COVID-19 affected almost every market. The pandemic made it harder to find new customers as many businesses are struggling as the quarantine restrictions are still in place. However, everything that allows companies to go online, become more effective, and save money is in high demand, no matter whether this is a product or a service.

So, if your business is about that, the pandemic can open new opportunities and even ease up the expansion. 1Ci partner, First Bit has been developing its Middle East presence for about seven years now, and even pandemic could not limit the business growth.

This article will present some practical advice by Aleksandr Smolianinov, the head of First Bit Middle East.


UAE is a fast-growing region. The country has more than 30 economic free zones and is in the top 10 list for per capita income. Also, 85-90% of the population there are expats, making it easier to do business as an international company.

Dubai is one of the world's largest trading and financial centers and is the 3rd largest re-export node, just behind Hong-Kong and Singapore. The country is famous for its oil reserves but has multiple actively developing industries, including production, technology, logistics, and medicine. Many of these industries allowed working in free zones.

All these factors make UAE an excellent destination for starting an international business.

Launching a business

To start operations in the UAE, you will need to form a legal entity. To make it up and running, you'll need to go through several steps:

Find a local director; it is mandatory to have a local citizen on board to open a business.

  • Get a trade license – if you sell goods or services, you will need a license.

  • Rent an office – your company needs an official address for communications and where your core team will be located.

  • Open a bank account

  • Register your legal entity in the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation (MOHRE) and Ministry of Labor.

Next steps: first sales, business processes, team management

The number one task for any new company on the market is to start generating traction. Thus, you will need sales. Several life hacks help to shrink the time from your sales process to first closed contracts:

  • For local businesses going global, find b2b customers with roots in your home country.

  • Connect with your mother tongue speakers working for your potential customers.

  • For fully local companies provide discounts to get them the best price possible.

These steps will allow you to get on your potential customers' radar and close your first deals. However, to build a sustainable sales process, you will need to enhance your marketing. Launching an international version of a website is a must-have, but it is not sufficient. The best way is to adopt growth hacking, Jobs To Be Done (JBTD) approach for determining customers' needs. Aggressive marketing is the key to success when entering a new market.

After you've come up with some hypotheses on such needs and pain points, it is good to conduct customer development. This approach suggests talking with your potential customers, prospects, and current clients to validate their pain points and offer the best solution for these problems.

Afterward, you will need to make changes to your product or service to better address these pains and tasks. A thorough sales process should also be implemented, including a CRM system for the proper automation and more effective work on the funnel.

You will need to have enough people to support all essential business processes in the new market. So, plan to hire a similar number of growth hackers, sales managers, customer care agents. You will usually need more engineers who will adjust and tailor the product to the local needs and implementation experts, who will deploy the product at the customers' side.

Another crucial thing is to upgrade your implementation process. At every meeting, you should be well-prepared with questions for the customer, homework to be done by the client, and all the necessary data should present in the ERP system.

You can bring the core team members from your home market, but you can't make significant progress without using the local talent pool and remote employees.

Once you've assembled the team, launched sales, and started working towards more efficient business processes, it is time to re-evaluate your vision for the future. You will need a plan for business development. When will you be in 1-2-5 years based on your current traction and growth hypotheses? How many customers and what revenue will you have? Such a plan will help you to adjust your business activities and refine your marketing strategy.

Final thoughts: 4 practical tips

Let's sum it up by outlining four core tips that will help you settle in the new country, save money on building business processes, and reduce time to the first sale.

  • People buy better if the sales manager is local.

  • You don't have to move your dev team to a new country. Adjustments can be made from your home region.

  • Sell subscriptions, not licenses. This will give you a recurring revenue flow and make the business sustainable.

  • Only accept partnerships that will benefit both parties.