From Bitcoins to footwear, opportunity drives David El Achkar

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If you do a quick Google search of David El Achkar’s name, you’re likely to find the following article headlines:

“Middle East entrepreneurs bank on success of Bitcoin”

“David El Achkar wants to see more people using Bitcoin”

But as you scroll down the list of hits, you’ll eventually come across this one: “YellowPay Shuts Down Due to ‘Undisclosed Reasons”.

One year after laying his company to rest, El Achkar is living proof of the cliche advice of getting back up when you’ve fallen.

Today, he’s more likely to be surfing through shoe manufacturing manuals than promoting the Bitcoin market.

In 2013, the former McKinsey consultant and his business partner moved to Beirut from San Francisco to launch one of the MENA region’s first Bitcoin based payment solutions, Yellow. For two years, El Achkar pushed hard to grow the region’s nearly nonexistent Bitcoin market, meeting with high level officials in Dubai and Lebanon’s financial sectors.

David El Achkar. (Image via David El Achkar)

In 2016, after failed talks for an acquisition, Yellow was shut down.

“It’s unfortunate when you think back and there’s not much left of it today and the fact that all of that work, in some superficial sense doesn’t exist anymore,” said El Ackhar.

“I started Yellow when I was 23 and you’re a 23-year-old that has raised a couple hundred thousand dollars of money from investors, you’re running a business and you hired someone, and talking to the central bank. It’s a ton of pressure. All these situations are new, so you’re probably doing it all wrong. But it’s by putting ourselves in these extreme situations that we gain a lot very quickly,” he said.

Post Yellow

Ready for a fresh start, El Achkar took a job with a San Francisco-based company that acts as a virtual chief of staff for startup CEOs. He worked 16-hour days, sleeping at 5am and waking up at 1pm to match US central time, but he left after several months, unhappy with the direction of the company.

By then, his focus had shifted elsewhere, eyes turned downwards …  to people’s feet.

Two months later, in mid 2016, El Achkar has successfully moved on to his newest venture: Maku sandals.

Armed with a stronger composure he, along with William Choukeir and Hanane Kai, launched a Kickstarter campaign to manufacture and distribute what they call sandals with ‘unmatched comfort, quality, and versatility.’

With one week left to go, Maku’s Kickstarter campaign has raised $73,000 - more than 365 percent of the campaigns asking price of $20,000.

Screenshot of Maku Kickstarter campaign taken on October 3. 

Kickstarter success

They’re founders who have little to no experience in the fashion industry, so the success of their campaign has been puzzling.

“Part of it is being naïve about it. Not knowing what you don’t know about something gives you the courage to just launch into the adventure,” said El Achkar. “If you spend enough time researching it, you will figure it out.”

After validating their product, the Maku team worked “hard and smart”, researching best practices on launching Kickstarter campaigns and they reached out to people who had closed successful campaigns for their insights.

As their online funding period is set to close, they’ve begun their research on how they’ll manufacture sandals and distribute them.

El Achkar said it was perhaps that they were not a fashion label targeting high end consumers that had contributed to the popularity of their footwear. In an age of professional and self-proclaimed online fashion influencers, as well as the intense bombardment of fashion advertisements, simplicity and affordability can be refreshing.

While El Achkar humbly enjoys the popularity of his latest project, he is also clear-eyed about the immense challenges that face startups, including those that have and will inevitably grace Maku.

“We’ve been through alot with the Maku sandals, and between Yellow and [the San Francisco company]... But as the years pass, I’ve become much more solid and firm in my composure and ability to handle these extremely difficult situations,” he said.

“I’m at a stage where I would rather try a million things and fail, or have modest outcomes, then later take all of these random, seemingly unrelated pieces of knowledge and trust that something will come together towards a solid foundation for whatever I want to continue to do,” he said.

In the years to come, El Achkar’s name is likely be tied to another startup. While some may find his ventures sporadic and haphazard, a trained eye will find the links with ease: curiosity and opportunity.

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