TALK GEEKY TO ME
The speed at which technology has taken over our lives in the past few years is almost unimaginable now, but at the same time the lack of access to a tech support system to help us out in case something goes wrong, makes us dread the moment our Smartphones stop working, which is why when Geeks launched in the Dubai market, we all heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Geeks was started by two friends, Fathi Alsharif and Mousa Yassin, because “it is very hard to get stuff repaired in Dubai. You can’t trust anyone; and you need to go to the end of the world to get it done.” (Yassin’s words, not ours). Ask them to describe Geeks in a sentence and Yassin says, “In essence Geeks is a pool of very skilled resources that can help you install, set up, and repair your tech issues as they come up”.
While Yassin grew up in Dubai and after a few years of corporate life realized that he needed to “come up with a big idea and do something”, Alsharif moved to Dubai only after he graduated from university. Alsharif spent time in Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait while growing up and moved to England for his university education, finally moving to Dubai for work and later starting Geeks. Alsharif describes their partnership as a “marriage, where you are in front of each other’s face the whole time”, adding that, “it is one of the reasons it is important to have a solid co-founder, because you will spend so much time together, you need someone who can work and understand you, without killing you.”
Fund Raising in the Middle East 101
As they start talking about the harder parts about starting and running your own enterprise, they speak about funding and their personal experience while working with VCs. They both agree that finding VCs is not the scary part, “but how to approach them, how to pitch the idea to them as you are not sure what exactly each VC is looking for is the actual difficult part”. They also advise entrepreneurs to never have a specific number of VCs in mind, Yassin adds, “don’t limit yourself by saying that you will talk to only so many VCs, see how many people you can have the conversation with. You are not always pitching to them, just getting to know what they are looking for, don’t be so hung up by your own idea that your ego starts kicking in, just have an open mind, tell them what you believe in and whether they like or dislike your idea, all their feedback will be useful”.
When the conversation shifts to the advantages and disadvantages of an angel investor over a VC, Yassin says, “VCs tend to bring a lot to the table while angels usually just give you the money but you don’t interact with them like you do with VCs. And whatever help we need, if we go through VCs, they connect us to the right people. But don’t go with so many VCs in the beginning, just have one strong VC and get angels to cover the rest.” Continuing from what Yassin said, Alsharif says that what they personally look for in an investor is “how much energy and personal involvement they bring to the table”. But how long does it really take to get the money? They say that it is quite a long process, “When you go to a VC, it takes you at least 3 months to close a deal. One thing I learnt worth sharing is that term sheet is never actually used, it just helps ascertain what they are looking for, and whether they would accept what you are looking for in them. In terms of speed, term sheets are not the hard part, but when you start working with lawyers for documentation, shareholder agreements etc, it becomes difficult to co-ordinate. Getting everyone together in the same room is hard, because if you manage to do that, you can be done with documentation much faster” says Yassin. Alsharif’s parting advice as far as funding is concerned is simple, “you can take the feedback you get and be upset about it or you can look at it positively. My personal experience was that when I went to them, I was scared because I was asking them for money but if you are good, you will get them money, that’s the right attitude to have.”
As the conversation shifts to other challenges faced by entrepreneurs, Yassin says, “The biggest challenge is to connect the pieces to help the company operate properly from your finances, inventory, and tech, to finding the right people and plugging in all these different functions to make them work together.” Alsharif adds, “It’s not that every place in the world that is start up friendly, lot of challenges come up, things you hadn’t envisioned for, in a place like Dubai it could be licensing to hiring laws, working with different categories of people etc., so you just need to keep your head up and be ready to tackle the challenges that come up.” As for Dubai as a place to work in, Yassin concludes, “It is definitely one of the best places to start in the region as it supports a lot of things we do, and it doesn’t make much sense to compare it to the USA.”