How thinking like our nomadic ancestors can help start ups survive the pandemic

Survival skills of making a little go a long way have been passed down from generation to generation

A young bedouin leads his camel herd at sunset. Start-up entrepreneurs can learn lessons from the Bedouins on how to survive harsh climates  EPA
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There’s no doubt that the business world is becoming a challenging place for start-up entrepreneurs. As the Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of slowing and many countries experiencing a second-wave of rising infections, start-up entrepreneurs are looking for ways to survive the crisis by cutting costs while continuing to win new customers.

I spoke to an entrepreneur recently after I noticed how he slowed down his operations two years into his business. He laughed and said that he had to think like his Bedouin ancestors, who strategically navigated through harsh conditions with minimum resources.

Our conversation got me thinking more about the current situation and how Bedouins survive challenges in the desert.

My elderly Bedouin friend told me that surviving a harsh environment involved three strategies: allocating resources wisely; being resilient; and thinking long-term.

Here’s how start-up entrepreneurs could apply the same strategies from my Bedouin friend’s survival handbook to power through the pandemic.

Allocate resources wisely

One of the mistakes an entrepreneur friend of mine made was that he spent most of his budget in January ahead of the launch of a chic restaurant in March, with no crisis plan in place. He went ahead with the launch even though he had heard that business could be negatively impacted by the Covid-19 virus that was already travelling through the world, and he didn’t have any emergency cash to fall back on.

This is where we could learn from Bedouins. Even when a situation seems to be fine, my elderly Bedouin friend learned to allocate her resources wisely at a young age. “We always saved food, and water, even if an oasis was nearby,” she said.

With the crisis expected to exist for a while, start-up entrepreneurs should try to have an emergency budget on hand and a crisis plan in place.

Resilience and resourcefulness are key

“A sandstorm could destroy your home, livestock and your belongings in minutes, but if you want to live, you have to get up and never give up,” my Bedouin friend said. The main challenge all of us are facing is surviving the pandemic. We also know that the Covid-19 crisis is not the last crisis the world will witness. In business, internal and external factors could negatively impact your business, and it’s your attitude that will determine whether to let the situation bring you down, or to perceive the challenges as opportunities to learn or pivot. This is where resourcefulness comes in handy.

How can you make the most of the resources in hand? When my entrepreneur friend couldn’t open his restaurant in March, and was low on cash, he had to pivot and thinks of ways to be resourceful and not lose his restaurant or staff. What he did was that he decided to bring the chic experience to his customers’ homes so that they could enjoy a fancy, and safe meal. He hadn’t planned to have home delivery service in the beginning, but the pandemic forced him to be resourceful. Today, he’s re-thinking his entire business model, and wondering if he should only offer a home-delivery option for his clients to save costs in the long-run.

Think long-term

“Every decision we make, we think of it for the long-term. We don’t know when it will rain, or when will we have access to more food,” said my Bedouin friend. In business, just like life in the desert, you shouldn’t live your life day-by-day. Though we can’t predict what will happen in the future, it’s advisable to have a plan in place for how you manage your operations in crisis situations. Having a long-term plan in place could not only save your finances, but also help you to remain focused, be mentally prepared and look out for opportunities.

By focusing on being resourceful, resilient, balancing our budgets and thinking long-term, we will not only be better equipped to survive unexpected crisis, but we could also learn to thrive and turn adversity into opportunity.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi