The Science of Passion: Finding Lasting Motivation for Entrepreneurs

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, SCIENCE Issue, published JULY, 2015. A PDF version can be found here. It is published on this blog with the consent of the author and magazine. All credits and copyrights are reserved to Khaleejesque, 2015. Click here to subscribe to Khaleejesque, or follow them on Instagram @Khaleejesque 

Author: Hashim Bahbahani

Print Artwork: Rami Juma

5 min read.

Consider the following experiment in psychology: a group of randomly selected students are asked to try two cups of coffee from two different coffee stands set up purposely by the experimenters. The cup of coffee is identical at both stands. However, Stand A sells only coffee, while Stand B sells both coffee and sandwiches. Stand A clearly advertises itself as a “coffee specialist”, while Stand B identifies itself as a “coffee and sandwich shop”. After tasting a cup of coffee from each store (and nothing else), the students are asked to rate the overall quality and taste of the coffee.

 

From a strictly rational perspective, there should be no discrepancy between the ratings, as both beverages are in fact identical. However, the results show that the students clearly thought that the cup of coffee from Stand A, the coffee specialty seller, was substantially better than the coffee from Stand B.

 

This experiment is a variation on several tests ran by prominent University of Chicago behavioral science professor Ayelet Fishbach to prove a theory she calls “Goal Dilution”. In short, Goal Dilution theory states that people are more likely to perceive something that does one thing, and only that thing, as better than something that does that same thing plus something else. This has been tried and proven time and again by Fishbach and her team.

 

Although Goal Dilution theory has mostly been used to explain consumer behavior and irrationality, I think it has an equally important application on self-motivation, especially for entrepreneurs.

 

We’ll get to that in due course.

 

One of the most important steps that many founders are afraid to take towards startup success is dedicating themselves to their business on a full-time basis (the optimal term being “full-time”).

 

Founders believe that full-time dedication to their startups is a matter of time management. However, I consider it a matter of mental and psychological dedication. Let’s go back to Goal Dilution and think of how it would apply in terms of self reflection for a dedicated startup founder versus a part-time startup founder. For the “full-timer”, he or she will perceive himself/ herself as a startup specialist in their relative field. They consider themselves a cup of coffee from Stand A. The “part-timers” are unlikely to hold themselves in the same esteem.

 

The point being that full-time dedication has an intangible psychological effect on how confident a founder is in his/ her ability to be successful. This is not conjecture, but rather a factual statistical likelihood.

 

That is the first part of the motivation puzzle.

 

Now consider the following question: is passion predisposed within us?

 

It is certainly the assumption people make when they give the advice “follow your passion”. As a startup founder, this was the main advice I received from mentors; and most people interested in entrepreneurship will hear it as well.

 

It’s very bad advice.

 

Georgetown University computer science professor and best-selling author Cal Newport puts forward the idea that no person is born with predisposed passion, and that passion is in fact conceived through effort and focus.

 

My interpretation of Newport’s idea is that passion is not something to be followed, but rather created. That is a fundamental distinction.

 

According to Newport, studies show that passion is created by believing you are especially good at one specific thing. It is a two part equation. The first part is related to self-perception, which is where the previous discussion of Goal Dilution and dedication becomes relevant. The more dedicated you are to something, the more passionate about it you will become; not the other way around.

 

The second part is related to actively developing an extraordinary skill set through effort and devotion. That effort is rewarded with consistent improvement, which pushes a person away from mediocrity and closer to excellence. The closer a person is to excellence in a certain activity, the more passion they will feel for said activity. That passion is translated into motivation to dedicate even greater effort, which leads to further improvement, and so on. That is the flow of the “passion cycle”.

 

In practical terms, this means that a prospective startup founder is better advised to empower themselves through education and training with the tools necessary for them to explore a market opportunity they believe is feasible, scalable, and attainable.

 

I like to think of the passion cycle as a massive boulder that requires a lot of grit and push to get it rolling, but once it does so it gathers unstoppable momentum.

 

That is part B of the motivation puzzle.

 

Finally, consider the following behavioral experiment: Three groups of students are given the same challenging cognitive tasks to perform. The only variable between the groups is the level of reward promised for completing the tasks (Group A will be rewarded highly, Group B moderately, and Group C the least). The rational model of economics will have us predict that Group A will perform best, followed by Group B, then C. But the results show the exact opposite. The group with the highest reward expectation performed worst, and the group with the lowest reward expectation performed best.

