Smart City App Hack – Dubai

Been a while since I wrote a post and I was supposed to write about more about my experience in 500Startups, but Mijbel suggested we do an event about that since I’ll be in Kuwait 2nd week of June (more about that later).

One of the most people I respect in Dubai and a person that helped us a lot during our 2 years journey in Dubai (Rekha Setpal) recommended that I post about a great event happening in Dubai. The event is called Decode Dubai Hackathon and it will held for 48- hours between 11-13 June (which is our office, so you might actually end up using my desk!!).  Ten winning teams will have an opportunity to get free mentorship and acceleration at in5 Innovation Centre and compete for the final awards in Barcelona during the Smart City Expo 2015 in November

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 1.59.33 AM

The five themes are:

1- Shopping

2- Tourism

3- Mobility

4- Energy

5- Collaborative city

For more info and to signup check below links:

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 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:


  • 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


  • 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 ( and 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.

Fishfishme is Announcing a Partnership with Uber

OK, this is a pure promotional post, but I thought StartupQ8 community will be interested to know what’s going on here in Dubai. Today we are announcing a partnership with Uber (yes, Uber the on-demand black car service App, the company that just received around US$260M in funding from Google ventures). Amazing right! Yeah we are so excited too 🙂

The partnership is just for Dubai though, so now whenever someone books a fishing trip in Dubai, they will get a free pickup and drop service with a nice luxurious car (you’ll get 70AED for going to the boat and 70AED for getting back home or to the hotel).

Yes, this is me in the photo! and below is how it exactly works:

  1. Book a fishing trip in Dubai[1] with
  2. You’ll receive a promotional code to use for your Uber account[2] (two free rides up to 70 AED each in your Uber account)
  3. Download Uber App from the App storeor Google Play
  4. Register on Uber using the promotional code you received[3]
  5. Use the App to request a luxurious car (you’ll either get a Lexus, Mercedes, Audi or BMW) to take you to the boat (Click here to learn how to use the App – video by fisfishme team)

Uber photo

Majed AbukhaterGeneral Manager – Uber Dubai,  comment about the new partnership “Uber is happy to partner with fishfishme to provide our services. We love fishfishme and want to see it grow and succeed and we’re doing our best as Uber to make that happen. This partnership also  makes sense for us because we have done similar campaigns around the world and as a new entrant into Dubai this is a great way for users to learn about us and try us out.”
Uber iphone App

[1] Pickups only in Dubai but drop-offs anywhere in the UAE

[2] The promotional code will only be valid for new Uber users that have not previously taken rides

[3] You only need to enter the code once but it will apply to 2 trips: to and from your fishing trip

A tour inside In5

My friend Mohammad MJ is visiting me in Dubai and is helping us at to  create some videos for our boat partners in UAE. During his stay he suggested we do a tour for our incubator in Dubai In5 and meet other startups. Below is the video:

Big thanks to MJ for making this video 🙂

Week 8 in Dubai: Meeting the Travel Expert

Last week was great, I met Mr. Abrar Ahmad. Abrar is an expert in the travel industry with more than 15yrs experience. He is currently the General Partner of Travel Capitalist Ventures, where his firm is focusing to invest on opportunities in the travel industry around the world from early startups to hotels (currently more focused in hotels and late stage deals). He also founded an online travel agency that he sold in 2008. Abrar is also one of our mentors here at In5 and during last week he gave us a lot of great feedback and advice for our startup.

I asked him to do an interview and he was kind enough to agree to do it. I’m still having problems with the sound, I promise I’ll buy a microphone for future interviews. Enjoy!

Week 5 in Dubai: Interviewing startups and my interview with Skynews

Last week I was busy meeting lots of people. Most of them are startups and entrepreneurs based in Dubai. In this video I interviewed three startups:

1- Amr of

2- Mohammed of Roundout App

3- Louis of

I was also interviewed for a program in Skynews – Arabic called Afaq, you can find it here if you are interested. BTW we need someone to add an English subtitle to it  🙂

Will add a full post later on how to get blogs, newspapers and TV channels to cover your startup.

Week 4 in Dubai: Not in Dubai, but in our office in Malaga, Spain

I took my friend Mohammad  and my sister advice to start video recording my life instead of just posting a written posts. So I did, but I think I really need help with recording and editing the videos. Anyway I did my 1st video and I think it is really bad, my the best part is the music, don’t you agree 🙂

Week 3 in Dubai: Video Interview With Me!!

My friend Mohammed MJ suggested to do a video interview with me instead of the regular posts. I said OK, let’s give it a try. I realized I talk a lot, but Mohammed did a great job editing the video and make it look professional. Hope you like the video and thanks Mohammed for everything.

music by

Week 2 in Dubai: My New Home is Called In5

As I promised in my 1st post about Dubai, I’ll talk in this post about the incubator that we were lucky enough to get accepted in, its called In5 (part of Dubai Internet City). In5 is an incubator that provides you with office space, mentorship, company registration and exposure to potential investors. In5 selects 10 Tech startups and supports them for a duration of 3 months. In5 doesn’t provide funding similar to Y Combinator and Tech Stars, but they also don’t take any equity. So yes they are an incubator and not an accelerator (I actually always confuse between the two, but you can find the best answer for the difference between an accelerator and an incubator here)



Let’s dig deeper into details of the things they provide:

1-    Office:

So we get a nice villa (for work, not to live in it) which is supposed to be shared for the 10 startups.  It’s awesome, we have meeting rooms, a lounge (with 2 huge TV sets, PlayStation, an X-Box), a terrace and a free wifi connection. Check the photos below (the photos probably need some editing, but I’m sooo tired right now, so my apologies):

The office is not completely free, they still charge us 1,000AED per month (US$270), which is very good deal for us. The parking is still an issue, we have many universities next to us and you can’t find a parking. They promised to solve this issue and I’m sure they will do soon.

