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How to deal with customer complaints. A lesson from Tamkeen.

How to deal with customer complaints. A lesson from Tamkeen.

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Twelve days ago, I had this to say about Tamkeen:

As you can see above, just one day after posting the initial complaint, which was borne from frustration and previous experiences with Tamkeen, someone took notice of my complaint and took positive action. No less than three Tamkeen personnel called offering to help to resolve the situation. And they did, almost immediately.

Within a day, all paperwork was resubmitted and accepted within their system. The lady in charge of this particular project was immensely helpful and responsive and called me back to assure me that the paperwork was in order and that she has passed on the project to payments.

My other complaint which I shared with those who followed up was to do with the payment period. Tamkeen promises to release payments once all paperwork is accepted within 60 days. I told them that as a small businesses and we simply cannot afford to wait for two months to get our payments, especially when those payment equates to 50% of the total project. Our cashflow won’t allow it. They promised to see what they could do about that too.

Imagine my pleasant surprise yesterday when I found the payment has actually landed in our bank! Just 12 days after the initial complaint. This is excellent.

Thank you Tamkeen for taking active notice of complaints, and thank you too for expediting payments. I hope that as you have proved that you could take such quick action once the complete document set is submitted, that this responsiveness becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Thank you Tamkeen, once again, for your efforts. It is very much appreciated.


The death of entrepreneurship in Bahrain

The death of entrepreneurship in Bahrain

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a truckful of unread, undistributed entrepreneurship magazines

I arrived at my office this morning at my regular time to be faced with this truck parked just outside. I suspect that the truck’s destination is a recycling plant.

What struck me wasn’t the industry of the workers or that paper recycling is a bona fide operation in Bahrain, what did was the picture I was faced with. I thought it was an indication of the state we are in on multi-facetted levels.

Consider this: the magazine bundles are clearly just as they have been received from a printer, unopened, undistributed and unread. The inference here is that we as a community do not read.

Second: the magazine in question is targeted toward entrepreneurs. Its website describes it as follows: “Rowad magazine aims at being not only a magazine, but a reference tool for entrepreneurs locally and regionally with a vision to reach international platforms. The magazine offers insight on entrepreneurship across all industries which include ; ICT, Arts, Health & Fitness, Film Industry just to name a few.” It is abundantly clear that it’s not benefiting any of its promised targets. It is simply destined to a recycling plant – one hopes – and thus doing more good for the environment than the minds it was hoping to enrich. I can’t help but think if this yet another indication of the death of entrepreneurship in Bahrain.

Third: Print is dead. I honestly don’t know why anyone bothers to print anything any more, especially papers and magazines. We need trees more than useless paper that’s ultimately going to be tossed out. Most information is better provided electronically for obvious reasons, the least of which is searchability and protection and sustainability of the environment.

This was a quite interesting start of my day. One that clearly exposed several elephants in the room, particularly in Bahrain:

  1. Reading is not high on our priority list,
  2. Entrepreneurship here is in dire straights. The majority of “schemes” thrown at it won’t bring it back to life. Tamkeen, in particular, is not working and needs to be shut down. I have come to realise now that Tamkeen is the worst thing that has happened to business and entrepreneurship in Bahrain. It is superficial at best and a Darwinian culling of businesses large and small is the best for the future of this country.
  3. Thirdly, businesses here need to divorce themselves from print media. The utter crap that is being printed in this country is mind-boggling. When magazines exist simply to sell ads and not provide real and valuable content, when magazines’ main contribution is society pictures and pages, it is best to shut them down. Even the Internet doesn’t deserve this crap. Invest your advertising dollars in proper digital marketing and CSR schemes that benefits the community, rather than continue to prop up a dying and completely unnecessary industry.

Good morning and make it a great day!


How important is a business exit plan?

How important is a business exit plan?

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What’s the average life of a business?

I don’t know for certain, and I doubt anyone else in Bahrain or the Middle East knows either. Statistics of this sort are just not prioritised, and if they are, then they are not published. US statistics suggest that, on average, a Fortune 500 company lasts around 40 to 50 years. The vast majority of small businesses in the UK are around 5 years old, with less than 15% older than 20 years.

My guess is that small businesses here actually last a lot longer. But that’s not due to their success.

Businesses last longer in this region not because they are better run, or because of the region’s tax-free environment. I suspect that they are allowed to grow older simply because of the archaic bankruptcy laws. The bankruptcy laws here compel business owners to maintain their businesses on life support and even tolerate incurring losses, rather than declare bankruptcy.

