Three lessons I learned from Startup Weekend (Kuwait)

Last week, the third version of Startup Weekend Kuwait took place at The VIVA Coded Academy. The whole weekend was exhilarating and intense! Over 120 people participated, forming 21 full teams that built MVP’s, put together business cases, and presented in front of the judges and audience after 54 hours of non-stop work. The turnout, energy, and resounding success of the event showed how far the startup scene had come in Kuwait over the past 18 months!

It’s always amazing to see how real life situations and decision making play out in teams over the course of the Weekend. Mobile or Web? Focus on marketing or building the product? Subscription Vs Freemium? Designs Vs Functionality? I saw every team dealing and struggling with these decisions, as would a real startup in “the real world”.

Along the same lines, as an organizer and observer during Startup Weekend, I learned a thing or two (or three) about what it ultimately takes to be build a successful startup:

Lesson one: It’s (mostly) about the team, not the idea

One of the participants, called Mohammad, was looking for a team to join late in the first day. Most teams had already formed, but I knew Mohammad personally, and knew that his marketing and event management background made him him a valuable member to any team. As I was walking around with him trying to find a team, I was surprised that several teams declined his offer to join them. Eventually, we found a team that had only two members who I knew to be talented and driven, just like Mohammad. He like their idea and they recognized the value they brought to them (both of them were coders/ designers). They formed a small but strong and balanced team of three.

Their initial idea was ambitious, but they pivoted to something entirely and extremely different. It wasn’t as ambitious, and I personally thought there were at least 4 or 5 more exciting ideas in the competition. I didn’t like their chances. But, lo and behold, Mohammad’s team won first place. Their idea, Mukancom, is a platform to find co-working space in Kuwait. Arwa and Shahd, Mohammad’s team mates, did a stellar job building an MVP. But, going by the judges score cards, what really set them apart was Mohammad’s final presentation. There might have been better ideas out there, but Mukancom’s overall execution and presentation was superb, and their team was strong on all fronts, and that made all the difference. (There’s another lesson here about pivoting too).


Lesson two: It’s not about the money, money, money

One of the things that caught my attention was the participant’s seemingly lack of interest in the cash prize. Over 210 people had signed up as participants before we had event announced the money reward. I made the announcement on stage during the event, and I distinctly remember listing the non-cash prizes first (free co-working space at Sirdab Lab, free UX consultation from Catalyst) and leaving the cash prize at the end, anticipating it would get the biggest cheer. That wasn’t the case. The non-cash prizes got a lot more noise and excitement than the cash prize announcement.

In fact, not once during the Weekend did I hear people talking about the cash prize. I got asked a few times about the non-cash prizes. It seemed that no one really cared about the money at the end of it all. And yet here there were, 21 teams working 54 hours straight without much regard for the possibility of monetary reward.

You often hear successful people say something like “Don’t start a business for the money” or “At the end of the day, it’s not about the money” but those sayings often get dismissed as idealistic mantras reserved for the already rich and successful. But the lesson I learned here is that passion, competition, and the desire to build something worthwhile are far bigger motivators than money. (I’m happy to report that the top 5 teams have all continued working on their startups after the event!)


Lesson three: The true value of having a co-founder

In Startup Weekend, most dropouts occur late in the second day. It’s around that time when participants start feeling exhausted, and the finish line is oh-so-far without any guarantee of success. Our lead organizer tells me the following story: two participants from the same approached him around midnight on the second day. One of them, the “CEO” of the team (she came up with the startup idea), told him she wanted to quit. She was mentally drained and didn’t think her team had a chance of winning, so she wanted to pack up and go home.  But her teammate (the co-founder) insisted she stays. She was asking the organizer to convince the CEO not to give up. She was begging her friend to see it through until the final presentations, for the sake of the team, because she knew that if the CEO quit, the rest of the team would too. The CEO, quite literally with tears in her eyes, decided to soldier on.

That team ended up winning second place, and were in close contention for first place.

It goes to show that, above all else, the greatest benefit of having a co-founder is having someone to lean on when you’re ready to give up. In the emotional roller coaster that is a startup, co-founders must take it in turns to support each other through the tough times.


I can’t wait for next year’s Startup Weekend, where I’m sure the ideas will be even bigger and better!






Announcing this week’s Coffee Meetup + Scrum Talk


Just like last week, this week’s Coffee Meetup will be held at the VIVA Coded Academy. For you who aren’t familiar with our Coffee Meetups, they are a casual get-together for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate over some good coffee.

This week, there’ll be a talk on Scrum Methodology following the meetup immediately (at the same place). The talk is part of the Google Developers Group weekly meetup.

