Me, The Economist & Iran- everyday tale
Back on 2nd May, I wrote an article about Iran’s startup bubble and made the point that the startup ecosystem in Iran is still in its infancy and needs more time to mature.
In mid-July, The Economist published a chart and naming the top 3 startups in Iran. The first version of the article listed Digikala, Cafe Bazaar and Anetwork as the most valuable startups. On reviewing the chart, my suspicions were aroused by the data, especially the fact that Anetwork, was valued at USD 3 million.
To find out the source of the data. I tweeted on Twitter. With the help of Nasser Ghanemzadeh, I traced the source to a World Startup Report (WSR) document.
On studying the document, I came across the name of Mr. Mohsen Malayeri who is the contributor of the data on Iran included in The Economist’s chart. This story became even more interesting when I noticed that Malayeri is cofounder and business development adviser for Anetwork. After further investigation, I discovered a company called Sarava Pars is behind all three startups that appeared in the report and Malayeri is one of its board members.
At this stage, I was sure that there was a clear conflict of interest in- that Malayeri was trying to promote his own startups as the top 3 startups in Iran! So, I decided to contact The Economist and raise the important point that Iran’s data could not possibly be valid. I sent an email to The Economist’s editor on 8 July explaining there was a clear conflict of interest based on concrete evidences.
The Economist responded on 12 July asking for more information. I replied to their email that I was not in a position to give them accurate data but that I was sure the current data had not been validated; and also told them some Iranians on social networks such as Twitter had their suspicions about the data too.
A few hours after The Economist’s email, the WSR approached me and asked why I believed the data was not valid, and for me the main reason was conflict of interest, in that Malayeri only submitted the companies that he has a financial interest in, while there are lots of startups in the country that did not have a chance to be considered.
After a series of emails and Skype chats, The Economist announced that Iran would be removed from the report due to lack of reliable information, unless Iranian entrepreneurs could supply accurate data within the following 24-48 hours.
Following the above group email, more than 10 Iranians on the circulation tried to keep Iran’s name in the list by finding and submitting validated data. Fortunately, those people managed to send accurate and validated data as requested and Anetwork was removed from the list. According to the updated and validated data, the top 3 companies are:
- DigiKala (USD 150 million)
- Aparat Group (USD 30 million)
- Cafe Bazaar (USD 20 million)
And mission accomplished (!), as the main aim had always been to demonstrate transparency and the use of accurate data.
I have been blogging since 2003 and over this time I have found there is a lack of information about Iran and in such circumstances, there are some people who will always exploit the situation. For me, I always try to portray the real image of Iran to non-Iranian people and tell them what is really happening in the country. For instance, when most Iranian and western media were praising President Hassan Rouhani’s lifting of some restrictions against Twitter and Facebook, I wrote an article and saying it would not be feasible in the short term.
In conclusion, the reason I followed up The Economist story was that I truly believe in transparency and without transparency I believe we cannot have a productive and healthy community.
If you would like to have conversation about this story, you can send an email to aminsabeti [at] gmail [dot] com or poke me @AminSabeti on Twitter.