Experts and entrepreneurs tackle ecosystem's needs at Mix N' Mentor Cairo

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Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud Street seemed like many other streets in Egypt’s bustling capital Saturday morning. It was cold and dusty. But a visit to the GrEEK Campus revealed more: trees, coffee shops, shared workspaces, and a robust entrepreneurship environment. It feels like another world within the city.

The GrEEK Campus is the brainchild of Ahmed al-Alfi, Sawari Ventures’ founder, who in 2008 decided to turn AUC’s old Greek Campus into a geek campus, and in turn build a tech hub for Egyptian entrepreneurs.

And on Saturday February 21st, nearly 100 entrepreneurs rubbed shoulders with some of MENA’s most seasoned investors, mentors and industry experts when Wamda kicked off its signature Mix N’ Mentor event at the shared workspace.

Roundtable discussions and workshops focused on common challenges of building a business from the ground up. Group sessions were facilitated by Wamda team members, and focused on team building, business development and fundraising. Entrepreneurs used five minutes to discuss their challenges and get direct feedback and advice from the mentors. Here are some insights that emerged.

The Fundraising session during Mix N' Mentor Cairo

1- Fundraising: know your potential investors more than you know yourself

Most of the companies represented at the event were in their early stages. As such, information covered during fundraising sessions was preparatory and introductory. Common questions entrepreneurs asked were how do I find investors, what should I include in my pitch, should I go to an investor or to an accelerator and how can I monetize my startup.

To look for investors, Ziad Mokhtar, partner at Venture Capital firm Ideavelopers, advised entrepreneurs to join competitions and networking events and to research investors online. “There aren’t many and they are known in Egypt,” he says.

Pitching mistakes are always a hot topic. Entrepreneurs must be able to explain how their idea will work and gain traction. They must clarify their business and revenue model, have a clear implementation plan, and explain how the investment will be used. “Your app isn’t launched yet, you have an idea, no business model and no revenue model. How can you ask for money?” Mokhtar said.

Studying and understanding the investors they plan to approach for money is crucial, according to mentors. Nearly all indicated that investors have specific mandates that don’t allow them to invest in certain fields or are restricted to a specific ticket size. 

Still, entrepreneurs should not be deterred from reaching out to investors.

“Approach investors even if you don’t want to raise money,” said Khaled Talhouni, partner at Wamda Capital. “Socialize your ideas with them and be in front of them at the early stages.”

Tarek Fahim, Partner at Tamkeen Capital advised entrepreneurs to look for investors when their product is ready and to go for an accelerator if it isn’t.

2- Team building: should you stretch your employees and reward them more?  

The User Acquisition workshop

There is more than one approach to building a motivated team. “There are two ways to hire; either get 10 people and pay them to work 8 hours each,” says Amir Barsoum, CEO at DrBridge, “or hire fewer people to work longer hours, and they’ll be paid slightly more. You need the mentality that you live to work. Stretch them, get them excited and pay them well.”

On the other hand, Abed Agha, founder of digital entertainment agency VineLab, argues that entrepreneurs shouldn’t stretch their employees. “They will burn out,” he said.

The session also tackled the issue of offering non-traditional incentives to startup employees in order to retain them. Founders must offer them a vision of the future and a clear path to get there, mentors noted.

“Make employees excited about your company’s objective. That’s when they’ll be much more productive,” tweeted RiseUp Summit during the event.

Other discussions covered the importance of hiring a co-founder to expand the business and giving more equity to co-founders. “[Give] at least 40% to a CTO,” said Barsoum. “You have to believe in them as much as they believe in you. You need this CTO. Forget the past, they’ll take you to the future.” 

3- Business Development: “before you worry about scaling, get the product right”

Business Development session

Mentors emphasized the fundamentals of business development:

- Use social media to better target your audience  

-Get the product right before you worry about scaling

 -Get your partners or distributors excited about pushing your product

-Entrepreneurs need to build consumer awareness.  If looking to expand, don’t make the leap before you exhaust your market

-When you partner with big names, you have to compromise and choose what to compromise on because you don’t yet have credibility 

Sharing insights and advice on work/life balance 

Afternoon workshops covered User Acquisition, which was given by Will Hutson, founder of digital entertainment agency LMTD, and Jonathan Labin, Head of Facebook in the Middle East and Africa. They indicated that acquiring the right users, rather than just any users, requires specific and carefully considered advertising campaigns. A second user acquisition workshop with Narain Jashanmal, Head of DR Advertising MENA for Facebook and Nicholas Wilson, Head of Media and Strategy at LMTD, focused on advertising on Facebook and how to deal with fake profiles.

Jashanmal suggested targeting mobile users as most of the fake profiles run on desktop computers. The workshop evolved into a Q&A session on targeted advertising campaigns on Facebook.

The Term Sheet workshop, given by Lana Alamat, legal counsel at Wamda Capital, went over the basics of a term sheet, why it’s important to have one before accepting an investment and how to go about finalizing term sheets to suit the entrepreneur and the investor. 

The VC workshop, led by Khaled Talhouni, discussed what investors expect from entrepreneurs and why entrepreneurs should know their potential investors before approaching them. 

The Public Speaking workshop, led by Rabih El Khodr, founder of Standup Communication, taught entrepreneurs how to act, talk and behave when pitching to investors. 

As for Content Monetization, Abed Agha and Con O’Donnell, co-founder of RiseUp Summit, talked about product pricing and how can entrepreneurs set the right prices for their services, how to find the right advertisers and monetize from website visitors. 

The day ended with a fireside chat in which mentors and entrepreneurs shared their insights about the event, and went over a very common issue among entrepreneurs: maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

“Be disciplined about your private life,” advised Jonathan Labin, Head of Facebook in the Middle East and Africa. For Karim Hussein, CEO at D-Kimia Diagnostic Solutions, meditation was key to clear his mind and not think about work all the time. Wamda's CEO Habib Haddad advised entrepreneurs to set personal OKRs as well, such as a deadline for finishing a book or learning how to code.

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