Boostrapping Cairo

Cool Cat in a café at the Khan El-Khalili Market - with the entrepreneurs in the mirror.

Back in Denmark after an unforgettable trip to Cairo where I attended the event - Next Generation of Egyptian Entrepreneurs 2011, as a mentor from June 28th to July 1st. This was my trip and my impressions.

Day 1. Tuesday 28th. 2011.

In the spring of 2011 the Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen met with President Barack Obama at the White House. The Arab Spring was in action and supporting initiatives were discussed by the two leaders. In Denmark the startup accelerator program StartupBootcamp has tremendous success, not only in Denmark but across Europe, where they are expanding their accelerator program. The Danish Foreign Ministry reached out to StartupBootcamp to get inspiration from their program, and to utilize their mentors. The result was the 5 day NextGen2011 bootcamp, where mentors from Denmark and the US were invited to Cairo, to contribute with their experience and support these young entrepreneurs move forward with their business.

Yesterday I kissed my son goodbye on his birthday to head for Cairo, I had the privilege of being one of the Danish mentors. I explained to my son that I was going to a country fighting for freedom and that I was meeting some of the young people that overruled their dictator, and now have the opportunity to rebuild their country and future.

I looked so much forward to give, learn and to get another perspective of Egypt, through the eyes of the future generation. A generation that will be responsible for rebuilding their country, where one of the key solutions might very well be entrepreneurship.

Despite the language and cultural differences between Denmark and Egypt, what united us in Cairo was our entrepreneurial culture based on creativity, passion and the will to utilize opportunities in the Golden Age of Technology.

The delegates from Denmark and the US in front of the pyramids at 6 am Wednesday morning.

Day 2 - Next Generation 2011 in Action.

Wednesday I met the teams for the first time, although they started Monday. I was so excited to finally meet the young entrepreneurs, hear their pitches, and had no idea what to expect.

I was blown away, together with the rest of the Danish and US delegation. We faced  young passionate minds, who took their business very seriously. A lot of them were already far, had amazing user traction and were using focus groups to understand their target groups better. Despite the language barrier for some, they all did an amazing job communicating their ideas and visions. We spend the day giving feedback to every startup, during panel sessions and one to one sessions with the teams. I was mentoring the outstanding ladies from SuperMama and Inkezny the "tourist feel safe" app.

Out of 38 participants, 6 were women which was a surprising ration, that’s more or less what you can expect at startup events in Denmark. The girls were amazing, but had different views on their role as entrepreneurs. Some said they were privileged since financially supported by their families or hubbies, that didn’t expect anything from them - a perfect bootstrapping state. Others felt they had to be very persistent to proof to their families that what they are doing is important, not only to them but as role models for other women and for their country.

After an intense day, we were invited to visit the Danish ambassador Christian Hoppe. All the teams gave excellent 1 minute pitches, directly to the ambassador and his 60 guests. They improved their performance so rapidly, and the fact that they were able to give short, precise pitches after only two days of training and mentoring - was outstanding.

At 11 pm we were heading back to the Marriott Hotel, ready to be tourists, but due to riads at Tahrir Square, where 1200 people got injured - we were advised to stay at the hotel. That said it is perfectly safe to be in Cairo and with 30 degrees celsius and a calm breeze, the climate is perfect.

The SuperMama team - Zeinab Samir and Yasmine ElMehairy.

Day 3 - The Final.

Thursday was the big final, where the teams were to pitch in front of investors, the press and the delegates. We headed for Smart Village through Cairo's intense traffic, meeting a very polished business community build outside Cairo housing mostly technology companies. Egypt has a perfect foundation for utilizing technology, with great access to developers, low employee costs, and now a historic experience from the power social media can give the multitude. The Egyptian Facebook penetration increased after the revolution, being the platform for cultivating, organizing and executing the revolution.

The teams were as ready as they could get, after working non-stop for 3 days. At the end of the day, culminating the event, 4  teams would be chosen, two of the teams would get an internship at EyeContact in the US, and two teams would go to Denmark for 3 months, to be a part of the StartupBootcamp accelerator program.

