Why wait to save the world?

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The tech ecosystem has a “problem’s problem”, I mean, is it a real problem that we can’t order food 24/7 and in real-time track our wasabi? Isn’t the real problem growing waste mountains, global warming, ageing population and children dying in wars and of starvation? We can’t afford to think that someone somewhere will solve our global challenges. The positive-problem-solving-drive of the tech communities should be directed to building technology with real global impact. In short we need to redefine success as impact as well as financial, investors need more patience and allow big solutions to take longer than 3-5 years and not the least we all have a responsibility to encourage the brave ones who dare dream to solve our biggest challenges. Will Elon Musk free the world from carbon dependency? I don’t know. But he’s taking us closer to a solution and that’s more than most of can say.

For full article published in SvD sept 2016

“It’s no longer the new economy – Ask questions until you get it”

Summary:
“Social Media? No, the world doesn’t need to know what I had for breakfast!”, answers the important CEO when I ask about their social media strategi. Wake up – this is no longer the new economy and it’s embarrassing how many big cheeses still don’t get technology or social media. Hiring a CDO – Chief Digital Officer – feels good I know, but it’s borderline misconduct not the take the time to understand technologies that might soon underpin and transform your entire industry. The higher you are on the career ladder the harder it seems to be to-go-back-to-school even only figuratively. The only rational action for top management should be to ask questions until you get it. The important CEO would have been able to answer most questions about margins, procurement, logistics and same needs to be true for tech.
How will blockchain transform payments and contacts? How will Machine Learning effect efficiency and profit margin? What cyber security dangers are lurking in the ether?
For full article published first in http://www.svd.se

Focus on execution, ideas are not worth much

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 15.52.31“How should I protect my idea?” This is a question discussed a lot amongst investors and founders and my take is that the value gained when getting feedback from likely and unlikely peeps is worth much more than safe guarding your business idea. Most probably the pain you are looking to solve has been identified by others and you might as well get their input, endorsement, buy-in or maybe even partnership. The market is super competitive and you need to out-smart and out-work (is that a real word?) to win.

No – that doesn’t mean you need to share your secret sauce. Your communications is not binary and you choose how to be smart, inclusive, get feedback, entice potential ambassadors and learn&learn&learn. Let your idea marinate.

Tell everybody… all the time….everywhere about your idea. Give the guys next to you on the bus a demo, ask you friends and your friends’ friends at dinners. Don’t be afraid to be annoying and if somebody steals it and executes better, then, tough. That means you were not the one… at least ont this time. 

Worry about execution rather than concept. Thank you Rachel McArthur and Wamda.com for this interesting article on the topic.

http://www.wamda.com/2016/03/is-it-really-necessary-to-protect-your-ideas

Why tech in MENA?

When talking to investors, corporates and media in the west about working in MENA they tend to be curious and keen to hear more about the growing opportunities, players and market structures.

Ironically when talking to people in the region about my excitement about the growing tech opportunities, they often ask the same question – why?

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Intercontinental selfie (clockwise L-R): Aurore Belfrage, Amir Farha, cofounder & managing partner at BECO Capital; Ali Karabey, partner at 212; Numan Numan, managing director at 212, Dany Farha, cofounder & CEO at BECO Capital.

Khalas – the tech startup opportunities in the Middle East are real. Yes, the ecosystems are nascent, startups sometimes immature and investors less experienced with this new asset class, but I have been overwhelmed by the talent, ambition, savviness and the innovation I have seen during my last two years of touring MENA and Turkey.

The tour ‘Saluting the Naive and Crazy’ visited nine startup hubs – Istanbul, Dubai, Amman, Tunis, Erbil/Iraq, Doha, Cairo, Riyadh and Beirut. We had the great pleasure of discussing growth, innovation, customer acquisition, fund raising and world domination in an informal setting with the superstar talents and investors of the region. It started as a corporate sponsored road show to inspire and entertain resulted in a portfolio of angel investments, advisory positions and governmental assignments. Eating aubergine will always be a main priority, but the investment potential of MENA is undoubtedly a strong pull.

