Start-ups are these days rewriting the big MENA growth. A story that sums up the new trend at this conjecture in business life in the MENA region. Most importantly, it is showing the way of a hydrocarbon-based economy moving into a more diversified one . . .
The above featured image is of World Economic Forum that explored the same topic back in 2019. Here is the story as it stands in 2022:
Saudi start-ups rewriting the big MENA growth story
Start-ups from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) had raised nearly $375 million during the past month, with the Saudi firms taking a sizeable chunk of the pie, netting $219 million across 23 investment deals in February, according to a report.
With 58% of overall funding in the wider region going towards Saudi Arabia, it is no surprise to hear that headcount has grown by 20% within the kingdom’s start-ups over the past 12 months, said the report by leading recruitment consultancy Robert Walters Group, adding that this figure is expected to grow further this year as the government continues to create the ideal environment for start-up growth and international investment.
The competitive recruitment landscape between big corporates and start-ups continues to grow, with approximately 3 times the number of jobs posted vs available talent.
Faisal Saqallah, the Consultant from Robert Walters Saudi Arabia, shares his thoughts on why start-ups are winning the race on talent.
The Career Accelerator
With relatively flat structures and hands-on founders and CEOs – new starters can find themselves lining up into the senior leadership team from day one, explained Saqallah.
By taking on several different responsibilities and working closely with senior members of the team, start-up environments enable you to prove your worth early on, as well providing an opportunity for your work will be recognised if it has had a direct impact on the business, he stated.
Unlike within corporate structures, leaders will be able to clearly see your involvement in a project’s initial stages to completion, and as a result, the rate of advancement at start-ups tends to be much faster.
According to the Robert Walters Report – Act Like a Start-Up and Win the War on Talent – 50% of professionals in Saudi Arabia are interested in working for a start-up for their next career move.
“This is not surprising therefore to see that our survey found that over half of professionals (52%) would be willing to take a pay cut and join a start-up if they saw an opportunity to progress much quicker than they would do within a corporate set-up,” stated Saqallah.
“After any period of economic change, we typically see a wave of entrepreneurial or start-up activity – and so it doesn’t surprise me to hear of the success of this sector, so much so that Saudi Arabia now ranks sixth in global entrepreneurial competitiveness,” he stated.
“But what is most interesting is how these relatively-new 10-30 person companies are managing to draw some of the county’s top talent away from established firms who typically offer much higher levels of job security,” noted Saqallah.
“Post pandemic we have seen a significant shift in what professionals want from their employer – with purpose, culture, and people, rated above competitive pay and the well mapped-out corporate ladder,” he added.
Start-ups are designed to have high growth potential – and so it is not surprising to see that on average decisions are processed 4x quicker in a start-up than within a large firm (250+).
The changing and fast-paced nature of a start-up will keep employees on their toes, encouraging them to develop new skills as they go, and push boundaries beyond the initial job description.
Working for a start-up, you’ll understand how the whole company works and develops commercial acumen not expected of you when lower down in corporate structures. Some start-up leaders argue that these on-the-job business lessons are in fact better than an MBA.
Our survey found that 33% of professionals are leaving their corporate jobs in order to ‘try something new,’ with a further 15% looking to reskill.
Being a start-up team member comes with great responsibilities. No matter what your title is, your work will make an impact on the company’s growth and success – and so in turn this will make you feel like the job you’re doing has an actual purpose and is a huge motivation.
In fact, a third of professionals (34%) state that the reason they move to a start-up is for challenging and interesting work – with many stating that the skills they adopt in self-management and task prioritisation then cross over into their personal life.
According to the Robert Walters, working for a fast-growth start-up can be an intense experience, so you’ll inevitably become more proactive and ambitious outside of work too.
You’ll be constantly thinking about how to improve things, be more aware of problems and how to solve them and become more open to new cultures and ways of thinking. You’ll also learn to love challenges and even look for them!, it stated.
True Team Spirit
Almost half of professionals (42%) state that the most important value when looking for a future workplace is ‘colleagues and culture that inspire them to do their best – that’s why the company culture at start-ups is something to be valued.
Due to their smaller size, start-ups tend to foster a close-knit, collaborative environment, that encourages people to help where they can on tasks outside of their original remit.
“You’ll be surrounded by highly hardworking, talented, and ambitious people willing to do the impossible. There is a huge motivation to learn from others and contribute with your own knowledge and experience,” explained Saqallah.
Start-ups often favour a fluid structure over a rigid corporate-inspired hierarchy, enabling open discussion and co-operation between all team members.
It is not surprising then to hear that 30% of professionals state that the most appealing thing about a start-up is the open & effective management structure.
Talent the only criteria
Start-ups have a core focus of finding the very best talent who can help achieve their ambitious goals, and as a result, remove any sort of socio-economic or geographical barriers in order to find their stars.
As a result within a start-up, it is not surprising to come across all kinds of co-workers, from all kinds of nationalities, backgrounds, and ideologies – and due to the small nature of the teams, there will naturally be ample cross-over working with colleagues with different skill sets or working styles.
This strong multicultural environment can open your mind beyond work and tasks. It also leads employees to have a global vision.
And diversity doesn’t just rest with the people, it is safe to say that almost no two days are the same within a start-up. Typically, most members of the team have to ‘juggle many hats and take on duties outside of their specific role to contribute to the success of the wider business.
The diversity of tasks helps you to develop new skills very quickly, added to that you will often be learning directly from the founder of the company and/or senior employees.
This an invaluable opportunity when you are in the early stages of your career. Not only will this keep you stimulated in your day-to-day role, but it will also give you the opportunity to find out what you are most interested in and discover what you are best at.
Innovation is the key
Start-ups are different from traditional businesses primarily because they are grounded on disruptive innovation, created to address a perceived ‘problem’ in the market.
Joining a start-up means adopting an ‘out of the box’ mindset – an ability to think on your feet and get creative with smaller budgets and fewer resources.
Autonomy is not considered a perk within a start-up but a given – in fact, it is the reason why 28% of professionals leave a corporate job to join a newly established business.
However, it is not all ‘small-time,’ in order to aid your creativity you’ll find yourself learning and using the most modern and innovative tools and platforms on a daily basis – whilst shaky to start off with you’ll soon start to embrace and speak the ‘start-up language’ in no time!
Many start-ups have an ‘exit strategy’ in mind, which means you will be working towards an ambitious deadline right from the get-go, according to Robert Walters Group.
Growth targets will be ambitious, but if achieved by the team then they stand to cash in from significant rounds of funding as shares are often offered as part of job packages as a way of competing with corporate pay, it stated.
At a start-up, your hard work can payback sometimes 10x the amount you’d get in yearly corporate bonuses within 5-7 years of joining a fast-growth start-up. The key here is to join a business whose product and vision you will truly believe in, it added.