Attention: The MIT EF Arab Startup Competition is accepting applications

Startup folk,

 

The 9th edition of the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition is currently accepting applications from the entire Arab region! The application deadline is January 4, 2016.

Launched in 2006, the MIT Enterprise Forum for the Pan Arab Region (MIT EF Pan Arab) is one of the 28 worldwide chapters of the MIT Enterprise Forum Global, an avid promoter of entrepreneurship and innovation worldwide. The Pan Arab chapter has a proven record in promoting MIT-style entrepreneurship by organizing the annual MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition that targets 21 countries of the Arab region and brings in more than 5,000 applications a year. The competition has trained 1,600+ top tier entrepreneurs and has helped start over 260+ knowledge-based and technology-driven companies in countries of the MENA region.

Organized by the MIT EF Pan Arab in partnership with Community Jameel and Zain, the MIT EF Arab Startup Competition is one of the largest entrepreneurship competitions and provides participating entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, media exposure, and networking opportunities.

Apply now to the 9th MIT EF Arab Startup Competition on www.mitarabcompetition.com for the chance to win:

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

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

Social Entrepreneurship Track: $15K for the first place winner, $10K for the second place winner, and $5K for the third place winner

 

MITEF Roadshow Competition

Building Your Startup Clan: Three Traits to Look for in Early Employees

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, CLAN Issue, published September, 2015. 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

5 min read.

“Would you take this job if you had a medical diagnosis that says you only have a year left to live?”

If you were asked that question during the job interview you attended for the job you currently hold, what would’ve been your truthful answer?

Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of $20 billion lodging rental website AirBnB, directed the “one-year-to-live” question to candidates for the first few core job openings at AirBnB.

The question, while perhaps disturbing and extreme, aims to gauge the candidates’ passion and dedication for the company. It might be incomprehensible to expect that anyone would answer “yes” to that question given the miniscule size of AirBnB at that time. However, after four years of running a startup myself, I can understand the importance entailed in the answer to that question.

In the startup world, where there’s always a ceaseless debate on the validity of every step towards success, there is a rare consensus on founders hiring the first few employees: get it wrong and your startup will fail. It is that bluntly unforgiving. That is because the first batch of employees will have the biggest impact on the longevity and future success of any startup. At such an early stage, their contributions and shortcomings can make or break a company.

There are several factors to consider when hiring the first few members of your startup clan, mainly: domain expertise, education, professional background, and personality. But because startups are unique organisms with specific requirements for their survival and growth, there are other more fundamental character traits that early employees must possess. In my own startup experience, I progressively became more aware of which qualities in a candidate truly matter.

The following three traits are what a founder should look for in an early employee:

 

Dedication- belief in the startup’s mission

Think back to Chesky’s question. What he’s really asking is “do you believe in what we’re trying to do here passionately enough to dedicate your life to it?”

No matter how trivial or profound the purpose of your startup might seem, every member of the team must wholeheartedly believe in the venture’s ultimate objective. Often, founders are tempted to look for “hard working” employees. But I don’t believe that there is such a thing as innately hard working individuals. Rather, hard work is an organic result of pursuing a grand mission. Therefore, it is more fruitful for a founder to identify individuals who fully share their passion for the startup’s vision and goals.

Honesty- belonging to the clan

A startup is more than just a group of individuals working on a project. A startup is a family, with shared values, beliefs, and objectives. As it is true with any family, honesty is the backbone of collaboration and teamwork.

And while honesty in communication is imperative, there is an equally important form of honesty that cannot be understated: honesty in self assessing work-product. In a highly pressurized setting such a startup, it is easy and tempting for a team member to compromise the quality of their work because founders do not have time to check over every nook and cranny. Therefore, founders must hire individuals who share their standards of quality and excellence, and who have the integrity to autonomously hold their work to those standards.

That kind of honesty is what allows trust to thrive among members of a startup clan.

Curiosity- a willingness to learn

By the time I hired my sixth and last core employee at my e-commerce startup, I valued curiosity above all else in my team members.

True curiosity can often be mistaken for passing interest. There is a simple way to identify a sense of genuine and potent curiosity: look to see how much work and effort has been exerted in pursuit of an interest.

