This month, PSE Magazine met up with the talented and very optimistic young entrepreneur, Mohammad Ali Al Falasi. Mohammad is a UAE National who lives in the rural Al Awir area of Dubai. He describes his family as a middle class Emirati family with traditional Bedouin roots, a fact that is clearly illustrated by his easy going, personable, and optimistic nature—a few of the many great trademarks of the Bedouin tribes.
Mohammad attended secondary school in Dubai and then earned his Bachelor Degree in Accounting at the American University of Sharjah. Before we got a chance to ask Mohammad when he first starting thinking about starting his own business, he tells us, “From day one, I knew that I wanted to start my own business. But when I decided that I wanted to open my own accounting and auditing firm, I learned that I had to have at least three years of practical experience to establish an accredited auditing firm under UAE laws. I also realized that experience was necessary to acquire the necessary skills and market insights required to compete in the industry.”
Soon after graduating, Mohammad took up a position at Dubai’s Financial Audit Department, which was the ideal place for him to gain the required hands-on experience and knowledge in the field. But working full time did not derail Mohammad from his goal. He focused his attention on learning the ins and outs of the auditing and accounting trade across multiple industries. In particular, Mohammad focused his attention on the application of accounting and auditing principles for large, publicly traded companies, privately held, semi-government organizations, and government departments. This experience enabled Mohammad to gain invaluable insights into not only good accounting and auditing practices but provided him the ability to interpret financial figures and reports and turn them into valuable information. During this time, he used his experience and industry exposure proactively in creating his business plan and performing market research
Four months before his three year work anniversary at the Department, Mohammad kick-started his mission. He began to search for and interview potential candidates for the first of many roles to come at MAF Auditing Accounting and Consultancy. Mohammad finally launched his business in April 2012 in Dubai.Initially focusing on his core service offerings of auditing and accounting services, Mohammad has managed to successfully develop his service catalogue to over twenty services including business process outsourcing, management consulting, and business setup and feasibility study services. He is a firm believer in the80/20 rule, whereby 80% of the market share is dominated by the top 20% of the firms. These comprise the large local and international firms. The remaining20% of the market is sharedamonga large number ofsmall- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs). Mohammad has focused his initial efforts in capturing the business of this large pool of SMEs who need his services the most.
“When our clients succeed, we succeed.” Mohammad tells us.“Many startups and small- to medium-size businesses cannot afford full time accounting and auditing staff, and that is where we come in. Even when they do have full time staff that manage the money and the numbers, most business owners and managers do not understand what these numbers mean. Our key value proposition is our ability to turn financial data into intelligence, empowering business owners and decision makers to make informed decisions based on empirical evidence and concrete data. We help businesses cut expenses, increase profits, and improve performance overall.”
Mohammad’s client list includes almost 250 enterprises across the UAE. Although he is a member of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, Mohammad did not receive any funding from them or any other public funding establishment. However, he says that the government offers a lot of non-financial support. “They provide me with reference letters and recommendations. This enables me to participate competitively in big government tenders and is a great support.” Khalifa Fund also hosts a yearly gathering where members can share their successes and challenges as well as network with each other. “As one of only fourteen approved auditors by the Khalifa Fund, these networking events are a great opportunity for us to gain new business and forge new partnerships,” continues Mohammad.
We asked Mohammad about the challenges that he has faced in setting up his business. He told us that competition in this industry in fierce, and what makes it even more so is the availability of so many freelancers who have flooded the market with cheaper rates.He approaches the challenge posed by freelancers from the client perspective. “I tell my clients: Can you sign a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement with freelancers? No. Can you hold freelancers accountable for loss or file a case in the court? Not really. I have an office. I have qualified and professional employees. You can trust us with your information and can rest assured that we will deliver the best services and will always be just a phone call or visit away.”
Finding the best employees is also another challenge says Mohammad. But he adds, “What’s even harder than finding good employees is keeping them! I have lost so many good people to clients who poach the best employees by offering a higher remuneration package.” We asked Mohammad what he does to overcome this challenge and he says, “I treat my employees like family. I offer competitive salaries and provide them with training, promotions, and all the tools required to improve and succeed. I keep an open door policy and empower my employees to make decisions and to feel like part of the company.”