 

This is a stripped-down summary of a series of experiments done by Duke and MIT professor of behavioral economics Dan Ariely form which he concludes the following:

 

For highly cognitive tasks, monetary reward often has no effect or an adverse effect on performance. But applying meaning to the same tasks had a very positive effect on performance.

 

That is the key word: meaning.

 

While monetary reward should be taken into deep consideration, it cannot be treated as a factor of motivation. This notion doesn’t stem from a utopian portrayal of what startups are meant to achieve. Rather, attaching some underlying meaning to your business activity is a strategic decision that will reflect positively on performance.

 

Meaning doesn’t have to come from a grand objective. It can be something simple, but ultimately impactful. A videogame startup can strive to “immerse users in a different reality”; a media platform might aim to “provide an outlet for people’s creativity”; an e-commerce website could plan to “connect people to the things they love”.

 

A sense of mission is the most valuable intrinsic motivator for a startup founder, and it trumps any extrinsic reward. Once again, this is not conjecture. It is a fact of behavioral science.

 

That is the third and final piece of the puzzle.

 

It is undeniable that true motivation stems directly from a passionate pursuit of a goal.  But we have contextualized passion as an elusive holy grail to be searched for and, ultimately, stumbled upon by a lucky few. In this article I tried to challenge that fundamental assertion. It is my conviction, based on factual findings in psychology and behavioral science, that passion is created methodically, no matter how oxymoronic that may seem. Passion is a result of dedication to systematically and purposefully developing an extraordinary skill set in pursuit of accomplishing a meaningful mission through a type of venture. Such is the science of passion: demanding, systematic, and unconcerned with chance.

 

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, SCIENCE Issue, published JULY, 2015. A PDF version can be found here. It is published on this blog with the consent of the author and magazine. All credits and copyrights are reserved to Khaleejesque, 2015. Click here to subscribe to Khaleejesque, or follow them on Instagram @Khaleejesque 

REMINDER: The First Full-time Coding Bootcamp in Kuwait + Instructor Bio + Scholarships

Disclaimer: the author of this post is a co-founder of "Coded".

 

A few weeks ago, we posted an announcement about “Coded”, the first coding bootcamp in Kuwait started accepting applications for it’s summer full-time full-stack bootcamp. 

 

The program aims to take students with little to no coding background or Computer Science experience and turn them into junior level professional developers within 8 very intense week.

 

We meet a lot of ambitious people in Kuwait who have great ideas for startups but don’t have the technical background to execute on those ideas. If you’re one of those people, the Coded Bootcamp would be a great way for you to quickly acquire the basic technical skills you will need to either build the product yourself, or have a good enough understanding of the technical aspects to be able to communicate with a technical co-founder or team.

 

Coded recently announced that there are scholarship opportunities to fund the entire program fee for selected students. More scholarship opportunities will be added this coming week as well. So if you’re really interested in joining the program but the fees are too expensive, try to apply for a scholarship so you can join the bootcamp for free.

 

The instructor for the course comes directly from Coded’s affiliates in the US, Coding Campus. His name is Charles Stauffer. Charles is an enthusiastic software developer who has specialized in web applications. Charles has a wealth of experience working on both large and small teams. He also loves training students and new employees. Charles has a degree in Digital Animation & Computer Science from Brigham Young University. He has over 10 years of programming experience, and has notably worked as a PHP developer at Bluehost, one of the largest web hosting companies in the world. Charles’s specialty is in Python, JavaScript, and PHP.

 

Charles Stauffer- Instructor for Coded

Charles Stauffer- Instructor for Coded

 

The deadline for applying to Coded is July 10.

 

For more information and to apply visit http://www.joincoded.com

 

Good luck everyone!

 

 

 

Smart City App Hack – Dubai

Been a while since I wrote a post and I was supposed to write about more about my experience in 500Startups, but Mijbel suggested we do an event about that since I’ll be in Kuwait 2nd week of June (more about that later).

One of the most people I respect in Dubai and a person that helped us a lot during our 2 years journey in Dubai (Rekha Setpal) recommended that I post about a great event happening in Dubai. The event is called Decode Dubai Hackathon and it will held for 48- hours between 11-13 June (which is our office, so you might actually end up using my desk!!).  Ten winning teams will have an opportunity to get free mentorship and acceleration at in5 Innovation Centre and compete for the final awards in Barcelona during the Smart City Expo 2015 in November

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The five themes are:

1- Shopping

2- Tourism

3- Mobility

4- Energy

5- Collaborative city

For more info and to signup check below links:

http://dubai.smartcityapphack.com/

http://www.dic.ae/decodedubai/

A Khaleeji View on Work-Life Balance

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, WELL-BEING Issue, published May, 2015. A PDF copy of the article is available here. It is published on this blog with the consent of the author and magazine. All credits and copyrights are reserved to Khaleejesque, 2015. Click here to subscribe to Khaleejesque, or follow them on Instagram @Khaleejesque 

Author: Hashim Bahbahani

Print Artwork: Anjana Jain

5 min read.

