The Story of a Startup in Palestine: What I’ve learned in the past 16 months – Introduction

What this series of blog posts is all about

It’s been 16 months since we started AidBits. While it definitely doesn’t feel that long, going back through the first emails we had about AidBits (or Propozal as it was called at the time) shows that time moves on and it’s up to us to make the most of it.  While there are tons and tons of resources, both online and offline, that discuss entrepreneurship and how to build a startup, I found very little experiences shared about building a startup in Palestine.  While there are many successful entrepreneurs here, I felt that what is missing is a guide for entrepreneurs in Palestine.  While I won’t claim that this series of blog posts is a complete guide for startups in Palestine, it is a collection of the experiences I went through during these past 16 months.  I hope that the stories I share will help other entrepreneurs avoid some of the mistakes we made.  I welcome comments, questions and advice, as I would be extremely delighted if this series turned into an interactive discussion.

Creating and running a startup involves many different aspects, and while I won’t be able to dive deep into every single aspect of what we’ve been through in the past 16 months, I will try to organize my content in 11 blog posts.  For the first post, I’ll start out by talking about the idea and the process we went through.  Next, I’ll talk about finding a co-founder or co-founders and what to look for and what to avoid.  In blog post 3, I’ll discuss how we got started with AidBits and some of the things we had to do in the beginning.  Then, how to find and acquire customers, and building the team that will help you deliver your product or service to your customers.  Along the way, there were opportunities for contracts or jobs that I was offered, and blog post 6 discusses saying no to these opportunities.  The next blog post talks about financing your startup and then I walk about some of the legal challenges we went through.  Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of creating a startup is the psychological and social pressures, which I’ll cover in blog post 9.  I’m leaving the investment post until near the end, as I feel I’ll have a lot more experience in this area by the time I launch post 10.  I’ll end off with some final thoughts about what we feel is next for us and the company.

My goal is to release a post every Monday.  While reading this, please let me know if there are certain areas that I haven’t planned to cover.  While I’m in no means an expert, my goal is to share what I’ve learned so far.  I’m hoping that we can not only learn from each other, but also use our collective knowledge and experiences to really improve the startup ecosystem in Palestine.

Why we started AidBits

“To change the world” or “to become a millionaire” seem like the more common answers to this question.  While everyone has aspirations of having a large influence and financial stability, these should never be the reasons to build a startup.  The real reason we started AidBits was because we wanted to build something great that we can be proud of, both as a product that we can offer our clients and as a company that we can call our own.  More importantly for us, we go to sleep every night and wake up every morning thinking about how we can make AidBits a great company.

I left my very-nice-paying day job because, although the money was good, I wasn’t satisfied.  I didn’t feel that we were building an amazing company.  I didn’t feel that we could sustain ourselves for the long-term.  Back then, it was difficult for me to stand up and tell people why we’re better than anyone else and why customers should come to us.  I felt that I really couldn’t shape the company or my future in the way I wanted.  So after having spent over 14 years in a number of technical, leadership and managerial positions in Palestine and Canada, I felt that now is the right time to take the plunge and start something of my own.

Starting and running a company is very, very hard, but don’t lose hope.

The reason I mentioned my experience is because I believe this is something that is almost always overlooked. There is a tendency to believe that startups are created by college drop-outs or young, energetic new graduates.  Hence, most organizations are focusing their efforts on how they can help young entrepreneurs.  While I definitely think it’s extremely important to focus and train new graduates, the majority of startups are built by 30-somethings who have built products, worked with customers, managed teams and eventually reached a point where they’re sick of their current situation and they believe they can build something much better.

Despite my 14+ years of experience, I found that building a company is extremely hard.  There are so many things you have to think of and account for, and so few resources available.  I find it very strange that people believe in the idea that someone who just graduated from university and who has never worked a day in their life, can start and run a company successfully.  It can happen, but this is not the norm.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself and will talk about some of these challenges in the upcoming weeks.

Still, if a team is focused, committed and willing to listen, creating a successful company is definitely possible.  It does however take time, so don’t expect any overnight successes.

Palestine isn’t the easiest place to run a business

The last I checked, Palestine was number 138 on the World Bank’s ease of doing business list.  Unfortunately, that’s no surprise and there are a lot of issues that discourage investors and entrepreneurs to create something in Palestine.  While there are many discussions on how to encourage and train entrepreneurs, a main problem appears when entrepreneurs actually take their first steps, only to find that they’re alone and no one is there to help them during their early days when they need help the most.  I’ll discuss some of the legal challenges we faced along the way, and how we overcome some of them and how we had to cope with others.

No one to blame but yourself. The Bottom line: build a successful company

Many people try to justify why things didn’t work out or how it was someone else’s fault that the company is failing, or how they did everything they were supposed to do and everything is fine but they can’t make any money.  Whatever the situation, if you’re truly set on creating a successful company, that should be your main focus.  The tools you use, how you manage your people, the investors you bring in, and everything else, should revolve around how you’re going to make your company successful.  It requires a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely something that can be achieved.

I’m writing this series of blog posts while we’re deep in startup phase. It remains to be seen whether AidBits succeeds and becomes a hit or whether we use the experiences of AidBits to learn from our failures.