Talking about critical success factors for establishing a new business, Mohammad tells us what motivates him. “Ever since I was a young child, I always knew that I wanted to have my own business. I believe in my vision and I always stay focused and work towards achieving my goals. Believing in yourself and following your dreams is half of the challenge and a big part of that is maintaining a positive outlook. The rest is putting in the hard work and getting the right people to help you achieve your dreams.”
Recently. Mohammad has shifted his focus to establishing his Business Setup Consultancy services in the UAE. He has since partnered with his firstthree international companies for conducting the feasibility and market study, as well as financial advisory and business setup services to enter the UAE market. Mohammad says, “Once you help them successfully setup their business in the UAE, they will stay with you forever. I provide our international partners with a complete and comprehensive range of services that will enable them to enter the local market in the best and most competitive way possible.”
We asked Mohammad how he manages to juggle his time between full time work at the National Audit Department and his business. “Not only am I a full time employee, I am also currently enrolled in the National Army Service as well as in a part-time master’s program at Sheikh Mohammed Smart University. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I am married and have three children too!” But, he says he always finds the time to manage his priorities. “Firstly, I am a firm believer in empowering employees to make decisions and lead. I trust my employees to make all kinds of important decisions. We have also streamlined our services which makes things easier to manage. For example, one of our popular services is our monthly auditing and accounting package where we provide our clients with monthly, quarterly, and yearly accounting and auditing hours based on the number of transactions in a given period. Our services are accompanied with the use of an internationally recognized accounting software system as well as a comprehensive set of business reports.”
Mohammad says, “I am working hard right now, day and night, and this is because I want to secure a comfortable future for my family and myself. But there is always time. You need to focus and manage your time accordingly. Most people complain about how there is never enough time, but I tell them that is not true. There is time for everyone and everything.” Mohammad says that effective time management is his biggest advice he has to offer to any aspiring entrepreneur. He adds, “If you don’t start something today, you will never start. There is no time like the present in the UAE market. Opportunities are everywhere and the economy continues to grow steadily. This means that the costs of establishing a business will increase as well. Living costs, rent, and prices of inputs will all increase, making it more expensive to start your business the longer you wait.” He also adds a piece of simple advice. ”Even if you don’t start the actual process now, start your business in your mind. Study the market, make your business plan and take the necessary steps towards your goals one day at a time.”
Another important piece of adviceMohammad gives us is, “Do not get too comfortable where you are. One of my favorite quotes from H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s book is where he tells his readers that they always look to the future and never stand still. If you say you are comfortable where you are, you are actually moving backwards, especially if all those around you are moving forward while you are stuck in the same place.” Mohammad tells us there are so many government entities that support local entrepreneurs with funding and administrative support, there is really no excuse not to start your own business. “The local entrepreneur community is growing. I always encourage my friends and acquaintances to start their own business and I always recommend to go for zero-interest government funding instead of trying to secure bank loans.”
Last but not least, Mohammad shares with us an encounter he recently had with the founder of the Fathima Group of Companies in Abu Dhabi. He met with Mr. Haji Moosa who shared his story. Mr. Moosa came to the UAE from India in 1973. He came to support his uncle here and earn a modest living. Soon after starting work in a local grocery store, he decided that he wanted to open his own chain. Without enough money of his own, Mr. Moosa borrowed from family and friends to establish his first grocery store, Fathima Supermarket, in 1975. Fathima soon became known around the neighborhood and established itself as a friendly shop for everyday needs. Three decades later, Fathima has grown to a group of companies worth 500 Million AED, with a strong team of over 4,000 employees that has expanded into supermarkets, department stores, catering, and trading. What Mohammad admired most about Mr. Moosa was his humble and down-to-earth nature. He says that Mr. Moosa’s story is a great inspiration to anyone who has dreams of building his or her own business. He finishes by saying, “If a man can come from Kerala, India to the UAE with no money in his pocket and build an empire worth 500 million AED, why can’t you?”by