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From MENA to the World
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From MENA to the World

Author: Amir Farha

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Over the past decade, the MENA region has been silently building an ecosystem while the world wasn't watching. The mission of this show is to share those stories from those that are contributing to this change, the investors, founders, and operators. We'll be interviewing guests to talk openly about their journeys, starting with their childhood and going all the way through to the Why? How? What? of their entrepreneurial journeys. Showcasing these stories is vital for people to connect, learn and get inspired. Join our host Amir Farha, Founder of COTU Ventures, as he explores the human side to entrepreneurship in the Middle East from the narratives of people who have the courage to drive change, overcome barriers, and build lasting companies despite all the difficulties along the way. 

7 Episodes
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In this episode, we talk with Rami Salman, the Co-Founder of Wrappup, a meeting-based productivity app with intelligent voice recording that helps inside sales managers make better decisions. Now, Rami is the Director of M&A, Strategy, & Partnerships at Cisco, after Wrappup's acquisition by Voicea, and concurrently by Cisco.This was an in-depth conversation on Rami's entrepreneurial journey, from when he learned the entrepreneurial tools and mindset from childhood with his family, to Co-Founding Wrappup and raising multiple rounds for his startup, ultimately getting acquired. Now at Cisco, we talk with Rami to look back on his journey and the deep lessons he learned throughout this time. He was honest in sharing his challenges, worries, and success raising funds for Wrappup and the conversations he's had with investors, so there is plenty to unpack here if you are a founder going through the same journey.We'll talk about:The frameworks and strategies Rami used to shift Wrappup in a direction to profitability and ultimately attracting investorsWhat to really do once you get market validation for your product, and how to respond to it effectivelyThe hardest moment of being a founder on the verge of closing down the businessHow to structure your startup so that you are fit for acquisitionEnjoy!Timestamps2:28 Intuitive, Analytical: How Rami would describe himself growing up7:41 Rami's first taste of entrepreneurship through his family11:11 Tinkering as a key trait of a founder16:07 Starting off an experiential career after graduating18:38 Working at Bain & getting the tools to tinker with business and strategy19:57 How Rami's wife encouraged him to get an MBA for entrepreneurship21:38 How Rami Salman learned more at a hackathon than the last 1.5 years of his career26:50 "I really wanted to do something that didn't exist before" Rami Salman's ethos on Wrappup28:17 Choosing the right customers for Wrappup and how to close larger rounds33:57 "Impossible is was just a temporary position for them" Getting app developers for Wrappup36:19 Using the matrix of use cases to figure out strategic direction39:07 How Wrappup was acquired by Voia through organic connection41:04 Why you should get someone to steal your idea44:30 Getting market validation and 200k app downloads47:20 The challenges of transitioning into getting acquired50:11 The different criteria of getting acquired as a startup52:39 What VCs really look for when investing in businesses53:11 The hardest moment in Rami Salman's entrepreneurial journey56:16 What qualities Rami Salman thinks a good investor should have1:00:23 Deciding to be an entrepreneur again or not1:01:50 Redefining impact now that Rami Salman is more of an investor and advisorLinksRami Salman's LinkedIn: https://ae.linkedin.com/in/ramisalmanAbout the Host COTU Ventures Website Amir's LinkedIn Amir's Twitter
In this episode, we chat with Ola Doudin, Founder of BitOasis, the largest and most trusted cryptocurrency platform in the MENA region. Formed in 2015, BitOasis serves as the go-to platform for first-time cryptocurrency buyers and seasoned traders alike. They are a pioneer of the cryptocurrency movement in the region.How BitOasis came to be was unconventional, as Ola shares more about her childhood and journey to bring this opportunity for the region. Sharing her rebellious side as well as the ups and downs of running a crypto startup in the region, Ola shares lessons for founders who want to fundraise whilst overcoming very dire challenges.I really enjoyed the insights she brought to the table, talking about the persistence you need