As a former chartered accountant, you’d expect entrepreneur Tanaz Dizadji to champion fastidious financials as the most important element of running a business.
This is very much not the case.
Instead, the lively, self-confessed insomniac-cum-workaholic, and founder of online review website insydo, believes success in business is simply a case of challenging the status quo.
“Work as part of a team, always trying to prove something to themselves, or others, and you’ll soon see success on the horizon,” says Tehran-born Dizadji.
“Sometimes it’s about being willing to challenge the norm. See yourself as more than maybe you are and reach for an elevated status.”
Insydo has a growing fan base of more than 300,000 unique visitors per month, and is on track to becoming the go-to city guide and a voice of influence in Dubai with the release of its native iOS and Android applications.
It is recognised by Forbes Middle East as one of the UAE’s Most Promising Start-ups, in addition to accolades for Start-up Brand Penetration and Start-up of the Year after just 10 months of business.
Insydo has pushed limits from day one. “We started as we meant to go on,” says Dizadji. “Our launch campaign was somewhat controversial with our Save Steve’s Job billboard with no mention of who or what we were.”
But it got people talking and created a buzz around a business team with high hopes and even bigger ambitions.
“I would hear people talking in coffee shops,” she remembers. “I think most people were thinking, ‘Who are these crazy people?’ but I didn’t care.”
The clever and innovative 2015 campaign was born following an in-office joke that “had legs”, according to London-raised Dizadji. Marketing manager Steve would have been the first on the chopping block if the new company didn’t succeed.
“We genuinely wanted to save Steve’s job,” says Dizadji.
With quirky campaigns and a ping-pong table the centrepiece of the conference room, insydo isn’t your usual company.
“We’re a team of go-getters and fighters,” claims Dizadji. But finding the right staff hasn’t been an easy task.
“The kind of loyalty we require at insydo isn’t always easy to find,” she says.
Insydo is a style review application and website, with research carried out undercover. The company worked in “stealth mode” for almost a year as they collected enough reviews and information to launch a useful product.
“When I look back now I do wonder why anyone wanted to invest or how I managed to do it. I have no clue,” says Dizadji. “I was a bit hazy. I knew nothing about technology and I knew nothing about editorial. I think I was just deluded, which is how I normally get through things.”
As they couldn’t talk about what they were doing for the first year, recruitment was tricky. “Imagine recruiting people for jobs they couldn’t talk about. But we needed to accumulate enough search results to launch it with meaning. That was probably the toughest challenge to date,” she says.
Launched on the web in January 2016, insydo recommends the best of pretty much everything in Dubai, giving users access to more than 3,000 business reviews across more than 400 categories.
Each review showcases “The Good, The Bad and The Tips”, and copy is crafted by a team of editors who secretly scope out businesses in a bid to deliver independent and unbiased recommendations.
Having graduating with a Bachelor of Science in accounting and finance from the University of Warwick, Dizadji started her career as a chartered accountant in investment management at PwC in London.
“I pretty much hated it,” she laughs. “But it was a great basis for my career. You get to go to big companies and are exposed to all their internal affairs. It was a great learning ground but I couldn’t see any career progression for me.”
By her own admission, she “stumbled” from the world of accounting into charity and quickly embraced a love of all things creative.
Before delving into the unknown technology space, Tanaz was director of corporate social responsibility for Omnicom Media Group and led philanthropic and artistic projects for organisations such as Elephant Parade.
“My dad always told me I’d be an entrepreneur. He said I wouldn’t work for other people,” she says.
With a simple goal in mind – to be her own boss – Dizadji began brainstorming ideas and refused to give up. “I came up with loads of really crap ideas that were not going to go anywhere,” she says.
“Luckily I had the sense to research and once I’d done my due diligence I realised quite early on I had to be honest and realistic with myself.”
Then came the concept of search. With self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder and a fridge covered with lists for the best of everything in the city, the CEO and founder realised an opportunity.
“You’re inundated with resources to search but how do you know what to trust?” says Dizadji. “You can Google ‘the best hairdresser in Dubai’ and you get millions of results. But how do you actually know what’s really ‘the best’ and who is telling the truth?”
The best comparison was “a friend”, according to Dizadji. Someone you can call, someone who isn’t going to give you false advice, or 50 options and tell you to filter. “But who’s your friend for everything?”
The insydo team only began monetising the business in October 2015 with insydo+ for B2B marketing, and the CEO says they are on track financially.
“I think the biggest challenge for any start up is liquidity – the pressure to monetise from the very beginning. Apparently that’s all success can be measured on, which is crazy because sometimes the business isn’t ready. It isn’t mature enough.”
She counts herself lucky that their angel investors really understood what they were trying to achieve and were very patient. “I know other entrepreneurs who were almost forced into things in order to simply make money, which didn’t benefit the long-term strategy of the company.”
Already on track to launch in new cities this year, the plan is to keep “reinventing the wheel” wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself.
“The definition of a start-up is someone who doesn’t have a HR manager,” says Dizadji, now recognised as one of the UAE’s 50 Most Influential Brits.
“You’re inundated with things to do but you just have to keep going. You have days when you think you might kill yourself – or someone else – but you never want to give up. Every week there’s a new skill you have to learn.”
Dizadji believes the best advice she could give to a fellow entrepreneur is to nurture the ability to be relentless.
“You don’t have the luxury of ever thinking you’d give up. You have to be relentless. I have other entrepreneur friends and we all share that obsessive drive that gets you through things. Just keep going and you’ll get there.”