New Blog in Town

There is a new blog in the block called beopen.me. Its a mix of news (Tech and non-tech) and thought sharing platform in Arabic and English started by a good friend Ali Al Nusif and his co-founder Jasim Al Qames. Below is a better description about what the blog is about by Ali:

Open is an open blogging and aggregation bi-lingual thought platform. It aims to bring interesting thoughts from individual contributors to create thought provoking conversations among the connected generation, while also bringing interesting articles from all over the world that caters to the interests of the smart reader providing insight and context to a lot of issues happening around us in the world.
The idea came about while noticing that there is no platform that chronicles the interests and thoughts of the connected generation in the Arab world. Websites are usually news and politics websites, while there are hardly any that talk about how we feel, think, and what our interests are.
We believe that we’re going through exciting times. We are living the information revolution that is changing our lives in one of the most vibrant and changing parts of the world; the Middle East. We think that a platform like Open would allow us to capture the essence of this amazing era through the thoughts and interests of its generation.

Why you need a cofounder (a personal story)

I’d like to share a personal story about how it took me 3 years to start Sirdab Lab.

While doing my MBA in San Francisco, I got a chance to work closely with startups in an amazing accelerator program. I fell in love with the energy of the people and the fast progress they were making in short time periods.

I decided that I want to start something similar in Kuwait. When I came back to Kuwait I spoke to one of my smartest friends, who was also interested in startups, and convinced him to work together on this. It took us a year of planning, but we didn’t move forward. I think the reason for this is that we came from the same professional background.

I joined Ernst & Young (EY) and almost gave up on starting Sirdab Lab. Then I met Abdullah Al-Sayer, founder of MrBabu.com, at Thukhur. My interest in working with startups rekindled, but it remained a passion without action.

In the 2014 Benchmark Forum I met Haider Al-Mosawi, a UX designer, who shared my passion for helping startups and providing the community with comprehensive support. We shared the same vision and spotted the same problems.

I asked Abdullah and Haider to join me as cofounders in building Sirdab Lab as a startup hub in Kuwait. They both agreed, and we started to execute on that vision. Each of the cofounders has unique skills that complement one another.

Being a startup founder is insanely demanding and incredibly stressful. It’s almost impossible to get started on your own, let alone building your startup and seeing it through to success. Most accelerator programs only accept startups with a minimum of two cofounders, because they know how hard it is for solopreneurs and it’s too risky to invest in them.

So if you’re serious about your startup, you need a cofounder. Don’t have one? Then I highly recommend you join our Co-Founder Speed Dating event this Wednesday. Follow the link below for more details.

http://sirdab-lab.com/speeddating

With the Co-Founder Speed Dating event, the first in Kuwait, Sirdab Lab aims to provide a platform to connect entrepreneurs and people with talent (designers, coders, hustlers) through smart and efficient networking.

How does it work?

Entrepreneurs will be seated at tables arranged in a circular setting while people with talent (designers, hustlers, coders) rotate. Each entrepreneur and person with talent will have 3 minutes to introduce themselves and pitch their idea and skills to each other. Once the buzzer rings, the person with talent moves to the next entrepreneur.The speed dating will be followed by mingling over snacks.

When?

6:30 PM, Wednesday

18th March, 2015

Entry Fee (includes food and beverages)

Sirdab Lab members: KD 8

Non-members: KD 10

Where do I sign up?

To register, please visit: http://sirdab-lab.com/speeddating

“How is business going?”

Almost every day I pump into someone (a friend, a fellow entrepreneur, someone I don’t even know) and they ask me “how is business going?”. It’s a very tricky question to ask for a startup founder. Things at a startup are 90% of the time going bad. I used to hide from my parents to avoid answering this question!

So how to answer this question?

99% of the answers I get if I personally asked this question to another founder “very well” or “Great!”, then after few months I hear that the startup is shutting down!!  I used to do the same, my answer was always “great” but now I changed. My answer depends on who is asking me the question.