5 hours later we had the winners and they were announced in front of the Danish Ambassador, Egyptian representatives, the press - counting New York Times, Arab newspapers and the rest of the NextGen2011 team. The winners were in alphabetical order:

18 Days in Egypt - Crowdit is a social media storytelling platform inspired by the revolution.

Bey2ollak - A mobile traffic alert service, already counting 15.000 users.

Inkezny - A mobile app keeping tourists safe in developing countries by giving easy access to emergency assistance.

SuperMama - a social community providing women in Arab countries quality information about motherhood.

 

We celebrated by sailing and dining up the River Nile, eating exquisite cuisine while entertained with Arab music and belly dance. We ended the day at Tahrir Square where people were protesting again, for three days in a row. The SuperMama team drove us safely to the hectic city market Khan El-Khalili - which isn't a matter of course in Cairo. Families were gathered in the square, and kids running around enjoying their summer holiday. After extensive shopping and bargaining we ended the day drinking strong coffee and mint tea in a narrow alley, where locals smoked water pipes and played music, being magnified by mirrors on the surrounding buildings.

After getting close to these brilliant entrepreneurs, we had an emotional farewell. But it will hopefully not be a past memory, but a relationship that will continue with some of the teams in the future.

Back in Denmark I miss the warm courtesy of the Egyptian people, the sound of drums at the market and the warm breeze - in the city that never sleeps.

More impressions from NextGen2011: My pictures. Excellent blog post by Alex Farcet from StartupBootcamp.

Facebook reaching 700 m. users. Should we be worried?

Facebook experiences a loss of users in primarily the US, Canada and Russia, this news has hit the headlines of international media including the Danish.

Tuesday I gave my take to DR News - the Danish television station, on why Facebook experiences a decrease of users in specific countries. The pattern shows that once they reach half the population, their market limit is reached. It is also the countries Facebook first penetrated that are now experiencing a loss of users, a fact Facebook denies. Countries that were entered later as Mexico and Brazil is still in high growth.

What Facebook experiences now, is the case for many successful companies, they have traveled the J curve journey, and now they are meeting their market limit, which for Facebook is an impressive 50 percent of a country population. Reaching 700 m. users, we are now spending more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook per month. With a reign of 10 percent of the world population, they are indeed conquering the world, in a way Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan and the rest of the world conqueror club, would never have dreamt of.

With 2.5 m. websites connected to Facebook, there is still a great commercial opportunity. Very few companies knows as much about their users as Facebook, so we should expect further commercial cultivation, or to use a buzz word - f-commerce. I look forward to the day where I have to explain why Gignal has experienced a slight decrease in our 700 million users - a problem to love indeed!

New Media Days Launch

We launched Gignal in closed Beta at New Media Days on November 9-10, 2010. 800 participants, 2 days, 3 locations - all around and about New Media.

This was an excellent case to launch since we had the opportunity to present and aggregate from more locations, all the social services that we support, on physical screens at the event, on Gignal's site and through our widget on New Media Days website with their custom design.

New Media Days Testimonial. For New Media Days Gignal was far the best way of visualizing a combination of social media services. It was an easy way to keep track on how the audience felt about the speakers, the food, the venue - and prevent problems, making sure our audience had a great time. At the same time our audience and people watching from home, could stay on top of the information flow - knowing what the fuzz was about at every single stage. - Didde Elnif, Head of New Media Days.

Gignal event analytics.

New Media Days online stream, featuring check-ins, tweets, photos and video.

The 2. NordicMeetup on May 26.

It is time for the 2. NordicMeetup on May 26, 2010 at our favourite spot - Ruby’s. We are co-locating the event together with TechCrunch Europe who is in Copenhagen for their third TCNordic event.

Since NordicMeetup got sold out in 1.5 hour - and before we had a chance to publish the tickets, we have arranged with TechCrunch Europe that if you buy a ticket to TCNordic, you will get a special offer by using the promotion code: nordicmeetup giving you access to the evening event as well.

