High-Impact Entrepreneurship

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Endeavor Investor Network Convenes Over 120 Entrepreneurs and Investors in NYC

On May 5th, the Endeavor Investor Network convened growth market leaders in New York City for a day of networking and learning. The invitation-only event gathered over 120 participants including Endeavor Entrepreneurs and leading investors […]

May 13th, 2015 — by admin

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South Africa’s Vinny Lingham Announces Acquisition of Gyft, His Third Venture, By First Data

Mobile gift card provider Gyft, founded by Endeavor Entrepreneur Vinny Lingham, recently announced its acquisition by First Data, a payment technology solutions provider. Based in San Francisco, Gyft has been boosted by recent funding and new merchant onboarding, […]

August 1st, 2014 — by admin

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Seth Godin: “Take this simple marketing quiz”

Reprinted from Seth Godin’s Blog. Original article here.

Not so simple, actually, and about more than just classical marketing:

There are a hundred people in a room, perhaps a trade show or a small theatre. What’s your choice:

1. Sit in the back, watch, listen and learn.
2. Cajole your way onstage so you can make a slick presentation that gets everyone on their feet, buzzing and excited, eager to do business with you or hire you.
3. Set up a booth in the lobby that energizes and engages 12 of the people enough that they tell their friends, while it disturbs or mystifies two of the others and is ignored by the rest.
4. Provide a service (like cookies and juice in a box at the exit) that many of the people there are appreciative of but few remember or talk about.

Most people say they choose #2. In fact, most marketers actually do #1 or #4, and it’s only #3 that gives you the best chance–create a remarkable product or service, don’t depend on getting picked to have a lucky break on stage, and gradually spread your purple cow among people who are truly interested.

Apple and Nike and Starbucks are trotted out again and again as marketing gold standards, because they are beloved by many and ignored or distrusted by few. But these are the outliers, the .0001% that don’t represent what actually happens when successful ideas reach the marketplace.

The mass market is no longer. There is almost no room left for the next Procter & Gamble or Google. Instead, you are far more likely to do your best work if you are willing to delight a few as opposed to soothe the masses.

Endeavor Entrepreneur company Wizards Productions, a Jordan-based gaming studio, pivots into mobile

Reprinted from Wamda. Original article here. This story features Endeavor Entrepreneurs Hussam Hammo, Afif Toukan and Sohaib Thiab‘s company, Wizard Productions.

By Nina Curley

2012 marks a new era for Wizards Productions, which today announced a publishing agreement with 6waves, a leading international social and mobile games publisher.

Wizards Productions, has historically focused on massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, yet now intends to publish its first mobile game, Aqua Jam, in 4 weeks for iOS and later this year for Android.

“We believe that the gaming industry is shifting towards mobile and we believe that there is great potential in it,” says newly anointed CEO Sohaib Thiab. “Mobile also allows us to publish our games globally.”

With a regional mobile penetration rate of 96% in the Arab World, higher than the global average of 82%, thanks to outliers like Saudi Arabia (whose mobile penetration rate may approach 132%), it’s easy to see why a regional gaming company would go mobile. The shift also makes makes sense given the sense of Wizards Production’s Amman studio. “Mobile games are smaller in scale and can be developed very quickly,” Thiab says.

The gaming company, which was founded in Amman in 2008, is also switching CEOs, as original CEO Afif Toukan steps down and COO Sohaib Thiab steps into the lead role. The shift is purely for personal reasons and not due to team conflicts, notes Thiab; Toukan will still be a stakeholder and partner but not a working partner.

Wizards Productions began its gaming career localizing concepts like “Hitman’s Life” with online game “Arabian Hitman,” also launching popular battle game “Operation Arabia,” the first 3D MMO developed entirely locally in the Middle East, which, at its peak, had 220,000 monthly active users.

Aqua Jam, however, will focus on a younger audience, from 8 to 20 years old, with a simple storyline- a family is seeking to recover the other half of its members, who we kidnapped. The game will initially be published in English, but then will be likely be localized in Chinese, thanks to 6waves’s presence in Hong Kong, and then Arabic as well. While Wizards will no longer focus on localization, it will continue to push to publish its games in Arabic, and will port some of its previously published Arabic games to mobile, says Thiab.

The shift follows the trend across the gaming sector in the region- as companies like Wixel Studios in Beirut shift to publishing mobile games in English, and TakTek Games signing a deal with U.K.-based mobile publishing giant Chillingo in April to publish simple language-less games with a global appeal as well.

