While there have been many interesting panels at the Second Global Entrepreneurship Summit, some of the best questions I heard were asked by crowd members, each of whom happened to be from an Arabia 500 company, during panels on investment and social media.
In a panel on Regional and Global Cooperation, the Private Sector way, there were two great crowd questions that didn't get fully answered:
Amad Almsaodi of Yemeni startup Aqarmap stood up and said, "Government hurdles are overrated. Why are we acting like these are a real barrier? Why are we not looking at the older generation of companies that build great economies. Who are the examples of companies that have pioneered despite corruption? What can we learn from them?"
In the same panel, Ravi Bhusari of Dubai-based sports company Duplays brought up a point that we discussed further in an interview, that it's very difficult for him to get funding from banks in order to scale. Specifically, he wants to expand into Saudi Arabia, but can't get lending from a Saudi bank, because they won't support him based on the fact that he's based in the UAE. But UAE banks won't support his expansion into Saudi either. Investors in the Gulf, in his experience, have been wary of investing in a web company without physical assets. Can we create a regional bank system? he asked.
In a panel on Social Media & Entrepreneurship, Basel Mashhour of Egyptian Bakery company TBS asked: "When is a good time to go live with a social media channel if you're still iterating your company and still have a lot of issues to improve? I want to provide a channel for feedback, but I don't want it to be overwhelmed with bad feedback."
Habib Haddad answered that it's always valuable to provide people with solutions for issues that they're having with your product, because good customer service will win loyalty. Rafah Khatib of Jordanian social media marketing company Reach also encouraged the company not to wait, as people will always complain, but as long as you're ready and have the resources to answer, it's better to go live as soon as possible.
Another member of the crowd asked, how can we think about monetizing social media?
Habib pointed out that monetization per user is low on social media, and it's really only those companies that have focused on making money from day one that tend to be good at it. One option he offered is think about bringing the offline space online, like making suggestions of what to buy based on what your friends are buying, or heading into group buying. Crowdsourced funding is another example.
Kristen Roggemann of Palestinian SMS platform Souktel pointed out the power of leveraging existing networks, noting that the more you make your social media or SMS process facilitate behaviors that groups already perform, the more traction you will get.
Finally, another crowd member asked a question that may not have an answer: how can startups ensure information security?
Habib pointed out that sometimes corporations with bigger budgets have an easier time handling information security, while small startups are sometimes more vulnerable. One solution may be Moroccan startup NetPEAS, which focuses on democratizing information security services by making it very affordable for startups.
But in general, despite what panelists might say, there are no easy answers to these questions.
What does your experience dictate? How would you answer these questions?