with my own were mostly software based.I naturally felt pretty directionless What’s with the lack of guidance in the hardware space. It’s not enough to be the first mover in the market with an innovative product if the market itself isn’t ready for it. This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from the failure of my startup. Even Apple didn’t release the iPhone until June 2007 though the product It was ready almost 10 years ago. The communications infrastructure must be ready to support a product like the iPhone.”

Even though my startup failed, it taught me the importance of gracefully accepting failure and that risk is constant in my entrepreneurial endeavors.

– Saeed Al-Nawfali

Are you suggesting entrepreneurs with forward-looking ideas to pursue those ideas even if the time isn’t right?

“Is the industry ready to take on a highly disruptive idea? Is the right technology available to develop the idea? Is there a strategic plan to nurture the idea with investment while building a community of people who will support and engage with the idea? These are some of the basic questions an entrepreneur should ask. If the answers are yes, then I would suggest the entrepreneur to go ahead even if the idea seems ahead of its time.”

If hardware cannot boot up, is it OK to raise funding at an early stage?

“I would advise a hardware startup to perform bootstraps for as long as possible, and then launch a fundraising drive. Try to reach angel investors first while retaining venture capital for later. The overall funding landscape has improved as many investors with an appetite for investing in startups are entering their early stages. Having said that, I still don’t see a lot of emerging devices [building niche products] in the region compared to the Western world. Perhaps the highly developed investor landscape needs to become more mature.”

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Saeed Al Nofali: “The public finance landscape has improved with many investors with an appetite to invest in startups entering their early stages.”

When to scale up and when to quit, are there some critical decisions that entrepreneurs often face? What is your advice to startup founders on these two aspects?

“Trial and error is an important part of a startup’s journey at least until it reaches the inception stage to validate the idea and gauge whether or not the concept is gaining traction. The problem is that once a startup sees some momentum, they get impatient and are often impatient. Willing to wait for feedback. We always recommend startups to see if 30-40 percent of their customers will be back normally within 6-18 months. This is when a startup could consider scaling.”

“It is just as important to know when to scale up as it is to know when to quit. For example, the hardware startup ecosystem has evolved tremendously over the past few years. If I were to launch my startup today, I could easily have made $300,000 [Dh1 million] In finance with the current prototype. At that time, I could not even secure a financing of 300,000 dirhams. But today I have no motivation to revive the project. This is why timing is so important.”

Trial and error is an important part of a startup’s journey at least until it reaches the stage of funding to validate the idea

– Saeed Al-Nawfali

Your message to the startup community.

“If you are eager to start a business, enjoy the journey, the process of creating it, the learning, and even failure as much as the outcome. Sometimes entrepreneurs are misled into believing that they can get rich quickly by starting a business. Investors are also misled into believing that once you put Money they can get rich overnight. This is where everything failed. Only after my startup failed to teach me so many lessons did I like the idea of ​​building a business that should always be based on the desire to solve a problem.”