Announcing: StartupQ8 Event for November 2015

This month’s StartupQ8 Event is jointly hosted with the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition. Our speakers this week were finalists in last year’s competition which was held in Kuwait. Our first speaker is Mohamed Sheikhaldeen, co-founder and CTO of, a cloud rendering platform that enables artists and engineers to quickly and cost effectively render their drawings. Our second speaker is Bader Al-Ghanim, co-founder of, a platform to discover the best price to ship items to any location in the world.

The event will be held on Tuesday November 24th at Global Tower in Kuwait City. Here is the schedule:

Here is the schedule:
7:00 – 7:05 Welcome
7:05 – 7:45 SPIN Sales Technique for Startups by Mohamed Sheikhaldeen
7:45 – 8:00 Networking break
8:00 – 8:40 The Pivotal Pivot by Bader Al-Ghanim
8:40 – 9:00 Networking pizza

As always, the event will be in English and it is open to everyone (no need to register). Join our page for more details on our upcoming events.

See you there.

Attention: The MIT EF Arab Startup Competition is accepting applications

Startup folk,


The 9th edition of the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition is currently accepting applications from the entire Arab region! The application deadline is January 4, 2016.

Launched in 2006, the MIT Enterprise Forum for the Pan Arab Region (MIT EF Pan Arab) is one of the 28 worldwide chapters of the MIT Enterprise Forum Global, an avid promoter of entrepreneurship and innovation worldwide. The Pan Arab chapter has a proven record in promoting MIT-style entrepreneurship by organizing the annual MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition that targets 21 countries of the Arab region and brings in more than 5,000 applications a year. The competition has trained 1,600+ top tier entrepreneurs and has helped start over 260+ knowledge-based and technology-driven companies in countries of the MENA region.

Organized by the MIT EF Pan Arab in partnership with Community Jameel and Zain, the MIT EF Arab Startup Competition is one of the largest entrepreneurship competitions and provides participating entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, media exposure, and networking opportunities.

Apply now to the 9th MIT EF Arab Startup Competition on for the chance to win:

Startups Track: $50K for the first place winner, $15K for the second place winner, and $10K for the third place winner

Ideas Track: $15K for the first place winner, $10K for the second place winner, and $5K for the third place winner

Social Entrepreneurship Track: $15K for the first place winner, $10K for the second place winner, and $5K for the third place winner


MITEF Roadshow Competition

Building Your Startup Clan: Three Traits to Look for in Early Employees

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, CLAN Issue, published September, 2015. 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

5 min read.

“Would you take this job if you had a medical diagnosis that says you only have a year left to live?”

If you were asked that question during the job interview you attended for the job you currently hold, what would’ve been your truthful answer?

Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of $20 billion lodging rental website AirBnB, directed the “one-year-to-live” question to candidates for the first few core job openings at AirBnB.

The question, while perhaps disturbing and extreme, aims to gauge the candidates’ passion and dedication for the company. It might be incomprehensible to expect that anyone would answer “yes” to that question given the miniscule size of AirBnB at that time. However, after four years of running a startup myself, I can understand the importance entailed in the answer to that question.

In the startup world, where there’s always a ceaseless debate on the validity of every step towards success, there is a rare consensus on founders hiring the first few employees: get it wrong and your startup will fail. It is that bluntly unforgiving. That is because the first batch of employees will have the biggest impact on the longevity and future success of any startup. At such an early stage, their contributions and shortcomings can make or break a company.

There are several factors to consider when hiring the first few members of your startup clan, mainly: domain expertise, education, professional background, and personality. But because startups are unique organisms with specific requirements for their survival and growth, there are other more fundamental character traits that early employees must possess. In my own startup experience, I progressively became more aware of which qualities in a candidate truly matter.

The following three traits are what a founder should look for in an early employee:


Dedication- belief in the startup’s mission

Think back to Chesky’s question. What he’s really asking is “do you believe in what we’re trying to do here passionately enough to dedicate your life to it?”

