Entrepreneurship now seems to be the choice career path for a lot of young people, and why shouldn’t it be? Building a career and doing what you love for a living is the dream. But it may not always be as easy or glamorous as portrayed in a lot of self-help books or movies. To understand reality of what it is like to start a business from the ground up we spoke to Mohammed Al-Mahdi, an artist and founder of Cartoon Planet. Mohammed’s journey began when he was 22 years old when he made the decision to turn his love for cartooning into something. Here’s his story:
The start of Cartoon Planet
I’ve always had an interest in drawing and cartooning. As a high schooler, I would was practicing my cartoons and drew caricatures which were later purchased by people the around me. This led me to decide to be freelance a cartoonist and caricaturist while studying for my bachelors. I was studying IT but I knew I didn’t want to pursue a career in that field. I wanted to do something with art but I wasn’t quite sure what exactly.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to take part in an exchange program in Sri Lanka. The internship gave me the space to get out of my comfort zone and gave me the space to be creative and be inspired. It was there that I came up with the idea for Cartoon Planet. As soon I got back, I started working on developing the concept of Cartoon Planet. It was an interesting learning experience since I didn’t have any background in business. I got in touch with a few Bahraini business owners and entrepreneurs for mentorship. That’s when I was introduced to the world of entrepreneurship. I’m glad I got the opportunity to learn from people and network through startup events.
What it means to be an entrepreneur
Sometimes people, especially when starting up a business, get distracted by the insignificant things based on what they perceive as success. Things like having a big fancy office, or a big team that might not be well-directed, or working towards things that may not be as focused and trying to do it all at the same time. When you are just starting up, it is important to start small and focus on the right things, and invest effort on the core of your work rather than trying to fit in into a perception or emulate someone else.
Being an entrepreneur is not always as glamorous as it may seem. It is a lot of hard work and requires a lot of sacrifices and prioritizing. On some weeks I work through the entire weekend. You need to know what you are signing up for and what to expect. Currently, I’m working two jobs, alongside Cartoon Planet. I’ve also joined my father in running Takween Training Center. This gave the opportunity to learn and explore new ideas, which has contributed to the expansion of Cartoon Planet.
When Cartoon Planet first started, we were mainly focused on cartooning, but with time we branched out and expanded to digital art workshops, live cartooning, illustrations, design, and printing. It is always important to keep growing and adapting, but it has to be strategic and well thought out. The growth happened over the years with more experience and exposure that we got. With time, I learned a lot of things I never thought I would be able to do. Things like working with google drive, using calendars, sorting files; I never had any experience with any of these things but it all came with time.
I always tell people to do more than one thing and to try and gain as much experience as possible while they can. It won’t always be easy though. Whether it’s working on weekends or holidays, you need to put in the work to get the results you need. Nothing comes easy, all it requires is time management and commitment. People may also give up easily, it may take years to get to the level of success you may want to reach so it’s really important to understand the investment and effort building something takes. You need to look into what your main strengths are and capitalize on those. I was good in design and drawing and I decided to take that up a notch and build something on it. It’s not simply about having the talent but also knowing how to capitalize on it and how to work best with it. Self-confidence in yourself and your talent is also very important. A lot of people are extremely talented but they lack confidence in their own work or may not see the value in their work. People would only value your work if you do.