Quick Q&A with Moe Korayem

It feels good to be back..

The next StartupQ8 Monthly Event is this Monday, and we’ll be joined in the interview chair by serial entrepreneur Mohamed Salem Korayem. He co-founded his first startup while still in college, and hasn’t looked back since. Some of his more prominent startups include Qabila TV, Wasalny and Social Fruits. We did a quick Q&A with Moe ahead of our interview Monday, and here’s what we discussed:

-Introduce yourself!
I graduated from Electronics and Communications Engineering faculty of Ain Shams University in 2005. I started my career as an Automotive Embedded Software Engineer in IBM & Valeo, testing the technology you see today in Ford like easy parking back in 2005. I also worked in Business Consulting (because I’ve seen brilliant Engineers who fail to understand business) and Digital Marketing (where we helped businesses establish sustainable online digital versions of their organizations). After gaining knowledge in 3 major domains, I started my entrepreneurial journey of discovering the missing links between Psychology, Technology and Business for the masses by co-founding SocialFruits, Kherna, Wasalny and QabilaTv back in 2011.
-Tell us about the startups you co-founded. What was your role in their launch and how did the ideas come about?
Each startup had a different story. My very first was HASdot.com back in 2001. It was a college network for HAS students way before I knew anything about business or even hear the term social network. It was sparked by a late night course revision before an exam when I discovered a missing paper in a pile of papers I need to memorize. I asked, “why isn’t there a way to just ask for it and get a copy?”. That’s when I decided to start hasdot.com in 2001. Unfortunately I knew nothing about business growth and sustainability though I made some money out of advertising so it naturally died right after graduation.
Kherna’s idea hit me in 2010 during Ramadan. Suddenly, a few NGOs were making tons of ads to entice people to donate to charity work. During college, I volunteered in NGOs and I knew there were so many. After research, I found that there’s 32,000 NGOs. So why does only 5 afford to reach out? all NGOs need money more than anything. I took the concept and submitted it to Yahoo/Maktoob Social Initiative starts with You fund with my co-founders @amira_salah and @ahmedyahia. Thankfully we were among the 9 shortlisted winners. Yahoo’s fund broke the only barrier we had that stopped us from resigning from Digital Marketing career and that was seed money, though it was only sufficient for 6 months. We took a deep breath and jumped ship on 15th of Jan 2011. Of course we didn’t know we were 10 days into a revolution that will forever change the course of Egyptian history.
I was playing several balls to find a reason to quit my job. So in addition to Kherna, I co-founded Qabila TV which is a crowdsourcing platform to produce non-typical online video content. The spark came right after Canon released their almighty 5D Mark 2 DSLR camera. Moving my passion for photography into filmography was suddenly possible because that was the first DSLR camera that could shoot video. I immediately realized the disruption such camera will do  to the whole industry because of its super cheap price. We practiced before the revolution for many months, but it was until 25 Jan that we shined because we focused on producing simple clips that explained democracy to a population who knows nothing about how their country is being ruled. We later signed a contract with government to produce even more videos that was aired on all TV Satellite channels.
Wasalny is a different story. In 2009, I wanted to do traffic app and I pursued the owners of the company I worked for but they didn’t buy the idea. In 2010 two startups hit Cairo, Wasalny and Bey2ollak and to me Wasalny was the closest to what I had planned to do. Fast forward in 2012, I met Wasalny’s founder and was astonished that he was a solo-founder with basically no team because he works abroad. Our hearts and minds met on different levels and we agreed to work together on Wasalny.
In parallel to the above, we established Social Fruits as service company specializing in Social Media. We do consulting and campaign design and implementation.
-What is the single most important ingredient to build a successful startup in the Middle East?
It’s absolutely 100% the culture. The culture is the team’s contagious state of mind that makes moving into the unkown future possible. You see, any company can have a vision, funding, talent…etc. But the problem in the Middle East and the arab world in general is that we lack proper work ethics and professional mindset. We mix friendship with business. Having a professional yet human-centric culture in place amends the people’s imperfections that is rooted due to lack of good educational systems and tough life conditions. The real struggle to maintain such culture is caused by misalignment between what how people interact with each other inside the organization versus going in the streets. To shed some light on this point, imagine that one of your team’s core values is respecting other team members in the team. Employees can abide by that for a day, but this value is broken once they hit the streets and break a red light sending disrespect message to other people in their cars watching this. It’s a struggle between the startups system and the whole broken system around us. It’s totally subconscious and affects everything.
-Tell us a little more about the ecosystem in Egypt and how it compares to Kuwait.
I have to say, I am really impressed with the youth scene in Kuwait. People here are real producers rather than consumers. The spirit of entrepreneurship is everywhere; on virtual space like on Instagram & Twitter, to the physical world like small nail salons to cup cake bakers. It gives me the goosebumps to see such energy from youth desiring real disruption in lifestyle and challenging the status quo.
The situation for entrepreneurs in Egypt was filled with high hopes until a very recent time. Currently many are thinking of flocking outside because they just can’t forget their dreams for success.
The market in Egypt is indeed huge but lack of smart phone penetration and mobile internet is still a barrier if your app targets main stream customers. But the trend is growing with an acceleration rate. In comparison, the Kuwaiti market is much more mature. Basically everyone here carries one or more smartphones. 4G is basically everywhere. This fact alone is making DSL ISPs vanish eventually as people depend on mobile internet than land-line based. That’s totally the opposite in Egypt.
The real challenge in the Kuwaiti market is to appeal to different ethnicities. Unlike Egypt, the same message can be read and understood by everyone. Here you need to carefully articulate several messages for different cultures.
Investors in both countries are holding their horses. Both countries (and the rest of the arab world) still lack many success stories that would break the staleness we’re seeing right now. We aim to be among those companies.
In general the startup scene in Kuwait needs more trials by entrepreneurs, awareness in universities and schools, risk taking from investors and support from government. By my humble experience, having unified coalitions like StartupQ8 will make such change a reality. Most important thing is entrepreneurs should support and collaborate with each other and never compete or fight each other. It’s too early for that. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs who act as if they own a multinational corporation. Without an ecosystem, everyone has nothing. You need all startups to succeed for yours to succeed too. Silicon Vally wasn’t built in 3 days. It took many consistent trials. Without the many failures and successes, startups in 2013 establishing itself over there wouldn’t have had an supportive ecosystem to make it a reality.