If an entrepreneur is asking me then I tell the truth as it is, I usually answer “it sucks” at difficult times. You need to understand that a founder will actually not be happy to know that you are doing great while his startup is falling apart. Even if your startup is doing amazing and the founder of a startup that is doing bad asks you “how is business” tell him “is doing ok”.

Its a tough life and we as entrepreneurs only have each other to talk to because the rest of the world just don’t get how difficult our life is. If you said you are doing fantastic then the conversation is stopped here and the person will do the same and the conversion is done. But if you said “trying to stay alive” the conversation will be different and he will probably say “same here” and you will start talking about your struggles, at least you’ll not feel lonely.

As I said my reply depends on who I’m talking to, below some examples:
My parents: Very good
Non-entrepreneur friends: all good, we did this and we did that, things are very promising
Investors: amazing, soon will be millionaires
Startup founders: sucks, surviving, trying to stay alive, ok, not bad

Next time a fellow entrepreneur asks you how is things, its ok to tell him that things are pretty bad, you’ll both feel good about it.

Most events are a waste of time!

As you might know, I’m now living in Dubai and there are tons of events for startups every week and almost in a daily basis. To be honest most of the events are a waste of time. Focus in building your business better than you go to events. The worst events (aka conferences) are the ones that you need to travel to go to them. Such a big waste of time and money! Especially the ones that convince you that you’ll find investors, pitch your idea and give you a booth to meet media and PR. These events are now everywhere around the world and most of them are just waste of time and a big distraction.

It’s rare to find an event were I learn something useful that I can use in real life. Most of them have a fancy title and when you go you find the talk is pretty general and you end up learning nothing!

Of course not all events are a waste of time, especially if you know what you want to take out of them. For example Mix N Mentor from Wamda is pretty good, especially if you are a new startup. It’s a good opportunity to meet interesting people that might help you with your startup and great way to find mentors and advisors. If you are going to a talk about for example SEO, and the speaker is super amazing then yeah maybe you can learn something there. Or if the event is a great way to find customers, then hell yeah, you probably should attend. Heavy technical events are pretty good as well if you are looking for a technical co-founder or a potential hire.

One more example when events become useful is when you are in a new city or town and you need to build your network quickly, then yeah events are pretty useful. Go to as many as you can until the faces get repeated then you know that you have a good network and you can stop going to them.

I’m saying that and I’m the founder of StartupQ8 Event, so controversial right! Well, if you are a startup and between attending the event and working on your startup, then I’d recommend you check what is the subject of the event and who are the speakers. If it’s not interesting enough then don’t come, no issues, we understand that you should focus in your startup. It’s a challenge for us, we need to make the content of the event super useful so that it is worth your time. Moreover, we are very sensitive to time, if you are a regular StartupQ8 attendee you’ll realize we always start on time and finish on time even if Obama is going to speak at our event!

In short, events are over rated and sucks most of the time; don’t go to them unless you know exactly what you want to get out of them.

If you disagree please write in the comments, will love to hear your feedback :)

UX Designer Responsibilities (Part 1) – Intro to User Experience

This is a post by our new contributor Mahmoud Ilyan. Mahmoud is a UX designer I met when he was working with CarpoolArabia.com in Dubai. He has a good eye for UX/UI and most importantly he understands people and the latest technology that makes the user experience better. At the end of the post you’ll find more personal info about him. Welcome Mahmoud! 

 

In recent years the demand for UX designers has increased, and its still increasing more and more, companies are putting more attention to it.

Why it is so important?

Back in the early days of software market engineers and product managers were taught to believe that the full features software is the sign that the software is worth to buy which will make features a competitive advantage between softwares available in the market, this was true because there weren’t so many people putting software products on the market, which will leave the user with no choice only to use the complex product that is available now.

However, time has changed and the software products market has grown which make the user want to choose between so many products with the same features, and because of that people don’t want to learn how to use complex products and they are always after the simplest and intuitive solution.