While some lament the lack of games that truly capture the spirit of the region, it seems gaming companies are prioritizing profitability over local flavor, taking the fastest route to going global.

The trend is not exclusive to the region, however. Social gaming MMO publisher Kabam also pivoted towards producing mobile games early this year, moving away from publishing primarily on Facebook. The jury is still out on whether this has been a successful shift, yet many are following suit, looking to mobile as the future of gaming.

eMBA field report: lights, camera, asado!

Montevideo, Uruguay

Adrian Garcia is an MBA candidate at ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He is interning with Endeavor Entrepreneur company Salado Media in Uruguay through Endeavor’s eMBA Program.

Within half an hour of stepping off the plane in Montevideo, I found myself at a restaurant table with the managing director of Salado Media, Endeavor Entrepreneur Andres Ameglio, conversing and sharing ideas on how his business could successfully grow in the U.S. market. This was your normal business meeting, just not with iced tea and something light to eat. Quickly our ideas flowed just like the juices from what seemed like a 2-pound steak on my plate, which Andres suggested that I order. By the end of the meal, I was in quite the food coma, but Andres kept talking strategy and about the future of the company with the voracity of a T Rex. There is a type of professional/family atmosphere here that is not contrived nor processed. It is the essence of Salado Media.

The scope of my project is to create a US market entry strategy for Salado Media, a film and commercial audiovisual production company. The thing is that they are so well positioned to enter that at first I was taken back by the numerous amount of viable avenues for them. In my previous professional experiences and projects, I was accustomed to working with companies that were trying to make up for their lack of talent or capabilities and therefore had limited choices. Now, I have all the tools one could ask for; it’s just a matter of analyzing and seizing the opportunities in the most strategic manner. The executive team already has some great ideas that are more traditional, but I have been able to add value by bringing in more innovative ones along with a structured approach that stems from experiences with other colleagues, my MBA education, and working in different business cultures and industries in the past. Together, the execs and I have been coming up with a strategy recipe that is a mix of the traditional, the new, and the creative.

Life outside of work has been just as dynamic. I share an apartment with another Endeavor eMBA , Tony, who is working for PedidosYa.com and studies at NYU Stern. It’s good to have a “partner in crime” with whom to trek around town, enjoy countless asados, and attempt to run off the provoletas and empanadas with, and also to bounce ideas off of concerning our respective projects.

Right now, I’m writing from Salado’s Buenos Aires office and have had the chance to meet more genuinely nice and accommodating people while also getting the chance to discover a new city. All together, my eMBA project has helped me to grow professionally, personally, and around my waistline.

eMBA field report: a fresh approach to fast growth and seaside splendors in Uruguay

PedidosYa entrepreneur Alvaro Garcia and eMBA Anthony Musso

Anthony Musso is an MBA candidate at NYU’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. He is interning with Endeavor Entrepreneur company PedidosYa.com in Uruguay through Endeavor’s eMBA Program.

I am coming into the homestretch of my eight week internship with PedidosYa (online food delivery leader in Latin America) based in Montevideo, Uruguay and I am delighted to report that it has been an incredibly positive and transformative experience for me. Working and living in Montevideo has given me a strong appreciation for the Uruguayan culture and its wonderful people. Well educated and extremely friendly, my colleagues and I have become fast friends. I feel very fortunate to have landed in such a welcoming environment.

I have also had the opportunity to travel, visiting Punta del Este, Colonia and Buenos Aires. Although I went during the off season, I had an absolute blast in Punta. I have never seen a city filled with so much residential construction and absolutely no industry to speak of, aside from tourism. It truly is a resort city, built to enjoy. Colonia, the oldest settlement in Uruguay, is a charming town with cobble stone streets and a rich history. Across the river is Buenos Aires, which can only be described as…simply the best.

Working with three distinct, highly intelligent entrepreneurs at PedidosYa has been terrific! They have provided me with valuable business lessons and helped me clarify many of my own professional aspirations. Upon arrival, my assigned objective was fairly broad: help us grow in the best way possible. For me, this important task and full access to a fast growing company in an exploding industry was a dream job. I divided my time in two areas. First, focusing internally, I researched industry best practices and developed a road map for automating order processing. Second, I performed an in-depth analysis of the competitive landscape in Brazil, PedidosYa’s largest and most promising market, and with cofounder Alvaro Garcia devised a completely novel marketing strategy.