This time BvHD has made NordicMeetup a reality, by sponsoring the ticket to a free drink at Ruby.

PetraI are so thrilled to see the amazing support for NordicMeetup, people are offering their help, also with co-hosting in other Nordic cities - and most of all by showing up, having fun and supporting the Nordic startup environment, this is exactly what we hoped for.

Looking forward to see you at NordicMeetup!

Mentory - next step

We launched Mentory almost a year ago. A lot of interesting profiles have joined as protégés, mentors and even as both. All sorts of skills are represented, but the majority of users are tech and entrepreneurial oriented.

While people have been supporting the idea and the need of an online mentorship, the ideal online transformation still needs to be developed. We must find the way to motivate for participation for all parties, so conversations will flow. Some has mentioned the mentor/protégé relation as a barrier - they do not see them selves as either. The need of access to global skills has been expressed, but not necessary only between two people. Some believe the mentors should be paid, or as in real life get something in return from the protégé i.e. time.

Our thoughts is to strengthen online conversations, and global connection between people. One way is to emphasis the “advisory board”, so one person is connected with a board of people representing different skills. The initiator/protégé can post questions to the board, and the best suited will answer and thereby also share their knowledge with the other members of the board. We are also inclined to turn the focus towards Tech Entrepreneurship, so Mentory will become more focused as a community within this area.

Our objective is to support our users needs, any ideas and feedback to our thoughts are more than welcome - so please throw a comment.

Jam session startups

jamsession When a jazz band gather for a jam session it is all about improvising based on experience, skills and creativity. They are focused on the opportunities that arises from the chord chart (the frame that defines the rhythm and harmonic). They sense, they listen, they collaborate while creating unique unpredictable art.

Based on the same principles we create jam session startups, meaning that we set a course and we gather the perfect team of highly skilled people. We do not create an agenda or agreements, but we focus, do our best, sense and listen to our users. We collaborate on creating unique, unpredictable and user driven startups.

What happens when we skip the business plan, the agreements and the technical specifications? It is simple - we execute, learn and improve. Instead of a business plan, we set an overall strategy i.e. our course, set up milestones and deadlines, and we take these very seriously. Our deadlines makes us prioritize and fight the perfectionist part of us, that want´s to launch a perfect service, which will never happen.

I have tried both ways of running a startup, but somehow the more effort I put into planning, structure and great business plans, the less I achieve. The reason is that I miss out on spontaneity, which in many cases are the best source for innovation.

When we build Mentory, we knew that we should launch a basic version i.e. no Rolls Royce to start with, but instead sense the adaption while listening to our users. In the past three months since we launched, we have learned lessons and gotten ideas that couldn´t have been predicted up front. The journey is also much more exciting, we know our course but we do not know where it will take us a long the way, and in the end - it is all about Jazz.

More women in tech - why?

geeknrolla_girl1

Being a woman in tech, men will outnumber you at most occasion, and the big question is why are there so few women in tech? I attended Geek´n Rolla on April 21, where there was a panel discussion on the matter, and it really engaged the audience.

Some of the reasons mentioned for the lack of women were:

  • Women that work in the tech industry identify themselves with their niche, ex. working with PR instead of working in tech with PR.
  • It starts in the early stage of girls education, they are not encouraged to work within tech.
  • Startups are driven by developers, and since there are so few female developers, it affects the imbalance.
  • Women choose family over 70 hour work weeks.
  • Women are not risk willing.
  • Women do not have flair for tech.

Apart from physical abilities, we are capable of the same, so do we find the answers within society, culture, education and social (unconscious) behavior?

The tech industry reflects society, also in this matter. Besides tech, it is also within management, the percentage of board members, the level of wages etc. Some countries have implemented gender quotes to focus on equality, while most countries are just talking about the challenge. As some guys stated - is positive discrimination the way to create balance? Shouldn´t the criteria be a persons skills rather than gender, race, age or appearance? And why do we necessarily want more women in tech. These opinions helped warm up the following discussion.

