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  • 28 Sep 2018 5:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Andre Haddad left Beirut in 1989 because his parent’s house was bombed during the war. Fast forward 29 years, he is a successful entrepreneur and CEO of  Turo, a peer-to-peer car sharing platform featuring 350,000 registered vehicles and 100 million signups.

    How did it all begin?

    On September 10, Haddad opened up about his success and lessons learned during a panel on peer economy, organized by LebNet and TechWadi. Around 100 people gathered in Cambria Gallery in San Francisco to listen to him talk about Turo achieving product/market fit, scaling, and dealing with challenges.

    The session was moderated by Rony Chammas, the founder and chief product officer of Peerspace, a peer-to-peer marketplace for booking spaces for events, meetings, and film shootings in San Francisco.


    Andre Haddad (left) talking to Rony Chammas about early beginnings and product/market fit. (Image via LebNet)

    From idea creation to product/market fit

    Haddad laid the foundation of his success on a childhood passion. During  the bombing of his hometown, his entire music collection was destroyed. When he moved with his family to France, he started buying music records and vinyl discs from eBay at  bargain prices and have them shipped from the US, until one day he decided to launch a similar concept in his country of residence to spare himself the trouble of shipping. This is how he launched his first startup iBazar, which was acquired by eBay in 2001.

    “That was my first step into the internet world and building something from scratch. During those times it was really challenging to know if it’s a good or bad idea,” said Haddad.

    After taking on executive roles at Shopping.com and eBay, Haddad returned to the startup scene in 2011 and joined Turo (previously RelayRides) to solve another problem he faced.

    Step one to achieve a product/market fit: solve your own problems, then solve the problems of others

    His problem was he had many cars being the car enthusiast that he is, yet his cars weren’t being driven enough to stay in a good running condition. So he became passionate about Turo’s value proposition which allows users on the platform to rent and lease cars from other individuals

    “I felt I was solving a problem, something I would be interested in solving as a consumer. It’s good to have a personal connection with the problem because you spend many years in your life to build it and pay for it and you go through lots of ups and down. If there’s no personal connectivity with the problem you’re solving it will be a lot harder to be successful in the product/market fit and be persuasive enough to have others join you,” he advised the audience.

    That first step in the product/market fit did not require data tracking and analysis, but gut feeling, he said. Once entrepreneurs identify a real market need they should shift their focus towards metrics and data.

    Step two to achieve a product/market fit: obsess about conversions

    Conversion rates tracks how many of the people who downloaded the Turo application became real customers. A high organic conversion rate is a clear sign the product is a good fit.

    Once entrepreneurs reach that phase, they should start thinking about scaling.

    Step one to scale your company: spending money on user acquisition

    Turo has around 10 million signups, 350,000 registered vehicles and 6 million booked days, according to Haddad. Yet, he believed his business is still in the early stages, “it’s not Airbnb and Uber,” this is why the team keeps looking at the number of downloads and bookings and spend more money to grow their traffic.

    “When you have high conversion rates then you know there’s a strong probability people will download and use the app. So you start spending more money on acquiring new users and this further accelerates growth,” he explained.

    Today, the team measures the money spent on ads closely to track how quickly will each paid customer generate revenues, in other terms ROI.  

    “Investors looking at Turo today are going to write a big check and know that most of the money we’re going to spend will be on marketing expenses. eBay even at its scale still spends 30 percent of its revenue on marketing,” he clarified.

    The main takeaway? “You move away with just product/market fit and conversion towards creating a balance between free and paid traffic and how much are customers generating. Management of the business becomes more complex, metrics become less simple and cover a variety of things.”

    Step two to scale your company: become more disciplined

    To figure out product/market fit, you need to have a lot of passion and creativity, said Haddad. But to figure out scaling, you need a lot of discipline, data measurement and tracking and team management. Haddad stated that entrepreneurs need to start hiring people who are more intelligent than they are and need to figure out ways to keep them motivated.

    “How do you bring people who don’t have the similar passion you have for the product you built, but empower them to run the business?” he asked rhetorically.

    Like many entrepreneurs, the journey for Haddad was bumpy. “The car business is an 80 billion dollar market. There’s a lot of need for cars but what wasn’t clear back in 2011 was if anyone would be willing to share their car,” he said about the early beginnings. The first time he gave his Porsche keys to a stranger, he was petrified but he went with his instinct then scaled.

    “Throw yourself into something you are really passionate about and be engaged with the problem you are solving. It’s hard to have the long-term commitment during the ups and downs if there’s no real connection, if it’s not part of your life,” Haddad concluded.

  • 21 Sep 2018 5:41 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Entrepreneurs worldwide are people who accept challenges and turn them into opportunities. Their methods may differ but their problem-solving attitude remains constant.