 

From underneath the warmth of his blanket, Abdulrahman Al-Terkait, eyes half open, stretched out his arm to tap “snooze” on his smartphone screen to silence the incessant nagging of the alarm clock app. It was 4:07 a.m., which meant he was already seven minutes behind schedule.

 

By 4:30 a.m., Al-Terkait was in his car, driving on an empty street with the windows down in the hope that the chill of the brisk December air would awaken his senses. His usual cup of coffee (double cream, no sugar) awaited him in his newly opened breakfast diner, The Breakfast Club. By 4:45 a.m., he was at the doorstep of the restaurant. As soon as he opened the door, the clucking of the kitchen clutter crashed the short lived silence he had enjoyed so far.

 

For the next nine and a half hours, Al-Terkait would have time to sit down for a total of fifteen precious minutes (on a light day) before the final order came in at 2:30 p.m. A quick pop into the kitchen to help with the cleanup was the final task of the day, and by 5 pm or so, Al-Terkait was driving back home. A snack preceded the daily phone conference with his partners, which was seldom kept brief. Before it was even 7 in the evening, Al-Terkait was already lying in bed, his alarm clock set to 4:00 a.m.

 

Such is the typical day in the life of a startup founder: hectic, overwhelming, and uncompromising.

 

It appears that the sixteen hour work day has become the paraded mantra of successful entrepreneurs. Work hard, work smart, and work some more. An entrepreneur must not let superfluous luxuries such as relationships, hobbies, or even sleep obstruct the unremitting march towards success. In the startup ethos, a balance between life and work is a myth: unattainable, nonexistent.

 

It is a philosophy driven by pressure. The startup world, especially in technology, moves at a relentless pace. Everyone wants to be first to market, fastest growing, highest selling, most downloaded, most engaging, and so on. It is competition at its most ruthless; blink, and you might find yourself behind the pack and obsolete. The pressure never ceases to accumulate, and it pushes founders to sacrifice every aspect of their lives in the quest for success and validation.

 

But that philosophy is fundamentally flawed. The most common and yet most unaddressed reasons startups fail is founder burnout. Founding a business is a marathon, and working eighty hour weeks is ideal for a sprint, but detrimental in the long run. A quick glance at startupanonymous.com (a support community that allows founders to post and ask question anonymously) is sufficient to grasp how common the “burnout and crash” problem truly is in the global startup scene.

 

In the Khaleeji world, however, there is a natural remedy for this problem. Khaleeji culture places high value on participating in social events, sustaining close relationships with family and friends, and being part of the community. It is a culture unbefitting to host the 80 hour work week philosophy championed by Silicon Valley et al. But it is that aspect that makes the Gulf a healthier setting for both businesses and their founders.

 

This has proven to be the case for The Breakfast Club’s founders, the Al-Terkait brothers and Bader Al-Omar, who exemplify an almost perfectly struck balance between life and work. I caught up with Abdulrahman Al-Terakit at The Breakfast Club’s downtown branch a month after his wedding to find out how he and his partners have been able to arrive at work-life equilibrium while continuously growing their venture.

 

“Three years ago (December, 2011), we, the founders, were working fifteen hour days, from 4 in the morning to 7 at night. It was exhausting. We started going on long stretches without seeing family or friends, and our social lives were quickly diminishing,” began Al-Terkait. “We therefore set and executed a plan around hiring and delegating to create a structure that allowed us to retain control without compromising quality. Building that structure effectively is what has allowed us to balance work and life.”

 

According to Al-Terkait, the cornerstone of an operative delegation structure is a strong and “synergetic” partnership.  In the early days of a startup, founders (often without a partner) might be tempted to bite off more than they can chew in order to retain as much equity (defined as stake or share of the company) as possible. It is a common founder cognitive bias to overestimate the amount of work that can be accomplished during a single day, which is often the catalyst that gradually pushes the work-life scale in the “work” direction. Hence, the burnout cycle is initiated, and such founder will often end up owning a very large stake in a startup that has crashed towards a value of zero; in other words: a large ownership of nothing.