Take a look at some of the large companies now like Apple, Samsung,  Facebook, Google, Microsoft, …the main competitive advantage between them is the Customer’s User Experience.

What is User Experience and what goes into user experience?

how much joy of use I would get while I am checking my email in my smartphone?, and did I reach my goal to save more money after using my online saas accounting service,… all these kinds of questions the UX designer would play a role in answering them, so lets take a more deep look in the UX definition and what are the components of it.

User Experience: is the totality of the effect or effects felt by a user as a result of interaction with, and the usage context of a system, device, or product, including the influence of usability,usefulness, and emotional impact during interaction and savoring the memory after interaction.

as you can see from the definition above user experience is more than usability, usability factors such as ease of use,efficiency and learnability are still very important in all products but are not enough.

Usability, Usefulness, Functionality, and Emotional Impact are components of user experience and should be considered by the user experience designer from his first day working on building the product, and for more clarity lets take a look at each of them and then go to the process of user experience design.

Usability: The pragmatic component of user experience including effectiveness, efficiency,productivity, ease-of-use, learnability, retainability, and the pragmatic aspects of user satisfaction.

Usefulness: The component of user experience to which system functionality gives the ability to use the system or product to accomplish the  goals.

Functionality:  The power to do work seated in the non-user-interface computational features and capabilities.

Emotional Impact: Affective component of user experience that influence user feelings, and it includes such effects as pleasure, fun, joy of use, aesthetic, desirability,..etc and appeal and can involve deeper emotional factors such as self-expression, self-identity, a feeling of contribution to the world and pride of ownership.

Professional User Experience designer consider in their mind while they’re working these components, but what is the process and guidelines for ensuring this.

UX Process

UX Process

 

In the figure above you will see five steps to release the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or first release and the other steps (6,7) are for refining the product.

In the next articles of this series I will explain how to implement each step and what is the goal to achieve from each step.

Mahmoud is a UI-UX Designer & Front-end web developer from Palestine. He turns ideas and complex problems into products that are simple and pleasurable to use, He also works as an outsourcing partner to companies across the globe. 
Mahmoud is also interested in Entrepreneurship, Startups, Innovation,Philosophy, Music and Swimming.
His social accounts:
linkedin: ae.linkedin.com/in/mahmoudilyan

Should you move to Dubai? Think of this first

Many startup founders ask me this question “Should we move to Dubai?” I get it from startups not only in Kuwait, but all over the Middle East, especially since Dubai is now considered the business and innovation hub in the Middle East. Well the answer is not straight forward. For some startups it makes sense to move right away, for others later and for some maybe never.

To be able to answer this question, you need first to know what type of startup you are:

  • Pure technology startup (example Google, Facebook, Soundcloud, Youtube…etc)
  • Games Startup (Angry birds, Zynga, Dwanya Labs)
  • Software as a Service SAAS (Zendesk, Dropbox, Basecamp)
  • Marketplace (Airbnb, Uber, Fishfishme, Booking…etc)
  • E-commerce (Amazon, Zappos, NetaPorter)

1- Pure Technology, Games and SAAS startups:

For each type of startup you need to be close to different type of people and resources. For pure technology, Games and SAAS startups the most important asset is your programmers, engineers and designers. Basically you need to be close to talented people.

 

2- Marketplace startups:

If you are a marketplace (connecting buyers to sellers) similar to us you need to be close to your customers and suppliers. Your startup is a balance between business and technology. However, your suppliers is your real product and you need to be close to them and you need to be close to your customers to make sure they are delivered what they are promised. That’s especially true if you are selling an offline product or service such as Talabat.com. It’s less true if you are a marketplace for a digital service such as Odesk.

 

3- Ecommerce Startups:

For ecommerce startups it becomes very important to handle logistics, inventory and fulfillment. It’s important to have good relation with your suppliers and carrier services. It’s also important to master marketing since the products you are offering it’s most likely provided by many other websites. For Ecommerce websites, you probably need to be close to your customers and to have warehouses closer to them.

