Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part II

This is the last part of my extensive two-part review of Startup Weekend Cairo. You can read part one here.

So day two started, almost all ideas that people voted for the night before had their teams formed, with stress on almost, as it seems that there were ideas that their owners did not find people that would join their teams, which I find odd since voting for an idea should indicate that people liked it, and liking it should indicate that people would want to work on it, so yeah. Anyway, most of the teams were formed and people started getting to work.

Now, I have to really hand it down to National Net Ventures (N2V)– one of the event sponsors- for the great work they did throughout the event. Not only did they have the coolest thing I have ever seen in an event/workshop called the N2V Car, which is a small cart filled with candy that… moves around campus for people to get candy!

But also the N2V people were walking around giving away juice to people while they were working. I cannot really say anything but R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

The second day went on- fast, may I add- and it was time for two quick speeches by Fadi Ghandour, founder and CEO of Aramex, and Bo Burlingham, Inc. magazine editor-at-large. Now, I have to be honest here, Bo’s speech was very good, but in my personal opinion, it was done injustice by making it come after that of Fadi Ghandour’s speech. Fadi’s speech was so interesting and he himself was so lively that Bo’s speech felt “pale” in comparison. Again, I am not saying that Bo’s speech was bad, I am just saying that Fadi’s left too big of an impact more than that of Bo, I mean, I have not been a big supporter of entrepreneurship before the event, but Fadi’s speech DEFINITELY made a believer out of me! To know what I am talking about, watch it:


Also, here is the speech of Bo Burlingham:

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One of the things I was wondering about before the event was how the mentoring system would work- one mentor per team? All mentors working with all teams? To answer my question, on the second day, each team was handed a piece of paper with the line “Mentor needed here” written on it. If the team needed a mentor, they would put the paper on their desk with the text side up; if not then the blank side should be up. I thought that was a great idea as the mentors- who were making rounds at the teams working places- would help the teams that needed help but not interrupt the ones that did not, except that it did not go that way. Things went very smooth on the second day, the mentors provided VALUABLE help when people needed and left them alone when they did not. On the third day though, it was not so smooth. Almost all of the mentors along with Omar Christidis– one of the judges- made rounds and asked each team to tell them about the idea they were working on. I am pretty sure that each team leader talked about their idea at least ten times on the third day. The interruptions sometimes were annoying and teams could not object because they had to be nice to the mentors and of course the famous judge, which makes me wonder; what was Omar Christidis doing?! The judges should make their decisions based ONLY on the final presentation, in my personal opinion; the judges should not interact with the teams before the presentations, as doing so would give some teams an unfair advantage. For example, assume that during his round, Omar liked the work/idea of some team, but during their presentation, the team did not successfully present their work and eventually did not “sell it” to the other judges. In the judges room, Omar would try to convince the other judges to vote for it because he knows there is more to it than what was shown in the four-minute presentation. To me, this translates to unfair advantage. As I believe the reason for having only four minutes to present you work is those four minutes are actually the period that an investor needs to decide whether or not to invest in your startup.

Busy? No? Good! Get up and tell me watcha doin'!

Another interruption, but one that was actually good, was when were told to head outside for group pictures, the results were AMAZING as can be seen here:

Now, I have to take a shot at my friend Abdelrahman Magdy, CEO of Egypreneur regarding something (and hope he forgives me!). As a media sponsor of Startup Weekend Cairo, Egypreneur people were responsible for things like tweeting and taking pictures and videos, those videos included quick interviews with some of the mentors and team leaders. That is good, I have nothing against that. My take on it though is that those interviews sometimes took place at the rooms where the teams were working. Obviously the rooms were noisy because PEOPLE WERE WORKING, so instead of taking the interviews outside- where practically no one was making any noise, Abdelrahman was actually asking people to be quiet! I know that Egypreneur is a sponsor and everything- and we are thankful for the exposure it was giving to the teams- but you just cannot ask people working their butts off to be quiet! It is just not… cool!