Playing room

2-    Company registration:

That was a major issue to us, registering a company is not that cheap. Usually it will cost you between 9,000AED to 15,000AED (US$2,500 to US$4,000) to register the company in Dubai Free Zone. But, with In5 we only need to pay 1,500AED. I didn’t finish registering the company, but it should pretty easy. I just need to sign the papers then open a bank account, transfer the minimum amount of capital (which is around US$13,500) and I should be done.

3-    Learning from other startups:

We are currently only two startups in the villa, us and  I know that doctorized was part of In5 for a while now, and they are really doing an impressive job. I’m learning a lot from these guys, since they are offering a booking solution, but for doctors instead of boats. There are some other startups that I know that they got accepted, but didn’t move yet  (they are moving soon or already have other offices) and


4-    Mentors:

We didn’t get any mentors yet, but we know that we will have access to many great mentors and advisors. Dubai Internet City (or DIC) is the house for many huge tech companies such as Google, Oracle, Facebook, IBM and many others. Many of these companies are happy to help the small startup community and share their knowledge. So for this part we are still not sure who we will end up with.

5-    Funding:

As I said, In5 don’t give us money, however they’ll help us raise money. At the end of the 3 months program they will do a demo, so that all startups gets the chance to get on stage and pitch their company in front of investors (maybe around 20-30 investors).

You can still apply to In5 by visiting their website here.

That’s everything, see you all next week.

1st week in Dubai: What’s your cost moving to Dubai?

Ok so we made the decision to move our startup (fishfishme) to Dubai. First things need to get done is logistics. If you know me well then you’ll know that I don’t care much of how good my apartment, car or office looks like. I just want a place to sleep and a place to work (I spent 1 year in Hong Kong sleeping in the floor after finding that my bed is too short, and spend 4 months in Barcelona sleeping in a sofa!) Yet the apartment and office where two major concerns because they are extremely expensive in Dubai and a huge cash burner.


So let’s start with the office, if you are a tech startup then you’ll have 4 options in my opinion:

1- Apply for an incubator like InFive or Seedstartup….(thats what I did, and was lucky to get accepted in In5, now I only need to pay 1000AED (270USD or 80KWD) for my office and 1,500AED (410USD) to register my company) – Note: More about In5 in my next post

In5 incubator

2- Work in coffee shop co-working spaces (Make Business Hub or The Pavilion )

3- Rent a small office (not recommended because it’s still expensive)
4- Work from home (never do this, you’ll feel depressed very soon, unless you have a swimming pool or something)

You really don’t need an office, unless you have 20 employees or something. I actually just met a Dutch guy that works in a startup that is based in the Netherlands that just raised X$ million, and opened their office in Dubai, yet they don’t really have an office, he was working in Make Business Hub during the last 6 weeks. So never rent an office in the early days (will talk about registering your company in a later post).


Next, is your apartment. Well after knowing where you want to be close too (your office, your customers or the beach) then you need to decide on where you are going to stay. Of course you need to decide on your price range and type of apartment. Lets take my case, I was searching for a studio apartment with a cost range between 3,500- 5,000 AED (950 – 1,250 USD) for a two months lease. I wanted to rent it for a short period because of two reasons:
1- Jose and the rest of our Spanish team might join me later to Dubai so we’ll need a bigger apartment.
2- I’ll probably find better deal or a better place when I spend more time in Dubai and get tot know the area.

Ok, then you need to find the apartment, the good thing is you don’t really need to visit many websites or property agencies, you just need to go to, there you’ll find all listed apartments in Dubai. I ended up in an fully furnished apartment located in a huge residential complex called Discovery Gardens  paying 5,000AED (1,360 USD) for a two months lease. The apartment is very close to my office in Knowledge Village (12min), but a bit far from DownTown (20-25min to Burj Khalifa).




Car, yes car was very important to me because I’m doing a lot of traveling, meeting new boat owners in different cities. So I ended up renting a Toyota Yaris from Hertz for 60AED per day (almost 16USD) adding the  insurance to this, I’m paying around 550USD per month.


To sum up, its costing me 2,180 USD (270 + 1,360 + 550 = 2,180 USD) (around 600 KD) just the cost of apartment, office and car. Adding to that my other expenses (phone bill, food, fuel…etc) thats another 700USD so all in all its costing me around $3,000USD/month to move down to Dubai!! Ok some of you are better than me and will find better ways to save money (staying with a friend, using public transportation and working in a coffee shops),  I’m just sharing with you my own story and maybe you can help me take our expenses even lower 🙂

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