Now after you identified in which category you fall then you can make a better decision. Now let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of Dubai for a startup:

Advantages:

  • Easier to start a business, register a company and get a visa
  • Very diversified population. If you can make it in Dubai, you most likely can go global and make it in another places.
  • All businesses have head quarters in Dubai. If you are a B2B business you should be here
  • Last year 10M tourists visited Dubai. Very good for travel related startups
  • Talented people are here. The most talented people in the Middle East lives in Dubai. Here dreams become true
  • There are incubators and accelerators.
  • Some startups made it big here (Dubizzle and Zawya)
  • Most famous investors are either based here or visit Dubai in a regular basis.
  • You’ll be away from the social pressure and your family telling you everyday to quit your startup and go back to a regular job at a big company and get married
  • Here you meet (sometimes) some interesting people that you’d never meet at any other place in the Middle East

Disadvantages:

  • So expensive to live. Really really expensive!
  • Talented people have many options and opportunities to join other startups or companies

I can’t think of other disadvantages. Dubai is so expensive and it’s probably the only reason you should think twice before moving here. Dubai will burn you alive. Office rent, salaries, living expenses you name it, it’s very expensive. If you are a new startup and you move here without raising money then you’ll most probably close in a short period of time, faster than you’d do in your home country. Startups need time and you can buy time with money. Money burns very fast here and so does startups. The life of your startup is much shorter here. I see this happen a lot since I moved here 2 years ago. There is only two startups that survived at In5 since I moved in 2013 that’s us (fishfishme.com) and Snappcard.com. Probably 30 other startups are all shutdown (sorry if there are startups that are still live and I forgot about them).. Why? Because of the expensive life.

For some startups it makes sense to have most of your team in one place and your sales team in Dubai. This is what many startups are doing to save money, and they are doing it the right way.

Don’t move to Dubai to raise money. Don’t move to Dubai because registering a company and paper work is easier here. Don’t move to Dubai because you love living here. If you have traction and customers, investors will find you wherever you are. Find what type of startup you are and who should you be close too, then decide if you should move or not.

If you have any questions about dubai send me a direct message in twitter @a_alshalabi.

Failing is not cool (the Lean Startup hype)

Failing is becoming too cool these days. I agree that it’s ok to fail, but it shouldn’t be a reason to give up easily. Listen to Marc Andreessen talk about this (watch starting from minute 18 to 21):

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYYsXzt1VDc

He doesn’t want to invest in someone that gives up easily, someone that tried then tried then tried until things started to work. The journey will probably take longer than what you think. I know lean startup teach us to fail quickly and move on. I don’t agree on that, I think you should keep trying until the end. Some startups pivot, some need to Grind, read this post by Fred Wilson titled The Pivot vs The Grind:
http://avc.com/2014/12/the-grind-vs-the-pivot/

Entrepreneurs are inpatient, but you really need to wait sometimes, don’t give up easily, you’ll not see results as quickly as you thought. Waiting 2yrs till you see some good traction is normal. Waiting 3yrs to reach breakeven point is also normal. Sometimes you just need to wait!

The biggest reason for startups to fail it’s because the founders give up. There is a difference between failing and giving up. I see many founders give up in their startup quit easily, they couldn’t withstand the pressure from family, friends and life. I can totally understand how intense it could be, but unfortunately thats the game, it’s so f***** difficult to build a startup.

90% of us will fail, and it’s ok. I appreciate the courage to try something new and appreciate what you learned during this journey. Failing is OK, but not cool.

Am I going to smile again in my life? Founders and Depression

That’s the feeling I got the first time I felt depressed while building my startup. I remember this moment very well. It was two years ago and business was tough, no bookings coming and starting to get doubts about everything. I was driving my car in Kuwait, heading to Starbucks just to do something other than work. I was thinking, am I going to smile again in my life! I was so depressed. Then things flipped very quickly after reading something in Tech Crunch, a fishing startup called FishBrain won the best startup in Sweden. The news is not even about us, but I don’t know why, I started to feel much better. I got depressed so many times after that, but I started to get used to it. I know something good will happen later that will make me feel better. The longest depression I had lasted a couple of weeks, it was in summer 2013 after I moved to Dubai.