    In Silicon Valley, where losing billions of dollars is celebrated and considered a sign of revolutionary ideas; innovators, entrepreneurs, business people and employees might be shielded from what’s happening outside of their communities. The same goes for communities outside of the Valley that look up to this area and consider it a startup haven.

    Therein lies the importance of bridging the gaps between communities and this will only bring back benefits to their stakeholders.

    Marc Suidan agrees.

    Currently leading Mergers and Acquisitions Tech sector at PwC – a company that offers advisory, auditing, tax, legal and other services to businesses – Suidan is a Lebanese entrepreneur and professional living in San Francisco. He previously launched two startups, Oisin Systems in 1999, which he sold two years later, and an online marketplace Quebeccommerce.com in 2003. He exited the company and sold his stake but the company is still running, according to Suidan.

    In a candid chat with LebNet, Suidan discussed the importance of building a communication channel between different ecosystems, especially that of Lebanon and Silicon Valley, where he’s based. This channel can facilitate knowledge transfer and best practices and give back to others.

    Bridging ecosystems: Lebanon and Silicon Valley

    In a visit to Lebanon this summer, Marc met a number of Lebanese founders, CEOs and VC directors and shared his input on what needs to be done to set up this channel.

    “After meeting multiple startup CEOs, it is pretty apparent that Lebanese entrepreneurs can create great technologies. The main limitations are really scaling up and building strong go-to market capabilities, resulting in slow growth businesses with lower valuations,” he said. “The main gaps are access to more experienced and seasoned executives in areas of sales and operational scale-up, and board members.” According to Suidan, Lebanese entrepreneurs can bridge this gap by networking with relevant stakeholders in Silicon Valley and finding leaders who have skills that can be applied in local markets.

    Lebanon’s ecosystem is small but thanks to numerous accelerators/incubators, VCs and small hubs, it is helping entrepreneurs find a good environment to launch their products and test them. Located at the heart of the Lebanese capital, Beirut Digital District (BDD) is a business and startup cluster for the creative and digital industries in the country. It hosts a number of incubators, accelerators and VCs including accelerator Alt City, incubator Berytech, support organization Endeavor Lebanon, Speed@BDD, IM Capital, Leap Ventures, UK Lebanon Tech Hub, coding academy The Little Engineer and many others.

    In an attempt to build a communication channel with startups and experts abroad, BDD hosts regional and global talks and competitions to help its members learn about what people in other countries are doing and what challenges they face. In October, it will be hosting the first TechCrunch Startup Battlefield competition in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

    The competition will offer local startups the chance to compete and win US $25,000 prize plus a paid trip for two founders to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt 2019.

    This is one example of how building a connection can help founders meet their counterparts in other countries, understand how they do business there and extract best practices.

    LebNet’s Ignite program is another example. This two-week accelerator bootcamp connects Lebanese startup founders to Silicon Valley experts and gives them access to the expertise needed to take their business to the next level. “We work closely with accelerators, incubators, angels and VCs in Lebanon to continuously evaluate the gap in addressing the needs of Lebanese entrepreneurs and we try to develop programs on our end to address those needs,” said George Akiki, LebNet’s President and cofounder. “Giving back to Lebanon is a tenet of our mission. Our members strive to share their expertise and knowledge with upcoming Lebanese entrepreneurs,” he added.

    An unfair comparison?

    It is not uncommon for entrepreneurs to look up to Silicon Valley as the ultimate startup haven, yet they must keep a realistic approach when conducting business. Silicon Valley has a far more advanced ecosystem in terms of support organizations, VCs, ease of doing business and access to talent and mentorship.

    “Silicon Valley is the leading ecosystem, and does not require any non-private sector help. Versus the Lebanese ecosystem needs public sector and NGO support to initially thrive, and eventually it needs to become a self sustaining ecosystem,” said Suidan. Similarities do exist and apply to any ecosystem in the world.

    “In certain aspects yes [they are similar], and in others no. From a commercial perspective, it is a global market, and you are competing for the same customers. So the bar to win should be the same. The Foundational principles of building a highly successful business remain the same: build an amazing team. What can be learned is avoid pitfalls or common mistakes like over-investing in marketing and advertising, without a supporting sales motion, or sign up customers and not be ready to service them. Don’t create an imbalance in the maturity of your capabilities. Also, have a more conservative view on the quality and retention of resources. Not all recruits work out,” he concluded.

  • 16 Apr 2018 1:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As members of the tech ecosystem and community, we all love the story of early stage entrepreneurs that make it to full fledged success stories. It inspires fellow entrepreneurs, it motivates us, and shows us that success is possible with the right mentors, resources, and determination. It is especially rewarding for us when LebNet is an integral part of the success story of these thriving entrepreneurs due to the power of our network and the impact of our mentors. As our members know, the pillars of LebNet are “Network, Connect, Nurture” and we strive to honor those pillars in all our initiatives- whether it is to support startups here in the US or develop talent in Lebanon to tackle the long standing ‘brain drain’.