 

To avoid such seemingly inevitable fate, an entrepreneur is best advised to seek, at a very early stage, partners that offer valuable complementary skills and expertise. Beyond the business benefits of having a diverse and multitalented team, a well-delegated partnership allows each founder to avoid the pitfalls of over-working. And upon that partnership foundation, founders can build a structure that allows them to delegate more duties as the company expands. Hence, the burnout cycle is avoided, and the founders might end up owning a significant stake in a startup that is growing towards a substantial value. (For advice on choosing the right partners, I strongly recommend reading Noam Wasserman’s “The Founder’s Dilemma”.)

 

Back at my meeting at The Breakfast Club with Al-Terkait, I asked him what he thought of the sacrifice-all, work-around-the-clock entrepreneurial approach.

 

“Forget the unavoidable burnout, and let’s assume that there exists an entrepreneur who can work 18 hour days without ever tiring. Even in that case, I still maintain that failing to have a social life is detrimental to a business, especially in the Gulf.” He pushed his half full cup of cappuccino to the side and leaned in before continuing, “Khaleeji culture is all about tightly knit communities, where everyone knows everyone. That in itself is a fantastic marketing tool for any business. As such, a healthy and active social life can immensely help a founder publicize their business, and I doubt that there is a place in the world where that is truer than the GCC. But if a founder works 24/7 on a business, they’ll end up killing their social lives and ultimately sacrificing a powerful publicity tool.”

 

That opinion, however, is not entirely shared by Kuwait based technology entrepreneur Mohammed Faris, who believes that attending to the Khaleeji social lifestyle is incompatible with the level of dedication required to start a thriving technology venture.

 

Faris, who is currently the lead programmer at mobile payment startup Next Payments, comments, “At some point, for an entrepreneur, the strain and time commitments of having a social life (to the Khaleeji standard) start to outweigh any tangible business benefits. I fully agree that there needs to be ample time allocated to close friends and family, and perhaps some recreation. But beyond that, real sacrifices must be made.”

 

“In technology startups, you are live 24 hours a day. It’s different; there is no time when you are truly “off”.  Regardless of how much work is delegated, startups in certain fields require a relatively higher level of dedication,” continued Faris, “The problem here [in the Arabian Gulf] is that people want to start a tech startup while still going to “Diwaniyas” five nights a week. That lack of dedication is the main reasons technology startups fail here; not founder burnout.”

 

It is valid that Khaleeji culture does create a social environment that can act as tempting (and rational) distraction for entrepreneurs. On the other hand, through societal and familial pressure, our culture works hard to prevent entrepreneurs from dedicating every minute of their waking lives to their businesses, no matter how strongly those entrepreneurs believe it will help them. In reward, our culture has set itself perfectly to allow business owners to enjoy a healthy work-life balance that is ultimately beneficial to the owners personally and to the business itself.

 

It is an advantage of building a business in the Gulf that is often mistook for a hindrance.

 

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, WELL-BEING Issue, published May, 2015. A PDF copy of the article is available here. It is published on this blog with the consent of the author and magazine. All credits and copyrights are reserved to Khaleejesque, 2015. Click here to subscribe to Khaleejesque, or follow them on Instagram @Khaleejesque 

Announcing The First Full-time Coding Bootcamp in Kuwait

Disclaimer: the author of this post is a co-founder of "Coded".

Earlier this week, the first coding school in Kuwait started accepting applications for its intensive full time program taking place this summer.

 

The coding school is called “Coded.” (short for “Code Education”), and is in affiliation with coding school Coding Campus out of Utah, USA. That basically means that the curriculum and instructor for CODED’s summer course will come directly from Coding Campus. Coding Campus has a 95% hiring rate for its graduates, and has technology industry partners such as Pinterest, Mozilla, Bluehost, Verisage, and more.

 

Coded’s bootcamp will be an 8-week, highly intensive course teaching full-stack web development. The aim is to turn people with basic programming skills into junior level professional developers.

 

Here are some of the bootcamp’s details:

• Duration: 8 weeks
• Time commitment: Weekdays 9 am to 5 pm (+optional lab on Saturdays)
• Program dates: July 26, 2015- September 24, 2015
• Languages taught: Full-stack (JavaScript, Angular JS, Python, Django, HTML5, CSS3)
• Class size: 12-15 Students (carefully chosen based on strict selection criteria)
• Pre-requisites: basic programming knowledge; minimal coding experience.

