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!

IMG_9641

 

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.

CellBreaker

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.

IMG_9646

 

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.

IMG_9652

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:

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 8.44.26 PM

IMG_9659

IMG_9661

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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 8.55.43 PM

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.

 Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 9.01.17 PM


IMG_9614

IMG_9621

IMG_9625

IMG_9616

IMG_9618

IMG_9623
IMG_9637

IMG_9622

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.

IMG_9612

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).

 

 

 

Coverage: 8th MIT Enterprise Forum – Arab Startup Competition Elevator Pitch Day

Kuwait is currently hosting the 8th version of the MIT Enterprise Forum hosted and organized by MIT.

The forum centers around the MITEF Arab Startup Competition.

Here is a quick brief on the competition:

Startups from all over the Arab world apply towards three possible “tracks”: idea track (for pre-prototype venture), social entrepreneurship track (for startups that tackle a social problem), or the startup track.

From the applicants, 150 startups are selected to attend the semi finals in Kuwait, of which a handful will be selected to participate in the final. The winners are awarded funding as follows:

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

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

Social Entrepreneurship Track: 3 winners winning $10K each

The semi-final was held on Sunday (April 19th), and the StartupQ8 team was there to cover it! Our team was also on elevator pitch judging duty.

For the elevator pitch exercise, Startups were instrcuted to pitch (one-on-one) to as many EP judges as possible and gather feedback. The judges (selected from different disciplines and backgrounds) provided succinct feedback and an overall rating for the startups.

A couple of minutes before the elevator pitch exercise got underway, the ballroom was already buzzing with almost tangible energy. Hundreds of founders were ready to bombard the vast array of judges with their extraordinary startup ideas to eagerly collect some valuable feedback.

For the next 90 minutes, startups circulated the room and engaged in insightful conversation with judges. The variety and diversity of ideas was truly incredible. The mix of having startups at different stages as well as ones with a social impact agenda made for a more compelling competition, with Arab ingenuinty on full display.

Of the startups that I was lucky enough to get to know, I’d like to highlight the following three as my personal favorite:

ScreenDy: a web platform for creative native advanced e-commerce apps on the cloud. It allows web developers with little to no background in mobile development to create a brilliant mobile app. I took some time to checkout the platform and found it intuitive and uncomplicated. The team, from Casablanca, is very experienced and extremely capable of executing a world class product.

Braille Touch: an idea for a glove that allows visually impaired people to interact and read digital text content on any screen. What I love about this idea is the sense of mission the founders have. I could immediately tell the amount of passion behind the idea, and I was left feeling confident that they had the team to turn this idea into a beautiful product.

ColorBug: this mobile applications turns color-in stencil into augmented reality for children. The technology is jaw-dropping (literally, in my case) and the app has an overall “wow” factor. But what I really like about this startup is the market potential. They have impressive sales for the short amount of time they have been operating, and they understand exactly how to tackle such a massive market. They are already affiliating themselves with big sponsors in the children education space.

There were other great startups that I didn’t have the chance to find out more about. Let’s hope I get some time to talk to them in the coming days and share my thoughts on them here.

The finalist from each track have been chosen, and the winners will be announced in the forum/ gala dinner event starting tonight (April 20).

Stay tuned for our coverage!

Photo Apr 20, 14 22 35 Photo Apr 20, 14 22 46 Photo Apr 20, 14 22 53

Failure: The Cornerstone of a Successful Startup Community

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, ECONOMICS Issue, published March, 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: Khaleejesque Team

4 min read.

I paused momentarily as I stood outside the meeting room, took a deep breath, tightened my left hand grip on my laptop briefcase, exhaled, and slowly turned the door handle to enter what I knew would be the last-ever meeting for our startup. There was only one item on the agenda: shutting down.

Even as I took my seat at the meeting table and drew a sip out of what seemed to be the blandest cup of coffee I have ever tasted, I thought one more time about reversing my decision to end our startup venture. In truth, I had spent more than a month agonizing over this decision. I fully understood the cold facts: our e-commerce platform for small businesses was not gaining enough traction or engagement, we were out of money, and we had little to show for after three years of trial and error.

