November 2, 2022

Sabir x Fouad Sader


Fouad Sader is an entrepreneur with ties to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Lebanon, as well as Europe and the United States. He has learned many priceless lessons over his long career and was more than happy to impart his wisdom during the latest This Week With Sabir episode.

Here are some of the points that he raised:

  • Setting Up in Saudi Arabia: Starting a new business in the US and UK is a breeze compared to Saudi Arabia. It can be a lengthy and costly process, and it’s not something you do on a whim. There are benefits to taking those steps though and there is a lot of potential in this market.
  • The Emirates is Key: While Saudi Arabia can be a challenging market, the UAE is a little easier, with fewer barriers to entry. It also provides US and European entrepreneurs with access to booming markets in India and China.
  • Tips for Entrepreneurs: In addition to his advice on launching a business, Fouad Sader also had some general entrepreneurial insights, including why you should always seek to grow as an entrepreneur, regardless of how old you are or how slow that growth is.

At the end of my discussion with Fouad, I asked him for his best piece of advice, something that came from a mistake he made and something that has helped to shape him as an entrepreneur.

It’s advice that could save you a lot of time, money, and stress, so if you’re keen to follow in his footsteps, make sure you read the full guide or watch the video to the end.

A Guide To Being An Entrepreneur And Starting A Business In The Middle East

In a few short weeks, Qatar will play host to the first-ever Middle Eastern World Cup. It’s a staging that has and will continue to be mired in controversy, but regardless of how it came to be, it’s hard to argue with the impact that it has had and will continue to have on the region.

The Middle East has invested billions in sport over the last few years. In addition to the World Cup, 2022 has also marked the year of several massive boxing fights and the Saudi Arabian investment in Newcastle United, an English Premier League club.

And that’s just one industry—it doesn’t touch on the huge advancements in tech, services, and manufacturing that these countries have witnessed in recent times.

It’s no surprise then that many US and European investors are now looking to the Middle East as an investment opportunity.

To cover this vast, complex, and fascinating topic, I asked Fouad Sader to appear on the latest episode of This Week With Sabir.

Sader describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. He has owned many companies, earned invaluable experience, and knows more about Middle Eastern entrepreneurship than most.

Whether you have roots in the region and want to connect, or you’re thinking of starting a company there, Fouad Sader can definitely help.

In the following guide, I’ll go over some of the topics that Sader discussed regarding starting a business in the Middle East.

Setting Up A Business In The Middle East Vs The USA

In the US, you can set up a company online in a few minutes. The same is true for the UK and many other countries.

With a credit card, an internet connection, and a few spare hours, you can create a company, establish trademarks, buy domains, open company accounts, and do everything else that you need.

It’s not the same in the Middle East though.

Countries like Saudi Arabia have made a lot of improvements over the years, but it’s still much harder to create a business here than it is in the US.

The Saudi equivalent of a sole proprietorship can take weeks for a Saudi citizen, and it doesn’t provide the same benefits as a sole proprietorship in the US.

As a non-Saudi, the process is even harder and it can be very expensive. According to Fouad, there is a lot of red tape, and it makes it very challenging for people to start a business here.

It’s easier in the UAE and it’s also much faster, but it’s still not as simple as in the United States or the United Kingdom.

There are many benefits to opening a business in the Middle East though. Not only can it give you access to markets in India and China, but the economy is strong, stable, and emerging. What’s more, the operating costs are generally lower than they are in the US, even when you consider the increased expense and hassle that comes with starting a business.

Fouad Sader says that if you’re going to do business in the Middle East, you should look to the UAE. It is seemingly more outsider friendly and has far fewer barriers to entry than other Middle Eastern markets.

If you’d like to learn more about setting up a business in the UAE, check out this link. For Saudi Arabia, a county where Fouad has much experience and one that he spoke about extensively, this site can help you.

What Are The Fastest Growing Sectors In Saudi Arabia And The UAE?