 

Applications are available online on CODED’s website, and the deadline is June 26.

 

Coded’s ultimate mission is to cultivate and develop the next generation of world-class coders in Kuwait and the GCC. I especially encourage anyone with a strong interest in founding or working in a startup or a tech company to consider applying for this bootcamp. Being a strong technical founder can make all the difference.

 

More info on www.joincoded.com

 

Good luck!

 

Cool Batch 13 – Part 1

I love writing about startups and their stories! In this post I’m writing about startups with us at 500Startups batch 13. Below is a number of startups that I interviewed, and there will be more startups that I’ll cover in future posts. We are 28 startups in batch 13, so hopefully in 4 posts I’ll be able to cover all startups here. I also asked some of them about how did they get to join 500Startups to give you an idea of what probably should you do to join future batches.

Will start with our neighbors and one of my favorite startups CoContest:

1- CoContest (Rome, Italy):

CoContest is an Italian startup that helps people create interior designs for their homes in an affordable price by crowdsourcing the design. Think of it like 99designs (the website we used to create StartupQ8 logo), but for interior designs instead. This is how it works, you post a project like “interior design for my living room” and specify how much you’ll pay “800USD for example” then you sit back and designers will submit to you the designs. You might get 20 different designs, but you only pay for one!

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Story:

Filippo and Alessandro are the co-founders of CoContest in addition to 2 other co-founders. Filippo used to be an architect for 5 years and realized that hiring an interior designer is too expensive and it’s so difficult for young designers to get new projects. This is why he came up with the idea and believes CoContest solving the problem for both parties and probably disrupting the interior designing industry forever. I love this idea, actually I was thinking of something similar before starting fishfishme, but obviously fishfishme makes more sense for me since I’m more passionate about it :) )

If anyone is thinking to do an interior design soon, I think you should give it a try.

Founders:

Alessandro Rossi

Filippo Schiano di Pepe

Federico Schiano di Pepe

 

2- CellBreaker (North Carolina, USA)

This startup helps you break your contract with your phone provider. Let’s say you have a phone contract with AT&T and you are stuck with them for a year, these guys let you break the contract without paying any penalty charges by finding flaws in the contract that you are not aware of. It’s currently only operating in the US, but it’s already causing many problems for phone companies, which is good for the people.

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Story:

The co-founder Jon Colgan used to have 3 mobile phones and wanted to end one of the them. He read the contract and found a breach in the contract that allowed him to break the contract without paying anything. He wanted to test if other people had a similar problem, so he created a landing page with two paragraphs explaining that he can help people break their contracts for 30$. In less than a week he had 65 paying customers!! He couldn’t help all of them so he returned most of the customers money, but he decided to build a company around it and try to automate part of the process.

Founders and team:

Jon Colgan

Justin Baker

Julis Hill

Haider Khan

 

3- Omate: (French founder, based between Hong Kong, France and Bay Area)

Omate is a smart watch startup. I know you might think that Apple Watch will dominate the market, but these guys are killing it and they actually started doing this even before Samsung watch. They created a Kickstarer campaign, seeking to raise US$100K and they ended up raising US$1M selling 65,000 watches. They now have many styles and kind of smart watches. It’s an android watch and it’s more affordable than Apple watch, and their focus is more in the fashion side of a watch than technology.

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Story:

Omate is founded by Laurent Le Pen, a French entrepreneur that used to be a mobile designer before that. The idea started when he focused in his last job in creating a very small mobile phone that actually can stay at your rest. They thought why not create a mobile phone watch that could be useful for outdoor activities. The first version was called OutdoorMate, which is a smart watch with real phone that you can call from. That was the first watch that they sold in KickStarter. They later changed the name to Omate and start creating more fashionable watches. Now they have female line and they told me that it’s already sold out. It appears that the company is doing phenomally well, they already have 21 employees in less than 18 months in operation!

 

4- Publishizer (Australian founder living in South East Asia)

It’s kickstarter for books. If you are thinking of writing a book, but don’t have the money or a publisher to support you then Publishizer is the way to go. The funny part is that I actually tried to buy from the website 2 weeks before the program started, and I had some problems checking out. So I sent an email to the company and Guy (the co-founder) replied to me and we exchanged emails. Two weeks later we met in 500Startups and offered me the book for free! (actually he didn’t, but I pushed him to do so J)

Story:

Guy Vincent is an amazing, funny and full of energy person. Moreover, he is very passionate about what he does. He used to work in a book printing company in Singapore and realized that many of his friends and people surrounding him actually want to publish a book, but never thought that a publishing company will support them (funding the printing and distribution). He thought to himself that the best way to solve this by crowd funding. He also believes that Kickstarter is not best suited for authors, they need a separate platform just for that.

