Posts Tagged ‘advice’

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 VC answers; Raising Venture Capital: Advice for MENA Entrepreneurs

This is part of an ongoing series of expert articles about entrepreneurship. It answers the questions you have asked on YallaStartup answers. If you would like to contribute to this series, contact us at exec@yallastartup.org with your proposal.


Hello YallaStartup members,

Thank you for your questions! The answers below are just starting points and I hope we can follow up on these subjects on an ongoing basis on YallaStartup’s Q&A platform.

Let me start with a few basic but important points about what are the objectives of a venture capital investor, from their own perspective:

  • Venture capital investors manage other people’s money. Often, the funds come from very large institutions such as pension funds, who need to diversify their risk over different asset classes, one of which is the venture capital asset class
  • VCs are accountable to their own investors, called Limited Partners. Their performance is clearly measurable and determined by how much money they return to their limited partners
  • Typically, there are only two ways to return money to investors: either a portfolio company “goes public”, or it gets acquired by another company. These “liquidity events” are the end goal towards which VC investors need to work from the very beginning, including your first pitch!

So the overall principle is not too complex: entrepreneurs pitch an investment opportunity which, if all goes according to plan, should lead to an IPO or an acquisition in a few years, allowing the VC to provide their limited partners with good returns on their investment in the VC fund.

Therefore, the general answer to most questions about VC pitches is the following: anything that helps an entrepreneur build a more convincing case is good. This means that, all else equal, it is better to have a detailed plan, a strong team, a working prototype, early customers and a good cash flow! Not only does it increase the likelihood of investment, but also the valuation you can get at the time of an investment. At the seed stage, and early angel stages, the expectations to provide all of the above will of course be lower.

So having said that, the answer to Khaled’s question regarding what to present to a VC is “it depends”, but I would definitely try to have a demo if possible. A demo avoids the need to provide an abstract explanation of what you intend to do. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a demo is worth a thousand PowerPoint slides. A demo also shows that you have the technical ability to build something, and enough commitment to your business idea to have devoted some resources (time, effort, money) to it.

Regarding having a detailed business plan prepared, just keep in mind that you are asking for funds, and therefore you need to show that they will be used efficiently. What will the operating costs be? Who will you hire? What can you achieve if we give you $xx, and how will that help you raise the next $yy in one or two years? The more clarity you can provide around these points the better. But we all know you will not have all the answers at first, so no need to go into excessive details. We just need to know you have thought the issues and are proposing the best solution, given the information you have today.

This brings me to Bana’s question regarding the most common mistakes I see as a VC. I wrote a blog post a while back entitled “Comparing first-time and serial entrepreneurs” (http://ziadsultan.com/?p=36) that covers this question. The five main things I had identified were the need for new entrepreneurs to: define the problem better, assess the cost of customer acquisition better, understand the customer’s budget, be more realistic about partnerships, and get feedback early and continuously.

Finally, I would like to address the questions regarding the MENA region. I have personal ties with MENA, but my work so far has focused on the US. Given this disclaimer, here is my take on some of the challenges:

  • The MENA is still an emerging market for tech ventures, which means there is a small market for tech IPOs and M&As. This makes it a little harder to have a lot of VC money flowing into the region. Yahoo’s acquisition of Maktoob was a good start, but we have a long way to go. http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/08/25/confirmed-yahoo-acquires-arab-internet-portal-maktoob/
  • While there is a lot of tech talent available in the region, and a culture of entrepreneurship in general, there still isn’t a robust ecosystem of tech entrepreneurship. Very few places have such ecosystems, Silicon Valley and Boston being two of the rare examples. This video does a good job of describing the components of such an environment:http://vimeo.com/7537191

Having said that, I firmly believe that the MENA region has all it needs to produce successful technology companies in the coming years. A few ways to do so would be to:

  • Find local solutions to create the next winners on the Arab web. No one knows this market better than local entrepreneurs, so you have a strong advantage that you can exploit. Innovate better and faster on your home turf. The MENA market is bigger than you think and getting bigger!
  • Don’t be afraid to go after global markets. In today’s world, a virtual, agile team based anywhere has a fighting chance! So if you come up with a solution that could be global, don’t be afraid to give it your best shot
  • Create a well connected entrepreneurial ecosystem. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a sophisticated entrepreneurial environment to create successful tech companies. Developers, designers, investors, mentors, lawyers, and many more functions should collaborate and constantly exchange ideas and share the lessons learned.

This last point is particularly important and I am glad to see initiatives like YallaStartup gaining momentum because they can serve as a great catalyst for new companies. Participate in the Q&A forum, organize and attend events or webinars, discuss your ideas with the entrepreneurial community, etc.

I will try to do my part by answering questions on YallaStartup. So if you have more questions for me, please post them on YallaStartup and ping me on twitter at @zsultan. I’ll do my best to help out!

About the Author:

Ziad focuses on investments in business applications and consumer media. His responsibilities span all aspects of Longworth’s investment process from deal sourcing and due diligence, to deal execution and ongoing support of portfolio companies.

He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his graduate studies focused on artificial intelligence and digital signal processing.

“Ask the expert”; Don’t miss your chance to get your questions answered by a VC

We will be hosting a series of open sessions with industry experts where you will have the chance to ask questions directly to them. The top 3 to 5 questions/topics will be answered in a blog post. We hope to repeat this enough times to get all your questions answered.

We’ll start our first “Ask the expert” series with a venture capitalist. We are fortunate to have Ziad Sultan from Longworth Venture partners join us to kick things off. join us to kick things off. You ask questions and we’ll  pick the top 3-5 topics. Ziad will answer each of them in a blog post and on the Q&A site. Question collection will start today and will be open for one week.

Here is how you can ask your questions:

  • Register on our Q&A platform if you haven’t do so already. It is important that you register so you can vote questions up or down
  • Add your question to the “answer” section here. (Do not create a new question in the Q&A platform, instead add as an “answer”)
  • Rate up or down other questions
  • Share the Question link on Twitter and/or Facebook
We will close the questions down in exactly one week so be sure to have your questions in asap. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions 🙂

Ziad Sultan

Ziad focuses on investments in business applications and consumer media. His responsibilities span all aspects of Longworth’s investment process from deal sourcing and due diligence, to deal execution and ongoing support of portfolio companies.

Ziad joined Longworth from the Boston Consulting Group where he advised clients on a wide range of strategic and operational issues. Prior to BCG, Ziad worked as a consultant with Ernst & Young where he helped launch a new advisory practice focused on IT strategy and governance.

He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his graduate studies focused on artificial intelligence and digital signal processing.