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SME Updated : An Online Platform Helping UAE Entrepreneurs

1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?

SME Updated – UAE is online platform that provides its audience with what’s going on in the UAE, and helps build entrepreneurs. Whether residents or entrepreneurs, we try our best to provide what we think is of importance to our target audience. Local or global, anyone can be part of our growing community.

2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?

SME Updated – UAE was launched on August 2013, in Dubai. We are now in a very early stage as a business. We are still in the stage of creating an effective team, but at the same time working hard to keep our social networks active. As a startup, you can say we are in the “idea” stage but have successfully built a small community that enjoys what we provide them as a business/entertainment news source.

3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?

Right now we SME Updated – UAE provides updates for free. This is due to the fact that we are at a very basic stage. Later on we plan to go into creating events and conferences all related to the business sector. Research will show us what our audience wants to see and we will deliver. Then we will start a mentorship program for young entrepreneurs regardless whether they own a company or not. At some point in the future when the time is right, we will initiate a funding program for startups. Whatever stage we reach, we will keep providing news updates for free at all times.

4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?

At the moment SME Updated – UAE is being run by the founder, Abdulla Barakji. A team is still under the process of being built. The team shall comprise of someone able to find interesting news to write about, a person with an IT background, and as we expand, we will grow our team as needed. For the time being, these two roles are vital for our expansion.

5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?

There are others out there that do what we do, but what makes us stand out is how we present our services. We have an ongoing free news service for everyone, not only members. Conferences and events will be created according to audience feedback. Finally, our funding program will be there to benefit the community we are part of. As long as our operating costs are covered, everyone will be happy. All that being said, we won’t be a non-profit organization, but we do not aim to become rich and famous. Maybe a little bit famous.

6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?

There are others out there that do what we do, but what makes us stand out is how we present our services. We have an ongoing free news service for everyone, not only members. Conferences and events will be created according to audience feedback. Finally, our funding program will be there to benefit the community we are part of. As long as our operating costs are covered, everyone will be happy. All that being said, we won’t be a non-profit organization, but we do not aim to become rich and famous. Maybe a little bit famous.

7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?

Honestly, I prefer not to use the word competitor. SME Updated – UAE is part of a community that works to benefit others. We work hard to see our community grow by the hands of its own people. Any investment company is at some point similar to what we do. What makes us unique is how we look at our audience. When dealing with our audience, we want to provide the best services. Even when dealing with an entrepreneur in a funding program, we will always hear what they have to say. After all, we were all a startup at some point.

8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?

One obstacle I faced is audience acceptance. In my field, credibility is a crucial factor. As a Facebook page with the minimal amount of likes, I was not welcomed by everyone. I overcame this by posting news from trusted news sources in the region and citing them. Next I started making my own news posts once in every 5 cited ones. With time, audience acceptance grew and likes increased. Now I rarely refer to newspapers for posts.

9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?

I am part of a field that needs a lot of work. Working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is never the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur. The field I am in is reviving entrepreneurship the way it has to be. Chasing your dreams and starting your dream company requires continuous hours of hard work. What people don’t seem to grasp is that nothing comes easy. Even when your startup is successful, this means that your plan was successful and now you have to work twice as hard.

10. Why are you going to succeed?

This is a question our audience can answer. We thrive to provide what they want. Focusing on our community’s needs is exactly what we will deliver. Even if it was something outside of our business model, we will do the necessary research and make it happen. So long as our audience is happy with what we provide, we will keep doing it. Such initiative from our audience is much appreciated.

11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?

As mentioned before, we will move deeper into funding startups and mentoring entrepreneurs with the help of trained professionals. If we witnessed a high rate of acceptance from our target audience, we will move deeper into entrepreneurship and provide our members with a benefits program. This program will include a team of consultants from various fields to ensure that entrepreneurs are successful years after they have launched.

12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?

The real question is why not. Being an entrepreneur grows on you the further you go with it. It’s like having an adrenaline rush and you want to get things done. The region we are in has so much potential and a large number of entrepreneurial minds. Many of these entrepreneurs have something stopping them from pursuing their dreams. Being part of such an environment is exciting, so why not engage and grow your community. Why not contribute to developing your community to the better?

13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?

Persistence pays. If you believe in your idea, you can make it happen. Although my audience is still small, I have received positive feedback from the majority. This pushes me more to worker harder and making my idea a reality. I am always motivated to add new ideas to my current project and always open to criticism. This way I can make sure that by the time my audience starts growing, I have fixed my mistakes.

14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?