 

5- Kollecto: (CA, USA)

Kollecto is a website to help people finding art. They connect regular people with art advisors to help them purchase the best art based on their needs. The company is fairly new established with less than 9 months of operations, yet it’s already getting some good traction and backed with one of the most famous female angel investors known as the Gotham Gal (also wife of Fred Wilson).

Story:

Tara Reed previously worked at Foursquare and Microsoft mostly in marketing. She realized that finding and buying art work is actually a very hard thing to do, especially for ordinary people like me and you. Since art is a beautiful, but complicated piece then the best way to solve this problem is by connecting people with art advisors that can help you during this process.

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6- Hazel Lane (USA)

Hazel Lane delivers a box each month with local products that best represent a city, state or a country. The idea is that each destination has it’s own special products. It’s a good way to know more about each state and it’s a nice surprise each time you receive the box with no idea of what could possibly be inside. The price is US$45/month or US$175/month for the luxury box.

Story:

Samantha Strom (the founder) always had this idea when she was working in marketing and PR with big fashion companies. She tried to convince them to do something similar for their marketing campaigns, but they didn’t. So she said screw this I’ll do it myself! Samantha tried the idea with her boyfriend father by giving him a present with products from San Francisco, a city he lived in for years, and he was in tears when he open the gift. That pushed her to move forward with the idea. Samantha recently lunched the startup and looking forward to grow it with 500Startups.

How did you get accepted at 500Startups?

I applied and get rejected the first time after the first interview. I asked why and they said I had something I need to fix in my startup team, once fixed they accepted me.

 

7- Pixc.com (Australia & SF)

Pixc helps ecommerce websites clean their photos to be suitable to be used in the website. By cleaning I they remove the background of an image.

Story:

Holly Cardew the founder used to have another startup in Australia called CountryandCo.com. The idea was to help people living in the country to sell their products to people in the city. It was doing very well until a competitor (an older women with more money) came to the picture and started doing the same. Holly ended up selling the business to her competitor (Countryculture.com) for an “OK” amount of money. When I asked her “to you hate your competitor?” she was shocked and said “why! Of course not!” I love Australians; they are very nice and peaceful people :)

Ok back to the story. During her previous startup she realized it was hard to fix photos for her platform and needed designers help to do it. That led her to create Pixc.com. When you submit a photo in Pixc is a real designer in the back actually fixing your photo and sending it to you to get the best quality photo.

How did you get accepted in 500Startups?

Holly met Elizabeth (one of 500Startups) team during an event in San Francisco, and while telling her story Elizabeth told her to apply and she will refer her.

Stay tuned for the next startups, that’s a batch with lots of future millionaires!

500Startups here we come!

I’d like to announce that fishfishme.com joined 500Startups batch 13 in Mountain View, CA. The program kicked off last Monday 20th of April. If you don’t know what’s 500Startups, then you can watch the video here:

500Startups invests $100K in startups selected in addition to a 4 months program. During the program they help startups improve their product, marketing channels and raise money.

Some back story about our journey since we arrived here. Jose (my co-founder), Christian (our designer) and I arrived in San Francisco on the 18th of April. We are staying at Blackbox office/house in Palo Alto renting a couple of rooms. It’s perfect for us with a reasonable price compared to rest of the options. If you don’t remember what’s Blackbox, here is a post and video to refresh your memory:

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You need to know that rent in this area (Palo Alto, Mountain View and surrounding areas) is crazy! An apartment for 3 people will cost more than 3,500USD and most probably not furnished.

500Startups office is in Mountain View. To get there we go by train (a 10min ride). The round trip cost something around 5USD by train. You’ll think a city like Palo Alto, were most tech companies started and has Stanford University, will have the most advanced public transportation. But, that’s not really the case. We take the train every morning, and you’ll need to check the schedule because it usually arrives twice or once every hour. So you need to plan when to go to the train station. Moreover, you need to buy a card to tag on and tag off every time you use the train, which is fine, but if you forget to do so you lose all of the money you had in the card (which of course happened to us!). To be fair it’s not completely bad, it’s just your expectation for such high tech city is much higher.

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Clipper, I hate you!

