I woke up in June 2016 determined to leave one of the best jobs I have ever had in my career at Google and decided to join a regional startup called “Careem” . I decided to leave a big salary, in the most successful company in the world working with the brightest people to come back to Egypt — What exactly was I thinking ? My father calls me crazy , my friends think I have a midlife crisis. I think I have a midlife Opportunity .. A mid life responsibility .
Here is the journey that I want to share with you:
To do that, I want you to think about a number. That number is nine. Nine years. It’s been almost nine years since December 2007.
In those nine years, my son “Ali” graduated high school in Egypt, then he graduated University in the States, moved to the UAE to work.
In those nine years, my daughter “Nour” blossomed into a beautiful young woman, and is now attending one of the toughest design schools in the world in New York; and I guarantee you, you will remember her name when you look at buildings and houses not too long from now.
In those nine years, we witnessed a world in flux, we saw recessions, uprisings and revolutions in every corner of the planet — especially home. We saw a transition of four Presidents. We saw governments come and go. We saw rules change overnight. They were changes many of us don’t agree on. Many of us have lost much in these changes. Many of us believe they’ve burnt bridges that were meant to move us forward. But in the ashes of these flames, rose a glimmer of hope. It was no ordinary phoenix rising from these ashes. It wasn’t the same phoenix from those bedtime stories our parents gave us with his flaming feathers and glowing aura. Our millennia’s phoenix would take on a binary form. Our phoenix spoke in 0’s and 1’s. Our phoenix was going everywhere.
What did our phoenix do in nine years? It disrupted the status quo.
In those nine years, Facebook — a startup by a young Harvard dropout — evolved from just another MySpace website to a full fledged media and communications publicly traded empire; amassing an online population of more than 1.5 billion people from across the world. They’ve launched solar planes. Enabled Internet access across the globe. They have literally transformed the very way we communicate and share news — as individuals and brands.
In those nine years, companies like Airbnb disrupted and re-shaped the travel and tourism industries as we know them, transforming every home and room into a potential hotel and competing with established entities like Hilton, Sheraton and many more in every city on the planet. Airbnb has more than 60 million users on its platform, with more than two million homes listed. It’s valued at more than $25 billion dollars and it covers more than 57,000 cities in 191 countries.
In those nine years, thousands upon thousands of startups erupted all over Egypt, the Middle East and indeed, the whole world. Millions of young people looked around them and realized that this world was not to their liking, and that they would challenge it and change it; one idea at a time. Syrian refugees could find hope in a new start again with startups catering to them and their cause by providing apps that paired them with those who were willing to open their homes for them. Syrian women could feel inspired by creating products and selling them to people through apps like Mumm.
Egyptian entrepreneurs took what seemed like a crazy idea on paper and then went ahead and made it a reality when they launched KarmSolar — and ended up selling the Egyptian government electricity generated from solar power. Startups such as Nafham.com wanted to take education from schools and extend them to every screen that could be connected to the Internet so that education and knowledge could reign supreme — and today they cover the full curricula of five countries in the Middle East. Egyptian startups looked at what’d long been doing and decided they wanted to “revolutionize” it, even when it came to obituaries. ElWafeyat.org saw an opportunity for us to grief in a digital world and showed us the possibilities
All — in nine years.
In those nine years, I was part of Google and took on a multitude of roles in Egypt, the MENA region and globally as I grew as a person and an employee. I helped launch Google in Egypt and scale its growth as the Regional Manager of Google in Egypt & North Africa alongside an amazing team. I was part of an amazing team when Google expanded its operations further in the Middle East with Dubai leading the way. Now, I’ve always been a dreamer, so I decided I needed a bigger challenge and that I wanted to pursue dreams and make them a reality. I decided to join Google X; Google’s division for the great leap forward.
You see, Google X is essentially the unit within Google that doesn’t just look at existing problems and tries to solve them, it’s a unit that specializes in “moonshot thinking”. What does that mean? It means thinking leaps ahead, trying to conceptualize problems that don’t even exist yet — and figuring out how these problems can be best tackled through the help of technology. For someone as inquisitive as I am, this was the dream gig. I got to work alongside some of the most brilliant minds of our time, perhaps even of all time. I was involved in projects that would metamorphose the very way humans live their lives.