Looking back, I have learned and experienced a great deal in such a short period of time. I am extremely happy that I took the leap and joined Endeavor’s eMBA program.

eMBA field report: spreading innovative design from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia

A demonstration of Nada Debs’ hand-crafted design in the Nada Debs Gallery in Beirut during Beirut Design Week

Abulaziz Baroum is an MBA candidate at Babson College’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business. He is interning with Endeavor Entrepreneur Nada Debs in Lebanon through Endeavor’s eMBA Program.

The Land of Entrepreneurs

Lebanon is a colorful country with resilient, highly independent, and self-made people.  I am working in Lebanon with an entrepreneur, Nada Debs, who employs an entrepreneur, who, himself, has an entrepreneur reporting to him (!).

Applying to Endeavor’s eMBA Program

I come from the Middle East with a corporate background from Procter & Gamble.  Given the challenges we are facing in the Middle East – a high unemployment rate and a young population – entrepreneurship stands out as the single greatest remedy to our region’s crisis.  Hence, my decision to join Babson, the number one school for entrepreneurship, where I learned about Endeavor and its efforts in supporting high impact entrepreneurs.  And it was at Babson where a colleague of mine brought the eMBA position at Nada Debs to my attention.

About Nada Debs

Nada Debs is an inspiring and creative entrepreneur.  She discovered that designs for modern, Middle Eastern furniture were almost non-existent and created her company, East and East, which concentrates on designing, manufacturing and selling her own furniture and home accessory lines.

My Project Scope

In light of the rapid business growth and brand awareness that Nada Debs has achieved, the management team has decided to increase the company’s global presence; and with the unprecedented development and real estate boom taking place in Saudi it was only natural to grow into the Saudi market.  My project is mainly focused on defining the Saudi Arabia market entry strategy.

A Venture from the Inside

My journey so far has been enlightening, to say the least.  I’ve been reading and learning about entrepreneurship and startups throughout my year at Babson.  What I’ve been taught has definitely come in handy, but nothing matches a view from the inside. Almost everything here is an opportunity-driven team effort, something you can’t really teach in a classroom.

In Lebanon, burning tires is a popular sign of protest, which has been banned recently. This picture was taken during Beirut Design Week (June 25-30, 2012). It was a creative display by a Lebanese fabric designer. The smoke was artificial of course; otherwise, wouldn’t have been so creative after all.

3 things that investors and entrepreneurs can do to avoid an eternal war

Reprinted from Wamda. Original article here.

By Ayman Abou Hend.

Apple is the most valuable company around the world. Google is the search titan and the innovative platform in the tech industry. Microsoft is the world biggest software company. Pinterest was recently valued at 1.5 billion. Instagram has been acquired by Facebook for an obnoxious sum, and now, Facebook has finally gone public.

When all these stories are mentioned, the first thing that comes up to my mind is the relationship between the entrepreneur, the investors involved, and how it all came together in the first place. I ask: Was it easy? Was it hard? How it can be done? Can these stories be repeated?

Often, the relationship between entrepreneurs and investors is filled with subtle tensions.

You might notice this in an entrepreneur’s article describing that VCs “never listened,” “were pushy,” or alleging that “all they care about is the money.” On the other hand, you will find some investors claiming that entrepreneurs “are stubborn” or “know nothing about the business world,” sniping, “we can’t always be leaving money on the table for them.”

Entrepreneurs might see investors as “vampires”, the rich nobles that suck the blood out of their victims (entrepreneurs!). And investors might deal with the Entrepreneurs as though they are “lycans,” creatures that have strong supernatural powers but use them savagely and waste the good and the green (the money!).

In old legends, they say that the war between the vampires and the lycans is eternal. They also said that any kind of truce between the two races is a figment of the imagination.

However, when it comes to entrepreneurs and investors, there are three things that both and entrepreneurs could do to understand each other better. This may help each party get to know the reasons why sometimes its counterpart acts in a manner that seems to frustrate.

I was originally a venture capitalist, so I have lived the tension of this “war” myself. Yet when I tried to found a company, I tried the life of an entrepreneur and from here I began to sense the pressure on both sides.

