After Mix n’ Mentor Riyadh, Astrolabs is traveling the region to help startups scale

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On the heels of their first “Scaling Online Startups” weekend in Dubai and their workshop at Mix N’ Mentor Riyadh last month, Astrolabs founders Muhammad Mekki and Louis Lebbos are bringing their series to Dubai (during the Arabnet Digital Summit), Beirut (on July 5-7th), Amman, and Riyadh this summer. 

Offering up advice based on their joint experience working at Namshi, a Dubai-based fashion e-commerce site, the two founders have designed their weekend workshop series to help fellow startups diagnose ways to please customers and scale quickly.

Startups who apply and are selected for the somewhat exclusive program engage in exercises over the weekend, emerging not just with advice, but a better sense of each other; it’s also designed to unite an ecosystem.

"AstroLabs startups typically are well on their path to success but are facing very specific hurdles, like optimizing digital marketing spend and scaling their operations,” says Mekki.

“Our SOS program is designed to offer startups concrete solutions to those specific problems,” Lebbos adds. “After diving into deep discussions of best practices and shared experiences, we expect to see every entrepreneur come away from the program with a new set of action items and tools tailored to their challenges, as well as deeper bonds with their follow startups."

Addressing the major barriers to scaling

While Astrolabs focuses on the challenges specific to the startups who attend, the three biggest issues that startups typically face are related to customers, talent, and expanding operations, the founders say; here’s how they tackle the issues:

  1. Where do I allocate my marketing budget/How can I acquire customers fast but in a cost-efficient way?
    Here we focus on how to think about the different marketing channels in terms of prioritization at different stages of the company, for different business models and how to measure and optimize those channels for maximum bang for the buck. We also dedicate a sizable part of the workshop on setting up good analytics and optimizing for conversion, both critical elements of smart marketing investment.
  2. What can I do to prevent my operations from breaking while scaling rapidly?
    This question usually comes up post-hoc; so we focus the module on processes to put in place to avoid issues during the scaling phase. We also discuss operating internationally in the different markets in MENA. Another full module focuses on delivering a distinctive customer experience.
  3. Where can I find top talent? How do I get them to join a startup? How do I develop and keep them?
    The most crucial challenges for a startup are around finding and keeping top talent. We share our experience and facilitate a discussion between all the founders around lessons learned.

Astrolabs at Mix N' Mentor Riyadh

Recently, the Astrolabs guys joined us at Mix N’ Mentor Riyadh for a focused, two-hour workshop that offered a condensed version of their weekend immersion. When addressing the Saudi market, their background in e-commerce seemed especially useful to some members of the crowd.

“I felt that they were speaking directly to my business,” says Yazeed Altaweel, the founder of, a Saudi e-commerce site for baby clothes. “They explained how to increase my number of loyal customers and improve my sales. At the rest of Mix N’ Mentor, I was often giving advice, but in the Astrolabs workshop, I was just listening.”

For Mazen AlDarrab, the founder and CEO of Ecommerce SEA, a Saudi company that specializes in building e-commerce startups and solutions, the most important elements of the workshop was that it was hands-on and based on past experience, and that it didn’t focus merely on technology, but rather on aspects like operations, customer care, and marketing.

Muhammad Arrabi, CTO and Head of Marketing at N2V, a Riyadh-based investment vehicle (that has invested in Ecommerce SEA), was impressed by the founders’ straightforward approach. “My favorite thing about the two trainers, Mekki and Lebbos, is that they were very humble. They are really interested in these subjects and they want to enhance understanding. And they’re open with saying, ‘This is our experience, and we tried X and Y, but we didn't try Z. Z could be interesting.’"

The fact that Mekki and Lebbos focused in on scientific decision-making methods, and addressed the importance of measuring metrics like net promoter score and customer lifetime value made the workshop especially useful, says Arrabi.

To get a sense of the Astrolabs workshop at MnM Riyadh, check out the video below, in Arabic.

Startups interested in joining the next Astrolabs event can join their 2-hour teaser session at the Arabnet Digital Summit, on June 25th at 2:30pm at the Atlantis Dubai, in Workshop Hall E.

Following that event, Astrolabs will host a three-day workshop in Beirut, on July 5th, 6th, and 7th; interested startups can contact the team here. Future events in Amman and Riyadh will be announced this summer.

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