One of the people I was considering as a co-founder told me he was interested in becoming a triathlete. He had no experience whatsoever in the sport. He simply thought it was something he could do well. I was skeptical, and asked what he had done to pursue that interest. He told me he had already dedicated himself to a rigorous workout program, hired a personal running trainer, and had pinpointed a local triathlon in which to compete within a few months. I knew at the point that this person would not shy away from a challenge, and that he had the desire to constantly explore new opportunities.

Fortunately, I wasn’t mistaken. He led our business development team successfully, and has recently competed in an international triathlon competition.

In the ever-changing and dynamic world of startups, a willingness to learn new things becomes a team’s greatest asset. Founders must look for individuals who thrive beyond their comfort zone.

A founder is best advised to never compromise on any of the aforementioned traits when hiring, especially at the early stages of a startup. Those traits are always associated with highly motivated and talented individuals. A startup’s success hinges, above all else, on the core team; and a tightly knit team of dedicated, honest, and curious individuals is a force to be reckoned with.

Although it was spoken in completely different context, I can’t help but recall Margaret Mead’s famous quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, CLAN Issue, published September, 2015. 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 this week’s Coffee Meetup + Lessons From Silicon Valley Talk

Everyone,

This week’s Coffee Meetup will once again take place at The VIVA Coded Academy on Wednesday evening (7.15pm). If you haven’t been to our Coffee Meetups before, they’re a casual get-together for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate over some good coffee.

As with previous weeks, there’ll be a talk following the meetup directly. This week’s talk is by Ahmed Aljbreen, General Manager of Saudi based digital and social marketing company, Smaat. Recently, Ahmed was in Silicon Valley for an extended period of time working on some partnerships for Smaat. During his time there, he also had the chance to visit and assess some of the world’s tech giants, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and more.

In this talk, Ahmed will talk about his experience working with Silicon Valley based companies, and the most important startup lessons he learned during his time there. The talk will be a great chance for startup founders to discuss with Ahmed some of the challenges they face here in the gulf, Silicon Valley culture, and whether the idea of moving to Silicon Valley is actually feasible or necessary for success. Pass by if you’re interested in knowing what it’s like to spend time working in Silicon Valley!

Details-

When: Wednesday, September 16th

Schedule:

7.15 pm- Startupq8 Coffee Meetup
8.00 pm- Ahmed Aljbreen
9.00 pm- Networking & Pizza

As always, this is an open invitation, and everyone is welcome!

Where: The VIVA Coded Academy at Al-Tijaria Tower- 35th Foor

Note: talk will be in Arabic

Announcing this week’s Coffee Meetup + Raspberry Pi Talk

Hi all,

For the third week running, we’re having our weekly Coffee Meetup at The VIVA Coded Academy. What happens at the weekly Coffee Meetup, you ask? It’s a casual get-together for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate over some good coffee.

As with previous weeks, there’ll be a talk following the meetup directly. This week’s talk is part of the Google Developers Group weekly talks. The subject this week is Raspberry Pi! (Yes, we used an exclamation mark because we’re excited!)

If you aren’t familiar with it, Raspberry Pi is a small sized computer that plugs into a monitor and enables people to explore computing and hardware programming. It’s a great tool for beginners as well!

If you’re interested in building hardware and want to learn how to program your creations, this talk is for you! Come learn the incredible things you can do with Raspberry Pi!

The talk will be given my Abdulrahman Alotaibi, who holds a degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering (with a minor in Computer Science), and has placed fourth in International Aerial Robotics Competition 2012.

Abdulrahman also spoke at DjangoCon Europe 2015 in Cardiff (UK), and is one of Google Developers Group Kuwait organizers.

Here are all the details:

When: Wednesday, Sept 2.

Schedule:

7.15 pm- Coffee Meetup

7.45 pm- Raspberry Pi Talk

9.00 pm- Discussion, Network, and Pizza!

Where: The VIVA Coded Academy at Al-Tijaria Tower- 35th Foor

 

As always, this is an open invitation and everyone is welcome to join!