The word, “balance” indicates an optimal state, and don´t we want to achieve that in our industry? It is not just a matter of equality for women in tech, it is equality in every sense, and the loss of innovation based on multiplicity. Balance also improves a working environment, and a manifold perspective is important in the work we create. Some research even states that having female leaders positively affects the financial results in a company.

But are there any upside to the lack of equality? Well for one you are not lightly to be caught wearing the same dress, but besides that if you are good (and of course you are) and have the ability to present your project, you will have the benefit of standing out. But in my opinion the upside for the individual does not equal the downside for the industry, so we still have to rely on change.

In Denmark we experience that women are becoming the majority on higher educations, they are focused on their studies and take equality for granted. Based on that development I am optimistic about a future balance. But until we reach the point where it is an absolutely matter of course meeting a female CEO, board chairman or President, we must start with our own self-image and stand out as role models for the future generation.

Sharing is learning

When we are online it is all about sharing and participating. This is not our natural offline behavior, but we change attitude in the digital sphere - most of us anyway. And the amazing thing is that it is contagious. We trust, we share, we participate and so does everyone else, meaning that you can get almost any question instantly answered by complete strangers.  When we share, we give others the opportunity to take advantage of our knowledge and experience, making it evolve in the minds of other individuals. This is basically what a mentorship and Mentory is all about. 

So why have a mentor relation when it can be done sporadic on Google.

As a protégé you set a goal with your mentorship. And while having the relation, you are able to ask specific questions, reflect on the answers and try it out. After trying, new questions rice, and here comes the benefit of asking a mentor that know your case and background. 

We all have mentors, formal, informal, unconsciously and in different areas in life. Some inspire us with our carrier and on our dreams while others strength us as individuals. 

And what is more giving than giving? Receiving a grateful, moved or happy email or expression on a persons face, when what we did made a difference - it makes our effort worth while. Most mentors reap the gift of supporting their protégé through the different phases from questioning, frustration, trying and finally achieving. Only made possible from the fact that we shared!

Mentorship 2.0 - Open versus closed

In the analogue world mentorship relations are often initiated by a physical meeting and if continued it is a quite anti-social and confidential conversation between the protégé and mentor.  Creating Mentory made us question if the analogue process is the best way to run your mentorship. As a believer in sharing, participating and being open, I see the opportunity of evolving the mentorship towards this idealism. Which gave birth to the idea of Journster (spin-off to be revealed in details later).

When choosing your mentor or protégé, you judge based on chemistry, the goal and expectations. Some times you do choose wrong, finding it difficult to know what went wrong in the process. Was it the goal, the mentor or protégé response or your own ability to act upon the input. 

Making the mentorship and your goal open while broadcasting your questions, gives you instead multiple and varied answers to choose and act from. Remembering of course to pass on the experience you got based on the answers, to benefit others and continuing the sharing circle.

The challenge is barriers. Are we willing to reveal deeper goals, show our insecurity and lack of knowledge? In that case you can decide to close your mentorship, after validating the person(s) based on the broadcast response. 

The nature of an open mentorship may be based on skills, rather than chemistry and presence that defines the closed and analogue relation.

What type of mentorship would you choose? 

3 elements of behavior on successful social sites

What make users spend so much time on social sites? What do we get in return and why are we so much more open online? I am probably not the only one asking these questions.  My observation is that 3 elements motivate us:

Curiosity. Have you ever spent time exploring profiles of strangers? It is somehow a core instinct - we just cannot help looking through the profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. Which must be the answer to why (mainly women) buy gossip magazines. 

Profiling is the answer to why we don't mind sharing pictures and thoughts that we probably would not share with strangers in offline life. Suddenly we are able to show a side of our self, and in that way promote our personality across circles.

Recognition. Some believe we are driven by money, power and/or recognition. Recognition is exactly what we get when we suddenly have +200 friends or followers. Being followed or invited gives us status in the community. By the end of the day we just want to fit in, having a purpose in life and get recognized for our contribution. We are suddenly able to benchmark our popularity among friends, colleagues and people we dig. 

So how can your start-up benefit from this? 