First, the Investors: Here are three points that may aid you when dealing with The Entrepreneurs:

1. Understand the feelings of an entrepreneur

First, you need to understand that this company or venture in which you are investing is everything to the entrepreneur. It is his or her dream, hope, target and future. The entrepreneur senses that this company is his own child. He or she has likely risked most of his or her capital, career, and even personal life to make it succeed. So don’t be surprised if they acted aggressively sometimes, if they feel the investor is trying to take control.

2. Communicate Positive and Healthy Vibes

As business professionals, you need to exhibit leadership, communicating to the entrepreneur that you both have common point of interests. You will sometimes need to give him his space and allow him to make the decisions. I have known venture capitalists that interfere in every single decision the entrepreneur takes and this is not right. In the end, the investor’s role is to monitor the results, audit, give assistance and interfere when required or when necessary if the venture is off-track or an action might jeopardize the investment.

3. Remember: it’s all about the human capital

In the end, you should remember that your main investment is in the entrepreneur, not the venture. Only the entrepreneur will be the shareholder most invested in making the venture succeed because originally it was his or her main idea and investment. So it’s best to encourage his or her enthusiasm, rather than considering it as a threat.

Now, the Entrepreneurs. I consider myself blessed because most of my life I have been surrounded by entrepreneurs. I have learned a lot from them, and they make life less boring and give me the sense that something about tomorrow is going to be exciting. They are always active, thoughtful and hungry for more.

Entrepreneurs, Here are three points that may help you deal with investors, specifically venture capitalists:

1. Understand the life of a venture capitalist.

Being a venture capitalist is demanding. From the moment we construct the fund to the moment we close a deal, we are subject to intense pressure. We conduct road shows, present strategies, follow on legalities, source opportunities and try to raise capital from Limited Partners. We have to justify every penny we burn in each new venture, calculate the risk and return, and decide how much are we going to invest and what the average lifetime of our investment is. So don’t be surprised when we act pressured.

2. If you fail, we fail too!

As investors, we don’t doubt your abilities as entrepreneurs, but you should know that the most critical part of the life cycle of any venture is its early stage. Any wrong move during this period will lead to the failure of the company, and only one or two out of ten start ups survive. We want to support you and help the company evolve and succeed.

3. It is not only you, nothing personal…Just business!

Take into consideration that each venture capitalist doesn’t only follow your company but rather tracks up to five companies at the same time. The error margin for any venture capitalist is very low. Imagine yourself justifying to the limited partners why you have “pulled the plug and written down a company.” So, yes, sometimes we interfere, not because we want to seize control over the venture, but because we are simply trying to add value to the company.

In the end, we all know that the market has become more aggressive, more swift, and merciless. Our error margin is nearly null and we need cooperation between both sides to make start ups succeed. But with these tips, perhaps the “vampires” and the “lycans” can find a truce.

Ayman is entrepreneurial capitalist, and Member of Venture Capital and Private Equity investing in Canada, acting as a MENA Representative. He is involved on finding, deciding on new investment opportunities and exciting current ones. He is also responsible for following the business side of and managing a number of Cartel Ventures portfolio companies. Ayman’s investment track record over the last years includes the execution of successful transactions in technology, biomedical, Real estate, Pharmaceuticals and financial services. He has been through all stages in Venture Capital cycle: fundraising, investing, value creation and exit realization. He earned his BS in communication and electronics engineering from the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University, and became Chartered from the CFA institute at 2011.

Endeavor Catalyst invests in AirTies as first MENA region company

Please see the original press release below.

Endeavor Catalyst Invests in Turkey’s Airties; First Catalyst Investment in MENA region

NEW YORK, July 18, 2012 — Endeavor, the world-wide leader in selecting, mentoring and accelerating high-impact entrepreneurs, announced that it has closed an investment round with AirTies, an innovative Turkish developer of wireless networking equipment with worldwide sales, as the third investment of Endeavor Catalyst.

Endeavor Catalyst is a revolutionary and high-impact initiative that uses donated capital to allow the organization to co-invest in Endeavor Entrepreneurs in a neutral, unbiased way. The main goal of this program is to use the returns of the investment both to support Endeavor’s operations and to be reinvested into Catalyst to provide funding for other Endeavor Entrepreneurs.

The investment is the first for Endeavor Catalyst in an Endeavor Entrepreneur in the MENA region and is part of a larger financing round led by international investment firm Invus which has headquarters in New York.  It follows closely on investments in Argentine IT outsourcing leader Globant and Brazil’s Minha Vida health advisory website. Today, Catalyst investments total nearly $3.5 million.