But I also understood that shutting down our startup meant that I had to publicly admit failure and live with all the ramifications such an admission entailed. That, above all, was my source of agony.

In the Gulf region, thousands of startups founded by ambitious entrepreneurs have to deal with facing failure. Failure, after all, is the more likely scenario for a startup, statistically speaking.  This fact is fully embraced in developed startup ecosystems, where failure is celebrated and thought of as a rite of passage for entrepreneurs. In Silicon Valley, for example, “Fail Fast” is a divine mantra meant to encourage startups to rapidly try everything possible to make an idea successful, admit failure if it doesn’t work, learn from the experience, and take those lessons forward to the next venture.

This definition is a stark contrast to how failure is perceived in the Gulf region. Abdullah Asiri, founder and CEO of Saudi based startups ShopMate and Waqood Tech, remarks: “In global tech hubs, true failure is defined as stopping after the first unsuccessful try. If you don’t learn from the lessons of your first experience and apply them to the next startup (or the one after that), it renders the first attempt pointless. In mature startup economies, there is a lot of encouragement to openly discuss your failure in order to dissect it and learn as much as possible from it, and then try again.”

Asiri believes this encouragement is absent in the Gulf startup scene because there is a heavy punishment for failure.

“Here (in the GCC), it is very difficult for entrepreneurs to try again in a new startup because the backlash they confront from society after their first failure makes it unbearable to take another chance and risk facing such societal pressure again,” Asiri continues. “Moreover, investors here become much less inclined to invest with you if you have previous failures. In short, this pressure and punishment inhibit an unsuccessful attempt from becoming a learning experience. It makes failure permanent.”

Asiri’s comment on investor behavior in the Gulf region is critical. Venture Capital (capital invested in new or expanding businesses in which there is substantial risk) is the bloodline of any startup ecosystem. While society plays an important role in encouraging a tolerance of failure, venture capitalists (VC’s) and angel investors (an individual investor who invests in high risk, high growth businesses) have the biggest impact. If investors refuse to invest in a startup because of the past failures of its founders, then those investors are tangibly punishing failure.

In order to further understand how investors in the GCC, both corporate and individual, react to past failures from entrepreneurs, I spoke with Mona Al-Mukhaizeem, co-founder of Kuwaiti startup accelerator Sirdab Lab, and an angel investor herself.

“Investors in the Gulf are accustomed to low risk investments, such as real estate or debt bonds. They have limited tolerance for failure,” Al-Mukhaizeem remarked. “A strong Venture Capital firm or angel investor must possess a different mentality; one that is more realistic about the risk of failure for startups. Without such investor mentality, capital will never flow into the GCC startup economy.”

However, Al-Mukhaizeem, who has experience with VC’s in Silicon Valley, believes that there’s a gradual shift in the way investors in the region evaluate startups: “There is a new breed of angel investors and VC’s in the Gulf region who understand that nine times out of ten startups will fail. But the impact and reward from that one successful startup more than makes up for the shortcomings of those unsuccessful ventures.  Thus, this new generation of investors is willing to give promising startup teams multiple chances to succeed. It’s a very important change towards building a successful startup community.”

Al-Mukhaizeem has also noticed through her heavy involvement in Sirdab Lab and the GCC startup scene that founders who fail are finding more support and encouragement.

“In the past, we saw founders clinging on to floundering startups because they did not want to be portrayed as failures by their friends, family, and peers. However, as a sense of community and togetherness fosters in the startup community, more people are sharing their experiences with failed businesses. An optimal learning curve is only achievable if entrepreneurs have the chance to learn from their own mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others,” concluded Al-Mukhaizeem.

Fundamentally, startups are experiments of innovation. As is the nature of innovation, there must be multiple attempts before success is realized. For multiple attempts to occur, society, investors, and entrepreneurs have to perceive failure as a step in the learning ladder. As the Gulf community gradually shifts towards a “fail well, fail fast, try again” mentality, a more impactful and inventive startup community will thrive. Lest we forget, Edison burnt a thousand light bulbs before one finally lit up the world.

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, ECONOMICS Issue, published March, 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 

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.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,975 other followers

%d bloggers like this: