2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Enjoy the full reprot.

 

Click here to see the complete report.

Announcing the Startup Coffee Club

Things are brewing at StartupQ8 labs. In addition to planning our next event, we’re starting a weekly OpenCoffee Club for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate. Here are the details:

  • Open Coffee Club – Kuwait
  • For: Entrepreneurs, startup enthusiasts, developers, programmers, all welcome.
  • Topic: Business Model Generation – How to define business objectives and strategies for your startup.
  • When/where: Monday December 31st at 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM @ Java Detour in Sour Tower.
  • Organizer: Faisal AlMahmeed is handling the organization and logistics. You can contact him here.

Feel free to bring a blank or partially filled business model canvas, and we’ll take it from there.

Let us know if you have any questions.

Post Meetup Notes (and a bonus event to attend)

BIG thanks to everyone who came to the 3rd StartupQ8 meetup held last Saturday night. Special thanks to the speakers as well, they provided great content.  I wanted to touch on a few points from last night:

StartupQ8 Dec. 2012 (8)

Lean Startup ‘Pre-Party’

I want to apologize for the delay and technical difficulties in starting the Lean Conference highlights. We shouldn’t have such issues in the future. If you arrived late or you didn’t get a chance to view a talk you wanted to see, the talks can be found here. Let us know in the comments which video you missed, and we’ll help you find it.

The Event

We’re happy to hear such great feedback on the main event, and our speakers in particular. Abdullah will cover the event in more detail in a later post, but I wanted to share some of my personal take-aways:

  • The number and variety of funding options for startups is increasing. People in Kuwait and the region are catching up to the rest of the world, and pretty soon incubators, angel investor networks and venture capital funds will all be competing for the best and brightest entrepreneurs.
  • Create your own opportunities. No one will do that better than you. The way Dr. Naif described two such examples from his career demonstrated a very useful characteristic for entrepreneurs.
  • Don’t wait too long or worry too much about someone stealing your idea. Executing the idea is more important than the idea itself, so get out of the building. 

Next week

If you’re interested in attending a workshop for small enterprises, there’s one going on at GUST next week. Details are below. Call 6035-7000 to RSVP.

Program

Your Feedback

Thanks to everyone who has given us their feedback on the events. If you have any comments or would like to volunteer to help us put the events together, let us know.

StartupQ8 3rd Event: ‘Pre-party’ update

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know StartupQ8 is the official simulcast partner for the Lean Startup Conference in Kuwait. We are thrilled to be broadcasting selected highlights of the conference before our next meetup this coming Saturday.

After reviewing over 7 hours of conference footage, we have selected the most useful and interesting speakers for your viewing pleasure. They are:

  1. Prototyping to Validate a Big Idea at Getaround by Jessica Scorpio (Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/startuplessonslearned/jessica-scorpio-2012-lean-startup-conference)
  2. I (Heart) Ugly by Lane Halley (Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/startuplessonslearned/lane-halley-2012-lean-startup-conference)
  3. Secrets of Rapid Mobile App Development by Matt Brezina (Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/brezina/secrets-of-rapid-app-development-lean-startup-conf-2012)
  4. Failure is Great and Other Myths of the Lean Startup by Andres Glusman (Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/startuplessonslearned/andres-glusman)
  5. Moving Fast While Caring About Design at Hipmunk by Adam Goldstein (No Slides)
  6. Testing MVPs with Crowdfunding by Justin Wilcox (Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/startuplessonslearned/justin-wilcox-lean-startup-conference-2012)
  7. Innovation Accounting in Practice by Ash Maurya (Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/startuplessonslearned/ash-innovationaccounting)
  8. Lean Marketing by Leah Busque (Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/startuplessonslearned/leah-busque-2012-lean-startup-conference)
  9. How To Run a 5 Whys (With Humans, Not Robots) by Dan Milstein (Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/danmil30/how-to-run-a-5-whys-with-humans-not-robots)

The speakers we chose offer great content on a variety of subjects. They cover design, mobile app development, product testing and marketing, so there’s something for everyone including people new to the startup scene. Whether you’re running a startup or plan to do so in near future, there’s something to be learned by attending.

The speeches should last a total of 75 minutes. We will be starting at 5:30 pm (not earlier as originally planned) and concluding at 6:45 pm, right before the meetup commences.

Please use the following Eventbrite page to RSVP: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/4755404543

See you Saturday!

