Reflecting on the challenges involved in building a successful tech startup, Mounir Ladki, President and CTO of MYCOM OSI, says entrepreneurs need to accept that mistakes will be made and that taking risks is essential. Mr. Ladki spoke during a panel session at the Telecom Review Summit held in Beirut on 13 April, where he shared his story of co-founding an innovative tech company that develops telecom-centric solutions.
Startups are the backbone of innovation in any country and they are particularly important in the telecom space because the sector is undergoing a massive transformation. New innovative companies are needed to fuel fresh solutions and concepts that will contribute to the digital revolution that the industry is currently undergoing.
Mr. Ladki participated in a panel discussion on building successful future startups. He spoke to Telecom Review on the sidelines of the event in Lebanon about the importance of startups being able to make mistakes, take risks, and live with uncertainty in order to thrive. Entrepreneurs need to be quick to learn from their failures if they hope to succeed, he said.
With experience in co-founding MYCOM OSI, a company formed in 2014 that provides deep telecom expertise and solutions in areas fundamental to network and service quality, Mr. Ladki reflected on the challenges he faced in establishing the company as a startup.
Some countries present different obstacles than others when starting a company, he noted. While a country like Lebanon has a lot of potential in terms of human capital, he said the country struggles to provide the necessary infrastructure to attract international investment. Lebanon should focus its efforts on infrastructure and the regulatory framework, as well as financial subsidies to attract talent and foreign entrepreneurs, Mr. Ladki said.
Reflecting on his experience co-founding a company, Mr. Ladki said financing was an initial challenge. MYCOM OSI was founded in France which at the time was considered a conservative market, he said, and it did not have the same availability of venture capital compared to the US, for instance. To finance the company, he and his business partner started a consulting business to generate cash to fund their company.
Another challenge Mr. Ladki faced was winning MYCOM OSI’s first customer, he said. Direct to consumer businesses can advertize their services on social media and other channels that reach millions of people, but MYCOM OSI had to find other ways to reach its target audience of telecom companies. Traditional telecom companies are rather conservative, he said, and often require references before they engage with a new company.
When MYCOM OSI managed to secure its first customer, the company experienced a "nice growth pattern" Mr. Ladki said, but the period soon stagnated. He explained: "After the initial successes, you have to deliver, you have to execute, and you have to invest, and rise to the expectations of the companies you’re working with."
This phase of a company is very capital intensive, said Mr. Ladki. "You have to raise capital and also agree to let go of your equity," thus losing some control of the business, which can be "difficult for entrepreneurs." After surviving this phase, the company then experienced growth when financial partners came into the ring and injected funding into the business.
Despite these challenges, Mr. Ladki said the most important aspect of any company is finding the right talent. When you start a tech company, you’re competing against massive companies like Amazon and Google for the best and most experienced employees who often expect very high salaries. "You have to create a compelling environment for them to join you," he said, "and most importantly, stay with you."
Keeping the best employees in tech isn’t just about paying them more but giving them the opportunity to work on the latest technologies and the freedom to innovate. The millennial generation in particular expects a different working environment compared to the baby-boomer generation, Mr. Ladki explained, and startups need to be willing to facilitate their desires or risk losing fresh talent.
The telecom sector is under obligation to transform and benefit from digital transformation in order to foster new opportunities for customers, Mr. Ladki said. The industry is figuring out how to evolve, where it can create value, and what partnerships are needed to facilitate this movement. The Telecom Review Summit is "an excellent platform to drive these conversations and bring the telecom industry together" to discuss potential approaches, he said.