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Khalid Al Ameri: Instagram is changing the way we do business in the Gulf
February 01, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Since the Khalifa Fund opened its doors in 2007, with 2 billion dirhams to invest in entrepreneurs, it’s been made very clear that entrepreneurs are going to play a big part in the economic growth of our country.

With hundreds of businesses being launched through the Khalifa Fund within the food, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing industries it has shown that young Emiratis are ready and willing to take the risk of starting their own companies. However one thing in particular has changed the way people do business across much of the Gulf countries, and that is Instagram.

During a recent trip to Saudi Arabia an elderly family friend of mine started a cooking company out of her kitchen, prepared her recipes, posted them on Instagram for comments, feedback and advertising then took orders via a WhatsApp number on her profile. The only thing she spent money on was ingredients for the food, and a smart phone. From the humble beginning of making food for her growing number of followers, she has since launched a book, and now gives cooking seminars across the country.

When asked why she didn’t want to open a “formal” company, the answer was simply “Instagram is enough Alhamdulilah.” It was then I knew the game was changing, or at least how we view starting a business. There is a concept called “Minimum Viable Product” or MVP, which is how to spend the least amount of money and resources to prove that your service or product works, and Instagram has allowed entrepreneurs in the region to do just that.

Traditionally, and even today, to start a business in the region you needed an office, a team, and several customers lined up to even get started. Essentially you had to spend a significant amount of money, unnecessarily most of the time, before you even opened the doors of your company.

Our youth, and would-be entrepreneurs, don’t have the time or the resources to go through this process even with the backing of government entrepreneurship funds. Therefore they have taken to social media, namely Instagram, as their main business platform to engage and grow a customer base.

You are starting to see fashion designers, makeup artists, chefs, car services and even tour guides skip all the unnecessary processes in place, build their idea, and release it to the public on Instagram. They may get popular and have hundreds of orders, or they may not get any orders at all and have to shut down. What truly matters is that people are trying, and that the process to start or close the ‘Instagram’ business is as easy and as cheap as possible. That way nobody is afraid of trying again.

What will be interesting going forward is how this wave of Instagram entrepreneurs starts to impact the traditional businesses in the region. How do a hundred fashion entrepreneurs who design Abayas in their home while using Instagram to market and sell their product affect a large retailer who has been in the business for 20 years and only takes customers who come through his doors? Only time will tell.

All I know is that it is exciting to see a growing number of upcoming entrepreneurs of all ages and backgrounds start to use these social platforms in more creative ways to carve meaningful careers of their own.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development

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