to keep going, and the challenges of a solo founder especially in this region.We'll talk about:Ola's rebellious side and how that feeds into her qualities as a proven founderRiding the cryptocurrency wave early and the challenges of bringing it into the MENA regionThe delusional expectations that founders have on themselves as well as those around themHow Ola overcame the obstacles of fundraising and becoming a trusted startup until now.Enjoy!Timestamps:2:51 What makes someone successful can become their enemy6:30 Self-awareness is one of the best qualities for any founder7:38 A childhood of perfectionism, and how it can be very taxing on people13:50 What Ola Doudin thinks about her life choices15:56 Negotiating to change schools only to get expelled21:04 Turning point for Ola in studying overseas27:56 The beginning of Ola's unconventional career after EY31:34 Setting the foundation for BitOasis37:35 Meeting with founders for BitOasis in the beginning40:33 The valleys of death to cross, and founders' unreasonable expectations43:18 Navigating through the challenges of crypto as a solo founder45:24 How Ola Doudin fundraised for BitOasis in the Middle East51:25 Invest in relationships early: advice for founders looking to get investors55:00 BitOasis had the banks closed the doors on them, yet they continued57:04 Ola Doudin's motivation to persevere: The Team59:31 The market decides whether you win or lose1:01:33 Ola Doudin's Book Recommendations1:02:53 Ola Doudin's legacy is a work in progressLinksOla's Twitter: https://twitter.com/odoudinOla's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ola-doudin-5a026511/About the Host COTU Ventures Website Amir's LinkedIn Amir's Twitter
In this episode, we're having a chat with Sonia Weymuller, Co-Founder and General Partner of VentureSouq (VSQ), a GCC-based Venture Capital firm. Launched in 2013, VSQ is active in the MENA region with a global portfolio of 200+ companies, as well as developing rich educational content around venture investing.Sonia is the most conscious investor in the MENA region. Arriving into the world of VC from an unconventional path, I wanted to share with you her life story and adventures that brought her to Dubai and to backing entrepreneurs in the region.We talked about:Sonia's unconventional path to becoming an established VCHow VentureSouq started as an informal gathering of interested investorsSonia's philosophy on conscious investing and what you need to knowThe traits you need to be a founder worth investing inEnjoy!Timestamps:2:15 Sonia's childhood, and being an accidental outlier in everything7:57 Joining Microsoft, Viacom, and Sonia's experience with headhunters11:02 The number 1 skill Sonia learned with these companies11:44 What prompted Sonia to move to Dubai12:56 Getting confronted with mortality13:42 How VentureSouq started with a birthday party16:00 How a team of 4 different personalities made VentureSouq thrive19:24 How The Five Languages of Love helped Sonia become a better investor20:46 Conscious Collective: What it is and why it started23:34 What are some misconceptions around impact?26:05 The 1 trait that made Sonia a successful venture capitalist31:00 The attributes to a good founder that's worth investing in34:50 Sonia's relationship with imposter syndrome37:19 How Sonia thinks about fundraising: Alignment is key38:39 Sonia's general thoughts on the fundraising ecosystem41:38 What one thing would Sonia change about this region43:50 Sonia's Legacy and what she wants the next generation to strive towards46:16 The book that Sonia carries everywhere with her48:09 Stay motivated by being centeredLinks:Sonia's Twitter: https://twitter.com/soniaweySonia's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/soniaweymuller/About VentureSouq: https://www.venturesouq.com/VentureSouq's Twitter: https://twitter.com/venturesouqAbout the Host COTU Ventures Website Amir's LinkedIn Amir's Twitter
In this episode, we talk with Kamal Reggad, the CEO of RemotePass, a specialised remote work platform making it easy to hire, offer benefits, onboard, manage & pay your global team all at once.Kamal gives us an overview of his entrepreneurial journey: from taking a risk by diving into Morocco's e-commerce ecosystem, to his hardest lessons as a solo founder. Despite the pandemic, he is still optimistic about the Middle Eastern startup space, and finds opportunities through the lessons he learned.About the Guest and RemotePassKamal is a Moroccan entrepreneur who founded Hmizate.ma, connecting online and offline shopping through coupons for deals on products and services. By 2013, Hmizate carved out 65% of the market share. Capitalising on this, Kamal went on