At the time of writing, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, although that is largely down to spiraling energy costs. It might not hold onto that title for long, but it’s still a booming nation that has a lot to offer opportunistic investors and entrepreneurs.

Engineering, construction, and real estate are a big deal here, and that’s also true in the UAE. In the west, this news usually filters through to us when a new record is broken—the biggest, the longest, the richest. But on the ground, there are countless projects ongoing every single day.

New houses, hospitals, schools, roads, apartment blocks, hotels—it’s a growing region in more ways than one.

The healthcare and IT sectors are also booming. Tech companies might not flourish here as well as they would in the US or Europe, and Sader actually touched upon that in our discussion. But there’s still an opportunity for innovative and ambitious tech companies.

The manufacturing and distribution sector is vast as well, and this is one of the most exciting sectors right now.

Manufacturing is growing by around 7% every year in Saudi Arabia, and a lot of these goods get shipped to India, China, Japan, South Korea, and across the Middle East where there are billions of dollars waiting to be earned.

How Hard Is It To Setup A Business In Lebanon?

Sader currently works in Lebanon, a country that has experienced more than its fair share of turmoil in recent years.

Under normal circumstances, Sader says that it’s far from straightforward to launch a business in Lebanon, but it’s doable and has its benefits. However, he noted that the current situation has made things much harder.

You can get a sole proprietorship registered in a few weeks, and if you don’t want to do that you can get the equivalent of an EIN and operate under your own name.

Setting up a company is a far greater challenge. You are required to have an office (you may be able to register your residence as a place of work, but he doesn’t recommend this) and will also need to work with a lawyer.

But this is just one part of the process. If you eventually need to wind that business down, it could take you months.

Clearly, setting up a business in countries like Lebanon is not something you choose to do on a whim, nor is it something you can do on a shoestring budget while working out of your bedroom or garage.

Check out this link to learn more about entrepreneurship in Lebanon.

The Problem With Liability And Recruitment

Even if you have the funds, patience, and means to set up a business in the Middle East, there are a few more considerations.

One of the main issues concerns liability and recruitment.

In the US, your business and its assets are liable for any debt that the business incurs. If your business acquires a lot of debt as a result of purchases or lawsuits, the business will shoulder the burden.

In parts of the Middle East, that’s not the case, and your risk is far greater as a result.

There are also strict staffing and ownership roles in many Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar. You can hire foreign workers but may need to pay fees for doing so, and these countries heavily favor their own citizens.

You often need to have a citizen with a stake in the company, and in countries like Saudi Arabia, they can’t simply be a silent partner there for the paperwork alone.

Getting licenses pushed through is usually a long and arduous process and many foreign business owners complain about the need to use middlemen in government departments to push licenses through.

Personal Growth Advice For Middle Eastern Entrepreneurs

In addition to his incredible insights regarding how to start a business in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Middle East in general, Sader offered some tips on general entrepreneurship.

After all, he’s been in this game for a long time and like all experienced entrepreneurs, he wears the scars of his experiences.

Speaking of which, one of the main issues that Middle Eastern entrepreneurs have is finding a mentor to teach them and steer them away from those costly mistakes.

Finding A Mentor

We’re very privileged in the United States as we have a culture of paying it forward when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Many of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs had mentors when they were younger and so they are keen to mentor other entrepreneurs as they age.

I’ve been there myself. I got help, and now I help others.

In the Middle East, that culture doesn’t exist. The region’s entrepreneurs got there without a mentor and so they don’t feel that they need to help, creating a self-perpetuating cycle that makes it difficult for aspiring entrepreneurs to get support.

According to Sader, ego plays a big role in this. Access is also a problem.

In the US, you’re always just a LinkedIn message or a networking event away from a successful entrepreneur who can become a mentor. In Saudi Arabia, that isn’t necessarily the case.

The tides are changing, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Sader recommends reading as many books as you can and watching others in their roles as business owners and executives.

What are they doing right? What did they do wrong?

You can learn a lot by paying attention.