The pioneering supporters of Endeavor Catalyst have each pledged $1MM to the investment vehicle, citing it as an innovative new model of philanthropy. The founding members of this Entrepreneurs’ Circle include Michael Ahearn, Chairman of True North Venture Partners; Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Former Chairman of Warner Music Group; Michael Cline, Managing Partner of Accretive LLC; Reid Hoffman, Partner of Greylock Partners and Co-Founder of LinkedIn; Arif Naqvi, Founder and Group CEO of Abraaj Capital; Pierre Omidyar, Founding Partner of Omidyar Network, Founder and Chairman of eBay.

“With this investment in AirTies, Catalyst becomes a truly global investment vehicle as we move beyond Latin America and into the Middle East, where we see significant opportunity,” says Linda Rottenberg, Co-Founder and CEO of Endeavor Global. “We are thrilled to align Endeavor more closely with AirTies’ success. AirTies’ Founder & CEO Bulent Celebi is an extraordinary Endeavor Entrepreneur and role model in the region, who also serves as an Endeavor Turkey board member and mentor to other entrepreneurs.”

Endeavor is leading the global high-impact movement to catalyze long-term economic growth around the world. With operations in 15 countries throughout Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Endeavor has screened more than 30,000 entrepreneurs and selected 708 individuals leading over 443 high-impact companies. These Entrepreneurs have created over 180,000 jobs, generated over $5 billion in revenues in 2011 and inspire future generations to innovate and take risks.

“Endeavor supported AirTies in its early stages, by helping me secure financing in Turkey and through providing strategic introductions to world-class leaders,” says Bulent Celebi. “Catalyst further aligns AirTies with an organization I care about. Through Catalyst and my role on the Endeavor Turkey board, I am proud to give back to Endeavor and support the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

After a 20-year career in Silicon Valley, Celebi co-founded AirTies in 2004 to provide wireless solutions for the residential and small business market in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Developing, producing and marketing network and wireless routers, set top boxes and accessories, AirTies is the leading company to wirelessly distribute multiple HD video streams to multiple TVs with its innovative MESH networking technology.

About Endeavor:

Hailed by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as “the best anti-poverty program of all,” Endeavor is leading the global movement to catalyze long-term economic growth by selecting, mentoring, and accelerating the best high-impact entrepreneurs around the world. To date, Endeavor has screened more than 30,000 entrepreneurs and selected 708 individuals leading 443 high-impact companies, who then inspire future generations to innovate and take risks. Headquartered in New York City, Endeavor currently operates in 15 countries throughout Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. As the high-impact movement expands globally, Endeavor will continue to prove that anyone with a big idea can succeed, from Silicon Valley to Latin America, the Middle East, and beyond.

About AirTies:

AirTies Wireless Networks, the innovative wireless home networking & Set-Top-developer to the digital TV industry. AirTies designs and develops its own hardware and the embedded firmware. Technology innovations include award winning wireless video distribution to multiple TV’s, wireless coverage range extension, and network setup at a touch of a button. Through its comprehensive product range, including 4 fundamental services (high speed internet access/xDSL, Wireless LANs, internet based telephony/VoIP, and internet based television/IPTV/OTT & DVB C, S & T STB’s).

AirTies was founded in February 2004 by a senior management and technical team from the Silicon Valley, USA, with the strategic intent to become the market leader in wireless distribution within the connected home. AirTies has thus far more than 8 million installed base world-wide. More information is available on their website at www.airties.com.

About Invus:

Since 1985, Invus has been an equity investor in companies who seek to transform their industries. Invus partners with owner-managers of private and public companies to help them achieve extraordinary business performance. Over its 20+ year history, Invus has achieved both cash on cash multiples and annual internal rates of return that are at the very top of the private equity industry. Today Invus manages assets over $4 billion through an evergreen fund structure and has offices in New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong. Invus has invested in companies across a wide range of industries including consumer products and services, food, specialty retail, software, biotech, medical devices and products and services to professionals. To learn more about Invus, please visit www.invus.com.

Endeavor to launch a new country affiliate in Saudi Arabia

Full press release below.

Endeavor to launch a new country affiliate in Saudi Arabia focused on High-Impact Entrepreneurship

New York, July 18, 2012 – Endeavor announced today that it will launch a new affiliate office in Saudi Arabia, expanding its efforts to select and service high-impact entrepreneurs in the Middle East.

