Can Kuwait Learn from Ghana? Lessons from the Second Startup Q8 Event

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The startup scene in Kuwait is gaining momentum. On the 7th of November we had the 2nd StartupQ8 event and it was a lot of fun. Over 50 people showed up to debate and discuss new topics, and one of the best aspects- aside from the fun debates- was the diversity of the people. We had people from Kuwait, India, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Poland and if you include one of our speakers, I’ll add the US. We focused on methodologies like The Lean Startup, and even discussed what Kuwait can learn from Ghana.  

Our three main sessions were:

  1. What is Lean Startup? with Mijbel AlQattan
  2. Let's learn from Ghana with Michael Szymanski (a Skype call)
  3. Interview with 965flowers Co-founder Sulaiman Al Tarrah.

1- What is Lean Startup Methodology?

Mijbel explained the Lean Startup concept and how can we use it and apply it to our startups. At the first Startup Q8 event, we discussed the Business Model Canvas, an idea presented by Mohammed Almeer, based upon Lean Startup methodology. Lean Startup is a method developed by Eric Ries that relies on validating learning and scientific experimentation instead of relying on assumptions. Mijbel’s talk focuses on explaining the theory, looking at the example of AirBnB, and delving into ways to pivot quickly:

2- Let's learn from Ghana

Ghana lately is producing some awesome startups and I was wondering what their secret was. I then found out that the secret was something called MEST (Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology). Michael Szymanski is the Director and Business Development at the MEST incubator and I met him back in Turkey during the Webit Expo. We decided to do a Skype call with him to learn more about the Ghanan startup scene and how MEST supports. Below are the major takeaways from the interview: 

  1. MEST is a two year-old software development and entrepreneurship school that continues to support alumni with an incubator program built just for MEST graduates. The incubator provides funding, office space, mentors, training and a global network. 
     
  2. MEST developed this software development program because the quality of graduate students from public schools is very low. To have great startups, you need first to have highly skilled developers. 
     
  3. In less than 4 years, Ghana has already built some great startups. Saya, which brings smart-phone-like messaging to low-end devices in emerging markets, was a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 (San Francisco). Nevahold, a startup that helps companies get quick crowd opinions (as consumers offer quick feedback), that was a finalist in Webitexpo 2012. Both are MEST graduates.

My presentation compares the two markets and introduces MEST: 


3- interview and Q&A with 965flowers

This part was quite interesting, as we had a very interactive session between the crowd and Sulaiman (the co-founder). Below is part of the interview:

  1. What is 965flowers? And how did it all start? And what does 965 mean?

    965flowers is a one-stop shop for flowers and chocolate. It all started when we realized that flower shops actually don’t have any online presence and that’s it’s much more convenient for people to order flowers online in Kuwait. We started around a year ago and we are experiencing a huge monthly growth since then. And to answer your last question, the numbers 965 refer to Kuwait dialing code. (Editor’s note: Perhaps it’s inspired by1-800-flowers, the world’s biggest online flower store). 
     
  2. How did you manage to acquire your clients, the flower stores, and your customers, who buy online?

    In the beginning, we targeted the big four flower stores, and we successfully managed to get them on board. After we had the big players, other flower stores followed. To lure users, we are focusing in delivering high quality customer experience. We believe that satisfied and happy customers are the best way to grow and sustain our business. 
     
  3. What is a major challenge you faced during your journey with 965flowers?

    One difficult situation that we went through was when our server went down on Valentines Day. We unexpectedly had a large number of visitors that day and our website just crashed. Yet we managed to fix the problem quickly and we currently have a better infrastructure to face similar situations in the future. 

Overall at Startup Q8, we had several debates. One of the most heated ones was about the importance of having a business plan before starting a startup. Mohammed Alzubi, an experienced Silicon Valley entrepreneur, argued with the crowd (including myself) in favor of creating a business plan (with some modification to it) before starting his business. I was against wasting time preparing a business plan; instead entrepreneurs should start using Business Model Canvas, I said. I guess in the end we all agreed that we need to have something similar to a business plan, but with a different content and different usage to it (actually, we should’ve came up with a new name for it).

Finally, we closed with a networking event, which is a great way to meet entrepreneurs, investors and programmers in Kuwait. Big thanks to Global Investment House for providing us with the venue, and special thanks to Abdulaziz Alloughany, Mijbel Alqattan, Sulaiman Altarrah, Michael Szymanski for participating and helping in making this event a success. Stay tuned for lessons from the next Startup Q8!

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