Mix n' Mentor Cairo mentors seek to remedy challenges faced by a growing, but fraught, community

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The world of entrepreneurship is full of obstacles, especially in the Arab world. These can be legal procedures, development, employment, marketing, or worst of all, funding.

In an attempt to surmount the challenges facing the Egyptian entrepreneurship community, earlier this month Wamda held its second annual Mix N’ Mentor in Cairo. Experts from various sectors tried to diagnose and prescribe remedies (so to speak) for problems facing participating entrepreneurs in building and developing their startups.

The event comprised three sessions: The first was a 'Startup Diagnosis': a group discussion with six entrepreneurs and two mentors. Each entrepreneur briefly presented their startup, then the mentors asked a series of questions in an attempt to quickly understand the startup’s mission, the problems it’s facing, and provide practical solutions. In the second session - a 'Deep Dive' - entrepreneurs talked about their biggest challenges, and mentors provided actionable advice.

After lunch, there were six roundtable chats the crowd could choose from: The Art of Marketing with Will Hutson, Entrepreneurs’ Common Mistakes with Karim Bechara, Wearable Devices with Calvin Chin, Failure and Success in Establishing a Company with Sohrab Jahanbani. Meanwhile Ronaldo Mouchawar talked about his experience with Souq.com, and Wamda team members Habib Haddad and Lana Alamat shared the secrets of preparing term-sheets.

Many startup founders attended the event and explained the problems that block their path to success. Some of these startups were: Taskty, the first Egyptian digital market to provide services for startups and customers; PieRide for carpooling; En2Ly for transportation services between SMEs; SmartNews, a news feed application of all reliable media sources; and Codely, a digital platform to teach students ICT courses.

Marketing

Khaled Ismail, an investor and the founder of the programming company SySDSoft, gave tech solutions developers an especially interesting piece of advice. He told them to prepare a presentation of all their products’ characteristics without comparing them to big global companies. According to him, the comparison would not be in favor of the startups. Developers of tech solutions, apps, and programs, according to Ismail, should target customers adequate to the size of their company until establishing their brands in the local market.

As for digital content providers, Ismail advised them to focus on marketing through social media, which is the key to success for such companies.

Building a customer base

Omar Soudodi, CEO of the digital payment gateway Payfort, advised entrepreneurs in the tourism sector not to wait for a breakthrough. Tourism is strugglingdue to political turmoil in Egypt. Rather, Soudodi suggested that entrepreneurs take advantage of the crisis to nail down exactly what the startup does, and build a gradual customer base to help eventually revitalize the sector. He pointed out that bold entrepreneurial activity can contribute to the revitalization of any sector facing a crisis, whether economic or political.

Expanding regionally and globally

The American entrepreneur Will Hutson recommended startups working in the same field to join forces locally before thinking of global partnerships or mergers. He argued that this could create solid entities to expand customer bases and attract investment.

After listening to the entrepreneurs, the mentors agreed on four points that every entrepreneur should take in consideration:

  • Employees are a company’s added value. Share your dreams and invest in them.

  • Seek investment at the end. Don’t ask for investment until you are sure of your project’s maturity.

  • Get highly qualified people. But make sure to have alternatives in case one of them leaves so as not to harm the sustainability of your company.

  • Focus and don’t work on multiple projects at the same time.

***

Some entrepreneurs wished for more time to talk in detail about their companies and challenges. But many exchanged business cards with experts and agreed to continue their conversations later on.

What struck me most were the remarks of Chinese entrepreneur Calvin Chin, co-founder and CEO of Qifang, the first e-loans platform in China. He talked about the importance of “growth hacking” for every entrepreneur. Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by tech startups which uses nontraditional ways to gain exposure and sell products.

Startups well versed in “growth hacking” can grow quickly and earn big exposure; something I think entrepreneurs in the Arab world need to focus on. Perhaps Chen’s talk planted a seed in the mind of some of the Egyptian entrepreneurs in attendance, broadening their ambitions, and lending them confidence in their ideas to improve their companies.

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