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.

There is Hope for the Future but the Road is Bumpy

My days are filled with innovation, geeks, hope for the future and of course some tears of fear&frustration. The museum of Islamic art in Doha was therefor a humbling break… or that’s what I saw at first. With a just a little imagination you can teleport yourself back in time and it’s the same innovation, geekiness, hope for the future and tears that created all that beauty and science. We are but a blink in history – lets choose wisely how to spend our time. Qatar demonstrates again and again impressive ambition and I had the privileged of meeting several inspiring entrepreneurs at the #YMEstartup Doha on Monday. The startups pitching on stage ranged from incentivizing recycling, to barcode scanning, to savvy online services!

Some of my favourite entrepreneurs travelled to Doha and shared their stories of successes and learnings! The charming Nima, founder of PITME, who came all the way from San Francisco, showed no signs of jetlag and shared some hard truths about what is needed from MENA entrepreneurs to grow internationally. The message was loud and clear – it’s all about You as an entrepreneur – passion, stamina and the desire to walk the extra mile. I learnt a new word “coopetition”. Brilliant – cooperate with your competition. It is all about getting the job done and finding partners wherever necessary!

The seasoned Mona Ayata of Bayt.com and MumzWorld gave us perspectives on Growth. Her experience is that it’s relatively easy to start a 1m dollar business with a team of 5, the hard bit is growing that to a 100m dollar business and lots of employees. The entrepreneur needs to be a leader or at least a manager… which isn’t always the case. It is probably useful for many of us to think about organisation, culture and leadership to smoother make the transition, as well as finding a way to formulate your vision through the phases of growth… and doubt.

Always a delight to talk to my fellow Swede Magnus Ohlson about his venture Careem. His thought process about his business is a great example of both the flexibility and clarity of vision that is needed to be a successful entrepreneur. He thought he founded a “cool tech company”, he realized after a while that Careem is an operations business and the captains (the drivers) are the main asset. Only when realizing his asset was he able to build the culture of inclusiveness, empowerment and pride that gave them their actual USP – End result is a fleet of captains that give great service. Love it!

My favourite part of the show is always the pitching. I’m a firm believer in the art of rhetoric, and as an ex-speech writer I know the importance and the challenge of delivering a crisp message that grabs your audience emotionally and intellectually. Therefor discussing pitches and story telling with such an experienced investors panel as lovely Numan Numan (MD 212 Istanbul) and brilliant Maher Hakim (serial entrepreneur and Prof. at Carnegie Mellon University) is always very rewarding. The 3 awesome entrepreneurs all displayed passion for their ventures and as always it is a challenge to show off your baby to the world and receive “constructive criticism”… The only way to get better at it is to practice. After speaking to the entrepreneurs after the show I’d say the 3 new learnings were – 1) create an emotional connection with your investors early – all cheap tricks are allowed 2) assume investors are lazy and help them understand your thinking and the opportunity with stats and graphics… 3) let them ask questions and they’ll feel smart… Go get em’

A special thank you to Swedish Ambassador Ewa Polano who amazed and entertained us with a few of all the innovations that has through the centuries come from Sweden – the zipper, the safety belt and Mindcraft to mention a few. Makes me proud that there is a lot of exciting Swedish-Qatari initiatives to promote the startup ecosystem.

Thank you to WISE, Qatar Business Incubation Centre, Ericsson, Nasdaq, 7ayak Hub, QatarLiving, DohaTweetups, Women Investing in Women, Girls in Tech, PITME, TechWadi for believing in us and making the Doha event a success.

Check out the twitter and Insta action on #YMEstartup

I’m in Istanbul today reflecting on yesterday. Took a 3.50am flight this morning. I’m very happy with the show and the turn-out and the atmosphere. Admittedly I’m super tired too and now heading for a French dinner with dear friend and inspiring hotel entrepreneur Alex Varlik (www.georges.com) and my guess is that this Cinderella will be sleeping before midnight. Whoop Whoop.

Saluting the Crazy and Naïve

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Stockholm is freezing right now… but the startup scene is HOT. Last week I was back at Tyler’s #SthlmTech Meetup to meet and great with the geeky, hipster, #worlddomination ecosystem. Always a treat. I’m keeping an eye on WattyDetectify and uber cool PaceMaker…. Save our environment, protect yourself against hackers and finding your Beat all seems very relevant.

My absolute high light this week was joining KTH, Royal Institute of Technology’s Business Lab and coaching 65 budding engineer entrepreneurs. Thank you Open Knowledge Foundation Ambassador Serdar Temiz for making that happen. I saw 10 great ideas presented, ranging from Robotics to improved Social Media platforms to the Runkeeper of Music learning. The art of story telling is key when launching a new business to attract users, capital, partners etc… I’ve said it before but worth mentioning again and again – show your passion, demonstrate the problem your solving, establish credibility, create curiosity, aim HIGH and be you. And it’s not against the law to show your audience you are having fun… I know I am

Congrats EQT and Congrats hjAAAlmar! This dream team will be an important driving force in the European ecosystem. Enjoyed lunch with my friend and Wrapp’s main founder and previous CEO hjAAAlmar. My aim is clear – let’s get some more scandi capital and brains to the Middle East and North Africa… Lots of opportunities.