 

Announcing this week’s Coffee Meetup + Scrum Talk

Everyone,

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.

Details:

When: Wednesday, August 26.

Schedule:

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!

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

The Science of Passion: Finding Lasting Motivation for Entrepreneurs

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, SCIENCE Issue, published JULY, 2015. A PDF version can be found 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: Rami Juma

5 min read.

Consider the following experiment in psychology: a group of randomly selected students are asked to try two cups of coffee from two different coffee stands set up purposely by the experimenters. The cup of coffee is identical at both stands. However, Stand A sells only coffee, while Stand B sells both coffee and sandwiches. Stand A clearly advertises itself as a “coffee specialist”, while Stand B identifies itself as a “coffee and sandwich shop”. After tasting a cup of coffee from each store (and nothing else), the students are asked to rate the overall quality and taste of the coffee.

 

From a strictly rational perspective, there should be no discrepancy between the ratings, as both beverages are in fact identical. However, the results show that the students clearly thought that the cup of coffee from Stand A, the coffee specialty seller, was substantially better than the coffee from Stand B.

 

This experiment is a variation on several tests ran by prominent University of Chicago behavioral science professor Ayelet Fishbach to prove a theory she calls “Goal Dilution”. In short, Goal Dilution theory states that people are more likely to perceive something that does one thing, and only that thing, as better than something that does that same thing plus something else. This has been tried and proven time and again by Fishbach and her team.

 

Although Goal Dilution theory has mostly been used to explain consumer behavior and irrationality, I think it has an equally important application on self-motivation, especially for entrepreneurs.

 

We’ll get to that in due course.

 

One of the most important steps that many founders are afraid to take towards startup success is dedicating themselves to their business on a full-time basis (the optimal term being “full-time”).

 

Founders believe that full-time dedication to their startups is a matter of time management. However, I consider it a matter of mental and psychological dedication. Let’s go back to Goal Dilution and think of how it would apply in terms of self reflection for a dedicated startup founder versus a part-time startup founder. For the “full-timer”, he or she will perceive himself/ herself as a startup specialist in their relative field. They consider themselves a cup of coffee from Stand A. The “part-timers” are unlikely to hold themselves in the same esteem.

 

The point being that full-time dedication has an intangible psychological effect on how confident a founder is in his/ her ability to be successful. This is not conjecture, but rather a factual statistical likelihood.

 

That is the first part of the motivation puzzle.

 

Now consider the following question: is passion predisposed within us?

 

It is certainly the assumption people make when they give the advice “follow your passion”. As a startup founder, this was the main advice I received from mentors; and most people interested in entrepreneurship will hear it as well.

 

It’s very bad advice.

 

Georgetown University computer science professor and best-selling author Cal Newport puts forward the idea that no person is born with predisposed passion, and that passion is in fact conceived through effort and focus.

 

My interpretation of Newport’s idea is that passion is not something to be followed, but rather created. That is a fundamental distinction.

 

According to Newport, studies show that passion is created by believing you are especially good at one specific thing. It is a two part equation. The first part is related to self-perception, which is where the previous discussion of Goal Dilution and dedication becomes relevant. The more dedicated you are to something, the more passionate about it you will become; not the other way around.

 

The second part is related to actively developing an extraordinary skill set through effort and devotion. That effort is rewarded with consistent improvement, which pushes a person away from mediocrity and closer to excellence. The closer a person is to excellence in a certain activity, the more passion they will feel for said activity. That passion is translated into motivation to dedicate even greater effort, which leads to further improvement, and so on. That is the flow of the “passion cycle”.

 

In practical terms, this means that a prospective startup founder is better advised to empower themselves through education and training with the tools necessary for them to explore a market opportunity they believe is feasible, scalable, and attainable.

 

I like to think of the passion cycle as a massive boulder that requires a lot of grit and push to get it rolling, but once it does so it gathers unstoppable momentum.

 

That is part B of the motivation puzzle.

