Essential Traits of an Entrepreneur by Zouhair Khaliq

Zouhair Khaliq, a seasoned businessman and serial entrepreneur, is on the boards of directors and advisors of numerous diverse entities from media and food to technology and telecom. Business development, strategy, fintech, operations, turnarounds, mergers and acquisitions and startups are only some of the areas he specializes in. While talking to Startup Guide Pakistan, Zouhair stressed upon some of the essential traits of an entrepreneur.

In your opinion, what are the traits that are essential for entrepreneurs? During your numerous interactions with them, have you found any essential traits lacking?  

Essentially, an entrepreneur is someone who identifies a space where there is a gap and he or she is willing to fill that gap through a product or service. This means taking a risk, so there needs to be that willingness. I have been in start up situations several times from my involvement as the founding employee of Mobilink, a company called wCities, and launching networks in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Bangladesh and so on. I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with entrepreneurs for the last seven years. In London, I was working with a company, heading a division called Mobile for Development to invest in entrepreneurs who were working on ideas in Asia, Africa and other areas. Since we built the NIC, I’ve had the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs from Pakistan as well. The common universal trait is being able to take the leap. Often what you also find is that they’re focused and dedicated and believe in the work they’re doing. Essentially, all these are good qualities in an entrepreneur. What might be lacking might also be universal – failing to anticipate how much hard work it will take, how hard it would be to convince the market that it needs a product and how long it will take to do so. Sometimes, it can even take up to five to seven years to hit the market in the right way.

From personal experience, I can give you the example of a company I ran in 2002, which might seem very familiar. It was a small startup – this was before Google came around. This product made it possible for you to find a restaurant, places to visit, cities to explore. During my time as COO, we added a new service – a SIM at the back of the PDA. With that, you could not only find a place to visit, but also plot a map to get you there. This is Google Maps today. It was fantastic technology, but it failed spectacularly. Investors had put millions of pounds in it. When the company was closing down, I was the last person to leave the office – there was no one to sign my release. I hadn’t been paid in 10 months. Later on, when the whole IP for the technology was sold for just 50,000 pounds, I got a cheque for 310 pounds and 50 pence, which I’ve never cashed – I’ve put it on a wall in a frame to remind me of what failure can be like. That’s a story of entrepreneurship way before it was even a word! This story carries a big lesson for entrepreneurs to learn – you can have a brilliant technology and idea, but if the time for it hasn’t come, it will fail. This doesn’t at all mean that you shouldn’t think ahead. Thinking ahead of your time is how revolutions come, so you have to do that. However, at the same time, you need to be cognisant of the fact that you may have a brilliant idea, but you may have to work for it a little bit. One of the things I teach entrepreneurs is that above all other qualities you need as an entrepreneur, is that if you believe in your idea, be patient and stick it out, it will work.

Get to know more about Zouhair Khaliq: Seasoned Businessman and Serial Entrepreneur

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