What the last year has showed me.

Time man. Time.

It has almost been a year that my first company, The Sound Gaarden, launched and it has been the most fruitful and most frustrating year of my life. Here’s why:

The start-up ecosystem in Dubai:

Often boasted as the next big start-up hub (at least in the Middle East), the center of innovation and, from the outside looking in, it definitely is. Now, take a step back from this fast-growing city, with great infrastructure, unique attractions and forward looking government and notice that Dubai still has a long way to go. There is a lot of money here for investment but it’s still very risk-averse. New technologies do not seem to be coming out of Dubai as much as they should considering the money and statement the city is trying to make. People may shun me for this but most of the biggest companies here are copy-cats of similar American or European startups. That being said, we are moving in the right direction and slowly (I hope not this slow) but surely, there will be great start-ups setting up here and changing the world.

Dubai Lifestyle:

Everyone in and around a start-up understands that working insane hours, sleeping at the office and working constantly to test, iterate and innovate. That’s the opposite of the Dubai lifestyle. I’ve been here long enough to understand that going through the startup struggle and working incredibly hard eating ramen noodles is not very ‘Dubai.’ The lifestyle here is flashy, people tell you about the car they drive, where they went out and lean almost exclusively towards play in ‘work hard, play hard.’

So the issue is not the high life of Dubai but the commitment and persistence of a whole team during a start-ups lifecycle.

The amazing alternative culture:

One of the great aspects of Dubai is the fact that there are so many different cultures mixed together in one small city. I was at a dinner with a few people from AstroLabs and all 5 of us were from different ends of the globe. Actually, almost everyone at the restaurant was at a table with multiple cultures and people. That is a beauty of Dubai and, I think, it’s greatest strength. One can argue that they do not make as much use of the diversity here as they could but that’s a global issue.

Short-term destination:

When building a local music platform, the crux of the company is in building loyalty and connections with the fans and living in an ephemeral city poses some challenges. Our greatest fans and musicians are here one day and gone the next, because people come in with the mind-set that they will be here for 2–3 years and then leave. It’s a pitstop which hurts longevity and relationships with vendors, venues, sponsors, and others.

The people:

This is a definite positive through and through. The people here are amongst some of the most fun and interesting people you could meet. In spite of or because of the reasons above, the people of Dubai are especially unique. Sometimes it feels like we are all here for a short time so let’s have a great and interesting time where we are here. People are slightly more open minded about their friends and hobbies and experiment in ways that only a transient city could encourage.

There are more reasons about why my last year has been the best yet most frustrating but all in all, I wouldn’t have done things much differently. I have made a lot of mistakes, made some great decisions and done some stupid and smart things but I will use that as ammunition for the future. After all this, I haven’t lost faith in myself, my company or the city but I have developed thicker skin, greater patience and a knack for sifting through the noise. I turn 24 this month, and I feel like the last year has aged me (in a good way) beyond that number.

Any thoughts? Let me know at zain@thesoundgaarden.com

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