We always write how awesome it is to be an entrepreneur. Now being a tech entrepreneur is considered the coolest thing a person can do, even cooler than being a doctor in some countries. Well I have a news for you, being a startup founder sucks sometimes and in so many ways. It sucks during the time you are raising money, it sucks when you need to fire someone, it sucks when you need to go to work with a happy smiley face while in reality you were depressed and didn’t even wanted to leave your bed, it sucks when your family asks you “how is it going with business?” and you reply “great” and try to change the subject quickly so that they don’t dig deeper, it sucks when a customer give you a bad feedback about your product and it sucks when you start asking your parents for money to pay the salaries of your employees.
It sucks big time, you’ll feel depressed, lonely and desperate.

It is shocking how things can turn from bad to good in a moment. And this is the good news, as bad as things can go, things can get better, quickly. Whatever was the situation, things will happen and the bad feeling will disappear and in some situation you’ll even feel happier, it is really a roller coaster ride. Moreover, with time you’ll be more immune to bad situations, you’ll start recovering faster. If it used to take you a week to recover, it will take you days, then just hours to recover.

I do some things that makes me feel better when I feel down:
1- Talk to Jose my co-founder: this guy is always calm even in the worst situation, I don’t know how he do it, but talking to Jose always makes things much clearer to me, and together we find a new plan to solve the problem
2- Talking to one of our advisors: I usually talk to one of our advisors either Abrar, Omar Koudsi, mohammed Alzubi, sim whatley, Abdulaziz Alloughani. It will shock you how talking to an experienced entrepreneur will make you feel better, these guys have seen it all. No money in the bank, no growth in the company, the angry customer, the bad hire, you name it they’ve seen it. Just chatting with them about their stories and how they overcome them, makes you feel better and gives you ideas how to solve your own problems.

3- Talking to a friend entrepreneur. I have a friend doing food business, non-tech, talking to him just gives an inspiration on how he solved a similar problem in the offline world. We are always trying to do things online or in the cloud, when things can actually be solved in a good, but maybe old fashion way.

4- Talking to your team about: when things gets really bad and some changes need to be done, then you better communicate it to your team. You’ll be surprised how supportive they will be, and they will even start to work harder. They will appreciate your honesty and they will really feel part of the team.

Here you go, that’s the bad side of being an entrepreneur and how you can deal with some of the down times. I’ll end with this hybrid quote (part I read in twitter and other part from Mandala (or Gandhi not sure) and the other I came up with):

Being an entrepreneur is like being punched in the face 10 times every day, and the punches will get harder with time. The more you resist these punches the stronger you get. You will be punched to the floor, the ones who stand up every time are the ones that win at the end.”

The Sweet Spot of Talabat’s Business

Hamad Mufleh has an interesting (as always) take on the Talabat acquisition and where it can lead us. The original post can be found here, but if you’re too lazy just read on.

PS: Context matters. The F bombs he is referencing were out of sheer surprise, not anger :)

 

The Sweet Spot Of Talabat’s Business

Talabat is the first tech unicorn of Kuwait, and it could be the last.

Mijbel broke the news in the Startupq8 whatsapp group..

“Guys, we got our 1st +100m startup.”

The reactions have all contained versions of the F-word. And rightly so. Talabat has managed to unseat Maktoob with a ~$170 million price tag and take over the title of Middle East’s Biggest Acquisition in tech. The hard work that put Talabat and, consequently, Kuwait on the map shouldn’t be understated or dismissed as money laundering.