We think this talk is a MUST for anyone who wants to start a tech startup or is currently involved in one! One of the biggest challenges startup founders face is how to best manage a software project. Often, founders make fatal management mistakes that kill their startups early.

Whether you’re a technical or non-technical founder, this talk will help you understand the principles of running a tech project, and avoid very critical mistakes.

The talk will cover “Scrum” management methodology. “Scrum” is an agile software development approach that greatly minimizes the risk of failure. It is a great framework for building and managing a startup team.

The talk will be presented by Hamad Mufleh, founder and CEO of YallaWain. He is a product designer and developer who’s been on all sides of software projects; as a client, manager, developer and ui/ux designer.


When: Wednesday, August 26.


7.15 pm- Coffee Meetup

7.45 pm- Scrum Talk

9.00 pm- Discussion, Network, and Pizza!


This is an open invitation. See you all there!

Announcing Coffee Meetup + Basics of Digital Marketing Talk

This Wednesday, the StartupQ8 Coffee Club Meetup will take place at The VIVA Coded Academy, Kuwait’s first coding school. The meetup is a chance  for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate.

This week, the Coffee Meetup will proceed a talk on the Basics of Digital Marketing by Abdulaziz BuKhamseen as part of the VIVA Coded Academy’s speaker of the week event.

Abdulaziz is the creator of, one of the top blogs in Kuwait. He has worked as head of digital marketing for payment startup Next Payment, and is currently handling major parts of online marketing for the Al-Babtain Group.

The talk will be most useful for those who want to understand how to best utilize paid online marketing via search engines and social networks. These basics are a must for anyone involved in a startup, so don’t miss it!


Here are the details:

When: Wednesday, August 19th, 2015


7.15 pm- Coffee Club Meetup (More info here)

7.45 pm- Basics of Digital Marketing Talk (More info here)

9.15 pm- Networking and, of course, pizza!

Where: The VIVA Coded Academy in Al-Tjaria Tower 35th floor (Al-Soor Street, downtown Kuwait)


See you all there!

RECAP: StartupQ8 Monthly Event (August ’15)

Every month, StartupQ8 hosts two speakers from the startup world to talk to the Kuwaiti startup community about some of the lessons and experiences they’ve went through, and talk about the startup they’re currently working on. Last night, the event took place at The VIVA Coded Academy. The two speakers were Ali Abulhasan, co-founder of goTap, a new payment ecosystem for Kuwait, and Saleh Almusallam, co-founder of Prodesign IT, the makers of FanScan (Instagram based app that has over 3 million downloads).

The two topics of discussion were mirrored around how a technical founder deals with the business side of a startup (Saleh’s part), and how a business founder manages a technical project and a development team (Ali’s part).

Both speakers offered valuable insights on their respective approach. For Ali, he admitted having initial trouble bridging the gap between himself and his technical team. One of the ways he mitigated that was by educating himself on some of the fundamentals of software as related to his field (payments) in which he already had previous experience. The other way was for him to board on developers who had the right mindset for a Tap’s philosophy of focusing on user experience. Ali admits that he would love to have more developers on his team, but that a lack of coding talent has restricted him greatly in that sense (we hope our Coded students can solve that problem!). To combat that issue, he tries to work with freelancers who might have the potential and intention to become full-timers at Tap.

As for Saleh, he faced a different dilemma. Saleh is a technical founder, and has had experience launching a few applications and websites. In his talk, he discussed the importance of learning on how to stay “lean”. He warned that the biggest pitfall for a technical founder was not in disregarding the business side, but rather the need to perfect a product before launching. Saleh advised the audience that “done is better than perfect”, alluding to the importance of launching a product early to gain feedback and data on usability. As for dealing with the business side, Saleh is a believer in first making something people love, than backing that up with venture financing and a strong business model that comes naturally with the product. He did, however, warn against sticking to a single revenue stream or remaining inflexible when it comes to changing the business model.


Stay tuned for more of our monthly events to hear more from startup founders and entrepreneurs! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram @startupq8

Let’s Learn from the Angry Birds

And by Angry Birds I mean Finland.

So our next destination on learning how to establish a Startup Ecosystem is Finland. Why Finland? Well, I believe that Kuwait and Finland have some similarities in terms of demographics yet they are very different:

  • Finland is ranked no. 21 in terms of GDP per capita higher than UK, France and Japan (Kuwait ranked 11th)
  • Finland is considered one of the most active countries in terms technology and innovation. Regardless of it’s small population (only 5.3M people) , Finland is the home of Nokia and some other successful companies such as MySQL, Linux and Rovio (game maker of Angry Birds)
  • Finland have one of the best education systems in the world (Ranked no 1)
  • Finally, Finland have a long track record in supporting their Startup Ecosystem and we can learn a lot from their experience.