 

Finally, consider the following behavioral experiment: Three groups of students are given the same challenging cognitive tasks to perform. The only variable between the groups is the level of reward promised for completing the tasks (Group A will be rewarded highly, Group B moderately, and Group C the least). The rational model of economics will have us predict that Group A will perform best, followed by Group B, then C. But the results show the exact opposite. The group with the highest reward expectation performed worst, and the group with the lowest reward expectation performed best.

 

This is a stripped-down summary of a series of experiments done by Duke and MIT professor of behavioral economics Dan Ariely form which he concludes the following:

 

For highly cognitive tasks, monetary reward often has no effect or an adverse effect on performance. But applying meaning to the same tasks had a very positive effect on performance.

 

That is the key word: meaning.

 

While monetary reward should be taken into deep consideration, it cannot be treated as a factor of motivation. This notion doesn’t stem from a utopian portrayal of what startups are meant to achieve. Rather, attaching some underlying meaning to your business activity is a strategic decision that will reflect positively on performance.

 

Meaning doesn’t have to come from a grand objective. It can be something simple, but ultimately impactful. A videogame startup can strive to “immerse users in a different reality”; a media platform might aim to “provide an outlet for people’s creativity”; an e-commerce website could plan to “connect people to the things they love”.

 

A sense of mission is the most valuable intrinsic motivator for a startup founder, and it trumps any extrinsic reward. Once again, this is not conjecture. It is a fact of behavioral science.

 

That is the third and final piece of the puzzle.

 

It is undeniable that true motivation stems directly from a passionate pursuit of a goal.  But we have contextualized passion as an elusive holy grail to be searched for and, ultimately, stumbled upon by a lucky few. In this article I tried to challenge that fundamental assertion. It is my conviction, based on factual findings in psychology and behavioral science, that passion is created methodically, no matter how oxymoronic that may seem. Passion is a result of dedication to systematically and purposefully developing an extraordinary skill set in pursuit of accomplishing a meaningful mission through a type of venture. Such is the science of passion: demanding, systematic, and unconcerned with chance.

 

This article appeared in Khaleejesque Magazine, SCIENCE Issue, published JULY, 2015. A PDF version can be found 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 

Interview with Maachla.com Co-Founder

Today we are starting something different. Previously we used to write about startups in Kuwait in general manner and without going into details. Today we will start something new, we will sit with the founders and chat a bit about their startups and their experience as entrepreneurs.

Our first interview is with one of Maachla.com  co-founders, Osama Alothman.

1.What is Maachla?

Maachla is an online supermarket based in Kuwait.

2.How and when it all started?

It all started when we found out that most supermarkets in Kuwait don’t have a home delivery service nor an online presence, so in 2008 we decided to solve this problem through an online platform called Maachla (Maachla in Kuwaiti means the stuff you buy from the supermarket). Basically, we started as an online sales channel and a home delivery solution for supermarkets, however this model has changed later (more about that in questions#7).

3.How does Machla differentiate it self from other online grocery  delivery websites?
4.How big was your  founding team when you first started? and how big is it right now?

We started as 5 co-founders (Rashed Khazal, Bader Alrujaib, Mohammad Albahar, Ahmad Khazal and I), however only 3 are considered active on the day-to-day operations, the other 2 co-founders are more like an active investors, they are involved in making some major decisions. So we started as 5, then we added 7 more employees (both as drivers and on-sight operation) when we got our first partnership deal. Now we have 22 employees in addition to the 5 co-founders.

5.How did you fund your project?

From our own pockets, now the startup is running on it’s own cash flow.

6.Who was responsible of developing the product/website?

We started developing the website with a website development company, later we recruited the guy who developed our website as a full-time employee.

7.Did the idea or business model changed (Pivot) during the 4 years of operation? 

Yes, we made one major change (pivot) to our business model. Our first business model was to work with supermarkets as partners, but we found out that this model doesn’t work because in Kuwait the board running the supermarket changes every year (in Kuwait supermarkets are owned by the residence of the city and managed by a board of members elected every year). And when the new board arrives, many things changes that usually affect our business substantially. We decided to make a major change and go with a new business model. Now we are literally an online supermarket, we have our own inventory warehouses and sometimes our own branded products.

8. Who works full-time in the company? 

All of the co-founders are working part-time. We recruited a CEO to follow the day-to-day operation. We were more involved in the early days, now we just need to followup.