Sharing is caring, as they say, so the only decent thing to do was to share the MENA opportunities with investors and startups in Stockholm. It’s thrilling to see Dany and Amir Farha from BECO Capital, and Numan Numan and Ali Karabey from 212/Istanbul with woolly sweaters, furry hats and red noses brave the crisp early Swedish winter.

In reality, Stockholm is hot right now. Capital is in abundance. It has amazing early stage startups and a great ecosystem that has grown out of both the millennium bubble and great tech businesses like Spotify, Klarna, TrueCaller, Skype, TradeDoubler, KING.com/Candy Crush, Mojang/Minecraft, and more.

Once a month in Stockholm we all meet up to hear the latest news, chit chat, discuss the last month’s fundraising and valuations and take the pulse of the growing tech scene. Recently Stockholm was all about the Middle East and Turkey.

The 1,000+ people in the audience were unusually keen and curious to hear about the markets, the type of innovation is coming out of the region and how we can build bridges. The reality is that the US is the Holy Grail for the majority of Swedish startups, but the market is saturated and super competitive.

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Our message was: don’t forget Turkey’s 75 million inhabitant with 35 million on Facebook and smartphones, and credit card penetration that is the same as the UK’s. Don’t forget Egypt. Don’t forget Saudi Arabia or the UAE, the Levant and North Africa. Need I say more? Innovation is borderless and markets are becoming increasingly global with regional opportunities for any global-by-default startups to grow – and I mean really grow.

Yalla – the genuine interest BECO and 212 encountered when discussing MENA with investors, institutions and startups in Stockholm shows that there are real opportunities. So let’s invite European startups and investors to explore and set up shop in MENA. It’s a longterm play, you have to actually believe in the opportunity and it has to be been win-win.

The equivalent Swedish lingo is Hej Hej, Tack Tack, Puss Puss (Hi Hi, thanks thanks, kiss kiss).

Published in Wamda www.wamda.com/2015/11/middle-east-turkey-raise-temperature-stockholm

Busting Buzzwords in Birthday Beirut

The definition of Work Life Balance is different for entrepreneurs and lines are blurred. Therefor spending my birthday on stage in Beirut for the last YMEstartup event was awesome, ironic and illustrative.

The setting was spectacular in the garden at Beirut Digital District overlooking the Blue Mosque, a busy high way and sky rises under construction. The scenery encapsulated the reality of the Middle East and equally the life of an entrepreneur… History and tradition meets the Future… its messy and loud, sometimes painful and it’s all about embracing the only constant we have in life – Change.

It’s hard not to reflect on a journey when it is coming to an end and a great dollop of change is heading your way. The Grande Finale in Beirut was the 9th city in a tour of MENA that has taken us to Istanbul, Dubai, Amman, Erbil, Doha, Cairo and Riyadh. The question I get a lot is; Where is the best startup ecosystem? I love the innate competitiveness of entrepreneurs as well as the region. It also surprises me that so many cities want to be “the” hub for the ecosystem and by being competitive and possessive probably missing the point of creating an inclusive cluster that fertilizes innovation and startups. It has been an amazing year and half and I’m collating stories, insights and a framework for the region’s impressive and maturing startup scenes… Let that be the cliff hanger for you to Buy my Book and the kick in the butt I need to get cracking and W R I T E for the next 2 months… #Yalla

I’ll confess though – This tour has tickled two of my major urges with the result that I’m deeply impressed, infatuated and feel very at home in the Middle East. One is my weird obsession with Aubergine. It’s partly a fascination that started when I was 10 or 11 with the flavour and texture of this beautiful berry (yes it’s technically a berry) but with the hindsight of the last year and half I’m thinking my love for Aubergine was a more profound key to the fabric of the region. Like opening the door to Narnia, the Aubergine allowed me to magically connect with people on a fundamental level of home, mother’s, family, generousity and hospitality. My genuine obsession was a key to real meetings and a secret gateway to the beauty and mystery of the Middle East.