As you know by now Angry Birds is a Finnish startup (Finnish not Finish, Finnish refers to something or someone from, or related to, Finland) and I’m so grateful for this game, and Conan as well, watch this video:

The Finnish government created many agencies to boost entrepreneurship and innovation such as Tekes, Sitra and FINNVERA, yet they realized that they failed to build a first class startup ecosystem because they realized that even after more than 20 years of government support for innovation and startups, they failed to produce a fair number of successful global companies.

So why did this happened? Why Finland didn’t succeed in establishing a first class Startup Ecosystem? (The reasoning below is based on Steve Blank visit and VICTA report)

  • Public direct funding: The government tracked it’s performance by measuring the number of companies funded every year. But, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. The government gave money like crazy, most companies created are lifestyle companies that don’t become large companies at the end and they don’t create any jobs. Its nice to give everyone a chance, but that wasn’t what the whole system was built for
  • Risk aversion: Risk aversion attitude lead to accepting businesses that have a high possibility to survive, but that doesn’t have high potential to become large companies that change the world.
  • Lack of international skills: Lack of global business competence and serial entrepreneurs. Talented people only work in big companies.
  • No viable VC industry: Lack of real venture capital activity. Most of the activity is derived by public funding.
  • Lack of business competences: Lack of business competence that help companies to grow globally and attract global investors and international talent.
  • Finland didn’t consider the globally existing systems to learn from their experiences

And these are the suggested solutions (also based on Steve Blank visit and VICTA report):

  • Indirect funding: The government should stop funding startups directly and should instead fund global incubators and VC’s that can then start funding Finnish startups based on commercial and market driven criteria’s.
  • Remove lifestyle companies from the equation: Lifestyle companies are not growth companies, they will not create jobs or add value to the society. This type of companies should be removed or separated from the startup ecosystem. These companies are sucking resources (time and money) and distracting the government performance measurement indicators.
  • Attract global talents: Transform the Finnish early-stage startup ecosystem to support the infusion of talent from the leading global talent. Laws, regulations and tax incentives should all be fixed to support this goal.
  • Fix government strategy: The government should shift it’s strategy from just helping Finnish people to start their own business to supporting startups that have the capability to generate a multi-million business. The vision should be driven to: generate more jobs, attract foreign investments, create global successful companies and attract international talents.
  • Fix culture and attitude challenges: The government should have a plan for a campaign to change the anti entrepreneurial culture. Challenges such as “Money takes care of problems”, Risk vs Reward and Failure vs Success, this mentality should be changed through educating the young generation and through some awareness campaigns.
  • Fix incubators structure: Currently most incubators are owned by the government. Incubators should optimally be owned by 4 shareholders: a local VC, a global VC, the government and a local university. Also the manager of the incubator should be either a serial entrepreneur or from a VC background. The incubator manager should also have direct or indirect share in the companies being accepted in the program. Moreover, the incubator should not accept more than 20 companies per year.

In short, pouring money into startups will not help in creating successful companies. Many things must be done and many things must be changed, it will take a lot of time and effort. It might take more than 15 years to have a good startup ecosystem, but we might need less if we learnt from other countries experiences such as Finland.

I apologize for the long post and I apologize for ignoring to talk about the GREAT side of the Startup scene in Finland such as what happening in Aalto University, the healthy increase in number of incubators and the creation of a smart startup community. If you are interested to learn more about Finland Startup Ecosystem please read the full analysis I uploaded in  slideshare.

Related Posts:

1- Let’s Learn from Chile#1

2- Building a startup ecosystem in Q8

Building a Startup Ecosystem is Wayid Zain – Part#3

This is the last post in this series, and as I mentioned in the previous post, I’ll try to answer the following questions: Who should establish the incubator? And how should the incubator be structured?

The incubator should be established by…………Zain. Yes, Zain the Kuwaiti telecommunication company.

Why Zain is a good fit to create the incubator? 

1.Technical resources: Zain is not only a telecom company, its also a technology company. They have all of the technical resources (talented experienced employees and technical assets)  needed in a Hi-tech startup.
2.Customer base: Zain has more than 35 million customers around the world. For startups having a partner with this huge amount of customers is like a dream come true.

3.Global network: Zain is spread in 9 different countries. This adds much value to startups. It will be much easier for startups to grow internationally if they have a partner that have more than 10 years experience operating internationally with a strong global network with governments, suppliers and partners.

How Zain is going to benefit from this incubator?

