The Lebanese tech scene has evolved a lot since Wamda organized its first Mix N’ Mentor here back in 2012. It’s now more structured and mature; less hype, more action. And as the ecosystem has evolved, so has Wamda’s flagship event.
This year’s event, hosted by Beirut Digital District, was re-designed to ensure startups received mentorship relevant to the stage they’re in, and the issues they are facing.
In the morning, growth-stage startups were invited to one-on-one sessions with experts from Lebanon, the Arab world, and Europe, while younger startups were invited to join five other entrepreneurs, and two experts, to discuss problems they’re facing when it comes to team building on fundraising. After lunch in BDD’s garden, startups had the option to join sessions on growth hacking, expanding to the Gulf, e-commerce, and how to legally protect one’s startup.
This year “felt very intimate, less corporate,” said serial entrepreneur and GoNabit cofounder Sohrab Jahanbani. Entrepreneurs have clearly grown up, he continued, noting “lots of businesses are talking concretely about monetization instead of just asking ‘is it a good idea.’” Anghami’s Elie Habib, a first-time mentor, also noted that there were a crop of new ventures breaking the stereotype of Beirut startups, like energy storage company Energy 24. While this event attracted a lot of returnees, there were also new faces: some were diaspora members coming back home, while others were young entrepreneurs still in university.
Here are some tips participants might benefit from:
- Hire people that fit your startup’s culture.
When hiring, spend 30% of your time outlining the type of culture
you want to build, and the type of talent you want to hire, advised
Apstrata’s Rabih Nassar. Then make sure the talent you’re talking
to is right for your startup.
- Build a story. The first people you need to
convince of your startup’s potential is your team, said Jahanbani
during one session. For Diwanee’s Hervé Cuviliez, “you need a good
story, a common fight,” to get your team to band together.
- Show your devotion to the project. Otherwise
how can you ask your employees to do the same, asked mentors in
almost all the sessions. “You’re in the trenches,” says Cuviliez,
“don’t expect you employees to die for you, if you’re not with
- Cultivate a family vibe, but don’t treat your employees like family, agreed Cuviliez and Nassar. Employees are here for a reason, you have to do what it takes for your company, even if it doesn’t go the same way as your employees would like.
- Once you have found the talent you want, do
whatever it takes to get them. One expert shared his
experience poaching a high profile employee to join his startup for
a lower salary than what she was making. He came to her five times,
each time, she said no, but each time, she saw how the vision of
the founders was coming to life, how determined they were, and how
good they were. The sixth time, she was in.
- Decide what you’re willing to give up.
Cuviliez was very clear on this: you cannot have an employee with
low salary, high expertise, and lots of passion. You have to
decide: hire a senior, and find a way to pay them, and hope this
investment will turn into a game-changer, or hire juniors, who may
leave after a year. Paying someone doesn’t have to be in salary
- Share the wealth. Loyalty comes from stock options and shares. One entrepreneur shared that he had been able to keep an employee who had been approached with an offer for a much higher salary, because this employee believed his stock options plan will eventually get him millions.
Does hire-fast-fire-fast work?
Not all were in agreement. All agreed that keeping employees who don’t fit the company’s vision can be really hurtful, and have negative repercussions on other employees. But, as Rabih Nassar mentioned, firing fast is not always doable, and can damage the company’s good atmosphere and culture. The entrepreneur also added that hiring fast can kill you if you don't know what you're looking for.
Once more, entrepreneurs, those either looking for funding, or still bootstrapping, had tons of questions regarding when to raise money, and what to show investors.
- Look for investment when
you have traction. Investors want to see market size,
business model, sales channel, said Wamda Capital’s Walid Faza.
Other experts advised to seek funding only when it’s absolutely
necessary. “Pivoting when you already have an investor is a painful
experience,” explains Wamda Capital’s Lana Alamat, because you are
- If you’re looking for
investment, make sure you have numbers proving the benefits
of your product. Use your beta version to measure how your
product helped your beta testers; this will help to convince both
future clients and investors, advised Alamat.
- Do your market research in different markets,
said experts across different sessions. If people want your product
but aren’t willing to pay for it, don’t wait around. Move to
another country, as consumer behaviors are different
- Know what it will take to scale. This is a key
factor investors want to see; show them exactly how much time and
money scaling and expanding in new markets will take.
- Think like an investor when valuing your
company. Valuating your company when you’re in pre-revenue
stage is hard. Investors look at comparables and study potential
forecasts. If you don’t agree on equity, go for convertible
- Don’t give up too much equity. Equity is the
most expensive financing you can get. If you give up too much, you
may deter future funds from joining, as they won’t want to share
ownership with too many other funds or investors.
- Don’t worry too much about where you’re registered; you can always change that, with the help of investors, down the road. Just make sure the legal books are in order and up-to-date, says one expert.
Next stop is Dubai. Don’t miss it.