This will be Endeavor’s fifth Middle East regional affiliate, following successful launches over the past six years in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Endeavor has already selected 90 entrepreneurs representing 59 companies in the MENA region and provides a range of services including mentoring, providing access to key networks and introductions to sources of smart capital.

All Endeavor affiliates are spearheaded by a local board of leading businesspeople each of who share the organization’s vision for screening and selecting entrepreneurs and then providing them guidance to scale their businesses.

The Endeavor Saudi Arabia founding board will be chaired by Rami K. Alturki, President of Khalid Ali Alturki & Sons. He will be joined on the board by HRH Princess Banderi A.R. Al Faisal, Director General, King Khalid Foundation, Mohammed A. Hafiz, CEO, Al-Sawani, Musaab S. Al Muhaidib, CEO, Al Muhaidib Technical Supplies, Abdulaziz A. Al Omran, VP, Khalid & Abdulaziz Al Omran Co., Hossam Radwan, CEO of Abraaj Saudi Arabia, Faisal Tamer, Managing Partner at The Tamer Group, and Abdulla Al Zamil, CEO of Zamil Industrial.

The board has recruited Rakan Al Eidi to serve as the first Managing Director, overseeing day-to-day operations for Endeavor KSA. His initial responsibilities include recruiting the first Endeavor Entrepreneur candidates in the Kingdom and building a staff to support them.

“We’re very excited to bring Endeavor’s proven model to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said board Chairman Rami Alturki. “Entrepreneurship is one of the keys to addressing the need for tens of thousands of new and innovative jobs in the Kingdom.”

“Through our work with high-impact entrepreneurs in the MENA region, we hope to inspire a culture of entrepreneurship, leading to innovation as well as job and wealth generation.” said Endeavor Co-founder & CEO Linda Rottenberg. “We’re very excited by the enormous opportunities to build entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia.”

The launch of Endeavor in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not have been possible without the strategic guidance of our regional board members and key partners. Endeavor Global would like to thank Abraaj Capital for their commitment and ongoing support to accelerate Endeavor’s expansion and impact within the Middle East and North Africa.

About Endeavor

Endeavor breaks down barriers that prevent emerging-market entrepreneurs from reaching their high-impact potential. Hailed by NYT columnist Thomas Friedman as the “mentor capitalist” model and “the best anti-poverty program of all,” Endeavor identifies entrepreneurs leading high-growth innovative companies in emerging markets. These entrepreneurs are given world-class strategic advice, access to key networks and other tools that will catapult them to success. With Endeavor’s guidance they become “high-impact” – expanding employment, generating wealth and inspiring others to innovate. Often overlooked, these local entrepreneurs are now jumpstarting private sector development in their countries.

At year-end 2010, Endeavor Entrepreneurs throughout Latin America, South Africa, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan had created more than 150,000 jobs and generated over $4 .5 billion in revenues. For more information, visit www.endeavor.org

Further Information:

For more information on Endeavor Saudi Arabia, please contact Rakan Eidi, rakan.eidi@endeavor.org. For further details on Endeavor Global and Endeavor’s entire portfolio of High-Impact Entrepreneurs please contact david.wachtel@endeavor.org or Joanna.harries@endeavor.org

Endeavor Entrepreneur Omar Koudsi: creating relevant Arabic content is Jeeran’s recipe for success

Reprinted from mediaME.com. See original article here.


mediaME speaks to [Endeavor Entrepreneur] Omar Koudsico-founder of Jeeran.com. Omar shares his views on Jeeran’s“Reviews & Places” business strategy, growth of user-generated content in the MENA region, digital media expenditures and much more.

Q. As one of the first Arab online communities, you have witnessed the development of the Arab Internet landscape over the past decade. Tell us about your journey as a portal, and how you got to where you are today.

My business partner and I started developing websites during our university years. Jeeran emerged and we tried several business ideas as part of it. Some of them were more successful than others.

We started as a blog network which was being used, but not by enough people. Our work wasn’t reaching too many people and we were not seeing growth rates that were satisfying. So we asked ourselves what we could do that would be unique to our site, and how it would differ from the other platforms that had been developed. So we thought of this ‘reviews and places’ concept and thought it would be useful in the Arab World.

This next evolution of Jeeran aims to create something relevant to our community. This is where the concept came from. The search for something useful and relevant to our society made us develop the new Jeeran.com.