You would be right to question why bankruptcy is detrimental to business and entrepreneurship. One reason is because there are serious repercussions from declaring bankruptcy. Those repercussions range from travel bans imposed on entrepreneurs, to them being barred from starting or operating a business thereafter.

Simply put, bankruptcy laws make this region a hostile environment for entrepreneurship and innovation. I don’t believe that business can thrive under these restrictions. Innovation carries an inherent risk of course, and an environment such as this doesn’t allow innovators to take those necessary risks. That is probably why innovation in this region will continue to just be another buzz word empty of meaning.

You can read the Bahraini Bankruptcy law here.

And here’s an excerpt to show you how detrimental it is to innovation and entrepreneurship:

Article 33

Any adjudicated bankrupt may not elect or become a member of parliament, municipal council, Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry or any professional society. He may not become a manager or a director of any company nor carry on the business of commercial agency or any import and export business, stockbrokerage business involving the sale or purchase of securities or sale by a public auction.

An adjudicated bankrupt may not manage properties on behalf of other. However, the competent court may authorise him to administer the properties of his minor children, if such administration is not detrimental to them.

This archaic law is responsible for the stagnation of business and innovation. A significant proportion of businesses here are on life support. And to all intents and purposes they should be declared dead. Yet, they’re kept alive because their owners cannot afford to declare them bankrupt.

I’m not advocating escaping from one’s responsibilities. I am advocating a better law that allows for mistakes to be learnt from. They must be regarded as experiences that help build the culture of innovation.

The above should give you some context on any published statistics here as they do not take these factors into account. They do not present the real situation and statistics should taken with some grains of salt.

Other challenges do exist that limit business growth, of course. The most critical I believe are the lack of clear planning and lack of vision. A critical part of those is that entrepreneurs here do not define a clear exit plan as part of their business planning. I am guilty of that omission, I confess. I’ve never even thought of an exit plan before not found a need for one. However, I now believe that defining an exit plan is critical to the success of any business. It is the exit point at which the conditions are just right for the launch of a phase of more predictable growth. Essentially, it is the transition point from an entrepreneurial spirit to professional management. It is that time at which professional managers must be brought in to manage and create sustainable growth.

Most entrepreneurs, from my own observation, aren’t detail people. They are explorers who have no fear of venturing into dark and deep shark infested waters. One would find them getting out with hardly a drop of sweat on them. Wet they might be, but sweaty they won’t. What would make them sweat is the wait, and being forced to deal with the fine details.

But with a such a hostile environment to entrepreneurship here, how can a business even contemplate the prospect of being sold? Would an exit plan even be considered as part of business start up? Why are businesses even started in this region?

I believe that the primary consideration for starting a business here is to make money for the owner. A piggy bank, if you like, or a cookie jar to dip the hand in whenever required to maintain a certain lifestyle. In the majority of cases, businesses here aren’t to deliver value through innovation. And that is why businesses remain small.

I am not being judgmental. These are simple facts that small businesses and their entrepreneurs live by here. I contend that there is nothing wrong with that situation. But would the term “entrepreneurship” really apply here?

In this environment, what kind of businesses get sold and why? For how much? And in what conditions? And to what effect? Yes, businesses do get sold. Rarely mind you, but they do happen.

One such recent transaction I know of is the sale of the Block 338 restaurant. The Gulf Hotel purchased that property for a rumoured two million Bahraini dinars. Can you imagine how a study like this would help entrepreneurs? At least it would encourage entrepreneurs to develop a road map with exit plans as part of their start-up process. This would force entrepreneurs to focus on business sustainability. And invite them to establish processes that ensure business success. These kind of stories would do more good than empty marketing platitudes.

I’ve alluded to some factors that would make a business sellable above and I do believe that those are the common denominators that work across many – if not all – small business types; be they service or product based.

Other factors do exist including market need, share and timing. But having a documented processes is arguably the most critical. Those processes allow the business to transcend its owner. They offer predictable automation that allows the business to function regardless of the involvement of its creator. That intellectual property surely must be the most important thing a business possess, regardless of its genre. That applied equally to the likes of video production houses or manufacturing facilities.

Investors; however, make it plain that while IP is valued, it does not factor much in weighing a business for an investment decision. They put a price on actual equipment the business owns than its intangible assets. That makes IP a component of good will, rather than a critical business asset. This thinking renders service-based businesses worthless for an investment destination.

How can a service business such as mine grow then?

I remember attending a seminar by Carl Gould organised by the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation in Bahrain a few years ago. He identified the seven stages of a business.  What stuck in my mind is his assertion that businesses that depend on their owners for success will never grow beyond “Level 2”. He argued that those businesses do not scale, but are bound by the intellectual input of their creator. The only way those businesses can grow would be for those businesses to grow beyond their creator. Which makes sense. And depends on setting in place processes where a diverse knowledge base and shared across the organisation.