    We selected two star entrepreneurs that exemplify the ‘Full Circle” success story of starting out as early stage startups to well-established business leaders and Mentors- with LebNet as part of their journeys. Read on to learn more about their stories and what they would like to share about what they have learned.

    Hind Hobeika, Founder of Instabeat

    Please describe the stage your business was in when you first came to Silicon Valley and met with LebNet.

    We were in early stages of manufacturing of the first generation Instabeat and had low funding, no team. Our customer base and interests from brands/shops/etc.

    What are the latest developments with Instabeat? (i.e funding, growth, expansion, new directions etc)?

    Latest funding round was Funding: Raised $4M from Berytech Fund II end of 2016 and we are in late stages of manufacturing of generation 2.

    What part of your involvement with LebNet impacted the success of your business the most and why? (ex. Workshops, Mentoring etc)?

    My transition from Lebanon to SF was accompanied by hardcore mentoring from LebNet members that tremendously changed the way I think and work and pushed me to build a more solid product/company. The key advice we were given was:

    Hire a COO
    Raise funds
    Leverage partnerships
    Cash is king
    Responsiveness is key
    Communication is key

    All learned by interacting with mentors!

    There is a general belief that there is a ‘brain drain’ of talent in Lebanon. As an entrepreneur yourself, has this been your experience? If yes, what key challenges did you face as an entrepreneur based in Lebanon?

    Yes of course but more than just that, our talent is not specialized enough because there are very little R&D/consumer electronics/product development companies in Lebanon that could train the talent. So we have to do the training ourselves, and difficult to do when you are a small company with limited resources.

    I also had a lot of cultural issues, people value cash over equity, are not necessarily very mission driven, do not understand what it means to work in a startup. Of course that is a generalization, some people are awesome.

    As the Founder of Instabeat now based in Silicon Valley, how are you alleviating this perceived talent gap in Lebanon?

    By offering very specialized jobs that can train them in highly technical industries (machine learning, embedded systems, industrial design, etc.) and expose them to the startup culture in the US. I also have most of my team in Lebanon spend a few months a year in SF.

    Since you have now become a mentor, if you could give the new LebNet Ignite Alumni advice for the future, what would it be?

    Communication is key, I’ve learned it the hard way, at the cost of a few relationships. Keep reaching out, even when things are tough, update your mentors, be open minded, seek for advice and help, and most importantly give advice and help whenever you can.

    Hassane Slaibi, CEO/Co-Founder of Band Industries

    Please describe the stage your business was in when you first came to Silicon Valley and met with LebNet.

    Our first interaction with LebNet was in June 2014 when we came to Silicon Valley with the MIT Enterprise Forum. Part of the visit was a mentorship day organized with LebNet where we met some brilliant mentors. Back in the day we had launched and successfully crowdfunded our first product – Roadie Tuner – on Kickstarter raising about $180,000 so we were focused on manufacturing and delivering it to our backers. We were also looking ahead for the next steps once the product hits the market with lots of questions about marketing and distribution. Today we have 3 products in the market and our last Kickstarter campaign raised more than $500,000 from over 4,700 backers which made it the most funded music accessory in crowdfunding history.

    What part of your involvement with LebNet impacted the success of your business the most and why? (ex. Workshops, Mentoring etc)?

    We had several chances to be mentored by LebNet members on topics ranging from business strategy to product roadmap, content, marketing, Silicon Valley presence, finance, hardware, etc. Some of the mentors who come to my mind include Ramzi Haidamus, Anthony Nassar, Elie Habib and George Akiki along with many others. We’re thankful for each and every one of them for contributing to the development of Band Industries.

    There is a general belief that there is a ‘brain drain’ of talent in Lebanon. Would you support this? If yes, what key challenges did you face as an entrepreneur based in Lebanon?

    Brain drain is a known fact in Lebanon. For instance, a big portion of my engineering class at AUB have migrated and started their careers abroad. Brain drain reduces the pool of talent that companies can hire from and leads to less firms trying to open offices in Lebanon. As you can see, this is a self-feeding problem with the end result being that some of our best talent is leaving the country. That said, I personally think we still have some exceptional talent in Lebanon with specific areas of strength in technology and creative fields. The growing startup ecosystem is also helping retain this talent and even reverse the brain drain. In fact we have seen this happen with both our current COO and CMO who studied and worked abroad but returned to Lebanon in order to work at Band Industries in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

    What steps has Band Industries taken to alleviate this perceived talent gap in Lebanon?