Venture Funding by Abdulaziz B. Al Loughani

In late 2008, I was the managing partner of a local startup in Kuwait, 6alabat.com and was preparing with the rest of the team an expansion plan for regionalizing the business.  As we rolled-up our sleeves and started diving into the numbers, we were looking at a serious funding round ahead of us for financing the required working capital.   Although the Kuwaiti government has committed over to KD200mn of SME’s funding through different vehicles, the commitment was only limited to first-money-in (seed capital) which did not cover growth capital.  After a few months of long conversations with a few local parties, I came to realize that 6alabat’s best source of funding is revenue due to the lack of venture understanding and overall, an entrepreneurial ecosystem.  I started learning more about early-stage-funding and realized there are a lot of building blocks missing in our community; Here are a few thoughts on key aspects of venture funding which might be useful for your next round of financing:

Stakeholders

As startups move on from the seed stage and ideas further develop into prototypes, most ventures will require fresh capital to finance working capital/fixed assets.  Although entrepreneurs project future cash flows and profitability for the financiers, the forecasts will have a degree of uncertainty to it that needs to be factored in the fund-raising equation.  Whether the provided finance is in the form of debt or equity (funding round), both providers will require a form of return, but with varying expectations to the level of uncertainty.  Accordingly, hybrid finance, in the form of debt and equity, will have different types of obligations on the business.

The funding round must also serve the best interest of the founding entrepreneurs.  The entrepreneurs are key to realizing the potential of any opportunity and so, the funding round must offer extrinsic (potential financial gain) and intrinsic (self satisfaction and operating culture) incentives to the entrepreneurs; alignment of interest between all stakeholders is therefore key to the success of the business.

Smart Money

Understanding the basics of finance and the debt/equity instruments is essential for building a proper capital structure when financing the entrepreneurs.  A well-shaped entrepreneur should always be aware of the instruments he/she seeks capital through, which may vary depending on how sophisticated the venture community surrounding him/her is.  As an entrepreneur, seeking “smart capital” versus “dumb cash” should always be an aim especially during the development/expansion phase.  Smart money is usually sourced through angel networks/investors and early-stage or late-stage venture capitalists that usually stress on proper capital structures with technical and strategic value-add and is healthy for going through multiple rounds of financing.

Despite a wide array of available financial instruments in the venture community, the main difference is in the risk/reward tradeoff each instrument offers.  To set the risk/reward parameters, the financing package will impose certain conditions on the entrepreneurs and the company.  This may be achieved by either imposing fixed requirements or by providing means to limit possible outcomes from the business.

Equity Vs. Debt Financing

Equity and debt investors use different control measures to protect their risk/reward positions.  Debt financing agreements tend to minimize the probability of not collecting back the financed debt portion to the entrepreneur if the business goes under; lenders would want to have control over the business if the covenants are breached.  Although debt instruments in venture funding are not popular in this part of the world, they are quite popular in more developed markets.  On the other hand, equity investors will often hold a minority position in a given company to maximize the entrepreneur’s vested interest but will also require special rights to protect their position.  Unlike debt holders, equity investors want a front seat in driving the business strategy to ensure their returns are realized through dividend payouts and capital gains.  The uncertainty in the timing and size of these returns has led equity investors to creatively have different share classes with different preferred rights.

In spite of the creative solutions developed by equity financiers to resolve a lot of uncertainties they may have, exits still remain the key option for realizing gains.  Many would argue that valuations on different funding rounds validate the financiers’ position, however those are unrealized gains, and therefore exits are the only option to realize all capital gains.  For a startup to be venture-friendly, exit is also key.

All in all, understanding and aligning the interest of different stakeholders in venture funding is essential for graduating a startup to enter a growth company stage; With smart money backing your startup, you have a better opportunity of being the next THE-99!

Join us in the next Startup Q8 event this coming Saturday where we will be shedding more light on Early Stage Funding.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Abdulaziz B. Al Loughani

@aballoughani

Web vs. Mobile: A Startup’s Best Platform – by Mijbel AlQattan

I started advising* a client recently on a new startup idea that revolved around creating an online platform to serve the Kuwaiti community. The product is still in the concept stage, and our discussions were focused on developing the hypotheses for the value being delivered, identifying the customers, and choosing the channels to capture these customers and deliver our solution.

Inevitably, we talked about web vs. mobile, and deciding whether we should focus our efforts on launching an iOS/Android app or building a website. For reference, according to Nielsen Mobile Insights, smart phone penetration in Kuwait was 56% as of September 2011. Meanwhile, Business Monitor International estimates broadband penetration at 14.5% as of December 2011. However, it must be remembered that, on average, multiple users are on a single broadband connection, so the disparity is not that wide. Nonetheless, mobile internet usage is growing, and customers will probably want to use this platform in particular on their phone rather than their computer.