Once we arrive at Mountain View station we walk for 10min to 500 office which is located in the highest building in Mountain View called Mountain Bay Plaza building and 500 office is on the 12th floor. 500 office and here you feel that you are in a high tech office. First of all to open the main door we use an app called Lockitron. You press a unlock button and tada, the door is opened. The office is huge and divided into open working offices, open area for events and closed meeting rooms. I love it! You can see the full city form the top. The best part is that drinks (coffee and soft drinks) and snacks are free! For lunch meals we get two free meals per week, and we order them online from Eat Club. Each startup has it’s own desk, and some have bigger desk than others depending on team size.

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The program kicked off on the 20th of April. And to be honest the amount of effort put into it and the things we will be getting is beyond my expectations. For us the best value is that we get assigned with two main offices one is called POC and the other person is called Distro-POC. I honestly forgot what POC stands for, but basically is a person that will help us during the whole period and his main job is to help us with our business, strategy, hiring and fund raising. The POC also help us with connecting us with the best person to help us with a specific subject. The Distro person is only focused to help us grow our company. For us our case grow number of bookings. Disro stands for Distribution and that includes marketing and sales. Our POC is Zafer, a fellow friend I previously met in Dubai, but didn’t know that he joined 500Startups. Very cool guy and I’m happy to working with for the next 4 months and beyond. Our Destiro POC is Mathew Johnson and the head of 500Distro team (yes, we are lucky to get the head working with us). So far these guys been amazing and already helped to open our eyes on new things and to focus on the things that will have bigger effect on us.

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The team that help startups is huge, and if I counted correctly is more than 20 people focused to help startup batch. Most of 500 team is focused on growth and distribution. There are also some entrepreneur in residents and VC partners that work full time to help startups to raise money and to overcome business problems. I’ll do a future post about each department job and how they help startups.

Each week at 500 we have a theme such as legal week, hiring, product and Hell Marketing week. Talks and mentors are invited to give talks and lectures. Startups don’t need to attend all talks, unless they think they need it. That’s good, because startups in different stages will need different things.

So far the program is great and we feel lucky to be here. They say it only gets better with time, so will keep you posted. Next post will be about startups with us in the program, will interview some of them and post about their stories. Stay tuned.

Coverage of the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum – A few pictures

A few pictures of the participants and judging phases of the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition that took place in Kuwait, April, 2015.

Credit and special thanks to Mariam Al-Rayes and the MIT EF Pan Arab organizing team for the pictures and for putting together truly inspiring, thought provoking, and informative event.

Coverage of the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum – Day 2: How We Move Forward

The agenda for the second (and, unfortunately, final) day of the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum in Kuwait promised a wealth of ideas, speakers, and inspiration.

I can safely report that it did not disappoint one bit.

The morning session kicked off with the ever ingenious Dr. Naif Almutawa, creator of “The 99″ (the first group of comic superheroes born of an Islamic archetype). Dr. Naif seldom ends a talk without leaving the crowd thirsty for more, and this time was no different. The clinical psychologist’s talk highlighted the importance of mentorship as it relates to leadership. In essence, he delivered the message that “every leader needs a mentor”. From the onset of this forum and the Arab Startup Competition, this idea has been the undisclosed theme of the event. Dr. Naif’s talk helped resonate that idea even further.

 

Following Dr. Naif was a panel on the role of private business in supporting the startup ecosystem. Zain Group’s CEO Scott Gegenheimer and Ericsson VP Patrik Melander led the panel. I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the initiatives both Zain and Ericsson were working on to support connectivity in rural areas; something that will have a big impact on the potential market for any startup. I was also surprised to find out that Zain had an initiative in Jordan that acted as an accelerator for statups (called ZINC), and that they were planning on rolling it out in more cities across MENA. In the QA, a few members of the audience voiced their opinion that these private companies have benefited from government support and public infrastructure, and it was their duty to support startup initiatives even more. I completely agree.

 

I was looking forward to the panel on Access to Capital in MENA, which hosted leaders of the VC industry in the Arab world. The panel discussion was thought provoking. The panel’s message was heard loud and clear, “there is a lack of capital flowing into the tech scene in MENA”. There was one stat in particular that I found surprising: in the US, 5% of capital is invested in technology and startups, compared to 0.1%-0.6% in MENA. The panel called for more openness to startup failure, and a shift in risk assessment in light of the dwindling opportunities in traditional low-risk investment vehicles such as real estate. The discussion was an important insight into the availability of capital for startups.

