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?

Skärmavbild 2016-03-20 kl. 21.39.36

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.

Skärmavbild 2016-03-20 kl. 21.39.23

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

IMG_0594

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

Passion, Pitching and a Proposal

IMG_011820150428_192811

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

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

Skärmavbild 2016-03-20 kl. 19.18.16.png

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