Thank you Nasdaq for joining us as sponsors as we “Salute the Crazy and Naïve” across MENA

My next stop is Qatar/Doha the 23rd of February with the amazing Qatar Foundation. Come join me and help me spread the word

I met Q

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I met Q. James Bond’s trusted gadget, tech and innovation guru Q? No the Qatari Rock Star Super Star Cowboy entrepreneur Mr Q – Khalifa al Haroon. It’s a great play on words as Khalifa really is pushing the boundaries of innovation with his businesses and maybe more importantly by being a real champion of entrepreneurship in Qatar. His story is classic in the sense that he initially struggled to get attention, funding and understanding for his vision. He seems to be stubborn enough and is equipped with big smile&brains. I can so see him pushing and pushing to build his dream. And now a few years later he is Mr Q and a man in demand. Makes me think of the “great” film with Kevin Costner from maybe early 90-ties – Field of Dreams. “Build it and they shall come”

After a few days in Doha I’m starting to understand the structure and the vibe of the city. My 2 best views have to be from Ooredoo Tower and Ericsson in Salam Tower… breath taking.  More importantly they are keen supporters of startups and innovation, so Fingers Crossed they’ll support our dream to take the #YMEstartup road show to Doha.

The vibe here is crazy ambitious (see pic of oversize teddy…). And they LOVE abbreviations… QF, QDB, my friends at QBIC, QMIC, QSTP. See a pattern? It all about Q and love for Qatar… Qupid? Qurios to know more? Come join us in Doha 23rd of Feb.

Chapeau et Merci Merci to my friend Jean-Marc who has hosted me here in Doha! He might not like seafood and he is eccentric enough to live in a hotel, but I have enjoyed our late night conversations thoroughly. Life, Love, Work, Fighting Daesh, & Space aliens and Comparing lives as a Control Freaks are a few of the topics covered.

Always save the best for last; Syrian aubergine and meze in the Souq. Next stop Dubai tonight.

Thinking about thinking

Many of my conversations somehow touch upon the topic of RISK… Starting a business is super scary – I’m the first to admit it – and you probably need to be both crazy and naïve. The challenge in a maturing startup ecosystem is for investors and entrepreneurs to learn how to handle and not necessarily to mitigate risk (financial, structural, emotional and social risk). I can hear my sensible mother: Are you Crazy? And the stats prove that we are a little naïve in our quests to start businesses; 50% disaster, 40% good stuff and 10% Super Star Success. That’s what it’s all about – high risk and potentially high return. If… you work 24/7, have a great idea, can build a passionate team, if you are patient AND you’ll need the magic ingredient Luck. And lets face it is addictive and thrilling.

One of my high lights yesterday was visiting the Qatar Foundation and Carnegie Mellon University. Serial entrepreneur, angel investor and Ph. D. Associate Professor, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Maher Hakim is brilliant and we had a great brain storming session on how to move the needle in Qatar and support cool entrepreneurs to find funding. I’m convinced there are great opportunities in working with the investment community to better understand the needs and fears of startups… Basically you can’t expect immediate revenue, it is hard work for everybody involved and you are doing your self a disfavour by trying to mitigating risk. Manage it instead. I know, easy to say.

Driving out of QF I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the big neon signs on campus; Innovate, Achieve, Think etc. From a risk perspective, sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry and you might as well remind everybody what they are there to do…. I’m going to THINK, that’s for sure. And maybe I should do my thinking in the Genious Room? Worrying that it was empty, but maybe the naive and crazy geniuses are enjoying Babaganouch somewhere?

My hero is Captain Jack Sparrow

 

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For the past 5 years my new year’s resolution has been to be more like Captain Jack Sparrow. Maybe not all aspects of him as he is a drunk nutter but what I like specifically is that he challenges seemingly fixed structures. My best example is when he is asked to choose between finding the treasure and saving the girl. He says; “I want both”.

That captures the spirit of the entrepreneur in many ways. Challenging structures, being naïve enough to see things a different way, audacious enough to aim for a higher goal and creative enough to find a different way of doing things and get want you want. Brilliant Sparrow.

I’m going to add a few things to this new year’s resolution – maybe a sign of long awaited maturing 🙂 I’m going to be Patient, I’m going to be Kinder to myself and others and not least be Grateful.

Tech stuff: On my radar 2015 will be innovation in payments, cyber security, mobile identification, opportunities in Internet of Things (we’ll see mobile phones as a door openers very soon), and the inevitable consolidation in social and messaging.

E-commerce: I was shocked/impressed to read the growth figures for Christmas shopping…. On the 25th of December when online sales kicked off, the UK saw a 36% online shopping growth year-on-year, and a whooping £441 000 was spend a MINUTE! 60% of Amazon’s Christmas sales where from mobile.

Naturally my focus will be specifically in the Middle East and I’m super excited to follow the progress of a handful of amazing entrepreneurs… The Sky is the Limit

#YMEstartup continues the road show saluting the crazy and naïve – Next stops Riyadh, Doha, Teheran, Cairo and Beirut!