Egyptian app starts acceleration at Y Combinator in Silicon Valley

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In 2014, it seems that startups from the Arab world will begin to break out onto an international stage. Following the buzz around Instabug and 1Sheeld, another Egyptian startup is making waves by being accepted into the world’s top accelerator, Y Combinator.

As Y Combinator's classes become more geographically diverseNinjaSMS is now the first Arab startup to make the cut. 

The mobile app, which gained recognition in Egypt last year for its swift success, works as an SMS replacement app for your Android phone. Its standout feature is its multitasking; instead of having to switch from one screen to another, users can text while watching a video via a floating window.

After launching in April 2013, it found immediate success, reaching #1 in the ‘Top New Paid’ app in the communications category, number 5 in the ‘Top New Paid’ app across all categories, and number 5 among ‘Top New Paid’ in applications in the US, without any capital spent on marketing, cofounder Wael Nafee told Wamda in April.

"A lot of people say our app looks like Facebook chat heads," Nafee explains, although the app was created in April 2013, before Facebook chat heads had launched. At the beginning, of course, the founders were worried about the repercussions of being called a copycat until they realized that this was good for press- the app made it into Time’s 50 best Android apps for 2013- and downloads; the app has been downloaded 100,000 times, when counting both its paid and free versions.

By July, Nafee and cofounders Mostafa Gazar and Ahmed Galal had secured seed funding from Tarek Fahim, Partner at Tamkeen Capital, and had begun working on the app full time.

In hopes of reaching great mentors who could help them get the most out of their product, they applied to Y Combinator, and, this November, received news of their acceptance. 

An intense application process

It wasn't easy, Nafee explains. “The interview is probably the most intense 10 min I’ve had in my life. They go question after question," he says.

What's most important is staying in the moment. "They tell you, do not go into selling mode with us. They can see through the marketing speech. If you’re too market-y, they’ll cut you right there.”

As soon as NinjaSMS were accepted, they began thinking about what they wanted to pitch at Demo Day, and asked YC’s partners what the investors wanted to see. 

Now, the team is intensely focused on the metrics they know they need to work on for Demo Day, and what they need to change within their product to reach their goals.

Nafee has already learned a lot from chatting with other founders within the Winter 2014 YC class, sharing experiences, and lessons learned, while soaking up advice from the alumni and entrepreneurs that speak at weekly class dinners. 

“We just had our first one, it was very eye-opening, intense, and useful,” he says. Also critical are the office hours Paul Graham and the other YC founders give startups, he explains.

If one thing is eye-opening though, it's the realization that a well-designed, well-executed product can become a global success regardless of its origins, no matter what market challenges it's risen above to get there. NinjaSMS has led the way- who's next?

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