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Story from the Trenches – SuperMama

by Lana Al-Kazimi

Yasmine El-Mehairy is a native of Cairo, Egypt. She studied Computer and Information Science at Ain Shams University in Egypt before later receiving her MSc in Interactive Multimedia at the University of Westminster, UK in 2004. She has worked in IT since then, holding positions such as Quality Assurance Specialist at International Business Machines (IBM) and Portal Project Manager at Al-Masry Al-Youm Newspaper. Her dual interest in entrepreneurship and social change ultimately led her to co-found SuperMama a year and a half ago with her partner, Zeinab Samir. SuperMama is a parenting website that features support, advice, videos, feedback and much more for parents and parents-to-be, a completely new idea in the Middle East. SuperMama is the epitome of creating a new market instead of entering an existing one, and Yasmine was kind enough to share her startup experience with us!

How did the idea of SuperMama come to life?

Right off the bat, let me state that I am not a mother myself. The thing is, my partner and I always knew that we wanted to do something that added value, not something for the sole purpose of money-generation. We were on the lookout for the right idea until coincidentally, my sister-in-law announced that she was pregnant. We soon realized how lucky she was because my entire family is made up of doctors, so anytime she needed advice she had easy access to verified opinions and was comfortable researching the web to get authentic information regarding her pregnancy. However, that is not the case with the majority of mothers and mothers-to-be in Egypt. It’s not easy to get practical parenting advice – in fact, the most popular source of information is someone’s mother or mother-in-law. These sources advise based on how they did it, or how their sister or aunt did it, and so forth. There’s no guarantee that the information the parents receive is authentic or credible. It’s all based on lessons from past experience, which I’m not belittling at all, but we are now faced with problems that our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have to deal with back then. That’s when we realized we wanted to offer something that would help mothers manage their lives accompanied by practical, tested and proven advice such that they can spend the time they need focusing on their families.
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The Freedom to Start – An Insider’s Perspective

by Lana Al-Kazimi

Karim Kobeissi is currently the Senior Legal and Policy Advisor to the Minister of Telecommunications in Lebanon. Moreover, he is a managing partner at Kobeissi and Frangie, a law firm established in 2006 that specializes in various facets of law, such as finance, commercial, corporate, real estate, construction, insurance, telecommunications, and energy. Karim received his Bachelor’s of Science in Computer and Communications Engineering from the American University of Beirut before turning his focus to Law and gaining a degree in International Law from Saint Joseph University in Lebanon and his LL.M. from Harvard Law School in 2000. Over and above that, Karim used to play professional basketball for the Lebanese national team, is co-founder of the Civil Center for National Initiative in Lebanon, president of the Harvard Law School Association of Arabia, and teaches at both the graduate and undergraduate level at AUB, among other things.

A prime example of giving back to his country, Karim’s latest endeavor is the Beirut Digital District, which is the key focus of this interview. Karim was my Business Law professor while I was pursuing my Bachelor’s, and I am proud to say I am still learning from him!

What is your view on entrepreneurship in the MENA region?

Entrepreneurship is a mindset, and to allow it to flourish you need to have the necessary institutions in place

This is an interesting question. There are definitely a lot of talented people here. Countries in the MENA are well equipped in terms of education to produce entrepreneurs. However, there needs to be more emphasis on certain freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and assembly. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, and to allow it to flourish you need to have the necessary institutions in place. There is not one initiative that can take off without having the freedom to do so, just look at the examples in the USA. The beauty of Lebanon is that the freedom to aspire and create is here, but it needs to trickle over to other countries in the region. At the same time, the market itself needs to be positioned correctly, and not all countries in the MENA have this at the moment. For entrepreneurship to flourish, the market needs to be open and receptive, as well as ready to experiment. Ultimately, there is definitely a lot of potential for the region, but we are still working towards it.
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Disruptive Innovation – How VCs View Startups

by Lana Al-Kazimi

Bilal Zuberi is a principal at General Catalyst Partners, a Venture Capital and Private Equity firm with offices in Boston, New York City, and San Francisco. He moved to the United States from Pakistan and brought with him a wealth of clean-tech focused knowledge. He holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry from MIT and had a short stint in management consulting before starting a company in 2004 that commercializes advanced materials [advanced ceramic technology] for automotives and other applications. GEO2 Technologies commercializes the automotives’ emissions control technology in partnership with Corning, Inc. That then led to a spinoff biomedical device company called BIO2 Technologies. Once launched, he joined General Catalyst Partners [about four and a half years ago] as an investor. Bilal’s side interests include ENTER, a program he co-founded to help college-level entrepreneurship, active membership in the TIE Entrepreneurship Taskforce, and engaging in intellectual conversations, to name a few.

Needless to say, I was fascinated by Bilal’s accomplishments. Even better? He’s approachable! If you have any questions that I didn’t cover below, please do reach out to him, that’s how interested he is in helping people!

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How I did it? The Pubget Story

by Lana Al-Kazimi

“How I did it” is part of an ongoing series of real entrepreneurial stories. If you would like to contribute to this series, contact us at exec@yallastartup.org with your proposal.

Ian Connor, an Australian native living in Boston, MA, studied Physics and Math at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. He then went on to pursue his law degree, which he obtained in 1997 and shortly thereafter started his first job in the legal world. That didn’t last long, however, as six months later as he discovered he enjoyed the database implementation portion of a legal advice he was working on a lot more than the actual legal work. The switch in his career path was swift, and a few jobs later, he decided to move to Boston to focus his energy on software development at companies like Iris Associates and later IBM. Eventually, he became addicted to the ‘Web’ and took a leave of absence from IBM to do his ‘own thing’. It was after that point that the idea of Pubget surfaced.

