Habib Haddad

10 Myths About Startups

I am lucky that I get to talk to entrepreneurs on a daily basis; it’s made me very optimistic for the future of Arab entrepreneurship. However, many first timers have misbeliefs about the journey, and I think it could be helpful to go through a few.

1. It’s easy being an entrepreneur. [tweet this]

It’s actually hard being an entrepreneur. You wake up one day thinking you are the king of the world and the next day, you completely question your decision to start a company. You will need to sacrifice, forget your social life, and forget fancy dinners and nice vacations; you’ll need all the time and money you can get. When I started Yamli, at one point, I had to sell all of my furniture and just keep my bed. I lived with only a bed for a few years until we were able to figure out our business model and scale our revenues. Make sure you’re mentally prepared ready for the journey. It’s very hard, but truth be told, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.

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Starting a new adventure; Joining Wamda

I am happy to announce that I will be joining Wamda as its new CEO. 

When Fadi Ghandour emailed me last April to see if I’d be interested to join him and Abraaj to change the early stage entrepreneurship ecosystem it was a no brainer that I would say yes.

As many of you know I have been a huge believer in the entrepreneurship scene in the Middle East and passionate about making an impact. A few years back while in Boston I decided to venture in this market and started Yamli with my good friend Imad Jureidini. As I was growing the company in the MENA region I faced many frustrating obstacles that I haven’t experienced in my previous US startup life. Back then it was virtually impossible to find Angel investors, the press was not a big supporter of Startups, the private sector did not respect “small companies” and it was very hard to convince good talent to join a “risky” venture. Although the picture looks better today there still exist a lot of obstacles, but one thing remains for sure, the MENA is a hot emerging market and growing.

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Localization: imitation or art ?

When the Chinese internet giant QQ released Fanfou a few years ago many criticized it as an obvious clone to twitter. The same again happened with the launch of Watwet the Jordanian startup. After all, at first glance the sites do look a lot like twitter. Maktoob, the company behind the Arab internet success story was always described as the Yahoo of the Middle East because of the very similar services it provided. It didn’t come much of a surprise when Yahoo actually acquired the company in 2009. 

But is localizing an existing product or business idea imitation or art, and does that limit innovation or actually requires it?

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Governments on “lowering the cost of failure”

I participated yesterday in the Economist Roundtable in Beirut. The theme was around “how Lebanon can reach its full potential” and mostly focused on the role of government. There were some impressive talks by various Ministers including Charbel Nahas, Gebran Bassil and Mohammad Safadi. My panel discussed how to foster and keep Lebanese talent in the country, obviously I vouched for innovation and entrepreneurship especially among the youth.

I won’t try to be comprehensive in this post on what I think governments should do in general to foster innovation and entrepreneurship but I would like instead to talk about their roles on what Joi Ito a great friend and mentor always talks about as a key factor to increase innovation: “lowering the cost of failure”.

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The Arab entrepreneurship opportunity

The Arab Entrepreneurship OpportunityThe Middle East and North Africa region is home to 350 Million Arabic native speakers, 65% of which are under the age of 30. While internet penetration is still low at 20% it’s growing at the fastest rate in the world, mobile penetration however is at 80% with about 220M users. The education and health are booming due to the fast population growth. This growth coupled with the wealth of some countries especially in the Gulf is creating significant opportunities that are yet to be explored. 

However a large portion of the massive GCC sovereign wealth funds was historically invested in markets like USA, Europe and Asia, but the recent downturn has put pressure to finally look and foster opportunities in the MENA region itself. Governments all over the Arab world are also keen on accelerating entrepreneurship and have been shifting the mindset of their funds towards more early stage deals, hoping to create that ecosystem. The challenge here is that it’s not just a shift of mindset but also a shift in required skills; Investing in startups and SMEs in the MENA emerging market is far from similar to investing in a developed ecosystem where the returns and exits are more or less established.

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