 

The other two panels I would like to highlight were on creating a knowledge economy and the long-term energy outlook for the region (attended by Mr. Nizar Al-Adsani, CEO of KPC). The goal of both panels was to look forward and see where the Arab world was heading. The falling oil prices has been a topic of debate among participants, and it was intriguing to find out what perspective Mr. Al-Adsani had to offer. One sentence Al-Adsani mentioned struck me in particular, “Oil at $60 is an opportunity”. Perhaps now more than ever, the technology sector has a chance to prove itself as a true cornerstone of a thriving economy. With oil continuing its fall from grace, there is room for new sectors to shine and show the way forward. Ultimately, the technology sector is about the entrepreneurs who are courageous and talented enough to take a chance on creating the next global giant.

 

The Arab startup community needs to rally today more than ever to showcase the plethora of original ideas and abundance of ingenuity to pave the true alternative to an economy overly dependent on oil. That was the message and call of action for the way forward.

 

As MITEF came to an end, I couldn’t help but feel a renewed optimism coursing through my veins. I am now sure, more than I have ever been, that leaders on all levels and across all segments are embracing the need to support the startup ecosystem in the Arab world. My hope is that this continuous drive will reap it’s rewards in the very near future.

 

Special thanks to MIT and the organizers for putting together a terrific event. And special thanks to Mariam Alrayes for allowing us the pleasure of covering the forum.

 

(Reminder: pictures of the entire event will be posted soon… stay tuned!)

 

 

 

Coverage of the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum – Day 1: Awards and Panels

The 8th MIT Enterprise Forum officially got underway last night in Kuwait. From the opening speech delivered by MC Talal Malik, I could feel the crowd growing in anticipation for what was to come (especially the startup teams who were waiting for the announcement of the Arab Startup Competition winners!).

 

The forum kicked off with a fireside chat between Hala Fadel (Chair, MITEF panArab) and Mr. Mohammad Abulaziz Alshaya (Executive Chairman, M.H. Alshaya Co.). Alshaya’s success story, dating back to his grandfather in the late 1800’s, was truly inspiring. It was very apparent in Alshayaa’s answers how confident he was in Arab youth and what they could aspire to be. He continuously underscored three important factors for realizing success:

Passion

Curiosity

Hard work

 

For me, the highlight of the chat was Alshaya’s belief that “government should stop guaranteeing jobs”, pointing out that such policy kills motivation among youth, especially in the GCC.

 

Next on the agenda was the Panel titled “The Missing Link: From Startup to Global Powerhouse”. The main topic of discussion was underlining the required infrastructure and mentality for startups to grow into global industry leaders. On the panel were Sheikha Al-Zain Al-Sabah, Mohammad Jaffar (former CEO of Talabat), Tarek Sultan (CEO at Agility), and Hala Fadel.

 

The different backgrounds of the panelists made for an extremely insightful discussion.

 

From a governmental and infrastructural perspective, Al-Sabah believes that there needs to be disruption and reconfiguration in the way government supports the startup ecosystem. She called for youth to provide change from the inside.

Jaffar, who lead Talabat from a local player to a regional powerhouse, believes that entrepreneurs must possess an extraordinary work ethic and commitment. He also stressed the importance of remaining transparent, honest, and socially responsible; three factors to which he accredits a lot of Talabat’s success

From a Kuwaiti global company’s perspective, Agility’s CEO Tarek Sultan pointed out the strategic significance of understanding where you come from as a company, and what that entails in terms of limitations and opportunities. He remarked that Agility’s global success stemmed from its fundamental understanding of the market in initially operated in, and then building upon that.

 

By the end of both panels, I was left feeling extremely optimistic that the startup ecosystem would continue to flourish in the Arab world because today’s leaders are willing to instigate and adapt change and disruption.

 

At the end of the night, the winners of the MITEF Arab Startup Competition were announced, as follows:

 

Startups Track: Colorbug- UAE (First Place), Project IO- Jordan (Second Place), ScreenDy- Morocco (Third Place)

Ideas Track: Kotobna- Egypt (First Place), ConCure- KSA (Second Place), Nano Ebers- Egypt (Third Place)

Social Entrepreneurship Track: Visualizing Impact- Lebanon, Tahrir Academy- Egypt, La Perle de la Mer- Morocco

 

Congratulations to all the winners, who were all truly outstanding.

 

Catch our coverage of the second (and last day)) of the forum tomorrow!

 

Pictures from the entire duration of the event will be posted soon in a different post (as soon as we get them, we promise).

 

 

 

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