If you have any questions for Moe, please let us know, and join us at the StartupQ8 Monthly Event this Monday, September 3 (you can RSVP on Dawrat or Meetup).

Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your insights, Mohamed.

    The point about not competing with each other resonated with me the most. Unfortunately, many individuals have an extremely hostile attitude when it comes to business. They believe it’s about maximizing profits, and screw everything else (including employees, and even customers). They support their attitude with half-baked cliches like: “Business is business.”

    I once heard a friend say: “You know you’ve won a negotiation when you leave the other person crying.” I would’ve thought that a business negotiation is about how both parties can benefit each other, not exploit one another.

    This is especially important for startups that depend on a support network to share expertise, resources, and promote each other.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for sharing your insights, Mohamed.

    The point about not competing with each other resonated with me the most. Unfortunately, many individuals have an extremely hostile attitude when it comes to business. They believe it’s about maximizing profits, and screw everything else (including employees, and even customers). They support their attitude with half-baked cliches like: “Business is business.”

    I once heard a friend say: “You know you’ve won a negotiation when you leave the other person crying.” I would’ve thought that a business negotiation is about how both parties can benefit each other, not exploit one another.

    This is especially important for startups that depend on a support network to share expertise, resources, and promote each other.

    Reply
    • Thanks Haidar. I hope it was of any value 🙂

      It’s true as you said, in negotiation your entire focus should be around creating mutually value-adding relationship. Sadly a lot business executives are just like you said greedy and want to take everything without realizing it’s a zero-sum game. If you manage to win once, there will be nothing next time. It’s like killing a duck for its golden eggs 🙂

      I can accept this attitude if you have a high profile successful business, but for startups…! it’s sickening to say the least.

      Reply

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