Interview Allan Villegas-Mateos, Senior Research Fellow of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, HEC Paris, Qatar.
Keywords: Entrepreneurship, mindset, startups, fund raising, marketing, risk taking, entrepreneurial ecosystems, Qatar.
How did you first become interested in entrepreneurship?
I come from a family of small business owners, however, I grew up thinking that I wanted to do something by my own one day and I found the perfect degree for it, a bachelor's degree in business creation and development. So, I enrolled and before graduation I was already fundraising and establishing my first company. I think the university had a big influence on my mindset too, since I was studying at the only non-US ranked university at the Princeton Review for Entrepreneurship Studies, the Tecnologico de Monterrey. After the first half of my degree, I could just not imagine working in an office for someone.
You have been an entrepreneur three times; what did you learn from that experience?
Well, my first time I was so inexperienced, but I spent so much time understanding the problem and validating with research my hypothesis and testing prototypes. Therefore, I eventually managed to fundraise a seed funding government grant with less than 5K USD pre-seed investment from my family. I was obsessed with making it work to avoid losing their money.
The second time I learned about team building and co-founders. I made the mistake of doing business with close friends that invited me to join to their project that was still an idea at that moment. We also fundraised and bootstrapped, and until now, I think was a good idea, but after almost two years the conflicts with the team killed it.
Lastly, my third time was recently during COVID lockdown, I was already a professor of entrepreneurship, and I spent nearly two years as strategy consultant in a high growth startup while I was already doing a Ph.D. For this one, I was more conscious of the importance of the founding team and finding a big problem to solve, plus my consultant experience opened my eyes to learn more about e-commerce and digital marketing. So, I learned that customer service is the best marketing and that if you have good unit economics you can literally sell anything online without having to invent the wheel. Consequently, I had extra time in the pandemic, so I started researching an opportunity for an online business that 4 months later we launched as an e-fashion brand currently selling in more than 10 retail marketplaces.
What advice would you give someone in the very early stages of thinking about launching a startup?
Before jumping into the incorporation and investing money, take time to understand your market and your value proposition. The worst you can lose is time. Investors love ideas and founders that have done their work collecting data from potential customers and partners. Once you understand that, then have those uncomfortable chats with your co-founders regarding roles, responsibilities, and money. If you have done those two key steps, I believe the rest is about execution and doing it good attract the investors.
"Take time to understand your market and your value proposition." Allan Villegas-Mateos
Doha City in Qatar
Picture Credit: Konevi on Pixabay
What support has to be provided within an entrepreneurial ecosystem if early stage startups are going to have a good chance of becoming successful?
Entrepreneurial ecosystems have three layers let’s say. First, the talent, I mean the founders and entrepreneurs that are pursuing the idea. Second, the support institutions which are those entities that provide with human capital, investment and mentorship like incubators and accelerators, but also universities. And third, the regulatory framework which is normally the laws that apply to your business activities that you will need to accomplish and, in some cases, government support to create new businesses. However, starting any business has always a degree of risk that cannot be controlled, only reduced with proper analysis and validation, but the interaction of the previous three layers definitely helps to reduce the failure rates.
How are you involved in the plans for the development of Qatar’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Yes, I am. I am actively leading the foundation of an initiative supported by the Qatar Foundation and HEC Paris in Qatar that will bring the key ecosystem stakeholders together to function as a coordinator and governor of the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
I have a couple of books published of this topic and some academic papers, so we are linking the academia, government, and industry with a community building approach.
This project is called the Observatory of Entrepreneurship and Innovation with plans to connect also with the regional ecosystems to make it easier for the community to learn faster which ecosystem resources they can access in Qatar. Actually, we launched our portal at the end of 2022 https://qatarentrepreneurship.com/ ◼️
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