However, while we expect the majority of the customers to be mobile users, I felt that we should develop a web version first and foremost, albeit a mobile friendly one. The reasoning was two-fold:

  1. I wanted to develop an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that fits both sets of potential customers, and gain insight from into the channel by testing the product.
  2. I can design and *deploy* a web MVP over a weekend, while an app would take much longer.

After the meeting, I found excellent blog posts by Fred Wilson and Vibhu Norby about the same subject that validated our platform of choice for even more compelling reasons. As Fred puts it:

“Distribution is much harder on mobile than web and we see a lot of mobile first startups getting stuck in the transition from successful product to large user base. strong product market fit is no longer enough to get to a large user base. you need to master the “download app, use app, keep using app, put it on your home screen” flow and that is a hard one to master.”

The “download, use, keep using, put on homescreen” cycle is going to be tough in early stages as the product is untried. What compounds the difficulty is that this would be an initial, incomplete and buggy MVP. User ratings will naturally suffer, which will send our growth into a further negative spiral. A web based solution solves these issues, especially one with a good landing page.

Vibhu also points out the ease of onboarding using the web:

“You have an entirely different onboarding story on the web. You can test easily, cheaply, and fast enough to make a difference on the web. You can fix a critical bug that crashes your app on load 15 minutes after discovery (See Circa). You can show 10 different landing pages and decide in real-time which one is working the best for a particular user. You can also close a viral loop: A user can click an email and immediately be using your app with you. You can’t put parameters on a download link and people don’t download apps from their computer to their phone.”

Split tests, iterative improvements and data gathering are all critical to validating our customer hypotheses. Performing those on an app is difficult, with approval cycles and time between user updates. Testing and refining on the web is much quicker and easier.

However, as Fred points out, we cannot ignore the mobile user. They are too important, especially at this stage and for this particular business model. Hence, a mobile-friendly web platform is where we are starting.

*For those who are unaware as this is only my second post here, I’m a partner at Cubical Services where we offer advisory and incubation services to startups and traditional small businesses.

Bringing StartupQ8 Blog Back to Life

I want to apologize for writing way less in this blog than I first started . As you might know by now that I have my own startup (fishfishme.com) and it’s taking most of my time. Like you guys, I’m starting to feel that the blog is dying little by little, and StartupQ8 becoming just a monthly event. I hate this to happen, I hope we could find a solution for that, and I think we do. I’m happy to announce that we are bringing the blog back to life, thanks to a group of passionate people (StartupQ8 team).

Save life

Starting from next year StartupQ8 blog will probably be one of the best blogs in the region (maybe even in the world!!) posting about entrepreneurship and startups. You will think that I’m exaggerating, well I’m not, and here is why. We are going to try something little bit crazy, I call it the Blog Party. Don’t get so excited, there is no music and no dancing in our party, however there are a lot of people.

The idea is to give people power to post in StartupQ8. That means anyone can post in StartupQ8. Anyone that have a good post related to entrepreneurship and startups should be able to post in StartupQ8, that’s our goal in the long-run.

I had this idea since I started StartupQ8 back on July 2012 (you can read here in the “About StartupQ8” page). Yet, the idea came back to life on our latest StartupQ8 team meeting. We realized that in order to kickstart things we need to start writing ourselves. Moreover, we decided to divide the topics of the blog posts into five different subjects:

  1. Entrepreneurship and Startups
  2. Marketing and Social Media
  3. Funding and Finance
  4. Tech for Non-Techies
  5. Design for Startups

We assigned 1 or 2 persons to write about each topic, they are also responsible to find good writers for these topics. In the beginning we will have 3-4 different writers for each topic, with each writer posting once a month (including myself). This way StartupQ8 will have 3-4 posts every week in 3-4 different topics. We believe if things started to catch up and people started to get excited and undertand how it works, then people will want to join the movement. At that time we should make it completly open for everyone to be able to post.

I must say that I had some concerns about how to control the quality of the content if we made it completly open, but I think with few guidelines and little editing we can get an AMAZING result. We believe this is what innovation and entrepreneurship is about, it’s about being open to trying new things and testing the limits. We hope that this new idea will help foster entrepreneurship in Kuwait and the region and help in creating top-notch entrepreneurs capable of creating GREAT companies that generates millions of dollars, employees thousands of people and adds a lot of value to the whole world 🙂

Special thanks to all of StartupQ8 team (Mijbel, Mohammad, Abdullah, Abdulaziz and Mshary)

Can we Change Politics

I always hated politics, I feel it’s the opposite of production and innovation. People arguing and hating each other, things moves slowly, nothing is clear and a lot of talking and no work gets done.

What if we can change how politics works? What if there is a simple solution to all of our political problems? That might sounds crazy, but Stephan Johnson (the author of the book Future Perfect) believes he found the solution. Watch the video below explaining his theory:

 

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