We knew it would be a challenge to develop the site. It was not something that could be developed by a programmer who lived thousands of miles away. It took a lot of time and effort, but we were drawn to the challenge because it meant we were really going to create something of relevance.

We agreed on what the main concept would be, and decided we would create a site that would list places and services, and would allow people to review them. The concept was to create a place where you people could review places in a meaningful manner. We started in Amman, Jordan, and have since rolled out in nine other cities.

This concept has been successful from the get-go because people saw the value in it. The value is within the framework of the site. We help people find what they are looking for, whether it be a restaurant, a lawyer, a real estate agent, or a car dealership. Other people’s reviews are open to the public, and help people determine what businesses to interact with.

Q. Tell us about the growth you are seeing in user-generated local content in the MENA region. Are we still suffering from a low percentage of Arabic content on the Internet?

The situation is much better percentage-wise when compared to 3 years ago, thanks to mobile and social media. The biggest change is that people around the world started to consider social media content as user generated content. Usage of Facebook and Twitter in our region is quite strong, so the total is much larger. However, I still think there is a lack of creative, innovative content in Arabic, with the exception of video.

Q. You have recently hired a specialized media representative to handle all your advertising sales. Tell us more about the thinking behind this decision.

We are very happy with our decision to outsource our brand advertising to the Choueiri Group. Jeeran has always been a products company and not a media company. Our relationship with Choueiri Group will allow us to focus on products, while they handle the agency world.

Q. Digital media expenditures are growing in the Middle East. What in your opinion are the main challenges or obstacles for faster growth?

What we still lack in this region that is hindering digital spend growth is transparency and being performance driven as opposed to being relationship driven (the relationship between the site and buying agency).

The relationship driven model works for traditional media such as billboards, TV, and radio because it is very hard to measure the returns. However for online, you can measure results and know what you get out of your spend. Unfortunately, I still don’t see enough emphasis given to the return on spend for online, but I am confident that is changing.

Q. What is your projection for percentage of growth in online spending in 2012 for the industry as a whole, and for Jeeran specifically?

2012 has had a slow start for many advertising sectors, but I am confident that the numbers will be compensated in the months to come. With the challenging political and economical situation in our part of the world, I think it would be good if we see 20% Year-On-Year growth in the digital world.

Q. Where does Jeeran go from here in terms of expansion and technological developments?

We have just released Jeeran.com iPhone and Android applications. Through the applications, one is provided with a list of places, whether it be restaurants, clinics or any other service-providers. In addition, one has access to the places’ telephone numbers and directions through Google maps. The results will appear according to your priorities and based on reviews made by the city’s residents. The applications are available free of charge.

Q. What, in your opinion, is Jeeran’s legacy as such a long term player in the digital media scene, and what advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

I would say my advice to digital media entrepreneurs is to never give up. I would advise them to not go for the easy solutions. Find something you feel passionate about and something you feel is of relevance, and really give it your best shot. It might take you several years to achieve your goals. It took us close to ten years to establish our business, but we never gave up and it paid off.

CEO of newly selected Wehostels shares thoughts on Endeavor and his new start-up

Reprinted from PulsoSocial. Original article here.

By Aleyda Rodríguez (translated from Spanish by David Rousseau)

Diego Saez-Gil, Wehostels: “My objective as an entrepreneur is to give back 10 times the amount I’ve received.”

Last week, we announced that Wehostels would be participating in Endeavor’s ISP.  This week, we bring you two more headlines about the popular start-up, one of which was granted in exclusivity to PulsoSocial. First, the company has just opened its new offices in Bogotá, in the HubBog co-working spaces. Second, Lucas Lain has just joined the Wehostels team as the new CTO. I recently sat down with Diego Saez-Gil, co-founder and CEO of Wehostels, to discuss his experience as an Endeavor Entrepreneur and his involvement in the young start-up.

Diego Saez-Gil and his team at the Wehostels offices, in the HubBog.

Aleyda Rodríguez: You are an Endeavor Entrepreneur. What has this experience meant to you in terms of learning and personal growth?

