What we learned: Mix N’ Mentor Beirut

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Awaiting the solutions for the big ideas
Even the most amazing of ideas need a little help. (Images via Wamda with Sam Fakhoury)

During our Mix N’ Mentor Beirut we gained some valuable insights while the mentors, from successful startups, accelerators and investment firms, listened to the queries of startups.

Here is what we now know.

User growth is about customer care

User numbers are always a point of worry for startups. If you’re not getting 5,000 returning customers a month within your first six months, you’re freaking out.

But first, you must work out who your user is. One must first define what a quality user is for the startup. Age? Gender? Background? Once you know who you want it’s easier to target them. Equally, when it comes to targeting users startups should tackle one community at a time.

Quality, not quantity. A classic but with good reason. When it came to doing things to attract those users, Ziad Traboulsi of Facebook hates it when startups are wasteful with what they put on up social media. Memes are his big "no no". “Spend time on quality media,” he told his roundtable.

Also, finalizing exactly what you’re ‘selling’ is key to pumping up those numbers. Leap Venture’s Hervé Cuviliez said this could be the root of your problem, adding that “the minute you can find 1,000 [users], you can find 10,000”.

Aramex's Fadi Ghandour sharing his exptertize with young entrepreneurs. (Images via Wamda)
Wamda Capital's Fadi Ghandour sharing his exptertise with young entrepreneurs.

No team, no party

Often sidelined behind things such as fundraising or product development is the group of people actually doing the work.

A key part of building a successful startup is having a good team - if you don’t have a team, no one will give you money.

During one of the sessions, Fadi Ghandour of Wamda Capital said that part of finding the right people to hire was about culture, skills and mindset. Looking to new graduates, he said, is a good way to have a workforce that adopts the culture you want at your startup.

Ed Roberto of Techstars used the analogy of relationships when it came to choosing those you work with. “You really want think hard about what this other person brings [to the relationship]”.

The cofounder was also deemed essential. Who wants to be alone in building a company? Shares for the staff, in the company, is also seen as a great way to incentivize.

Alternatively, work out whether you even want or need to invite people to your startup party.

Facebook's Nicholas Wilson, with Vinelab's Abed Agha discussing user growth tactics.
Facebook's Nicholas Wilson, with Vinelab's Abed Agha discussing user growth tactics. 

If you build it they will come

Scaling, expanding, maturing. However you like to label the growth of your startup, how you go about it is a big concern for people starting out, and starting to experience real traction.

First and foremost focus on what exactly you’re selling. One entrepreneur’s startup was a conglomeration of 10 - admittedly exciting - different ideas, but to really succeed you’ve got to focus on one at a time.

And even if you’re just at the community building stage, you should have a business model in place. Having a defined monetization model that you’re confident of is important, and if you’re then delaying its implementation you should have a very good reason as to why.

After that, don’t dilly dally when it comes to launching. Anghami cofounder Eddy Maroun said to “launch your product asap, as you’ll never fully know how it’s received, or works”.

Techstars’ Roberto also recommended taking a moment to figure out what you needed to do to double your business every year. “Then it focuses the mind on what skills you need [to achieve that].”

And if you’re looking to expand outside of the country you’re currently in, growing within your home country first is important.

If you’re looking to grow, whether in your own country or the region, you need to travel. “Do more meetings,” said 500 Startups’ Hassan Haidar. “You don’t need to move out of Lebanon, you need to spend more time talking to customers”.

While some mentors did stress that it was important to be open to change, learning to say No! is important. The entrepreneur’s job is to say no more than yes, whether to your own ideas or those of others. Just say no.

Seeking fundraising tips from Leap Ventures and Wamda Capital
Seeking fundraising tips from Leap Ventures and Wamda Capital.

Money comes from many sources

Money makes the world go round. It can also help startups really take off.

Just don’t ask too early if you’re still at the idea stage and haven’t even got customers," said Wamda Capital’s Walid Faza. “You need to quantify your user engagement, the market-fit, address what gap you’re filling and who is your key user.”

The key attraction for investors is always an entrepreneur with a plan. Where is the company going? How do they intend to grow? And as Roberto says he always asks: “Will there be an exit?”

Even if a startup doesn’t hit their KPIs, an investor is very often going to be more interested in the founders and team than the metrics. “Those things are very important but this is where a strategic investor is very important also,” said Faza. “Money is everywhere but you really need to find that one investor who you know will be your guide.”

Looking into one’s own pockets first was strongly advised, especially when it came to seed stage financing. “Spend your own money, build your product, acquire paying users,” said KAUST’s Ozan Sonmez. “Then you’ll be good for investors.”

Because sometimes, especially for those at the seed stage, too much money can be a bad idea. Take as little as you can to get to the next stage. You need customers and products first.

VCs are of course not the only option for raising some money - you can look to either a really keen customer who loves the product and would be happy to get involved, or the distributors of your products.

If indeed you were also at Mix N' Mentor and have some valuable insights please do share them with us below in the comments section. 

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