Secondly – the urge I share with fellow geeks and entrepreneurs – curiosity – has been tickled. The overwhelming amount of crazy characters, visionaries, hungry geeks, foodies, community builders, investors and professors I’ve had the privilege of interacting with is a book in itself. Perspectives questioned, ideas developed, bridges built… Key insight for me is that the main immaturities in the region are 1) the lack of skilled investors (and I mean skilled in the adventure/disaster of actually being an entrepreneur as the skill of the banker’s transaction exists in abundance) and 2) the lack of true networks of cooperation and sharing best practice within the region. Impressed to see the work Abdelhameed and Riseup Egypt is doing to bridge that. #Yalla

The theme in Beirut followed the theme of the tour and it was as always fun to “Confess Mistakes” and joke about the buzzwords of the community. Yes – I’m deliberately not using “ecosystem” as the super star Abdelhameed set the bar and busted his top 3 buzzwords… Disrupt! Pivot! Ecosystem! When asked about his thoughts on the recent(ish) Harvard Business Review report “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” he demonstrated a fine tuned bull-shit-barometer and cut through my crap with “I eat falafel for breakfast” Brilliant. We were all invited to Cairo in December for the Riseup Summit, which I’m super keen to support and attend! #Watchthisspace

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The amazingly talented Hala Fadel shared insights and advice with the audience of entrepreneurs about how to choose investors and how to find the right people for your advisory board. Exciting to follow the progress of her newly launched fund Leap Venture that have a great mix of talent, entrepreneurship & growth experience.

Charismatic Mo (Mohamed Parham Al Awadhi cofounder and CEO of Wild Peeta and WePress) is both inspiring and an absolute rarity – an Emirati Entrepreneur. Coolest thing ever. His story has the classic element of too much money and too much attention too early. The Wild Peeta team suffered from inexperience and tried to solve problems by throwing money at them. His advice about finding your passion is clearly a rule he lives by, as he is electrifying.

Two talented entrepreneurs, Lara, cofounder of Twelve and Nisrine cofounder of Kamkalima, pitched their startups to our experienced investors panel – the lovely Numan Numan of Istanbul based VC 212 and the seasoned entrepreneur and angel investor from Cairo Khalid Ismail. As usual the name of the game was Story Telling. How to build your pitch and what are the trigger points that grab the attention, curiosity and ultimately the wallet of the investor. What is striking to see is that even though different investors have different perspectives and styles you always need to create an emotional connection above and beyond the financial opportunity. As with the Aubergine, all relationships are forged first in the gut and then post-rationalized intellectually and in excel. The magic of the energy creates the starting point for the conversation. Khalid and Numan were both of the opinion that a pitch needs to early on highlight a PAIN, and please resist the need to focus on more than one PAIN. We had an interesting discussion about the balance of defining a clearly defined market to grab (still not using disrupt ;-)) and demonstrating ambition and ability to conquer a global market. The importance of establishing credibility in a pitch with paying, happy customers became apparent when observing the shift in our investor’s body language and enthusiasm when discussing exsisting revenue and margin.

So be personable, demonstrate the Pain you’re solving, Go for Gold and highlight proof that your market exists.

Thank you Mrs Ambassador Birgitta Alani Holst for setting the scene and opening our evening. Thank you HE Minister of Telecommunications for offering your Patronage and support. Couldn’t have done anything with out the amazing team at BDD, Bank Audi, Touch, Nasdaq, AltCity, Endeavour, Careem, BeryTech, Bader, UK Tech Hub, Women Investing in Women, Girls in Tech, Arabnet and Wamda. Special Thanks to my cousin Louise who came to Beirut to take me home but ending up being The Cousin of the Middle East!

