One step at a time

What did we win in MITEF Competition?

Last week, MITEF competition took place in Jeddah, KSA. It is the biggest start-up competition in the MENA region. It’s an annual competition and 2016 marks its 9th birthday. More than 6,000 applicants submitted their application and probably more than 60 judges were involved to evaluate the startups. MITEF filters applicants through 3 rounds judging system. At each round, a different panel of judges evaluates the applicant’s startup.

Our application was the last application submitted to MITEF, simply because we were too busy working on our product. We did not know if we can spare time and work on the competition or not. Yet, we did and we are very glad that we changed our mind after all.

What did we win?

The competition rewards 3 startups, 3 ideas, and 3 social enterprises with monetary reward ranging from $50k to $5k. Honestly, we applied because we thought it was a $150k for the winner. It would have solved a lot of our financial challenges. However, we have discovered that it was only $50k few hours right before our very first pitch. In fact, it made us calmer, because that was the moment where all of our dreams got shattered into small pieces…. I mean going from $150K to $50K is like losing $100K even if you haven’t started the competition.

That being said, and putting the financial reward aside, what we have gained in the MITEF competition as we were filtered through different stages was much more valuable than $150K. Actually, I can’t really put a price to it and I will tell you why:

1- Network:

Getting to know other startup ideas, understanding their challenges and the weakness they are facing, and how each team is tackling were very valuable lessons. You can’t learn that in any book. Many startups feel what they have been through is basic. And they have nothing to share, but we have learned a lot.

  • Example: An entrepreneur from Lebanon who is running for Social Enterprise track and also runs a development house, gave us a lot of valuable insight on how to hire a developer from the MENA region. For example, focusing on developer that lives in a city, will ensure (to a certain extend) that the developer is in a competitive environment. Therefore, scouting talents are much more successful here

2. Venture Capital introduction:

I do not know what’s sexier to an entrepreneur, sitting at a table with 5 VCs that are interested in your product or a one-to-one meeting with a serious investor? Well, both are possible in MITEF competition and I have seen many startups got a chance to meet with investors. Good luck guys.

3. Brand recognition:

We all know how much it cost to develop a marketing campaign to promote a product. Imagine having maximum marketing reach with “ Winner “ next to your name all over MENA region? It also helps being a startup from Kuwait and the main sponsor is a Kuwaiti Company (Zain Telecommunication Co.)

4. Mentoring:

If you have a mentor, you have already avoided several killer mistakes. Imagine a room full of mentors that are waiting on a table to just speak with you. With a variety of interests in music, in VC, in telecommunication in Digital marketing, and etc. It is like going into a candy store. Just State your problem and the expert is waiting over there.

5. Pitching:

It helps if an entrepreneur is solving a big problem. It is also helpful if the entrepreneur figures out and validates the solution for the problem. Nevertheless, all of that is almost insignificant if he/she can’t pitch and sell the idea to others. In MITEF, we had in total 4 days of training ~70% of that was about “How to Pitch”. I remember my first pitch on the first day. It was so bad, that I almost couldn’t sleep at night. For any entrepreneur, your startup is your baby. Therefore, you feel attached when others criticize you. On that day (my first pitch), I wasn’t only criticized, I was butchered by mentors and trainers. The good thing, they are professional. They butchered me, but they also gave me a solution on how to improve my pitch. The advice was that I had to pitch to 100 people. Well, I said to myself, if that’s what it takes to win the MIT competition, then that’s what it’s going to take. So, I started pitching to waiters, housekeeping staff, and flight attenders. I had people running from me when I asked them to give me 5 minutes of their time. That was when I had a bad pitch, but then it get evolved and changed many times. My pitch changed 5 to 6 times a day. ( I will write a different post focusing on how did it hack pitching in MITEF). My biggest fear while pitching was actually my cofounder’s comments, Bader Altahous. His criticism was so brutal that got into me! I am a person with NO fear of stage/public speaking! I guess his technique worked just fine.

6. 500 Startups’ Session:

You have no idea how valuable the session was to Ghinwa. The session was moderated by 500 startups partners, Hassan Haider and Rakan Al-Eidie. They talked a lot about the term-sheet, what VC looks for, and how to manage each term. I wish I had this session 6 months ago. It would have saved me 2 months of back-and-forth. Also, they have shared a priceless insight on how VC evaluate startup. So, in short:

  • If you have an OK level of traction, then your valuation is $1–3m.
  • If you have an exceptional level of traction, then your valuation is $5–7m.
  • If you are at Series A stage, then you are $10+ m valuation.

Why is this piece of advice is valuable? Because, there’s no way to find information about comparable transition to benchmark your startup. With the lack of information, negotiation power is now in the hands of the investors. Basically, what Hassan and Rakan did, actually helped entrepreneurs to understand where do they stand.

7. Trust the team:

To make a perfect pitch, we had to work from two different countries with different time zones and be very patient with the poor internet connection. We had to work in two shifts. Bader was developing the presentations and material, while I was resting for few hours before our morning pitch. Bader went to bed at 5 am I woke up at 6 am to continue practicing on the material that was prepared by him. Alfonso, the developer, is based in Berlin. With full trust in my team, I believed that each one was doing his best. That confidence and trust were clearly translated to the judges, which contributed to getting us a high rank in MITEF.

8. Love from users:

Without any exaggeration, that was the best part of it all… Getting “Good Luck” messages from users. The amount of love and messages we received made us feel that we are not just a small team, but we are a big community of people that happened to be represented today by us. If there is anything I wish you all, it would be that feeling of love from the users.

My personal note to everyone reading; What makes an entrepreneur different from the rest, is his/her confidence and self-esteem that he/she can solve a nationwide problem. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, your main priority is to protect that self-esteem you developed over time and don’t allow any ranking filters to determine where you stand. Winning MITEF competition, was not the reason why I quit my job 12 months ago. I left my career life and moved from my home country Kuwait to Dubai, because I want to add value and solve a problem in the society. That is the finish line for us in Ghinwa.