The internet is also your friend here, as you can tap into a vast wealth of resources directed specifically at entrepreneurs.

Of course, reading a book or watching a podcast isn’t the same as having a mentor you can meet face-to-face, but it can make a massive difference, nonetheless.

If you want to start a tech business with a focus on Saudi Arabia, you should check out Waed.net. Sader also recommends the On Deck community, which is very helpful for anyone launching a tech company.

You should also watch a few more This Week With Sabir videos and read some more blogs.

My discussion with Jacob Warwick can help you to get noticed on LinkedIn, while my guide to strategic partnerships with Kevin Thompson is perfect if you’re trying to build life-changing connections.

Learn As Much As You Can, As Early As You Can

During our discussion, Sader told me about his early entrepreneurial journey, a time when he would resell basketball posters at school for a large markup.

I asked what advice he would give himself as a child, he said to follow projects of passion, as well as sense. He loved basketball, so it made sense for him to devote his efforts to the sport, but at the time, all of his schoolfriends were interested in soccer and that would have made more financial sense.

You should never invest everything solely in a trend. But at the same time, you shouldn’t throw your resources at something that only you care about.

It’s about balance—something you love that also offers opportunities for growth.

Speaking of growth, Sader emphasized the importance of learning and growing.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, how experienced you are, or what you’ve done with your life, there is always something that you can learn. The lessons you learn from failure and difficulty can teach you more than the lessons you learn from success, so don’t run from them, and don’t let them defeat you—embrace them.

Learn as much as you can, as early as you can.

Everything that you do, every time you win, lose, suffer, or succeed, it’s an opportunity for growth.

Take Ownership

Oftentimes, people go into entrepreneurship after working for someone else.

They are used to having finance departments deal with payroll and creative teams deal with marketing and content. When they go into business on their own, all of those things become their responsibility and that can make or break an entrepreneur.

You must be ready for this and capable of dealing with it. If you’re not good at juggling many things, don’t handle stress well, and don’t have the resources to hire others who can help, it might not be the best profession.

But you don’t have to dive in head-first. There are levels, and you can start slowly and take things from there.

Number 1 Hard-Earned Lesson

After providing his valuable insights on starting a business in the Middle East, I asked Fouad Sader for his best piece of advice, one that could earn 6 and even 7-figures for anyone seeking to invest in the Middle East.

His advice was a warning: Take partnerships very seriously.

He referenced a time when he lost a lot of money because of a partnership and hinted that this happens quite a lot in the region.

Partnerships, he stressed, are like marriages, and they need to be treated with care and consideration. They are not something you should dive into out of excitement.

Always make sure you have the framework in place before making any commitments. Get the documents ready, cover all eventualities, and don’t just take someone on their word.

This is good advice for business partnerships in general, but it’s especially helpful when you’re doing business in a region where you have no experience.

He also advised my listeners to set up a business with a view to achieving long-term success. This means that you should focus on the markets that are expected to experience growth, as well as the markets that are best suited to your needs.

If you’re running a tech business, for instance, and you have the luxury of choosing any country, you might be better off with London or California, somewhere that is already considered a tech hub.

It’ll make your life easy when it comes to networking, hiring, and finding clients and investors.

The Middle East might have plenty of opportunities, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for every business and every entrepreneur.

About Fouad Sader

Fouad Sader is the co-founder and COO of Oncamp; a tech startup focused on helping companies find the best technical talent.

An accomplished entrepreneur with three previous startups, two successful exits, and 100s of hard-earned lessons through costly mistakes. He graduated with a Master’s degree from HEC Paris. He is an expert in business strategy, marketing, and building great teams. Outside of work, he spends his time with his sons, reading or noodling on the guitar.

He currently resides in Byblos, Lebanon.

Fouad can be reached via these links:

📧 Website: fouadsader.com

🐦 Twitter: twitter.com/fouadsader

🔗 LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/sader

🔗 Medium: fouadsader.medium.com

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