Thank you for being all Lebanese and treating me to the craziest strawberry firework birthday cake and giving me Captain Jack Sparrow’s sword! #Wishesdocometrue

Beirut c u soon

The Conveyor Belt Paradox

I’m baffled by the amount of startups in the Middle East that ask for 1m dollars with a valuation of 10m dollars! How is it possible that everyone (yes I’m exaggerating to make a point) regardless of sector, market, potential or margin all need the same amount? I mean I get it – when there are a lot of unknown factors you look for a proven formula to give you guidance but this is pushing it…

We as Entrepreneurs are looking to disrupt or at least transform a market, as Dany Farha BECO Capital (see pics below) would prefer me to say. Our thinking 24/7 should be about how to find a different model, way, product that improves something and is worth paying for. We pride ourselves in being creative and a little smarter, seeking new paths and questioning old structures. That’s why I can’t understand how the funding process has become a conveyor belt where everybody (yes still exaggerating) acts the same, asks for the same amount and succumbs to the same simplified pitch process.

If you are looking for funding from an angel investor, seed fund or VC there are a few things they’ll always want to know about you and your business. No rocket science there. Equally there are a few things you need to know about your investors before you sign anything. Entrepreneurs build businesses and create value. Investors invest in businesses to grow their capital. You can’t have one with out the other.

Take every opportunity to pitch your business… in a competition on stage when you get a ridiculous 2min slot or just harassing the guy next to you on the plane. But my suggestion as a funding strategy is to prioritize the adult conversations that you as an entrepreneur can lead. Let me clarify – it’s a conversation where both parties ask, learn and make judgement calls on the benefits of the potential investor-entrepreneur relationship. Let’s stop this conveyor belt where all pitches are massaged down to a similar format of max 2mins and we act like kids who are asking parents for pocket money.

The awesome guests on stage on Tuesday in Riyadh all testify to the importance of finding your own way and building a strong, genuine relationship with your advisors and investors. HRH Princess Reema shared stories of the challenges she faced when recruiting family and friends to her business. You would think friends would be the best partners but too often money and confusion in the decision-making process gets in the way of long friendships. It’s tough. The audience and I were impressed by her candid story of learning her business as she went along. I for one am grateful to again be reminded of the importance of really thinking through and understanding your supply chain management.

The serial entrepreneur and “Super Angel” (his preferred title :-)) Dany Farha of BECO had a lot of interesting nuggets to share. Firstly we should learn from his mistakes and find a monopolistic market opportunity… and that he as an investor values a tenacious entrepreneur. He’ll say NO within 60 seconds of a pitch and then it’s up to us as entrepreneurs to keep the conversation going…  No good business stays the same from idea to success so it’s all about the entrepreneur’s ability to tweak, improve and pivot.

Growing your business and recruiting the right team is crucial and super difficult. Leena Khalil co-founder of MumzWorld made an interesting analogy to raising kids that I’m sure is valid. They (kids and team alike) need to know what the values and main goals are so the ships runs smoothly even when you’re not present for all decisions. Hats off to Super Mom, Super Boss Leena and lovin’ the stories about her Super Kids!

Amal Dokhan from Kaust Accelerator Program “super” elegantly guided the entrepreneurs in their Story Telling. And as always I’m star struck and impressed by the King Maker Ahmed Alfi, Chariman of Sawari Capital, who came from Cairo to coach the Saudi based entrepreneurs. “Ideas are open source, execution is proprietary” – hear hear! It’s all about who and how you do it. Alfi also reminded us of the importance of understanding your audience… Investors are somewhat lazy and impatient and want to get to the point in a pitch… so connect emotionally quickly and show them your model, the addressable audience and your estimated conversion rate. Give investors numbers… ie do the calculation for them. Best advice was to make sure to have practiced so you can anticipate every possible question! No one said it was easy to be a “super” entrepreneur.  The challenges are in abundance, risk is high, work-life-balance is out the window, and you need to find your own path to funding and valuation.

If you don’t build your dream someone else will hire you to build theirs”.

Special thanks to my amazing and supportive friends at Alwaleed Philanthropies. Mona, Abir and Lamia – you are a huge inspiration. Super sponsors!

