Sharing both a home and a work life can put a strain on any relationship, but as co-founders of their own consultancy, Elin and Taner Kilicarslan feel they have struck the right balance. They offer advice on what entrepreneurs need to know to make start-ups succeed, Gillian Duncan writes.
Elin and Taner Kilicarslan are not your typical married couple.
After committing to each other on a personal level, they also struck up a professional partnership.
The co-founders of SME Rebuilders, a small consultancy, have been in business for less than six months.
Mrs Kilicarslan, who is Norwegian but has lived in the Emirates for 14 years, jumped ship first, leaving her job as a wooden floors saleswoman in summer 2010 to study an online internet marketing course.
“We were talking about it in endless evenings that there has to be a better way of making money than slaving for someone else,” she says.
“We wanted to do something, so we were trying to get ideas but there was a piece that was missing. Then when I signed up for the course, it helped us get in the right direction.”
She worked freelance at first, but in January last year Mr Kilicarslan, who is from Turkey but grew up in Canada and moved to the UAE in 2007, also resigned from his job in publishing.
They registered the company in November and now help other people set up in business. They speak here about the dos and don’ts with Prajit Arora, a fellow start-up specialist and the managing director at Sentinel Business Centres.
What is the golden rule to starting a business?
Mr Kilicarslan: You don’t want to start a business in a market that is already saturated and you don’t want to start your business in a market where there is no interest. Go to Google, type in the name of something and if there are no advertisements it is likely that people aren’t interested. If there is competition it is even better, but you don’t want it to be saturated.
Mrs Kilicarslan: Make sure you do your research first. When you get into a market it is an advantage that you know what you are trying to do and you know your business.
Prajit Arora: In Dubai, it would be to choose the correct jurisdiction, which is where a lot of people go wrong. We had a client once who was in the landscaping business. When he was about to be awarded a contract by one of the large government entities in Dubai … but at the time of signing the contract it came to their attention that he had a licence issued by a free zone in another emirate, which completely blocked the contract. The only option he was left with was setting up a brand-new company in Dubai, finding a local partner, going through the cost of setting up etc and because of the time it was going to take him, he lost the contract anyway.
What is the best age to start a business?
Mr Arora: The younger you are, the more propensity to risk you have. You have more time and more than likely you are not going to have any dependents. But on the flip side of that you are going to find it harder to get funding and to get people to take you seriously.
Mrs Kilicarslan: I think having a couple of years working in a company so you can learn the different strategies or different positions is an advantage. You know how things are being done, so I think mid-20s maybe.
Mr Kilicarslan: Bricks and mortar businesses require more funding, much more structure, overheads and cost, so you need a support group. Chances are, you probably need to be a bit older … into your 20s because you have a bigger network. But the youngest online entrepreneur in the world is, I think, 12.
How do you pick your business partner?
Mr Arora: Either bring in someone of value in terms of a skill set you require for your chosen business. Some partners will come with other skill sets or the ability to provide funding.
Mrs Kilicarslan: When you are choosing a business partner it has to be someone you really trust. You have to be so careful and know that person really well, that they have a good reputation. You can always ask around. The UAE is really small.
Mr Kilicarslan: LinkedIn is a good as a tool [to check people's backgrounds]. You can just search people online.
If trust is so important, surely a family member would be the best business partner of all?
Mr Arora: Yes, they can be good. I think it all depends on the culture within the family. You have the obvious advantages: trust and there’s going to be a lot less convincing people when there is money involved. The pitfalls are that you can ruin family relationships.
Mrs Kilicarslan: If you have a good relationship with family members, a husband or wife or brothers, you can make it work.
Mr Kilicarslan: We have examples of other family members who are working really well.
Do you need to understand the industry you are entering to succeed?
Mrs Kilicarslan: If you do your research, read and study and have an expert in that particular field to help you out, you don’t really have to have experience in that sector. But it is an advantage.
Mr Kilicarslan: If you don’t assess the market you are walking into, you might make the same mistakes. You don’t evolve. You might bring in the same product and then what is your unique selling point? What is the point?
Mr Arora: I think it is important that you understand the industry, rather than necessarily have specific hands-on experience within the industry. One needs to identify a gap, and have a solution as a business proposition that will be accepted by the industry as being superior to that of the competition. One also needs to understand the regulatory environment [and any upcoming changes] within the industry.
How important is education to becoming an entrepreneur?
Mr Arora: Some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs did not complete university. Experience and knowledge are important and don’t necessarily come from a formal education. The above said, there is a lot to be gained from a formal education in terms of discipline, analytical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and of ever-increasing in today’s world – networking.
Mrs Kilicarslan: From my perspective it’s not really that important. There are courses you can go on. You don’t have to have a university degree. I don’t have one. I have a one-year college [course]. My background is as a lawyer’s secretary.
Mr Kilicarslan: Not in today’s world I guess. It would be wrong if I said this 15 years ago, maybe. It takes an entrepreneur’s mind regardless of education to be able to become an entrepreneur. I know quite a few people who are MBAs, PhDs who work in these really large consulting firms as risk managers, but they could never start their own business because they talked themselves out of it.