to launch several other websites, and is now heading RemotePass. Using their contract management system, companies can instantly create localized contracts, automate onboarding with identity verification, document collection and process mass international payroll all in one place. One defining feature is that RemotePass offers the flexibility for remote teams to get paid in the currency of their choice.Main Points:The power of discovering your core strengths and choosing the career path you wantFounding a company with no name: How Kamal took Morocco's e-commerce golden ticket and ran with itFrom getting sued to dealing with fear: Kamal's hardest lessons as a solo founderHow do you innovate despite the COVID-19 lockdown? Kamal gives us his experience in innovating remotelyTimestamps0:13 Kamal's origin story and how his father started his own company4:43 Becoming entrepreneurial from childhood8:01 Choosing his career path and focusing on core strengths11:13 "I discovered I liked to be part of the inception of something"16:09 The e-commerce golden ticket in Morocco19:23 "There was no company...we didn't even have a name"21:54 Expanding the company, and the wall between North and Central Africa24:21 Pick a market: Kamal's learnings through his journey25:25 The hardest moment for Kamal in his last startup28:26 "Travel is not coming back in the next 12 months" How the coronavirus affected Kamal33:51 How to prepare for a fundraising during the pandemic38:09 Know your product inside out: How Kamal lands his client41:36  Kamal's best traits and heroes41:55 Positive impact, and what Kamal thinks success is 10 years from now43:28 How we deal with fear is different depending on what stageLinksRemotePass WebsiteKamal's TwitterKamal's LinkedInAbout the Host COTU Ventures Website Amir's LinkedIn Amir's Twitter
In this episode, we’ll have a chat with Benjamin Mouflard, Co-Founder and CEO of the Dubai startup ChatFood. In 2018, Ben and his co-founder Vinny launched ChatFood, a technology platform designed to help restaurants drive their online orders from a centralised system. ChatFood has since empowered 6,000 local businesses across 62 countries to grow in an increasingly digital world. Their platform has helped deliver over $5 million in orders, saved $10 million in commissions, and attracted 1.2 million community-conscious customers globally.In this episode, you will get a glimpse into how ChatFood carved their place in the saturated food delivery industry, Ben’s initial learning from running a startup and more.Important PointsStick to the vision & mission and never lose touch with your customersCompetition is everywhere, you need to find your demographic, niche and marketGreat product offering and user experience is the key to winning over your customersRaising money is the easy part, finding the right investor is where the challenge lies.Establishing the company culture in the beginning will help you find the right people Always go back to your first customer to resonate with why you started this in the first placeTimestamps01:36 Turning a childhood interest into careers at Microsoft and Facebook03:01 - Stop thinking, start doing05:21 - The importance of creating a support system as an entrepreneur06:52 - How a chance encounter led to a successful business partnership07:45 - What Ben’s first few ventures taught him10:54 - Finding a problem you’re passionate about solving12:49 - Shedding the fear of being a startup13:37 - Connecting with communities and building conviction around your business16:05 - Cultivating a competitive edge in Dubai and going international19:25 - Growing pains and scaling-up funding21:52 - Leading a mission-driven company 24:08 - Empowering your team to take risks and the value of providing feedback26:03 - Balancing process and outcome28:22 - Defining your customer profile and building principles surrounding it30:52 - Companies that Ben draws inspiration from32:14 - Attracting long-term investors and avoiding power dynamics37:20 - Finding peace in adversity and staying true to your values  41:56 - Improving your approach by learning from experience and consuming content 45:01 - Reminding yourself of your purposeLinksBenjamin Mouflard’s TwitterBenjamin Mouflard LinkedInVinny’s LinkedInWhat is ChatFood?ChatFood WebsiteChatFood InstagramChatFood YoutubeNoteworthySaas Academy (Youtube)About the Host COTU Ventures Website Amir's LinkedIn Amir's Twitter