Thank you Mr Ambassador for embracing a new terminology… “Crazy”, “Naïve” and “Geeky”

Passion, Pitching and a Proposal

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I cry every day. That’s of course not really true but the statement encapsulates a truth. It’s more like I’m a little scared every day. Scared that I’m not doing enough, scared that I’m over doing it, or not doing it in the right way, scared that I’m not relevant or interesting, or that I have misunderstood what I can achieve, or what needs to be done. This week’s #YMEstartup show in Cairo made me reflect about my tears. The amazingly inspirational Wael Fakharany of Google X kicked the evening off by saying that we (i.e. we the entrepreneurs) shouldn’t be “afraid of failure”. As his story unfolded we all could see that he actually still is afraid of failure… and a guess is that he also “cries everyday”, although maybe not literally. So what is the learning behind the bold buzz statement that we hear so often from the successful entrepreneurs? Maybe fear is a natural reaction to anything outside of your comfort zone. You can learn to recognize the feeling, in my case self-doubt and tears, and then bring yourself to accepting that as a “proof” of some sort of development. Let’s not go overboard here and think that everything you do outside your comfort zone will lead to prosperity and success – far from it. But the opposite is boring – standing still. So in reality the buzzy statement that you-shouldn’t-be-afraid-of-failure actually might mean, learn to deal with your fear so you can move on and do cool shit. I cry every day… because I try my best to move the needle.

After weeks of preparation, the Cairo Greater Library was on Tuesday lit up by spotlights and passionate entrepreneurs. Impressive guest shared their startup stories and insights. What can I say – the evening quickly turned into a confession of mistakes. The power of confessions is twofold – credibility and learning. Successes are easy to google and read about, it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff on the bumpy road forward that gives success credibility and valuable insights for the “soon to be successful”.

The talented and visionary co-founder and CEO of Careem, Magnus Ohlson, shared some stories and insights. What becomes clear when hearing Magnus speak about his business, is that Careem is genuinely driven by a set values and a conviction of purpose. We talked about the importance of team and surrounding yourself with great people. “You can’t do Epic shit with Basic people”. It’s easy to say, but then Magnus pointed out into the audience and introduced us to his advisor and investor who came along for support. That’s how it should be. Whoop Whoop

Serial entrepreneur and Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, LovelyMaher Hakim made the same point. Have the guts and integrity to be picky about your investors and co-founders – it’s a marriage and you need to have long and hard discussions about vision, expectations, passions, skills and dream scenarios before you sign anything. “Good investors/ VCs understand your space, the bad give you $$ & no help, the ugly don’t understand either”

The audience was equally impressive and I’m looking forward to following the success of Ingez, Tennra, Coterique, IoTSpark, Sadeem, Frien10, Oventure, think, Babyboons.com, QEYE, DrBridge, mostaqqel.com, KarmSolar, Hydrofarms, AWstreams and many more! Thank you Heba and Habiba of Endeavour for your work and friendship. Salma – you are a crazy Star! My parents actually came and sat on the front row – LOVE. Alfi – look forward to discussing with you on stage in Riyadh next week.

The panel of investors in Cairo really know what they are talking about and I for one took alot of notes… How to structure the story when pitching, How to early on establish what the opportunity is, the importance of demonstrating your passion for your business but also being credible in the space. Amman based VC Emile Cubeisy MD Silicon Badia reminded us of the importance of clearly explaining ”the problem you are solving”…

The successful entrepreneur, evangelist and investor Neveen El Tahri elegantly coached both entrepreneurs – Mai Medhat of the event planning/execution app Eventus and Maria Sanchez Munoz, cofounder of social shopping app Slickr – in the importance of demonstrating the potential of the business and urged us all not to forget the HUGE potential of the Egyptian market before going global.

Equally important for the ecosystem is that the big corporates offer support and guidance so it was great to see PwC and Maged Ezzeldeen on stage offering a different view on Story Telling.

The CEO and Chief Entrepreneur at Beirut based Altcity, Munir Nabti meets and coaches startups daily and explained the power of brevity. The trick they use in their boots camp is to practice telling your story in 3mins, then in 1min, then in 30 secs and finally 15secs – all to better massage your story and business down to a rememberable punch line!