Pubget, the startup that Ian co-founded in 2007, stemmed primarily from co-founder Ramy Arnaout’s need for quick and easy access to scientific research. That need, along with a lot of hard work, led to the launch of a budding startup. In 2008, the Pubget search engine became active in institutions such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Massachusetts General Hospital. By 2011, Pubget was activated in over 200 institutions, and in January 2012, it was acquired by Copyright Clearance Center.
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Confessions of a Tech Entrepreneur

This is a cross post from Sami Shalabi’s blog

Taking on entrepreneurship is one of the most life changing events any person can embark on; it not only impacts the individual, but impacts the community and even the world. An entrepreneur is someone who just does not accept the status quo, but has a vision for the future and makes the impossible happen to arrive at this vision.

Entrepreneurship is not easy anywhere in the world. Each region has its unique challenges, and in the same ways has its unique opportunities. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is in transition. All market indicators whether it is around consumer usage patterns, infrastructure availability, business demand or overall business and political disruptions indicate the MENA is ripe with opportunity. Things are moving quickly and it is clear that it is a major and growing world market.

What does this growth mean for MENA entrepreneurs? We are about to enter the age of MENA entrepreneurship. MENA Entrepreneurs are going to be the life blood of all MENA economies. If you have what it takes, now is the time to act and take that idea you have always wanted to do and just make it happen. Only good will follow!

In my journey as an entrepreneur, I too started with a desire and an idea. This idea took me to unexpected places and taught me plenty of lifelong lessons that I will share with you in a list of 10 confessions:

1. Be your #1 customer

I have always found that the greatest products service the needs of those that create them. Solving a real personal pain point makes you passionate about the space, and solution. Being your #1 customer makes you use your own product everyday and forces you to keep improving it before the rest of the world asks you to. Your problems are potentially business opportunities.
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The Product vs Distribution Framework

(this is a cross post from Ariel Diaz’s blog The Ambitious Life)

The Product-Distribution Framework

Given that the product vs distribution debate is not just an either or, I wanted to create a framework to help me think and evaluate the tradeoffs of each, and take into account the strength of each. So I created a simple 2×2 matrix comparing weak and strong product vs weak and strong distribution, using a fun theme of plants to characterize the various types of companies (trust me, it’s much safer for work than the initial images).

The Oak Trees – Great distribution and product feed on each other to build great companies

At the top right are the truly great companies, that have created solid products and achieve successful distribution to reach enough people. These great companies are household names, including Facebook, Apple, and Google. There are various paths to get there, but most of these companies have a fanatical devotion to creating a solid product, coupled with a very smart, disciplined, and powerful distribution. Throughout the growth, these two strengths continually feed on each other creating a positive feedback loop.

Example: Apple in 2010 – Apple is firing on all cylinders, led by Steve Jobs’ literally maniacal focus on creating a perfect product. But it’s easy to forget how strong the Apple marketing engine is, creating hundreds of millions of dollars of free publicity with every product launch. They have also created one of the world’s strongest brands, and use their huge profit margins to build a wildly successful retail distribution channel.
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AmmanTT invites you to its birthday party

Where will you be on May 3rd, 2011?
If you happen to be a Jordanian Techie, or in Amman at the time – Amman Tech Tuesdays (AmmanTT) is to Celebrate its one year anniversary in an enlightening and innovative half-day event (3pm-9:30pm) at Zara Expo in Amman, Jordan!

After 14 amazing events throughout the past year, AmmanTT is commemorating its accomplishments in bringing techies together once again on the first Tuesday of May, only this time it’s super special! Doors will open at 3:00pmto reveal an open startup exhibition that will feature 50 exciting early stage Jordanian technology startups & projects. Professional grade booths and other facilities will be provided at no charge to the exhibitors and thus create a unique opportunity to market and promote what they are most proud of and working on to the world. Alongside this portion of the day, a demo stage will be available for those looking to pitch their businesses as well.  (A limited number of spots remain open, if interested please contact ammantt@ammantt.com.)

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Entrepreneur’s guide to VC in MENA region

Entrepreneurs,

Looking to fund your idea, or to find out more about venture capital in the MENA region?

Our friends at MENA Private Equity Association put together a guide for new Arab entrepreneurs titled The VEECEEPRENEUR. It details the basic concepts of venture capital as well as the perspectives of major VC firms in the region.

The link to the full PDF:

From YallaStartup Weekend to winning Arabnet, Cashbury a startup to keep your eyes on

Cashbury, formerly known as Kazdoor and a YallaStartup Weekend project, wins the ArabNet 1st Prize. Hassan Baydoun shares with us his vision for Cashbury and how it started.

Why do we still have to carry all our loyalty cards in our wallet when they simply can be replaced with a application on our smart device. And since we take our phone with us everywhere we go, we have all our card in the palm of our hand, and turn our fat wallet into a skinny e-wallet.

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Free ArabNet Ticket!!

Looking for a free ticket to ArabNet’s conference in Lebanon?

Tweet a tip on Entrepreneurship from your own experience or tweet what you think an entrepreneur is and attach #YallaStartup #Tip next to your tweet.

YallaStartup will be giving out one free ticket to the best tip – best defined by quality of tip and number of retweets.

Let’s get those tweets going. This starts NOW and ends on March 20th.