Exposing your users with pictures, tags, short descriptions gives fellow users a teaser for reading more - driven by curiosity.

With an ocean of spectators we have the opportunity to stand out, revealing our self in new ways. So give your users the ability to profile them self as individuals, thinkers, believers and helpers to the community.

Most of us (if not all) needs recognition and that is why this element is so vital, encouraging us to spent hours participating on the community, sharing information and networking. So make sure your users contribution gets recognized by the community.

Obviously these elements cannot stand alone, you still need a dynamic and brilliant service, but if you do not support natural behavior, you might become a bit lonely on your community. I pay attention to these factors on Mentory and our other services, trying to hit that perfect balance.

I believe this is also the fault of many Inter/Intranets. Organizations are puzzled why their employees or customers are not generating content, knowledge sharing and participating.  Try to ask - what is in it for them?

Mentory phase 2 - Spin-off

We launched Mentory on February 2. 2009. It was a really exciting day, and the positive response and help from our fellow tweeters was astonishing - thank you all! But launching also means full steam on bug fixing, improvements and further development based on all the user feedback.We decided to take a day out and work on the matchmaking process of a mentorship - the vital part of Mentory.

We experienced that we were drawn in two directions. 1 - developing a process that matches an offline mentorship. 2 - developing a process that supports online behavior i.e. redefining the mentorship. We want to support both, so we are enhancing the online process, integrating Mentory with other services, using API´s and then dada... we got a really neat idea since it is generic and supports the ideology of our other start-up concepts (the service former known as Journster.com - Jacobs brainchild).

Since we apparently are first movers I will only reveal a few details. We move towards semantic web, we observe synchronicity but yet we build and use services in a silo. This is basically what we want to change. In the futile search of a name, we discovered that one of our other start-ups, had the name we needed, so we took it - Journster.com.

For now we will improve Mentory in it´s first version, integrate video communication and then we will work on this new service to optimize the mentorship matchmaking.

We expect to launch it on Mentory within 2 months - so if you are up to become a beta tester please signup on journster.com

Mentoring versus Coaching

Making a Mentorship site I better throw in my opinion of the difference between mentoring and coaching. Scientific research has not come up with a precise answer, so should I? The clear difference from my point of view is that coaches base their conversation on questions intended for the coachee to answer. Mentors will most likely ask good questions to, but they will probably spice it up with their experience, advice and introduction to their network.  So when to choose what. I have a degree in coaching, and I have tried both. I found coaching excellent for inner development such as overcoming stress. While mentoring has been ideal for professional development, and when I had a clear goal but needed experienced guidance, constructive challenge and hints on who to contact. The mentor does not necessarily need to be a precise match, but rather have a significant angle. 

And expect the same aspects as in life. Good chemistry is essential. Both parties must give ongoing feedback - to know your value and in order to improve. What did I do that worked, what should I do more etc. Without feedback the relationship will most likely die out.

Coaching and mentoring are generic. Mentors can benefit from the questioning techniques coaches use, in order to make the protégé think - not necessarily answer.   

But what makes mentoring amazing is that it is a relationship based on a non profit interest. The mentor will experience as much reflection as the protégé i.e. give and take. Finally this relationship can and will often become one of the most significant relationships we experience in life. 

Most of us remember a person that had significant influence in your life, being an extraordinary by listening, being present, respecting us, this character is often a teacher or family member. This is what Mentory can do for you, finding a mentor with these personal skills that matches our stage in life, making us grow - who can ask for more in a mentor.

Final count down - Launching Mentory 02.02.2009

Do our users understand this feature, does it look cool, how do you translate Dashboard to Danish, have you solved the bugs - This is just a part of the conversation Jacob and I had Sunday night i.e. launch night. You never ever get finished - and if you do, your service is probably obsolete. With that in mind I am proud to present - Mentory.com! Almost 2 years of work has come to an end - or rather a beginning. From getting the idea, defining the concept, designing the user interface and developing the website, we are finally ready to welcome our users. 