In this episode, Talal Bayaa talked about his journey as a health-tech entrepreneur and founder of Bayzat, A company that provides a free platform for employee benefits, human resources, payroll and more. From finding the right investor to support the business plan, identifying the right talent to hire and grow the company, to even learning how Talal improves on his mental well-being to avoid burnt out.Talal broke down his process to be in the right headspace, how he overcame his obstacles, building Bayzat from ground up and more.About the GuestTalal Bayaa is the CEO and co-founder of Bayzat, a UAE-based technology start-up that empowers businesses with smart and effective insurance & HR solutions. Launched officially in April 2013, the platform is the first one-stop-shop to offer a real-time comparison of health insurance rates in UAE and much more. The company has recently introduced HR Administration services that help companies automate all their admin work from data entry to managing employee records.Talal studied bioengineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA. He is a CFA Charter holder as well as finance, investment and banking expert. In his free time, the 29-year-old Palestinian-American entrepreneur enjoys being outdoors and travelling.Main PointsIdentifying your market.  What product and services are lacking in your immediate market. Find a small dependable team and build upon that foundation and you’re able to jump ship once the ball is already rolling.Learn from your mistakes and replace models that are broken or don't make sense. This is what Talal said in the episode: “If something is not going well and we’re not happy with something, we need to change it, otherwise we will get the same (negative) result.”Be attentive during the hiring process. Talal mentioned that the company will evolve drastically over time. You’ll have to put the right people in the right position and give them the support to succeed as a whole. Seek help in the wisdom of others. In the episode, Talal shared how he has a handful of trusted peers that he is able to talk to when it comes to challenges and misery of owning a business. From colleagues to business coaches, he will try to call out for help and feedback.Timestamps01:55 - Growing up in Dubai and California05:14 - Graduating university and going into the job market05:29 - Early days of Bayzat and how the idea came about8:20 - Bootstrapping, self funding and running an early business model of Bayzat13:57 - Most significant learnings from building Bayzat from 3 people to more than 150 people.16:00 - Mindset of the hiring and firing process21:14 - Toughest moment in Talal’s career with Bayzat25:00 - Suggestion and pointers for entrepreneurs starting a software firm in the Middle East.26:24 - Talal’s technique on selecting the right strategy for his business33:52 - What has Talal learnt about the fundraising process, what to look for and how to pick the right investors.41:20 - What would Talal do differently if given another chanceLinksTalal Bayaa LinkedinBayzat Website Bayzat TwitterBayzat InstagramAbout the Host COTU Ventures Website Amir's LinkedIn Amir's Twitter
The Middle East has a new story to tell and this is, From MENA to the World.Over the past decade, the Middle East has been silently building an ecosystem while the world wasn't watching. We've had conflict, war and despair, and yet our people have hope and ambition for change and transformation. Step by step, driven by the spirit of entrepreneurship and an underdog mentality, we have collectively come together to create a vibrant startup industry with a new narrative that harnesses our strengths and is the driver of our future.For the longest time, the Middle East has been misunderstood.  The mission of this show is to share those stories from those that are contributing to this change; the investors, founders, and operators. These conversations showcase entrepreneurial journeys from a deeper perspective, while sharing insights on the regional challenges and opportunities that exist in the region but are often overlooked.Join our host Amir Farha, founder of COTU Ventures, as he explores the human side to entrepreneurship in the Middle East from the narratives of people who have the courage to drive change, overcome barriers, and build lasting companies despite all the difficulties along the way. Releasing in August 2023.Music Credit: The music used in our show is from a track called "Batal", which means "Champion" in Arabic. Produced by Sandhill, an Iraqi-Canadian music producer from Montreal. A pioneering figure in Arabic hip-hop since the early 2000s, Sandhill has collaborated with the likes of Narcy, Mashrou Leila, Omar Offendum, Yasmine Hamdan, Lowkey, and Shadia Mansour. His work can also be heard in major motion pictures such as Furious 7.About the Host COTU Ventures Website Amir's LinkedIn Amir's Twitter
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