That is the issue I have been struggling with for some time now. Like other entrepreneurs in my situation, I had been looking for a “mini-me”. I have not come close to finding one that could fill my shoes, yet. I understand that the alternative is to delegate and accept that I might have to spread my competencies across several employees. The issue here – and I realise that this might be an excuse – is that the market here in Bahrain cannot support and increased head-count. I tried that approach and failed. Many times.

Could scaling be an answer? Should one open offices abroad to grow beyond Bahrain to capture more business? That growth will surely provide the opportunity to utilise more competencies and spread them across the network.

What’s the issue then? Why have I not take those steps to grow? The simple answer is that I never had the required access to capital. The perennial problem of business growth everywhere, of course, but especially to those in Bahrain.

Trust for small business and entrepreneurs here exist only in platitudes and effervescent glitzy entrepreneurship events. There is no real government policies which help ease this situation. The archaic bankruptcy law is just one example of that failure. The absence of reasonable financing is another. Until these situations are remedied, I believe that SMEs in this region will continue to be non-effective. Their economic impact will remain marginal. And they will never provide real value that might benefit humanity.


News is Dead. Long live Content.

News is Dead. Long live Content.

When news is published, it’s just the beginning of the conversation, not its end.

This is what “news” is today. It’s necessarily a live conversation that informs, educates and empowers people to make better decisions.

Whether you like it or not, printed newspapers, and magazines are dead. I believe that they’re uselessly clinging to life through rusty and leaky support machines. If publications want to get off their sick beds and actually thrive, they need to think of themselves more as very technology-centric content producers than restricted news curators. They need to produce relevant content and publish it across a plethora of platforms in a variety of formats to reach a fickle and sceptical audience. Failing to adopt this business model will ensure nothing but their slow and painful demise.

Currently, none of the newspapers in Bahrain operate under this necessary business model, which is quite surprising as well as it being disturbing, as the technology is readily available to allow them to move into the content business and away from the obsolete static news business models. I daresay that money isn’t the major detriment should they choose to strategically tread that path, the real hurdle might well be the required change in publishers’ mindsets, their management methodology and style in order to fully benefit from this new business model. There is no denying that there definitely is a long way for them to go, judging by their obtuse and difficult to use websites. Entities which are generally digitised copies of their printed publication at best, save for the ability to provide moderated reader comments.

I have to ask, though, is this situation due to general lethargy, a pragmatic response to the minuscule market they operate in, absence of vision or is it due to bureaucratic restrictions that prevent them from adopting the critical change in direction which is necessary to ensure their very survival?

I note that some monthly magazines’ websites do have some video content – very little of it mind you and in mediocre quality; however, I’m unsure whether this is has been officially sanctioned or is made available by taking the oft-used and successfully implemented concept of when caught, opting to ask for forgiveness rather than originally seeking the onerous permission required to provide such a service.

Video alone is not the answer, of course. For a modern publication to thrive, it really needs to change its business model from traditional print publishing to multimedia interactive content generation and curation, as stated previously. To make this happen, the chief requirement for success is for the organisation to intrinsically add leading edge technological capabilities – either through in-house or outsourced resources – to continuously inject innovation into their Internet assets, integrate new interactive technologies and ensure that their content management system is solid yet flexible enough to respond to the immediacy of news in all of its formats, including crowd-generated and -curated content. From my observation, there isn’t a single media entity that fits within this necessary framework so far in Bahrain.

According to the Local Media Outlets list in the Ministry of Information Affairs, there are currently 10 radio stations, 6 television channels, 7 daily newspapers, 15 weekly newspapers and magazines, 17 monthly magazines and 9 electronic newspapers and magazines (Last Modified: 28-09-2014 11:38:05). Apart from the fact that the quantity of media outlets is despicably low for a country with over 1.2 million people, I believe that they’re all doomed to failure. They’re all are stuck in the past.

Strategically, to attain sustainable success for this critical industry, basic changes must take place, changes which have proven to have positively contributed to the success of the industry elsewhere: the state needs to inculcate and protect freedoms of speech as defined by the UN Charter’s Article 19, remove or at least appreciably reduce restrictions on the ability to publish physical or virtual periodicals and allow them to fairly compete in an open market.

Should these conditions occur, I’m sure that the media industry in all its forms will thrive in Bahrain and create an industry that will be match and possibly exceed those already present in the region, and innovation in the media space will sore, bringing with it much needed economic benefits.