Special thanks to the entrepreneurial and amazing Swedish Ambassador Charlotta Sparre for her support and Opening remarks TACK (thank you in Swedish)

Abdelhameed and Riseup Egypt – this would have been impossible and a lot more boring without you. Schokran. Lookig forward to do much more with you to move the needle.

Ambitions soared, hands were shaken, mistakes confessed, ideas born and I’m proud to have yet again Saluted the Crazy and Naïve…

PS – I’m on the fence and still considering the proposal of marriage I got from the King of Crazy

A strong allure of Aubergine

The magic of Beirut is palpable… contagious passion for life, work and play, the strong allure of aubergine, sparkling eyes and hairy chests. What’s not to love?

In the tech startup scene this is truer than ever and it was a treat to start planning the grand finale of the YMEstartup road show. Seems I have no other choice than to spend my birthday on stage – plan is show time 15th of June.

Over the course of the last year’s travelling in the Middle East, the constant references to the Beirut startup scene have been hard to miss. These last 2 days didn’t disappoint. The Beirut Digital District is awesome and the war-ridden backdrop highlights both the modern architecture and the innovative energy of the hub. Thank you Mouhamad and lovely Christelle for sharing your space and vision. Co-working spaces AltCity and Bader impressed me and I’m very grateful for gifts from Fadi… 🙂 and the Aubergine feast Munir treated us to. Apparently Munir is the spitting image of one of Sweden’s greatest entrepreneurs Alfred Nobel!

Loved chatting geek with my friends at Wamda and Arabnet. I only met one of the Yafi twins so I can’t verify the rumours of identical brilliance.

The Tech Hub is on to something cool and I’m grateful for the support of NadimElie and Lama. My Swedish friend and brave, brave entrepreneur Michel happened to be in town and yet again reminded me of the power of generosity and helping each other.

I only scratched on the surface of the all the startups in town…. My path did cross with two INSEAD alumni entrepreneurs though – watch this space. Merci Elias and Nada

Most memorable moment has to be when Henri (Leap Ventures) casually tells me he grows aubergine in his own garden! Seriously impressed and it took me awhile to refocus the conversation on tech geek stuff. Henri – I’ll take you up on your offer to come pick aubergines fresh from your garden 🙂

Angela – thank you for hosting me. I love your resto MOTTO and your new life as social entrepreneur. Yalla I’ll see you soon.

Breath, count to 10 and let’s take small steps in the right direction

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To mentally marinate is to allow your brain to laterally mix thoughts, facts and impressions and find new ideas from the patterns. I spent the weekend in Istanbul with the aim to hang out with friends and indulge in aubergine. But I found myself inspired and compelled by conversations to think about our role in the evolving Middle East during a time of game changing technological innovations.

The basic premise is 500 million people in MENA, median age is 26, mobile penetration is around 100% and roughly speaking the region has $2.3trillion in GDP… Youth unemployment is in double digits and it’s hard to ignore the disaster of Daesh (ISIS) and other conflicts.

Interestingly the conversations over the weekend started from a different angle – What happens after the conflicts? How does one build or rebuild places we now call Syria, Libya, Kurdistan and Iraq? What could it look like? How does one leverage and harness the power of tech and entrepreneurship to build the next generation of society. And maybe more importantly – Who does this? Important men, wearing important suits, discussing important stuff in place like Geneva or Washington? That’s partly an unfair comment I know, but I’m thinking it’s time to try a new approach.

I’m going to be consistent and true to my own motto – Crazy and Naïve – and make the bold assumption that all the people living in, roots in, travelling to, connected with MENA will want to be a part of building the future.  Granted, we don’t always want the same thing but we want to be asked our opinion. The beauty is that we actually live in a time where tech and smart people can provide a platform to question and understand what we want and to work together bottom up to build key aspects of our society. City architecture, recycling facilities, school systems, parks, legal institutions… you name it.

When you start thinking about the power of bottom-up, you’ll quickly face lots of challenges. If we park those challenges, and just for a moment enjoy the thought of actually approaching these huge issues in a new and innovative way.

Inspiring.

Breath, count to 10 and let’s take small steps in the right direction.