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine asked me to look him in the eye as he told me to give up on tech startups in Kuwait. “Ma yamshi 3endena,” he said. I have to admit that I believed him for a second. My faith is renewed.. but I have to say this: I don’t think there’ll be another Talabat-size acquisition in the next 5–10 years coming from Kuwait. Well, maybe the game developer Lumba Inc. can pull it off. Maybe the guys at Nabdh will. But it’s incredibly hard to match that 9 figure. The reason has nothing to do with the lack of talent or hard work — although Kuwait generally has to make up a bit on that front.

Talabat was and continues to be in a sweet spot. Between Moh’d Jaafar’s purchase of Talabat in 2010 for USD ~$3 million and the sale at ~$170 million, the market had matured significantly. But why has it been so good for Talabat especially?


Well, here’s my best explanation..

Talabat offers value at the very base of Maslow’s pyramid — food!

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Startups at every level on Maslow’s pyramid have been valued/acquired with greater valuations (e.g. whatsapp, instagram). But the catch is this: the closer you are to the base, the higher your average customer lifetime value, and consequently, you’ll need fewer of them to achieve the high valuation. In the case of Talabat, they offered a service to an essential and frequent need. That commanded a decent CLTV.

Why does that matter? For a Kuwait-based startup, you have to operate knowing that your target market (Kuwait, or GCC) is a fraction of, say, the US where we usually see those high valuations. In a realistic best case scenario, you can take on all of the Middle East — but most of the Middle East is unbanked. In fact, the population size of those who have bank accounts and live on more than $5/day are estimated to be only 45 millionfor all of the MENA region, including the Gulf. With smaller markets, transaction frequency matters.

Talabat is piggybacking on the growth of four overlapping macro factors..

  1. growth in household income levels & purchasing power,
  2. growth & innovation in the restaurant industry,
  3. changing consumer habits towards lazy on-demand meals, instead of home cooked. My mom knows this one too well.
  4. growth in mobile penetration and usage. The shift from desktop to mobile upended the entire tech industry, but not Talabat, which positioned itself well to serve the always-on mobile customers.

All without the operational headache of running a restaurant chain

Several entrepeneurs have started amazing food concepts and are doing remarkably well. PICK is one of my favorite examples. But the sheer challenges that surround the operations — expanding physical locations and kitchen to mention two — can wear down any energetic, focused and hard working entrepreneur. This is not to understate the challenges that Talabat faced, but to emphasize that scaling a technology-based business that exists largely online can be done relatively faster, especially in a country that ranks low in the business friendliness index (and dropping every year).

It managed to convince businesses and customers to pay a small fee on every transaction

I asked friends to help come up with alternative startup ideas that fit all these criteria combined: a scalable tech, a sizable market, a transaction-based revenue model, and a frequent need. We failed.

Talabat is the first tech unicorn of Kuwait. And it could very well be our last. That being said, there’s still hope for the rest of us at the 6–8 figure level. Cheer up amigos!

Announcing: StartupQ8 Event for February 2015

UPDATE: Both co-founders of Jaribha will attend the event.

We’re excited to announce the first StartupQ8 Event of 2015! Join us on Monday, February 2nd as we welcome two well-traveled entrepreneurs who will share their experiences with us.

The first segment will feature app developer Mazyad AlAbduljalil, a long time member of the StartupQ8 Community. He has developed apps from Kuwait to San Francisco, and will share his insights into how to build a mobile app MVP. Also this month, Mohammed AlBesharah and Saleh AlTunaib, co-founders of Jaribha, will talk about the challenges they face as an entrepreneur building a crowd-funding platform in Kuwait. As always,Global Investment House has graciously agreed to host the talk.

See you guys Monday Feb 2nd at 7:20 pm!

Schedule:

7:20 – 7:30 Intro
7:30 – 8:10 Mobile App MVP with Mazyad AlAbduljalil
8:10 – 8:20 Mini-break
8:20 – 9:00 An interview with Mohammed AlBesharah & Saleh AlTunaib
9:00 – 9:20 Networking

As always, the event will be in English and it is open to everyone. Register for FREE on our Meetup.com page for more details.

See you there!

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