From Entrepreneurship to Leadership


Entrepreneurship has always been the starting point of every successful businessman and leader. However, it varies from an environment to another. In this interview, Liam Mooney, Founder, Fit for Business talks about entrepreneurship in the UAE and the factors and values that influence the growth of entrepreneurs including sports.



In your opinion, is the UAE a good market for entrepreneurs?


The UAE has a fantastic business spirit, but I am afraid it is not a good market for free-spirited start-up entrepreneurs such as myself, due to many restrictions. For example, not having a temporary market makes it difficult and costly to employ people. There is a high level of bureaucracy and plenty of upfront costs, such as rent and company formation. There should be far more clarity in the law. I have managed companies in both the UK and the UAE; though it may sound shocking, I have found it easier to break through in the UK market. Unfortunately, many great ideas here are stifled by restrictions, so we must all work against that.


In terms of finance, I speak from personal experience when I say that it is no different to any other part of the world. I have never needed a bank loan, crowd funding or venture capital. I have in the past, however, relied on loans from my family. Banks… forget them. If I owned a bank, I would never issue a loan to a start-up – it would be too risky. Sometimes, I think finance is just a red herring. The problem here is not the banks; the issue lies in the upfront costs and bureaucracy. 


Is the culture of entrepreneurship well-established in the UAE?


There are some fine examples of entrepreneurs in the UAE, but the culture of entrepreneurship is not well established, possibly because there is a lack of understanding concerning the definition of an entrepreneur. As mentioned above, ridding entrepreneurs of restrictions would allow them to flourish. The UAE is looking to make huge advances in IT, medicine, education and technology, but we should be aware of competition elsewhere in the world. For example, countries such as Ireland have very low tax rates and lower start-up costs. The UAE will not want to lose business that is generating money and contributing positively to the economy.



Is entrepreneurship being misunderstood in this region?


Yes, it is misunderstood. Anyone can have an idea, but few people have the dedication to execute it. Entrepreneurship does not involve sitting in coffee shops, “chewing the fat” and talking corporate nonsense about wonderful ideas - wonderful ideas alone cannot generate cash-flow or jobs.


What makes a good entrepreneur?


Inventing a unique concept is a great start, but you need the perspiration, perseverance, passion and persistence to execute it. You also need steely determination, stubbornness and refusal to accept anything other than the best.


To get an idea up and running, you need a product that you know people will buy, and this knowledge comes from preparation. The rest is all about execution built on persistence and a positive attitude. As you grow, entrepreneurship develops into leadership and management. You will then need to hire staff who believe in you and in your product. You need to be prepared to nail your colours to the mast, to be passionate, to be open about your feelings, to lead from the front, and to work harder than any and every member of your staff. Only then will you be a leader others will want to follow. You need to trust your staff - do not micro-manage, and always trust your own judgement. Finally, you should be a “jack of all trades” who can handle everything from accounts to social media. Remember, having an idea is the easiest part!


Ultimately, an entrepreneur is a lonely existence whose answers have to come from within. Clubs like Fit For Business make the process easier by providing a fantastic outlet for budding entrepreneurs to learn, market, meet and share ideas with other business people.



Should entrepreneurship be included in school curriculums and university courses?


Speaking for myself, I would never have actively enrolled in an entrepreneurship course, because I was too busy studying core subjects and playing sports. To a large extent, I do not think entrepreneurship can be taught academically, because it is more of a personality trait to be an entrepreneur, whose learning ground is the school of life itself. I think school children should always be allowed room to find their niche. Frankly, the characteristics of an entrepreneur would probably include preferring the experience of entrepreneurship to any textbook on the subject.


Does the UAE have the right people to plant entrepreneurial thinking within young generations?


The UAE has some great, successful entrepreneurs, and I think there is a very strong business spirit about the place. From that respect, I would not change anything about how ambitious and visionary the leadership is.


However, for the next generation to really flourish and desire change, the regional business has to become easier. The focus should include sectors which will allow for the comparative advantage of the UAE economy to continue, because leadership is already very focused on those areas.



Has the rise of social media and mobile apps created more opportunities for entrepreneurs to build up their business ideas?


Yes, definitely. The rise of social media and the internet has meant access to customers and awareness all over the world at the click of the button! However, what hasn’t changed is the key importance of execution and getting things done. Social media can often create “noise”, so you need to focus on what is important to your business. Having a lot of Twitter followers means nothing if you are not making money, so social media popularity is not always as essential. Ultimately, success will be recognized by the strength of your business, and you cannot force recognition by social media – it is always better to be the “silent assassin” in business!


Did this fact lead to a mass increase of entrepreneurs (both successful and unsuccessful), which in turn led to a decrease in trust and support from investors/banks and similar entities?


With regards to a decrease in trust, and as I have already mentioned, I would not lend money to a start-up, because it would be a massive gamble. I would only lend money to friends and family to help them if needed. Traditionally, banks and investors have never fully trusted or supported starting entrepreneurs.


One other point to mention is that the rise of social media has worked in tandem with the global crash in 2008. The crash was another reason for a surge of entrepreneurs.



You have built your business based on sporting values and you call on entrepreneurs to follow the motto of courage and wisdom. How do sporting values link with the success of an entrepreneur?



All successful, individual sportspeople are 100% entrepreneurs. They completely have the character traits, whether they employ that in business or not. Imagine being a boxer, knowing the other guy on the other side wants to knock you out in front of thousands of supporters (millions in some cases). The fear of loss is incredible, but so is the confidence you have in yourself and in your judgement. Failure is devastating and personal. You must prepare, believe and have an immense amount of courage. The DNA of a champion is the DNA of an entrepreneur. When you are starting a business, you are on the edge of a cliff and you must win to secure your status. To do that, you need wisdom to know what to do and the courage to actually do it.


In terms of team sports, the best teams recruit the best players. They are well-managed and have both strong principles and great facilities. Consequently, few would want to leave these teams, and most would want to join them and become involved in their successful teamwork. What CEO of a company would not want a similar team? Some CEOs can tell you what sports have to do with business: if you do not prepare, your lack of preparation will be visible in every loss. Loss and its effects take longer to sink in with a company, so losing in a work environment can be far more devastating. Why do big companies sponsor sports clubs and events? They want to be associated with success and 100% buy into its values.


How can a start-up entrepreneur benefit from embracing sporting mottos and values?


I was fortunate enough to play professional rugby. I do not think I was naturally talented, but I always worked incredibly hard. Sports have taught me a great deal about how to deal with people, how to work in a team, how to win, how to accept loss, and how to know when to be kind or tough. Most of all, sports have taught me humility and honesty - what business would not want those attributes in an employee or leader? 


About Liam Mooney

Liam Mooney is the Founder of Fit for Business, Blue Pencil and My Company Advisor. He has been named in Arabian Business Top 50 SME Executives in the UAE.

Liam is an expert in business, HR and recruitment solutions and runs several business networks in the UAE.

He is a graduate from Cambridge University and a qualified UK solicitor.


About Fit for Business

Fit For Business is a virtual business club for entrepreneurs, SME owners and business people who share a passion for sport. It is a global private and dynamic online business club built on sporting values, with a strong entrepreneurial foundation. 


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