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!