No matter how trivial or profound the purpose of your startup might seem, every member of the team must wholeheartedly believe in the venture’s ultimate objective. Often, founders are tempted to look for “hard working” employees. But I don’t believe that there is such a thing as innately hard working individuals. Rather, hard work is an organic result of pursuing a grand mission. Therefore, it is more fruitful for a founder to identify individuals who fully share their passion for the startup’s vision and goals.

Honesty- belonging to the clan

A startup is more than just a group of individuals working on a project. A startup is a family, with shared values, beliefs, and objectives. As it is true with any family, honesty is the backbone of collaboration and teamwork.

And while honesty in communication is imperative, there is an equally important form of honesty that cannot be understated: honesty in self assessing work-product. In a highly pressurized setting such a startup, it is easy and tempting for a team member to compromise the quality of their work because founders do not have time to check over every nook and cranny. Therefore, founders must hire individuals who share their standards of quality and excellence, and who have the integrity to autonomously hold their work to those standards.

That kind of honesty is what allows trust to thrive among members of a startup clan.

Curiosity- a willingness to learn

By the time I hired my sixth and last core employee at my e-commerce startup, I valued curiosity above all else in my team members.

True curiosity can often be mistaken for passing interest. There is a simple way to identify a sense of genuine and potent curiosity: look to see how much work and effort has been exerted in pursuit of an interest.

One of the people I was considering as a co-founder told me he was interested in becoming a triathlete. He had no experience whatsoever in the sport. He simply thought it was something he could do well. I was skeptical, and asked what he had done to pursue that interest. He told me he had already dedicated himself to a rigorous workout program, hired a personal running trainer, and had pinpointed a local triathlon in which to compete within a few months. I knew at the point that this person would not shy away from a challenge, and that he had the desire to constantly explore new opportunities.

Fortunately, I wasn’t mistaken. He led our business development team successfully, and has recently competed in an international triathlon competition.

In the ever-changing and dynamic world of startups, a willingness to learn new things becomes a team’s greatest asset. Founders must look for individuals who thrive beyond their comfort zone.

A founder is best advised to never compromise on any of the aforementioned traits when hiring, especially at the early stages of a startup. Those traits are always associated with highly motivated and talented individuals. A startup’s success hinges, above all else, on the core team; and a tightly knit team of dedicated, honest, and curious individuals is a force to be reckoned with.

Although it was spoken in completely different context, I can’t help but recall Margaret Mead’s famous quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, CLAN Issue, published September, 2015. 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 

Customer Acquisition For The Newbie Entrepreneur

Customer Acquisition and Startup Failures

This is a post for newbie startup founders, and fresh entrepreneurs willing to land their very first set of customers. Often startups fail because of lack of customers (about 80% of the time). There are some obvious reasons for that:

  1. Founders are too technology/product oriented, they forget to connect with potential customers.
  2. The product doesn’t solve a real pain.
  3. The value proposition is too confusing and difficult to communicate

There maybe other reasons too, but I found those to be the most common occurring ones.

The Customer Acquisition Guide

You’re probably reading here to know a practical tip on customer acquisition, well, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How many potential users of my product did I talk to before actually building the product?
  2. Who tried my prototype?
  3. How many people praised my prototype? How many neglected it? How many said it’s awful?

The Steps to Customer Acquisition

  1. Read the questions again, and literally take a piece of paper (or an Excel sheet if you’re fancy!) and write down the names of people for each question.
  2. Now scratch the names of your family and friends who praise you no matter what you do, unless you strictly know they are pragmatic and objective people.
  3. Put an asterisk next to names who neglected your product, or said it’s awful.
  4. Now look at the list again, do anyone of those people made an investment in your product? An investment could be devoting their required resources to reach the goal you had for your product. For example, if you have an e-commerce app, the goal is to buy a product through your app, that’s an investment. For Instagram, an investment is to make an account and follow a few people and like their photos.
  5. If not, then you need to get back to your team, sketch a fresh new BMC, and start figuring out new value propositions by reshaping the problem, and the solution.
  6. After you’ve done that, get back to the list of people you made earlier, propose the new prototype with new value proposition, and record their feedback.
  7. If there is an investment, then you’ve nailed it. If not, redo the steps from all over.

