How one Dubai resident found startup success during Covid-19
Patrick Osman was down to his last Dh600 when he decided to take the leap.
Unprecedented. A word we may well be tired of when this pandemic is over. In the last few months, however, the word has always been used in context of trouble. Unprecedented crisis, unprecedented loss - never unprecedented success. Yet, this is Patrick Osman's story.
When the Dubai resident, who'd arrived in the UAE over a year ago in pursuit of a work opportunity, lost his job due to the coronavirus outbreak, he found himself in a real spot. "My folks in Australia were heavily reliant on me to help them pay off their mortgage, so I had to come up with a solution," he says.
Down to his last few hundred dirhams, the 27-year-old says it was the success of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos - the richest man in the world - who 'nudged' him into a new direction. After assessing his skill sets (which included a hobby for drawing) and realising e-commerce was the way forward, Patrick decided to combine the two and form I'm Cartoonified, a custom cartoon portrait service that offers to illustrate individuals into their favourite cartoon of choice.
"I knew I couldn't get a job in the current situation. I had Dh600 to my name and didn't know what was going to happen if I invested it into this venture - but I didn't have a leg to stand on, so I took the leap and founded the website," recalls Patrick.
Whatever he was expecting, it sure wasn't a "doubled" income. "The market response has been phenomenal, and we're doing five figures in less than seven weeks," says Patrick. The entrepreneur started out on his own, but has now expanded his team to include five more designers - two in the UAE and three internationally - to keep up with demand.
It may sound like the stuff of startup dreams, but Patrick is quick to ground his tale in reality: a lot of research and an accurate understanding of how business works were key to his success. "The problem with business ideas is that they're just one component of a business. The execution of the idea and product needs to be strategic. There are four core functions of business - human resources, operations, accounting and finance, and marketing. If any one of these functions has a hole, your business will suffer."
Patrick says that's what happens with SMEs that fail to take off. "Either the market study hasn't been done, or funds aren't allocated in the right areas, execution of the idea is poor or no branding strategies have been put in place. It is critical to understand your market as well as the core functions in business."
At the moment, he says it is word-of-mouth ("spreading like wildfire") that is pulling in traffic to his website. But there's also heavy social media marketing - which may explain how he managed to garner an Instagram following of 10.8K followers in less than two months. "So far, I've invested all the money I made from the business back into marketing, branding and advertising the website. And we're seeing the results, as we're getting in excess of 80-100 enquiries per day across social media platforms."
He wouldn't deny the power of pop culture in having a hand in his success either. From The Simpsons to Disney princesses to your favourite heroes from the world of DC or Marvel Comics, it's this particular offering to transform anyone into their favourite cartoon character that Patrick says holds most appeal for those looking for a unique gifting solution.
All in all, the experience has greatly shaped his outlook to life itself. His takeaway lesson: Don't stop trying. "You will fail but you'll learn," he says. He doesn't, however, believe that entrepreneurship is for everyone. "Entrepreneurship is for people who are not willing to settle for the status quo," he says. "It's for individuals who have a relentless attitude and are willing to work at any hour, whether sun is up or down." At least, that's what it's been like for him. "When my eyelids are open, I'm working on my business. When my eyelids are closed, I'm dreaming about it," laughs the go-getter.
Creativity is often wrought in the crucible of crisis - and Patrick believes that's what got him through his dark hour. "If you're already in a dark place, you have one option and that's to get yourself out. Life put me in a corner and forced me to take the risk. My advice, if you're in a similar situation, is to make strategy your best friend. Stop thinking about what could happen and start finding out what could happen."