Our ideology is user oriented, because without our users we are nothing. We have had 2 iterations of user tests and we have learned so much every time. We know our baby to well to judge it, so your opinion is necessary.  
My hope is to facilitate as many mentorships as possible, in order give everyone the chance to have a role model, that can help them achieve their goals. And the greatest gift is in fact to give. We hope our future mentors will experience the side effect of engaging others - you can not avoid to grow as well. 

But as I started out stating, this is the beginning. We are in phase one, a lot of features are in line - just waiting for you to demand them and give us feedback on future development ideas. But the most important feature is content, and that can only be created by You! so get on board - the more the merrier. 

I am really proud finally to share and show my passion, but the creation of Mentory was only made possible thanks to a great teamwork with my husband Jacob, who has worked day and night to make this happen. And all the great feedback from our test users, which we hope to get so much more of. So this is it - hope you can use Webcom Labs firstborn service, to cultivate your potential! 

We welcome you to Mentory - your participation our passion.

Giving back is the new black

While most of the world is focusing on the recession, fortunately bloggers are drawing attention to world poverty with blog action day. But one thing is fighting poverty in the countries that are affected, witch I believe in (and I would recommend the danish NGO Børnefonden). But I truly believe we are letting the victims down that reside in our own countries as refugees. Are we giving them faith, self-esteem and the ability to educate themselves, so they can go back to their native countries and create changes and better conditions?

Repression is a perfect way to controle a country as a dictator. The last thing you want is well educated people, that dare, and see a way out of repression and in that way - poverty. 

Besides sending aid to third world countries, help locally, help daily, motivate, engage and embrace instantly - I promise to walk my talk.

My second mentor meeting

Normally I am not very fond of Mondays. But today was an exception. I had my second meeting with my mentor Christian Ørsted. Our first meeting was 1½ months ago, we primary got to know each other and decided to continue the process. I got a lot of ideas, links and book titles from Christian. I bought the books, checked out the links looked into the ideas and overall developed. I was quite busy a week before our next meeting, making sure I was following up on the process, showing Christian I toked it seriously. I know I wouldn´t have gone through with my assignments, if I only were obligated to my self. This is really a strength in the mentor relationship. You get things done. But be aware that its the protege that takes the initiative and sets the direction and goals, it has to be in order to succeed. Make it easy for your mentor to spend time on you and be present. Once again I went home with a lot of ideas. I had the feeling that Christian didn´t really know how valuable his feedback was, reflection is difficult to measure. The mentor relationship is a process, it has its peaks and i probably has its downs, but do not underestimate that, it might be at that point you focus and develop. Once again I have a lot of ideas and homework I must get into, and I look forward to our next meeting, making one more Monday merry.

Mentor me please!

Some time ago I decided I would like to have a mentor, to challenge me with my professional life. I asked my husband Jacob, who he would recommend if he should choose one! I new I didn´t want someone who knew me already, since this could interfere with the process if there already were impressions from the past. Jacob pointed out Christian Ørsted. I contacted Christian and he agreed on meeting me. He was surprised being mentor material, but this only showed he was a humble person, witch was positive in my opinion. We set a date, and I was really excited to meet him. We found a cafe and I introduced my expectations and goals. Christian was interested in spotting mutual interests, witch is given, since he wanted to be sure that he could contribute with his knowledge. We didn´t directly mention it, but the first meeting was of course a chance to see if we had chemistry. This is probably more important for the mentor than the protege, since the mentor has to get something out of the time spent. I asked Christian, what was in it for him, what was his expectation. He answers - energy. 1½ hour went really fast. We had a very interesting meeting, and it gave me a lot to think about. I picked up my kids went home, and i was loaded with a lot of ideas to follow but most of all - Energy!

“Mentor” a buzzword?

I am hearing "mentor" everywhere. The government wants to give immigrants a mentor in order to integrate them in Denmark. The newspapers business section recommends leaders to get a mentor. Television has a show with people presenting there inventions and ideas to a board of mentors. Is it a buzz or are we just starting to see the potential of others experience. It makes sense, let me find one of my own so this protege can develop herself.