Tips on Customer Acquisition

  1. Try to have a large number of people in step 1, since you’ll be filtering out the ones not needed.
  2. There is no magic number of people for your customer acquisition list.
  3. It’s not necessary to talk to your potential customers face-to-face, although it’s the most useful. You can use other channels such as Twitter, or plain-old Email.
  4. Try to expand the radius of your potential people, don’t think close friends and family. Tap into your college network, your past job, friends of friends, etc.
  5. It’s always better to show a product/prototype to your potential customers, than to just convey words and/or pictures. This way, you can immediately see if they’ll make an investment in your product and basically turn them into customers, rather than just get a verbal commitment that they will use your product!

The Conclusion on Basic Customer Acquisition

The idea here is to create a list of potential people around you, that you think may find your product attractive, and refine this list. Once you refine it, see if they have already generated revenue for you*, then they are already your first set of customers! If not, then the problem is either with your value proposition, your solution, or your implementation (the product). Go back to your team, refine those three things, and approach your potential customers again and see if they’ll do an investment this time. Redo until you hit the jack pot.

Also, don’t be shy to ask, if you’re too lazy to ask again or afraid you’re asking too much, then probably you need to rethink why you chose entrepreneurship!



* Or made a considerable time investment in your product if you don’t have a revenue generating business model yet.

Three lessons I learned from Startup Weekend (Kuwait)

Last week, the third version of Startup Weekend Kuwait took place at The VIVA Coded Academy. The whole weekend was exhilarating and intense! Over 120 people participated, forming 21 full teams that built MVP’s, put together business cases, and presented in front of the judges and audience after 54 hours of non-stop work. The turnout, energy, and resounding success of the event showed how far the startup scene had come in Kuwait over the past 18 months!

It’s always amazing to see how real life situations and decision making play out in teams over the course of the Weekend. Mobile or Web? Focus on marketing or building the product? Subscription Vs Freemium? Designs Vs Functionality? I saw every team dealing and struggling with these decisions, as would a real startup in “the real world”.

Along the same lines, as an organizer and observer during Startup Weekend, I learned a thing or two (or three) about what it ultimately takes to be build a successful startup:

Lesson one: It’s (mostly) about the team, not the idea

One of the participants, called Mohammad, was looking for a team to join late in the first day. Most teams had already formed, but I knew Mohammad personally, and knew that his marketing and event management background made him him a valuable member to any team. As I was walking around with him trying to find a team, I was surprised that several teams declined his offer to join them. Eventually, we found a team that had only two members who I knew to be talented and driven, just like Mohammad. He like their idea and they recognized the value they brought to them (both of them were coders/ designers). They formed a small but strong and balanced team of three.

Their initial idea was ambitious, but they pivoted to something entirely and extremely different. It wasn’t as ambitious, and I personally thought there were at least 4 or 5 more exciting ideas in the competition. I didn’t like their chances. But, lo and behold, Mohammad’s team won first place. Their idea, Mukancom, is a platform to find co-working space in Kuwait. Arwa and Shahd, Mohammad’s team mates, did a stellar job building an MVP. But, going by the judges score cards, what really set them apart was Mohammad’s final presentation. There might have been better ideas out there, but Mukancom’s overall execution and presentation was superb, and their team was strong on all fronts, and that made all the difference. (There’s another lesson here about pivoting too).


Lesson two: It’s not about the money, money, money

One of the things that caught my attention was the participant’s seemingly lack of interest in the cash prize. Over 210 people had signed up as participants before we had event announced the money reward. I made the announcement on stage during the event, and I distinctly remember listing the non-cash prizes first (free co-working space at Sirdab Lab, free UX consultation from Catalyst) and leaving the cash prize at the end, anticipating it would get the biggest cheer. That wasn’t the case. The non-cash prizes got a lot more noise and excitement than the cash prize announcement.

