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5 Entrepreneurs Spill the Beans on How to Build an Awesome Team

One of the 3 top reasons startups fail is hiring the wrong team. Hadeel Hegazy asks entrepreneurs from Syria and Egypt how they can build a winning team.

By Hadeel Hegazy

Nine out of 10 emerging startups fail, according to Fortune magazine. Amongst the top three reasons, failing to pick the right calibres stands out, according to a study by CB Insights, quoted in the magazine.

Scouting for talents to join your team while taking on the entrepreneurial journey can be a daunting experience if it is not paired with vision, humility, and adaptability. Since choosing the people to work with can make or break your company, we asked five leader entrepreneurs from across different fields to share their tips and hacks to pluck the perfect hires and cultivate an ever-growing, ambitious and engaging company culture.

Sami Al Ahmad: Make your team harmonious”

Sami is the co-founder of Marj3, an online platform that rose to become the Middle East’s largest digital portal for scholarships. He is also the co-founder of Khatwa, a network that helped 20,000 Syrian students access university education.

“You will need technical experts in your team and not all of them should necessarily be entrepreneurs.”

“Hire people that have different qualifications than your own; the talents that complete you and can contribute to building a harmonious team. For example, if you are a programmer and you hire the rest of the team in the programming field, no one will do business development; it won’t work out. Similarly, if you are an entrepreneur, you will need technical experts in your team and not all of them should necessarily be entrepreneurs.

Don’t choose people only because they are your friends; pick the people you would love to work along with. If I don’t like working with the employee personally, it will tear your company easily. Don’t select them based on friendship, dig for the talents.”

Rania Ayman: “Ask for help and give back”

Rania founded Entreprenelle in 2016, at the age of 24. Through designed programs, workshops, trainings, and awareness campaigns, Entreprenelle aims to contribute to building a new generation of more educated and confident women entrepreneurs.

“First of all, the worst thing the entrepreneur can do, and which can break his startup is being mediocre; don’t hire the joker who would do everything. Look for specialized talents and who can perform efficiently in their departments and who would do the job they love and believe in.”

“If you are helpful, people will support you back; it is a win-win situation.”

“Second of all, the entrepreneur should hire a Finance Manager, especially in the beginning of starting the company to give support while growing the business. My third advice is to find a mentor to guide you. As long as you have a mentor to consult, your journey will go clearer; the mentor plays an instrumental role with their knowledge in developing your startup. The most important thing is to keep your values and morals high. Last but not least, if you are helpful, people will support you back; it is a win-win situation. That’s how strong ecosystems are built upon a network of help and support.”

Abdul Rahman Al Ashraf: “Look for creative and flexible people.”

Having experienced a crisis in his home country himself, Abdul Rahman Al Ashraf was motivated to solve a daunting communications problem by utilizing technology. Al Ashraf is a Syrian migrant entrepreneur based in Germany, and the founder of FreeCom, a device that connects people in times of war and aims to convert how communications work globally.

“For me, the hiring process goes in two directions; the first one is choosing the co-founder, and the other one is hiring the team itself, and every direction has its technique. The co-founder will be your companion, your friend, and most of the times is chosen according to its personal relationship with the entrepreneur. I highly recommend to choose the co-founders based on friendship, as startups in the initial phases can very likely approach failure, and if the co-founder is not passionate, understanding and dedicated massively enough for the idea, he may quit the idea.

That’s why friendship between co-founders plays a significant role to overcome the difficult phases. So while picking your co-founder he, in my opinion, should be above all close and trust-worthy; but he should also complete you as an entrepreneur. It is very important to not pick a co-founder with a similar expertise because if both co-founders come from an IT background and none of them is experienced in business, it will slow down the development of the startup.

“If a traditional employee joins a startup, it will be almost impossible for him to keep going.”

When hiring the team itself, I strongly prefer hiring students. Senior students enjoy a special spirit of ambition and adventure and, in the meantime, it is a trial period for both to see if the intern will continue or not. On the other hand, the graduate is more likely to desire stability, whether in personal or professional life, and adventure won’t have a room in his plans.

Generally, the candidate needs to have a potential for creativity, adventurous spirit and flexibility, rather than having technical experience in a field. Agility and resilience are amongst the top important traits; as if a traditional employee joins a startup, it will be almost impossible for him to keep going. Having the merits of changing and adaptability, especially for startups during the early phases, will increase the chances of their continuation.   

Ahmed Sufian Bayram: “Working with the candidate is more important than running an interview.”

A social entrepreneur, technology and innovation activist, and the author of “Entrepreneurship in Exile” and “Entrepreneurship in Conflict Zones”, Ahmed Sufian is the Regional Manager of TechStars MEA. He is passionate about fostering the global ecosystem through working with community leaders, managing and mentoring startups organizations.

“Who you work with is more important than the idea you work on.”

“Who you work with is more important than the idea you work on. Get to spend some time actually working with the candidate before you select them; this is way better than only running an interview. Go to events like Techstars Startup Weekend where you will get the chance to see firsthand a great developer, business woman, or designer work then you can choose your rockstar.”

Ahmed Omar: “Use feedback for your growth and Look for exceptionally passionate people.”

After starting as a Souq and Jumia seller in university, he left to the US to start building an e-commerce team that integrated warehouses to live inventory selling and marketing products on big billion-dollar marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Wayfair. Omar made a strategic move to Egypt and launched Odiggo.com, Egypt’s largest marketplace for car parts. In the first few months, his start sold more than 1M EGP worth of spare parts, seeking to breathe life in Egypt’s aching parallel economy of guerrilla car parts.

“Before building your startup, you should envision what you look for in the company and the team because the startup grows when the entrepreneur embeds a growth mindset for himself and the team. To start a venture, you need to seek and accept business criticism and don’t take comments personally, use it for your development. Refusing critics is synonymous with refusing change and hence refusing advancement in your business model.

“The startup grows when the entrepreneur embeds a growth mindset for himself and the team.”

I believe that refugee entrepreneurs are very dynamic and flexible about tweaking their business models whenever it’s necessary. When we started “Odiggo”, year and a half ago, we were actually seeking bank refusal and bold criticism; we sought harsh comments and used it to work on our weakness points. Even if this advice is not directly applicable, it still opens a door for new ideas of expansion and growth.

In Odiggo, we look for remarkably passionate people with hardcore belief in our idea. Search for people with passion and good personalities, they will be responsive and willing to learn, even if they have few skills they will be driven to upgrade their knowledge and to figure it out.

It is also so important for the entrepreneur to have a mentor.”

This is the kind of alchemy we have now in our team and who contributed to our success; we are raising investment and launching in Saudi Arabia very soon because of our teamwork. It is also so important for the entrepreneur to have a mentor; mentors are investors now. Mentors usually are excited to join hard-working entrepreneurs who manage to develop the project in a short time. So pick the mentor you feel comfortable to work with.

When you focus closely on your business, your mentor will be responsible for perceiving your startup from an angle where you can’t see yourself from, from the outside. This third eye is necessary.”

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