The third day went by- too quickly!- and it was time for the final presentations. A nice touch by the organizers was making the order of presentations random so that everyone gets a fair chance. Again, it was obvious that the specified time (4 minutes) was not enough for the presentation that the judges sometimes asked the presenters to use their 1 Q&A minute to continue their presentations.

Since I’m new to this entrepreneurship world, I will not talk about the ideas, presentations content, or my opinion regarding the judges’ choices of winners here (you can see a complete list of projects and winners here). What I will say, however, is congratulations for all the winning teams- specially the Inkezny team, my favourite idea :D- and for everyone who worked hard for the weekend to turn out the great way it did. It was definitely an amazing experience, one that surely got me and everyone that participated very excited about entrepreneurship.

Some photos from days 2 and 3:

The great view at the AUC campus

Fadi Ghandour

Bo Burlingham

Judges: Hanan Abdel Meguid and Omar Christidis

Inkezny team, moment of announcing the result

Inkezny team, the winners of Startup Weekend Cairo 2011

And finally, a BIG group picture:

Looking forward to seeing everyone soon at the next Egyptian Startup Weekend :)

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Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part I

Startup Weekend is a non-profit organization that organizes 54-hour weekend events in various cities around the world. During the event, groups of developers, designers, marketers and startup enthusiasts pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a functioning prototype, demo, and/or presentation by the end of the weekend. The event judges pick the winning startups, which receive various awards. The event also attracts speakers and panellists, as well as mentors that help the teams on their startups during the weekend, who are usually highly-respected members of the local startup community or notable names in the tech industry.

On the April 28th, 29th, 30th weekend, Startup Weekend came to
Egypt for the very first time, held at the new campus of the America University in Cairo in New Cairo. I was lucky enough to attend the three days of the event work with a team on developing a startup. In this two-part review I shall talk about the highlights of my GREAT experience at Startup Weekend Cairo.

First, I really liked the choice of the AUC new campus for the event venue. It provided a great working atmosphere with the very neat working rooms and outstanding outdoor scenery far away from Cairo’s downtown madness. It was a very well-thought decision by the event organizers, which brings me to my second point; the organizers. In my opinion, the event organizers and volunteers were the heroes of this event. Startup Weekend Cairo was the best-organized event I have attended so far. It was almost perfect. The only thing that I did not like was the fact that not all event ID cards were printed even though confirmation e-mails were sent a whole week before the event. Also, something that really puzzled me was that it was mentioned on the event’s website is that attendance costs 100 EGP (75 EGP for students), yet neither me nor anyone I knew there paid anything! Other than that, everything was just in place and the organizers and volunteers made sure that we had everything we needed. Chapeau to them!

The Heroes of Startup Weekend Cairo

After registration, the event kicked off with a couple of speeches, one of them was really boring that I cannot even remember who gave it or what it was about. Something worth mentioning though is that ALL the speeches, even the ones delivered by Arab speakers, were almost completely in English, which I found particularly annoying. One tried to recap the speeches in Arabic, but apparently someone gave him a “look” because he abruptly stopped midway and continued in English. Way to preserve and take pride in our Arabic identity.

Next were the pitches; individuals and teams had 60 seconds to pitch an idea and attempt to convince the audience to vote for it and join their team. When I first heard about this 60-second time limit, I thought it was unfair; the first ideas pitched will be forgettable, the last ones will stay fresh in the audience minds. However, that was not the case, it was even worse. Having to sit there and listen to about 50 ideas in a 60-second rapid succession was a chaotic nightmare; no one was able to keep up with the ideas or properly evaluate and compare them to decide which to vote for, not to mention that the ideas themselves were a bit disappointing, not what you expect after a GOING THROUGH A REVOLUTION. The ideas themselves were not bad, just… ordinary.

Your time is up, kid! NEXT!

After everyone pitched their ideas, it was time to give our votes, the old school way. Knowing practically nothing from the 60-second pitches, people had to cram up the voting space to talk to pitchers and know what they were talking about. The most-voted 32 ideas were chosen to continue and the pitchers had to build their development teams. A really weird phenomenon was the shortage of designers at the event; people were literally fighting over designers and eventually had to call for help from their own designers outside the event. In my opinion, this can be interpreted in only one way; designers are NOT interested in entrepreneurship, which I believe is an issue that should be addressed by the event organizers.