In fact, not once during the Weekend did I hear people talking about the cash prize. I got asked a few times about the non-cash prizes. It seemed that no one really cared about the money at the end of it all. And yet here there were, 21 teams working 54 hours straight without much regard for the possibility of monetary reward.

You often hear successful people say something like “Don’t start a business for the money” or “At the end of the day, it’s not about the money” but those sayings often get dismissed as idealistic mantras reserved for the already rich and successful. But the lesson I learned here is that passion, competition, and the desire to build something worthwhile are far bigger motivators than money. (I’m happy to report that the top 5 teams have all continued working on their startups after the event!)


Lesson three: The true value of having a co-founder

In Startup Weekend, most dropouts occur late in the second day. It’s around that time when participants start feeling exhausted, and the finish line is oh-so-far without any guarantee of success. Our lead organizer tells me the following story: two participants from the same approached him around midnight on the second day. One of them, the “CEO” of the team (she came up with the startup idea), told him she wanted to quit. She was mentally drained and didn’t think her team had a chance of winning, so she wanted to pack up and go home.  But her teammate (the co-founder) insisted she stays. She was asking the organizer to convince the CEO not to give up. She was begging her friend to see it through until the final presentations, for the sake of the team, because she knew that if the CEO quit, the rest of the team would too. The CEO, quite literally with tears in her eyes, decided to soldier on.

That team ended up winning second place, and were in close contention for first place.

It goes to show that, above all else, the greatest benefit of having a co-founder is having someone to lean on when you’re ready to give up. In the emotional roller coaster that is a startup, co-founders must take it in turns to support each other through the tough times.


I can’t wait for next year’s Startup Weekend, where I’m sure the ideas will be even bigger and better!






Announcing this week’s Coffee Meetup + Lessons From Silicon Valley Talk


This week’s Coffee Meetup will once again take place at The VIVA Coded Academy on Wednesday evening (7.15pm). If you haven’t been to our Coffee Meetups before, they’re a casual get-together for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate over some good coffee.

As with previous weeks, there’ll be a talk following the meetup directly. This week’s talk is by Ahmed Aljbreen, General Manager of Saudi based digital and social marketing company, Smaat. Recently, Ahmed was in Silicon Valley for an extended period of time working on some partnerships for Smaat. During his time there, he also had the chance to visit and assess some of the world’s tech giants, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and more.

In this talk, Ahmed will talk about his experience working with Silicon Valley based companies, and the most important startup lessons he learned during his time there. The talk will be a great chance for startup founders to discuss with Ahmed some of the challenges they face here in the gulf, Silicon Valley culture, and whether the idea of moving to Silicon Valley is actually feasible or necessary for success. Pass by if you’re interested in knowing what it’s like to spend time working in Silicon Valley!


When: Wednesday, September 16th


7.15 pm- Startupq8 Coffee Meetup
8.00 pm- Ahmed Aljbreen
9.00 pm- Networking & Pizza

As always, this is an open invitation, and everyone is welcome!

Where: The VIVA Coded Academy at Al-Tijaria Tower- 35th Foor

Note: talk will be in Arabic

Startup Weekend is coming to Kuwait again!

From the Startup Weekend Kuwait blog:

Startup Weekend is coming to town again! The goal of this event is to create an environment where passionate people can come together to get things done; to learn, network, bridge the gap between trades, expose potential and see actual results.



Startup Weekend has held 2000+ events in 135+ countries around the world, and we are looking forward to making a big dent in Kuwait. With the help of local supporters, we are planning to leverage our global reach to impact our local community.


This year’s event will be held from September 17 – 19 and a beautiful Al Tijaria Tower (35th floor) is confirmed as a venue. It’s open to everyone; people don’t need to pay anything for registration. They can participate as developers, designers or non-technicals. What should they bring? Laptop, power cord, internet connection (just in case) and, of course, lots of creative energy and enthusiasm.