9. How long it took you to move from the concept idea to launching the website live?

Around 18 months

10. How do you split roles and work load between founders?

We split roles into three parts: Operation, Technical and Marketing. Each one of us (the 3 active founders) was responsible of one of these departments. I’m in charge of the operation department and I take most of the major decisions by my-self except for special major decisions.

11. How do you manage your time between your daily job, your startup and your personal life?

Having a full-time job and being married are defiantly affecting the time and effort I’m giving to Maachla. It’s very difficult to give 100% if you have a daily job. I encourage people to quit their daily jobs after 1-2 yrs of establishing their startup and focus 100% on it. Or better to focus 100% on it from the beginning. You need a lot of courage to quit your job, but this what it takes to build a great company.

12.What you’ll say the major difficulties starting an online business in Kuwait?
  • Establishing and creating the company took us around 6 months!!!
  • Getting permissions to recruit employees from outside Kuwait
13.What type of things you learnt from working in Maachla.com that you’ll never learn from your full-time job?

I’ll say meeting and dealing with huge companies and experienced people. Maachla gave me the opportunity to create an amazing professional network. Also I’m dealing with many huge companies that applies high quality standards when dealing with customers, logistics, employees, marketing and managment. I’m learning a lot from working with these type of companies in a daily basis.

14. Do you have any advice for someone that is considering to start their business?
  • Yes, having 5 co-founders in a startup is a lot. Try to start in a 2-3 co-founders team. It’s much easier to move and make decisions.
  • You need to work in your startup everyday, at least in the first 1-2 years of your business.
You can find more about maachla in this TV interview, also you can follow Osamah in twitter at @oalothman and maachla at @maachla .

(Disclosure: Osamah is also one of my best friends 🙂 )

That was our first founder interview. I hope you found it useful, but I feel the questions still can be much improved. Please leave a comment or send me an email if you have any suggestions on the questions that I should add next time. Also please contact me if you are a founder or if you know a founder of a Kuwaiti startup, I’m very interested to get in touch with them and conduct a similar interview. (you can send me an email at startupq8@gmail.com or find me in twitter @a_alshalabi)
One last thing, I need some help with doing these interviews that I wish we can do more often, if you are interested to offer me some help, also please contact me at startupq8@gmail.com.

Yabila!

Yabila is a Kuwaiti Startup that provides consumers with the daily discounts, promotions, and deals in their country. Yabila not only covers Kuwait, but also Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Now also available in the App store.

While the world is full of daily deals companies and while the daily deals business model is under a lot of criticism, Yabila is offering something different. Yabila doesn’t depend on the group buying model (similar to Groupon and LivingSocial) instead it started with a very simple idea, aggregating all discount deals from newspapers, magazines or even flayers and put them in one place. Simple and Brilliant!!! With this simple concept Yabila! started to fly. Yabila now has more than 10,000 daily page views. The website is currently ranked number 109 in Kuwait, which is considered one of the highest e-commerce websites in Kuwait. Of course now with the huge amount of traffic, brands are now chasing Yabila to run their ads.

 

Well done Yabila team, we hope to have the chance to get to know more about your startup and your team 🙂

 

Karkoosha.com

Post by Bader:

KARKOOSHA.com is an online exhibition platform providing virtual space for exhibitors from all over the world. KARKOOSHA is a store front solutions for fashion designers, artists, furniture designers, entrepreneurs, or publishers. KARKOOSHA is currently considered one of the high-end fashion destinations in Kuwait and the Gulf region.

My sister told me that the idea all started when Karkoosha team realized that fashion designers in exhibitions need a place to continue showcase their pieces even after the exhibition ends. I like the simplicity of the website, it’s clean and easy to use. Their revenue model is also straight forward, they charge sellers a monthly subscription fees and also take a small cut of each sale.

I heard that they are doing very well and many of the things they post are immediately sold-out. They were also interviewed at Alarabya TV two months ago (couldn’t find the interview though). We hope to learn more about their journey and experience being Kuwaiti entrepreneurs.

Well done Karkoosha team, keep it going 🙂

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