As an entrepreneur in the UAE, I have been in consumer-facing industries, such as leisure, food and beverage and fitness. As everyone knows, ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit us, most of these businesses have gone from making money to generating almost zero revenue, across the board, in a matter of weeks.
It is one thing to deal with challenging business environments, but it’s a totally different discussion when you are no longer able to operate your enterprise at all.
These are some of the key thoughts and decisions that have been on my mind as I looked at my entrepreneurial ventures:
As soon as you see yourself heading to a zero-revenue situation, it is time to assess how much cash you have in the bank, and calculate how long you can last with it. If you take the decision not to fold your business, then you have to develop several scenarios of how long the shut-down will be for, and what the ramp up will look like afterwards.
In our case, we did just that. We also had a very brutal look at our costs. We stopped all payments while we did this, and then had very hard conversations with all of our landlords, suppliers and creditors. It’s good to see that the government has been extremely supportive, and that has been shown in the attitudes of lenders.
However, in our industry, leverage isn’t common, and we do have debt. At the end of the day, the primary objective of this exercise was to figure out how we could be still standing on our feet when the fog lifts.
Consumer-facing businesses like ours employ a lot of people, mostly lower paid, and with slim management overheads. Retaining talent is important; however, when you are in as hard a situation as we are now, that has to be ranked alongside the overall business’ survival.
The key elements we took into account here were in the following order of priority:
- Consider humanitarian issues: Many of our employees could not go back home, and we could not afford to keep them. Ensuring their physical wellbeing is the first priority, regardless of what happens to the business.
- Look into repatriation: Many employees come from environments where the cost of living at home is a lot cheaper than the UAE, and therefore, a strong effort has been taken to repatriate team members back and attempting to allow them to subsist, at least until the situation improves and then they can be flown back.
- Take a very cold look at corporate costs: We have had to look at our talented management teams, and consider, on a case-by-case basis, who we could retain. We did this because we were clear that the bulk of salary cost is often in this layer, and that needs to be trimmed to an absolute minimum.
3. BUSINESS MODELS
It is sometimes hard to look at an industry and think how you can do it differently when you are not even allowed to operate. Even so, we looked harder. We have found that much creativity comes out of need.
We have been able to keep one business alive in the fitness industry by completely changing what it does and how it does it, to actually generate income to keep the business alive.
It is easy to roll over, and simply wait for the storm to pass. By nature, though, entrepreneurs like us just don’t know how to do that. There are many dark moments, and it is important to keep focused, no matter what the other side looks like. After all, we exist not just for ourselves, but a whole array of stakeholders, including partners, team members, investors and others, and we need to keep up the good fight.
All of us have read many books written on grit and resilience, and now is the time to put all of that learning into practice.
So, what’s the future going to look like?
I predict that many business models will change, and entire sectors in some industries will not exist when this is all over. Further, the ramp up following the end of this crisis, and people’s behavior after this period, will be very different. This will create numerous opportunities for investors, and I’m spending most of my time now thinking about what the world will look like after this is over, and what role I would like to play in it.
Abdul Wahab Al-Halabi is a partner at Decker & Halabi, a global advisory firm. He joined EO UAE in 2019.
Members of EO: Visit the #EOTogether platform often for the latest resources and insights.