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 for this interesting article on the topic.

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, 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

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


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”