Diego Saez-Gil: Yes, I was lucky  enough to have been recently selected as an Endeavor Entrepreneur. The whole process has turned out be an extremely enriching experience.  Endeavor forces you to question every aspect of your business, from the macro all the way down to the micro. This introspective procedure is instrumental to any company’s growth. But more importantly, Endeavor puts you in touch with high-level people who give you their full attention and provide you with an invaluable service, analyzing your business, asking you questions, and offering you feedback. I was fortunate enough to receive feedback from people such as David Kidder, a serial entrepreneur in New York, Diego Piaccentini, VP of Amazon.com, as well as many other entrepreneurs and executives of the same caliber. You learn a great deal from such experienced people. I also like how Endeavor  inspires you at a more personal level to be a better person and realize that your responsibility as an entrepreneur is much broader that you might think: a good entrepreneur is also one who  generates a positive impact on society. I was amazed at how all these people with really busy schedules were so generous in giving up some of their precious time just to help entrepreneurs like me. Inspired by their generosity, I have decided to dedicate one hour of every day to other entrepreneurs. My goals is to give back 10 times what I’ve received.

 Aleyda Rodríguez: What is the most ambitious goal you’ver ever undertaken in all your time at Wehostels?

Diego Saez Gil: Wehostels has only existed for a short period of time, so we are currently taking on quite a number of goals and challenges. One of our  main goals is to develop the best possible products and adapt them to the actual needs and desires of our users. Another one of our top objectives is to capture and connect the market of travelers with that of hostels. We need to attract both markets simultaneously, and until we attain a critical mass, our service won’t be optimal. Finally, we have to deal head on with the challenge of competing with big-companies and swiping them of their market quotas. However, I am very confident in my team, and I know that together we will triumph over all of these obstacles.

Aleyda Rodríguez: How did this idea come about?

Diego Saez-Gil: A few years ago, I was lucky enough to move to Europe to complete my Master’s degree.  Once there, I fully took advantage of my stay and backpacked all throughout the continent. During the course of my travels, I started to take notice of many business opportunities. As a traveler, I felt that backpacker community was being underserved by the Internet travel industry. The web’s technological advances, reflected for instance in the growth of social networks and in the increase of  smart phones, were not being used to their full potential. I spent a lot of time researching the internet travel industry and discovered that the market opportunity there was very great. The idea behind our start-up continues to evolve but our passion for the internet travel industry remains the same.

Aleyda Rodríguez:  What is the current number of actual users on Wehostels?

Diego Saez-Gil: We’d rather not release that information for now, but our number of users is growing every day, and we are very excited about the traction we’ve attained on all fronts.

Aleyda Rodríguez: Describe your experience at the Endeavor ISP.

Diego Saez-Gil: The ISP was amazing. I was in Canary Wharf, in London’s Financial District, where many investment banks and corporations have their HQs. The most valuable part of the whole experience was the feedback I received from the panelists reviewing my application. I was lucky enough to deal with heavyweights such as Nicolas Szekazy, of Kazek Ventures, Matt Harris of Bain Capital, as well as other impressive panelists. I also had the opportunity to meet  other entrepreneurs from around the world who were also attending the event. It was an incredible experience. I came back full of energy and enthusiasm for what tomorrow will bring.

Aleyda Rodríguez: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned working with Wehostels?

Diego Saez-Gil: There are thousands of things I’m still learning every day. In one of my more recent learning experiences, I was taught the importance of having a focus point: we entrepreneurs have a lot of ideas and we try to cover too many at a time when we really should be focusing on a few things we want to be good at. Another important lesson I learned is that having the right team is essential; everything else is secondary. In order to keep attracting the most talented people to our team, I want to make Wehostels the most appealing company there is to work for.  We are actively trying to create a great work environment in our offices. Our employee benefits, for instance, are hard to match.

Aleyda Rodríguez: You succeeded at being selected at the Endeavor ISP. What’s next for Wehostels?

Diego Saez-Gil: First and foremost, it is with great pleasure that I announce the addition of a new and very important member to our team:  Lucas Lain, a serial entrepreneur who has built a number of companies (one of them was acquired by Argentina’s Grupo Clarin) has come on board as CTO. His addition to our team couldn’t come at a better time. Lucas’s extensive experience in the development of cell phone technology will prove invaluable as we narrow our focus on mobile phones. Our co-founder and first CTO, Alex Torrenegra, is now our Technical Advisor.

We are also very excited about the launching of our first mobile app for the Iphone. We are very proud of our application and are confident that it is at least 10 times better than the competing applications out on the market, both in terms of design and user experience.  We hope it will be available on the App store by the end of the month (We’ll keep you posted on this!).

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