Khalifa Al Mukheini, Founder & Managing Director of SIMPA Marketing Research & Consultancy, talked with Dr. Tausif Malik, Founder-Editor of the GCC Region’s First Startup & Entrepreneurship Newspaper. Here are the excerpts from the Interview.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Before proceeding with the Interview, at the outset I would like you to describe yourself so that our readers get acquainted and know you better.
Khalifa Al Mukheini: I’m an Omani national with vast experience living and working internationally. I went to a British boarding school and university followed by working with a global multinational in Australia, the UK, UAE, and Oman.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Please tell us about your professional journey.
Khalifa Al Mukheini: When I was at University in the UK we had to spend some time working in Industry so I did a long-term internship and work experience with Amouage an Omani international perfume house with French technical collaborators which gave me my first international experience attending top end luxury exhibitions and conferences in France. Then I joined BP and got into the oil and gas industry! Working there for 20 years and in many countries, I was highly exposed to many different jobs and challenges from marketing, and business development to trading gas and crude oil. Also spending a few years at the headquarters of a global multinational gave me great insight into how top leaders and CEOs of such organizations worked as one of the roles was chief of staff for a Group Vice President who covered Africa, the Middle East, Russia, and the Caspian with all the company’s country presidents reporting to him.
Dr. Tausif Malik: What is your company name and what does it offer?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: I have 2 companies SIMPA marketing research and SIMPA energy, both are consultancies and advisory businesses.
Dr. Tausif Malik: What are the challenges you faced in establishing your business?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: Being small is always a challenge we are told but I always saw it as an advantage I think if you say who you are and what you can or cannot do clients respect that and their expectations are managed, then you can pleasantly surprise them when you start growing and building more capacity. So the challenges are more psychological than real, deciding who you are and what you want to be.
Dr. Tausif Malik: SIMPA is a pioneer in Market Research in the Gulf region, how did the idea come about….?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: The market research idea came from my wife after we came back from living and working in Australia, it seemed the one thing that was lacking for anyone who wanted to start a business in Oman or improve their marketing was lack of information about the market and what is really going on. So we just decided to set up SIMPA marketing research right there and then.
Dr. Tausif Malik: What kind of Market Research do you conduct?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: We are a full agency means we meet with the client, get the brief and prepare a proposal. Once the client approves, we design the questionnaire, conduct the field study, analyze the responses, and report back to the client. Traditionally we used to do a lot in the Automotive, banking, and FMCG sectors which we still do but we do more now for the retail sector, utilities and services. Customer satisfaction studies are popular but so are brand positing, brand images, advertising recall studies, and of course more macro analytical work like demand potential and feasibility studies.
Dr. Tausif Malik: How does Market Research help entrepreneurs and businesses?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: It is crucial to know who you are targeting and with what product and service but also if what you are offering is something they will pay for and it makes sense for you to move closer to launching. Many entrepreneurs rely on their gut feeling and talking to friends, there’s nothing wrong with that as it fuels the passion but adding little science and logic to the debate from an independent non-bias agency is usually worthwhile and can help fine-tune the offer. In many cases raising funds from investors or loans from banks can be much easier if an outside agency has validated some of the entrepreneurs’ assumptions.
Dr. Tausif Malik: The majority of startups & majority of businesses shy from taking customer feedback, why do you think they avoid this?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: I think what you mean is that they may not be doing it systematically and in a structured form as we are used to traditionally but now with the advent of social media that is not in their control any longer! They will get feedback whether they want it or not and it can be very damaging if they don’t know how to manage it so best they are proactive right from the start and be prepared to expect the unexpected.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Are there any plans to launch in other regions besides the GCC regions?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: We have SIMPA in Dubai but for the rest of the GCC countries we work very closely with other agencies and consultants that we have vetted and are comfortable with. We can project manage on behalf of clients if there is a GCC-wide study required. Our strategy remains the same in the sense we like to position ourselves as a boutique agency quite specialized in providing an intimate relationship with our clients rather than a large faceless organization. We have had extremely low staff turnover so clients who have been with us for years still see the old faces even when we bring in new staff.
Dr. Tausif Malik: SIMPA is one of the most successful businesses and has emerged numero uno in Oman, can you share your success mantra to with budding Omani entrepreneurs?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: I think most people would say ‘Never give up ‘ and ‘keep trying’ which all are good advice but I would also say if you are so immersed in your idea or your company you need to sometimes talk to someone who is not so familiar with what you are doing and let them see you in a different light. You should also look outside your industry or what you consider to be your direct market and direct competition and talk and read about others, surprisingly you will always find at least one idea or thought that will relate to you and what you are trying to do. So if you are an engineer go to an art exhibition and if you are an artist pick up that science magazine.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Finally, a message to budding Omani entrepreneurs?
Khalifa Al Mukheini: Like I was saying open your mind to all possibilities from all walks of life, ideas and thoughts can come from anywhere, and follow that with action.