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 to breakfast” Brilliant. We were all invited to Cairo in October 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