    The first and most important step is to build a workplace that attracts the best talent. We put a lot of effort into our company culture because out of the four ingredients of a successful company – Team, Strategy, Execution and Money – the team is the most important one.

    Second, the best talent is usually not looking for a job; they are looking for purpose and impact. Working on world-class products and interacting with some of the legends of the music industry helped us build a name for our company as a place where our work will be seen by the best and by many.

    Third comes the space where we work. We recently moved to a gorgeous new office in Monteverde that is surrounded by nature. The beautiful, well lit and productive space promotes creativity and collaboration which is crucial to the development of innovative solutions. Everyone wants to deliver their best work and a good space to do so helps attract and retain the best talent.

    As a mentor, if you could give the new LebNet Ignite Alumni advice for the future, what would it be?

    I would advise them to be open and assimilate the advice of Ignite mentors. Be curious and research to master the subject wherever you have knowledge gaps. Keep moving and perfect as you go, if you do this quickly and enough times and you will surely succeed.

  • 26 Dec 2017 2:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    An integral part of the Mentoring Program at LebNet is fostering long-term relationships between our Mentors and Startups. Our Mentors are more than Coaches- they are partners that remain a source of guidance and support for our Member Startups to optimize their chances of success.

    We caught up with some our LebNet Ignite Alumni startups to check in on how their business has evolved since participating in this LebNet acceleration program in Silicon Valley.

    • Switched from a commercial standard product to customizing solutions in agri-tech
    • RIEGO as a company stopped and it is now under FREE energy SAL (employees 12)
    • New site www.free-lb.me
    • Acquired in May 2017 

    • Closed beta testing in product development
    • Platform is ready and has been tested with two major players in MENA and in Europe (Holland).
    • Looking at translating the pilot with the Dutch company into a commercial relationship.

     

    • Cherpa team won the Best youth Startup out of 200 selected startups worldwide at GITEX 2017 and received $15,000 as a prize.
    • New addition to the team: Frontend developer
    • Released Phase 1 of the platform (Targeting 200 Makers and experts)
    • Started building an ambassador program with 6 ambassadors so far in the following countries: Spain, Portugal, Germany, Netherland, USA and Kuwait.
    • Organized a robotics competition on 9 December in collaboration with RHU (Rafic Harriri University) whereby 20 teams from 15 different schools participated.
    • Partners at GGIT event that took place in Tyre- Lebanon where gave a workshop and organized a competition on building a robot controller.
    • Cherpa representative attended Web Summit in Lisbon
    • “From Beirut to the world”  published on Facebook to document Cherpa’s development journey available on the Cherpa Facebook page give the link

     

    • Secured a fresh 1M USD investment from our initial backers at MEVP Closed a new deal with Lebanese bank (Credit Libanais) for Neumann Business Intelligence and Analytics platform as well as for Neuman’s advanced Marketing Module.
    • Soon will be releasing fully integrated Social Media capabilities by which clients will be able to laser target their consumers in a bespoke social media mode.
    • The team has been approached by strategic partners in the region (from Paris, Turkey, to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) with the aim to join forces and serve their clients base with their solutions.
    • Hired new CEO

     

    • In regular contact with LebNet mentors Fadi Mahmoud and Raed Elmurib from the bay area. They are advising on the growth strategy and following up on progress
    • New release is finally out, after QA and beta testing: with following new features:
    1. Long + short automated trading strategies.
    2. Machine learning code accelerated, added new portfolio performance metrics.
    3. Automated trading with 6 brokers is implemented.


    • NAR was ranked #11 by Forbes Middle East in their “50 Startups To Watch In The Arab World”.
    • NAR was named by the World Economic Forum & The International Finance Corporation as one of the 100 Arab startups shaping the 4th industrial revolution.
    • Landed a number of clients in Canada and the US who are continuously using their software, Raven AI, to detect and log pipeline anomalies as well as generate inspection reports. Raven AI has successfully reduced our clients’ inspection time by more than 30%, while reducing their costs and increasing their accuracy.
    • Raised seed round from Leap Ventures.
    • Will be expanding sales in North America in the pipeline industry and will be looking at exploring other applications as well (wind turbine, solar panel, flare stacks, powerline inspections, etc.) that involve drone inspections.

     

    • Product: Upgrades based on users feedback to include new features, going mobile, and most importantly integrating with other complementary web-apps (accounting, project management, collaboration…).
    • Marketing: Team has a clearer idea customer demographics and behavior. Based on that, strategy is to start investing in a paid marketing strategy including content, email, and paid advertising to optimize acquisition strategy. 

    • New product platform launched
    • Added 30+ partners and increasing daily registered users
    • Voted one of the Best Marketing Platforms on the market on g2crowd


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