The first day ended with great dinner under the lovely night sky of New Cairo, it provided opportunity to chat with people that we do not usually see in our everyday lives. Startup Weekend Cairo was actually a huge Cairo Tweetup with an entrepreneurial theme!

Some Photos from Day 1:

Registration

Geeks love sugar, specially when in the form of cupcakes!

... or ice cream!

Event Sponsors

 In part two I will be talking about the second and third days of the weekend as well as my experience in working with the “Ma3Ba3d” team. Stay tuned!

Update: part two is now available, read it here.

Changing Track. The Correct Decision? Or…

Allow me to be honest; I have always wanted one path for my life to take. That is “The High Life”, with all that comes along with it; first class air tickets, 5 star hotel suites in every city I visit, a luxury car, and so forth. But let’s be realistic, how can someone like me, a struggling computer science student at a regional Egyptian university- not just any regional, the most infamous of them all- whose family is NOT into major drug trafficking- or let’s just say rich, so that I don’t offend the big companies chairpersons who might be reading this to get a background check on me- achieve the so called “high life” without going into the illegal business myself?

The main reason why I decided to take computer science 4 years ago was my firm belief that working in the information technology industry would be the quickest way to get rich. Everyone back then was saying that computers are the future. Everyone was talking about the smart government, the smart village, and everything that can possibly have the word smart attached to it. Everyone who remotely knew me congratulated me on my wise decision to join the all mighty Faculty of Computers and Information.

I do not know when exactly, but at some point in my academic years, I made this… roadmap for my life. It begins right after my graduation with me enrolling at one of the major private sector software corporations in Egypt and then climbing up the career ladder until I retire while I am on top of the world, yet young and healthy enough to enjoy my hard earned money. After all, computers are the future, right? But perhaps I was overly ambitious.

A few weeks ago I was talking about this to a friend of mine who is NOT a computer science major, but rather a business major. This helps sometimes, we geeks tend to isolate ourselves in this crazy, unrealistic world of hopes and expectations, so getting a wake up call every once in a while is healthy. Unsurprisingly, he disagreed with me, strongly. He believed that this “roadmap” of mine will get me nowhere and the only solution to be on top of the world while you still have a breath left inside you is entrepreneurship. Of course, trying to be an entrepreneur nowadays in the IT industry prior to having years of experience in some big company is nothing but a complete waste of time. It is not the year 1999 anymore. Thus, the solution would be to just, put everything you spent years in learning aside and start some IT-unrelated enterprise, take a risk, be unique, and work hard enough and you will get what you want in a few years time. Coming to think about it, he has a point.

I bet you are thinking that I am crazy at the moment, but bear with me for a minute here. I am not going to talk about the economic stature in Egypt, but my friends, look around you, the most successful and influential- not to mention the richest- people we hear about in the news everyday are entrepreneurs, and I doubt that any of them is doing business in a field related to what they studied at university, that is if they had been into university at all.

So we are set, want to become one of the movers and shakers? Get through your college years quickly, ditch everything you learned there, look for a unique business idea, and you are good to go. But wait a second; everyone knows that new enterprises take four or five years to pay off, assume that you decided to take the risk and start an IT-unrelated business, and after some years you find that you are not doing as good as you expected or even on the verge of bankruptcy and there is no choice other than calling it quits. It happens more often than you think, according to the American Chronicle, 80% of new businesses fail, and that is in America! Eventually, you will be left with no job, no money, and an experience that is better left to be forgotten. What is even worse is that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a job in a respectable software company. Which company do you think will prefer to hire you- an old person with nothing but failure- in an entry-level position over a fresh graduate with a fresh mind and new ideas? I say none.

Sorry for the long post, but this is something that I really wanted to share with you. Also, I would really appreciate it if you give me your opinions on this subject. Your comments are always welcomed.

Disclaimer: I do not by any means suggest that the rich people in Egypt are only so for working in illegal businesses. This is just my way of being sarcastic after the crazy rumors we hear everyday in the news about the Egyptian tycoons.