1.Innovation lab: The incubator will be like an innovation lab. Startups are young, diversified, vibrant and full of energy, and Zain should innovative to survive in an industry that is changing very rapidly. Zain will have access to a great source of innovation that will help it to stay ahead of its competitors.
2.Brand awareness: It will be a great way to build brand awareness and to gain respect and appreciation from the Kuwaiti community.

3.Financial return: Zain will have a real equity stake in these startups. These startups might end-up being a very successful businesses that generates millions of dollars. Some other startups might also be an important partner, supplier or product that gives Zain a competitive advantage over its competitors.

I was part of Wayra, which is an incubator in Spain part of Telefonica (The Spanish telecommunication giant, that also owns O2 in UK and also operates in most of South American countries). Telefonica opened more than 9 Wayra offices around the world in 6 months!! Telefonica will benefit substantially from these incubators and now it is considered probably the smartest Telecommunication organization in the world. Check this article

But, now I want to answer the second question. How should the incubator be structured? Should Zain own the 100% equity in the incubator?

I believe we need to have a more balanced structure with a shareholder that have more than just financial incentives. The second shareholder should also have social responsibilities towards the community. I know, your thinking the government, but no its not the government. I believe we need a University to be part of the structure.

I believe GUST should be part of the incubator with an equity stake of 25%.

Why we need a university?

1.Source of talent: Universities is a non-stop flow of talent both in terms of mentors and entrepreneurs. First, the incubator will benefit from the global skills of the professors that can act as mentors for startups. Secondly, both startups and students can benefit from working together. Students get to benefit from working a real life experience and startups benefit from cheap labor.
2.Educating people: Kuwait society need to be more educated about entrepreneurship. Special courses, workshops and studying tracks about entrepreneurship should be developed, and universities are the best place for this to happen.

3.Diversity: Non-public universities are a good source of international students. It is proven that diversity helps unlock creativity and innovation. Having a diversified teams in the incubator is also a key element to its success.

Why Universities need the incubator?

1.Social benefit: Being part of the incubator will be a good way to give back to the society and the public. At the same time they are building their brand awareness and help in attracting higher quality students.
2.Creating hero’s and role models: If a startup became successful they can claim to be part of the success story. For example, Stanford University benefited a lot from the success story of Google.

3.Real market need: Being close to startups, will give the university a closer look to what recruiters are looking for in a fresh graduate. They will understand what does the market need, thus what type of courses they need to add or what courses they need to update or remove. The fresh graduate students will be more prepared for the real world, and will be in higher demand.

Zain and GUST will be the main shareholders in the incubator. However, they don’t have the required experience to run an incubator. A specialized team  should be recruited to run the incubator. This might need another post in the future in who should run the incubator.

In short, to accelerate the startup scene in Kuwait we need an incubator. The incubator should be owned by a leading technology company, and we believe that Zain is a good fit for this role. Moreover, adding a university to the mix will keep the balance and will add much value to the whole startup ecosystem.

Building a Startup Ecosystem in Q8

I mentioned in a previous post that money is not the main reason for not having a startup activity here in Kuwait. The problem is with not having a healthy environment to establish a startup, in other words we don’t have a startup ecosystem.

Five years ago (more or less not sure) the first P2BK event was organized. P2BK stands for Proud to be Kuwaiti, and it’s an event for Kuwaitis to showcase their small business projects. The event is a great idea to foster and encourage entrepreneurship in Kuwait, however it’s not enough. It’s not enough to transform a startup into a successful company that can compete globally and employ thousands of Kuwaitis. P2BK is a good start, but we still need to do more.

What we need is a Startup Ecosystem (or Startup Community). What does a Startup Ecosystem consists of? Good question, a startup ecosystem include:

1.Entrepreneurs: Crazy people with awesome ideas
2.Mentors: Usually successful entrepreneurs with a good track record
3.Government: The government should be committed to help startups and make their life easier
4.University: They are the source of talent and innovation
5.Investors: The source of funding
6.Service providers: Provide office space, legal help, accounting….etc
(Source: Brad Feld blog)

So what do we have here in Kuwait? Honestly, nothing. We don’t have enough entrepreneurs that are willing to share their experiences. The government is just horrible. Moreover, the university is disconnected from the outside world and investors don’t exist. Maybe the only thing we have is service providers, which we can survive without them anyway.

So many things are missing from the Startup Community equation and there is no magic stick to solve the problem. True, there is no easy solution, but I think I have a good idea in how to kick start the Kuwaiti startup scene and transform Kuwait to a vibrant place. In the next few posts I’ll explain the idea that came to me after working with two great organizations, one is called Wayra and the other is called Endeavor.

Update: Click here to read Building a Startup Ecosystem part#2

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