One of the ideas that came to us this weekend was to create a pan-regional movement, maybe in the form of an online or TV show, which collates ideas, meets bold thinkers, implores the tech community and discusses disruptive change and innovation to solve tangible challenges?

Another thought was maybe I should write a book. What would my main message be? I’m thinking it starts with my personal insights from a hyped silicon vally startup…. Leads to a realization of the power of entrepreneurship from a macro level… leads to a realization that the challenges for a startup in the Middle East aren’t too different from anywhere else… spice the story with crazy anecdotes from my daily circus, amazing meetings and some aubergine dishes… and end with an open Question: How do we use technology and entrepreneurship to (re)build a prosperous and peaceful Middle East?

Who am I to tackle such a magnificent challenge? After mentally marinating that question a few days I’m convinced nobody is in a perfect position, which effectively means we all are a position to do something. That’s my plan.

Feedback is welcome.

Seeing the pyramids is like meeting Santa

In the absence of a crystal ball, I prefer to engage with the positive narrative

Seeing the pyramids is like meeting Santa Claus… Something magical I’ve lived with all my life but never known if they existed… It was the best Saturday in awhile – spent by the Nile with Wael Fakharany, planning how we can be a positive change and spur on innovation and entrepreneurship in the Middle East. A few hours with Wael and I had a lot to mentally marinate. He has the amazing ability to push your imagination and make you think braver and bolder… he is a Crazy and Naïve hero. There are great ideas in the making – watch this space. Thanks for showing me pyramids.

This was my first time visiting Cairo and it is truly a city that never sleeps. I think the contrasts struck me the most; Beauty next to Slum, Hope & Development dancing with Resignation, Green vs Grey. And in the middle of all this is an ambitious and maturing startup scene. The Greek Campus felt like a safe heaven behind Tahrir Square and the stories of how the core team struggled to organized Meetups during the revolution humbles. Goes to show, if there is a will, there’s a way.

The coolest people… I met Head of innovation at Vodafone Egypt, Endeavour’s team is solid as always, Salma (A head of the Curve) showed me lovely Sufi in Zamalek and gave me the ins and out of social entrepreneurship, Managing Director of Tetra Pak gave me a crash course in the process of packaging, Discussed the upcoming elections with insightful bloggers and journalists, Amazing Salma (PITME & Innovety) gave me the grand tour of the ecosystem – Big Schokran my dear. Great comparing startup mistakes with Con &Abdelhameed of RiseUp – looks like we’ll be doing cool things, Loved Mazen’s District, met a few impressive entrepreneurs… Emily cofounder crowdfunding platform Tennra, Basil cofounder HireHunt which I look forward to beta testing, Maria’s social fashion app Slickr, Waleed’s problem solving delivery solution Ingez (see pic). I enjoyed a very interesting discussion about future of Egypt at the Swedish Embassy with our Ambassador Charlotta Sparre… I didn’t make it all the way to Smart Village but Batman gratefully met Rasha Tantawy over aubergine at Sequoia with a fun group of geeky techs!

Broadly I’d say I heard two different strands of narratives in Cairo. Either people love to talk about the doom&gloom and that nothing will ever happen in the Middle East bla bla bla (long list of complaints, pointing fingers and a few conspiracy theories), OR I heard the opposite… Egypt has so much potential, the talent is here and we just need to unlock it, hope is on the rise, Cairo is THE place to be right now. In the absence of a crystal ball, I prefer to engage with the positive narrative. Our #YMEstartup is planned for the 27th of April and there will be a lot to talk about. Come join us.

Careem took me flawlessly to the airport… must tease the Uber team a little as I met them and they seem to be doing a great job after just 3 months in the market.

I confess on stage that I cry every day, in reality it’s probably every other day. My best crying is always on the plane. The luxury of moving from one point to another, and no action from me is required, usually no connection to the outer world – me and my thoughts and some tears of relief, joy, pride, homesick, excitement.  This trip I learnt a lot, laughed, lost a friendship, made friends and magically met the pyramids.