All things taken into consideration, the natural question on most people’s minds — and possibly yours — is: “Wael, why did you leave this heaven of a job?” Well, I suppose you could liken my experience of choosing to quit Google to breaking up with my college-age girlfriend. She was beautiful, she was intelligent, she was loved by all — even myself — but she just wasn’t the one. It’s a feeling you can’t escape no matter what you try to bury yourself into. Coming to the realization that I was done with Google was not by any means smooth or quick; but I knew it was the right thing to do. You’re afraid that you’ll never meet anyone like her again. You’re afraid no one will fill this gap. Eventually, you can muster up enough courage to break your heart and hers. You’re afraid that you’ve worked so hard for it that you couldn’t let go, even though you may have even been in some ways unhappy. Ultimately, I would say it’s arguably become one of the most pivotal decisions I’d ever taken in my life. It wasn’t because I walked away from a manager who treated me like family, or a salary that’s hardly rivaled elsewhere, or services & amenities unmatched in any other company — it was because I knew leaving this relationship would open me up for so much more.
The problem with Google, much like an ex whom you had a great relationship with, is that you feel guilty for wanting to leave. All those perks I mentioned had subconsciously become motivators for me. It was the prestige of working in a Fortune 500 company — and one of the top five valued companies in the world. It was the prestige of the position among my peers. It was the prestige of the salary and the benefits it afforded me and my family. It’s the safety blanket that you’re afraid to walk away from. It’s not knowing how things will be after they’ve been a certain way for too long. It’s the guilt that gets you the most, because it raises so many internal questions: Shouldn’t I be grateful for all those free meals, massages, work-from-home days, etc., etc., etc. especially after nine whole years? Truth is, I was very thankful, I felt blessed even — and that made me feel all the more worse; because I knew I wanted to leave.
If I’m being absolutely honest with you here today, I would say that my real reason for leaving Google and joining Careem is two-fold. It came about because of fear, hunger and dissatisfaction. The fear part was perhaps the hardest, it was the fear that I would wait much longer and suddenly realize it’s become too late. The fear of feeling I had settled for what was a safe and cushiony option, having never gambled on a bet of my own. It may come as a surprise to you, seeing as I’m about to turn 50 pretty soon, but I’m hungrier now than I’d ever been in my whole life. I’m hungry for making a bigger dent than I’ve already made. I’m hungry for propelling and leading a change where I know I can make a difference. I’m hungry for inspiring and leading those to come to take ownership of their future, to disrupt and challenge the status quo and shape their own path. I was dissatisfied of global multinational companies always creating one fancy product then scaling it ad infinitum across the whole globe. I was dissatisfied of companies not caring about the local values of the places wherein they operated. I was dissatisfied that we as a region were not seen as worthy of producing a multi-billion dollar company that could provide a just as good — if not better — quality service. I was dissatisfied of treating this idea as though it would always be a distant dream.
For me, Careem represents more than a dream, it represents a promise. The promise that a local company, from this region, created by people who grew up here and understand our problems can cater to those issues. The idea is that it wouldn’t cater to them the same way your average multinational does — not by applying some sort of all-encompassing global law and calling it their mission or values and not caring what the users want. It was about compliance with local laws to the fullest, ensuring that we are integrated and part of the community. Ensuring we are providing an unrivaled caliber of service; and that all the stakeholders — whether us, the government, the captains, or the customers all came out as winners.
Some of us — like myself — can only be content in leaving a legacy that transcends time and people, a legacy that defines an era. I believe my work with Careem will come to define this era as that of change and forward leaping; for once we — Egyptians and Arabs — would be the ones leading this change, changing the future to suit ourselves, picking the course that fits with our local values, our local mission and our local vision . I know that my children will reach heights I couldn’t even conceptualize in their respective careers. Some of us are content to leave their legacy to the memory of their good deeds; but memories fade away.
Here’s to all of us who are working hard to make this place better for ourselves today, for our children tomorrow and for theirs in the years to come. Here’s to those who came to realize that we could empower ourselves and that we could reshape our world by filling the gaps only we could see. Here is to helping empower 1M Egyptians within the next 3 years, Here is inclusiveness, empowerment, and equal opportunity.