Six months from now, if my audience and business activities grow I will be forced to form a team earlier than expected. Responsibilities could not be handled by one person. I will have to start doing more extensive research on the UAE market to see how I will proceed to the next step. At that point, the bigger and more important decisions will start taking place and change will happen.

15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?

With SME Updated, everyone is a winner. Whether it was the company itself, or an entrepreneur, or just someone reading the news updates. The reader will increase his/her knowledge on entrepreneurship and maybe even someday become one. The entrepreneur will enjoy various benefits from funding to mentorship to consultancy. Helping others grow is our main objective. Therefore, this is something that every one of our audience is benefiting from, the way they feel more suitable for them.

16. How did customers / users find out about you?

The most effective form of sending out a message is word of mouth. At first, I talked about SME Updated between friends and family. When I received a good feedback on my idea, I motived ta make the first step. I created a Facebook page and invited friends. Friends invited friends, and so on. The same happened with Twitter, but I wasn’t very happy with the results. This is when I thought of covering a media event; and I did. I gave instant press coverage on what was going on in the Games ’13 event, and took photos of the cosplayers that were there. With every photo I took, I gave out a business card. As expected, I got more traffic on my page. I did the same for the ADFF 2013, but did not take any photos.

17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?

My current users are mainly located in the UAE and are aged from 18 to 30. The minority of my audience are located abroad. My target audience is really everyone. Entrepreneurship has no age limit. Everyone has a dream, and I help them pursue it. Young minds with great potential are very important to us as SME Updated. We work on letting the younger generation become part of our community so we can mentor them throughout their journey of building their dream company.

18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?

Anyone in the Middle East is a potential user for us. We are currently focusing on the UAE because this is where we are located. Any growing market is a place where we want people to hear about us. Anyone wanting to start a company would want someone like us to give them the push they need. We play a huge role when there is someone with a great idea and potential but lack the necessary requirements to start a company. This can range from lack of capital or expertise; this is exactly what will make them try us.

19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?

For the audience I currently have, I always get positive feedback on my activities. I was told more than once that I needed more graphics in my posts; this is when I introduced infographics. Surely enough, users engaged more with pictures. As for the topics I talk about, everyone was happy about then although some said that I needed more interesting topics to talk about. At that time, I started including entertainment posts every now and then to keep everyone happy. Generally speaking, I got the thumbs up.

20. How are you going to scale?

Our next step from only providing news updates will be creating events and conferences. As we grow bigger, we plan to go into building an entrepreneur. We will give the necessary mentorship as needed for every entrepreneur individually. We will then do the required research to start a funding program for startups. Finally we will expand into consultancy; one of the many benefits members can enjoy.

21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?

The one major thing I lack is a website. Many have in fact asked me to migrate my activities to a website but keep my social media accounts active. This is something I plan on creating soon. The website I will create will be the one I will grow with; therefore I want to take my time to build a sustainable one. This is why an IT whiz should be part of the team.

22. Are you going to internationalize?

And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly? I plan to first start in the UAE and based on feedback and acceptance, move into the other Gulf countries. The stage after that will be spreading across the Middle East and finally all Arab countries. Operations will be run by partner companies in each respective country. The main office will remain in the UAE, and activities will be run in each country but under one platform.

23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?

As long as there are entrepreneurs serious about building their dream company, SME Updated will keep growing. This is due to the fact that demand is always out there, and someone has to be the supplier. Innovation never stops, and the same goes to entrepreneurs. When it’s a win-win situation, everyone is happy. Our region is part of the developing countries, and we must keep on giving our community to grow. When we give our audience what they want, we will successfully reach our goals as a company.

24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?

At this moment, I am not looking to hire, but rather build an efficient team. Good team chemistry means good output. In the future, when hiring is a must, applicants must have a good eye of what’s going on around the Arab world. As the need for departments grows, my need for employees will grow. I am more than happy to find someone excited to join the project.

25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable?

And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at? At this point, I am looking for an investor that believes in my idea the same way I do. Having similar thoughts and visions is very important when finding an investor. Although I am not the person to make the rules, I believe that the relationship between the entrepreneur and investor should be a strong one. The investor should be one that wants to continue in the future, and not one that will exit at an early stage. I can be contacted through my personal email at: a.barakji@hotmail.com or through the SME Updated – UAE Facebook page.

26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?

If you believe that your idea has a future, go for it. Just sitting there and talking about what it could become is useless. Take action! Do all the research you need and make sure that you have a solid business plan that will go with you on your journey of entrepreneurship

27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

Many thanks for believing in my startup the same way I do! I can always be reached on a.barakji@hotmail.com or on the SME Updated – UAE Facebook page.

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