All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54 hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation. The weekends culminate with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback. The whole schedule is available on the event’s website.


We are proud to have Alghanim Industries (Platinum) and VIVA (Gold) on board as sponsors and Coded,Cubical Services, GDG Kuwait, Coffee Villains, Sirdab Lab and Catalyze as partners.


Register (it’s free) for participation and don’t forget to follow Startup Weekend Kuwait on Instagram and Twitter. Feel free to post on social media under the official hashtag #SWkuwait.


Announcing: StartupQ8 Event for September 2015

We’re happy to announce a new StartupQ8 Event! Based on the feedback we’ve been receiving, this week’s event will cover a topic that resonate with many of you.

The first segment will try to shed light on Hiring for Startups. KuwaitNET founder and CTO Bashar Al-Abdulhadi will share his experiences making the first hires for KuwaitNET back when he first started the company, discuss what to look for in an early employee and how hiring varies as the company grows. The second segment will feature Adel Al-Ghannam, co-founder of Winch App, who will share what he learned from developing the app and insights into hiring and managing a different type of employee: service contractors.

The event will be on Tuesday September 8th at 7:15 PM. It will be held in collaboration with our friends at the VIVA Coded Academy in AlTijaria Tower, 35th floor. You can find the Google Map location here.

Here is the schedule:
7:15 – 7:20 Welcome
7:20 – 8:00 Hiring for Startups by Bashar Al-Abdulhadi
8:00 – 8:20 Networking break
8:20 – 9:00 Managing Contractors at Winch by Adel Al-Ghannam
9:00 – 9:30 Networking pizza

As always, the event will be in English and it is open to everyone (no need to register). Join our page for more details on our upcoming events.

See you there!

Branding Yourself

Many small things we do in life are often translated into theories to put them in the right scientific context for us to systematically learn. Looking back, I recall a short conversation with Prof. Henry Moon from my Organizational Behavior class at London Business School, on the topic of work ethics and commitment that he summed up in the importance of branding yourself at the beginning of your professional career. As we come closer to the end of The Proteges – Generation 5, I noticed how important Henry’s piece of mind is for anyone at the beginning of their professional career. I realized that there’s more to branding than work ethics and commitment. Here’s how Henry’s small branding comment looks in my head today.

The first 10 years of your professional career are the best 10 years for branding yourself. Many of us get consumed with the workload and the demanding long hours, which is fine as long as its directed to what you’re passionate about; “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” When you find your passion, you will specialize and focus on a certain domain, which should always be associated with your BRAND. Here are 10 ways of improving your brand in your first 10 branding years:

  1. Maximize your learning curve: The best way to maximize your learning curve is by associating with the best in your industry. Work with the best institutions, best managers, best partners, and if they do not accept you, find a way to get accepted. If you are not offered a job or an opportunity, push yourself to work for free; Find a way to only work with the best. Improve your hard/technical skills by getting better schooling, degrees, certificates, and practice by building your track record. Get the widest exposure and take very deep dives in your domain, know all the secrets of your trade. Have a mentor that listens to you, provides you with the right guidance and more importantly makes you aware of how the industry works.
  2. Work ethic: Having integrity will make you foster relationships with your stakeholders and will insure trust is built in the long run. The commitment to your work coupled with discipline is important to shaping your attitude towards work; Work in an environment full of dedication, fun and a sense of military discipline. You have to feel responsible for every thing you do, you need to feel empowered and accountable otherwise will you not feel the heat. Your work ethic should reflect on your lifestyle, people should be able to tell your work ethic from your attitude towards life.
  3. Feedback: Seek feedback from your peers/partners continuously. Even if it’s not very constructive, take it as an opportunity to learn how to deal with non-sense. When it is constructive, it’s a great opportunity to further develop your skills, to motivate you and perform better. When you’re giving feedback, offer it only to those who are willing to listen, to those who value your input. Act wisely by knowing when to provide feedback, who to provide it to and what to communicate.
  4. Stay positive: Don’t get sucked into any negativity around you and focus on achieving your learning targets. If you complain about your work, go do something different because you’re clearly not enjoying it. Look at the brighter side of things. When others see weaknesses, turn them into opportunities to improve. Be realistic in your approach and act on your positivity. Choose your battles wisely and know your capabilities when deciding on your actions.
  5. Hang out with smarter people: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Always hang out with people who outsmart you, who are better than you in what you do, who broaden your thinking horizon beyond the narrow/focused mindset you’re in. Without consciously realizing it, you’ll find yourself in a competition to outperform yourself; they will push your limits and help you beat them at what you do.
  6. Be approachable: Your attitude matters very much in business and perception is reality. Helping others makes the working environment you’re in a better place, which ultimately benefits you in the long run. Even if you see this theory differently, Brad Feld’s “give before you get” attitude implies that giving back to the community you work/live in should be a normal behavior without any expectations in return. “Adopt a philosophy of helping others without an expectation of what you are going to get back. It’s not altruistic – you do expect to get things in return – but you don’t set up the relationship to be a transactional one.”
  7. Community involvement: Regardless of the industry you’re in, getting involved in your community helps you become aware of how you’re industry is evolving. It helps you gather intelligence, utilizes your idle skills, gives you a sense of belonging, and more importantly aggregates all the different skills of its members to better serve your industry. The community addresses industry challenges and provides solutions, and typically advocates policy/regulatory changes when need. An active community will have a significant role in shaping the industry you’re in.
  8. Publish content: Don’t publish content for the sake of publicity only, instead focus on creating original content within your domain that readers would want to practice and share. Content doesn’t necessarily need to come in the form of articles, but can also include delivering workshops, campaigns and competitions…etc. Do not dilute your brand by producing content in different domains, focus on what you know best and get creative.
  9. The best: You have to aim for being the best at what you do. Equip yourself with all the tools and resources you need to master what you do. Practice does make perfect. People in/out of your domain have to always reference you for a skill-set within your domain because one day, the best opportunity will come and you need to be the best fit and ready for it.
  10. Do not look for monetary reward: “Fortune favors the prepared.” If you spend your first 10 professional years branding yourself, fortune (monetary and non-monetary) will definitely follow. There is no arbitrage in life; earn every bit of success you plan to have because it will never happen by chance.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.” Everything you do should revolve around self-interest, even what I am writing now does.


Announcing this week’s Coffee Meetup + Raspberry Pi Talk

Hi all,

For the third week running, we’re having our weekly Coffee Meetup at The VIVA Coded Academy. What happens at the weekly Coffee Meetup, you ask? It’s a casual get-together for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate over some good coffee.

As with previous weeks, there’ll be a talk following the meetup directly. This week’s talk is part of the Google Developers Group weekly talks. The subject this week is Raspberry Pi! (Yes, we used an exclamation mark because we’re excited!)

If you aren’t familiar with it, Raspberry Pi is a small sized computer that plugs into a monitor and enables people to explore computing and hardware programming. It’s a great tool for beginners as well!

If you’re interested in building hardware and want to learn how to program your creations, this talk is for you! Come learn the incredible things you can do with Raspberry Pi!

The talk will be given my Abdulrahman Alotaibi, who holds a degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering (with a minor in Computer Science), and has placed fourth in International Aerial Robotics Competition 2012.

Abdulrahman also spoke at DjangoCon Europe 2015 in Cardiff (UK), and is one of Google Developers Group Kuwait organizers.

Here are all the details:

When: Wednesday, Sept 2.


7.15 pm- Coffee Meetup

7.45 pm- Raspberry Pi Talk

9.00 pm- Discussion, Network, and Pizza!

Where: The VIVA Coded Academy at Al-Tijaria Tower- 35th Foor


As always, this is an open invitation and everyone is welcome to join!



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