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  • 08 Jan 2019 2:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With over 24 years of experience in corporate development and management under his belt, Elie Antoun has been involved in several business aspects: from growing companies, identifying new investment leads, to managing mergers and acquisitions for a number of companies in the US and Japan.

    Out of the five companies he led, four got acquired: MediaQ in 2003; Genesis Microchip, a publicly traded semiconductor company, in 2008; AccelOps, computer software company, in 2012 and Akros Silicon in 2015, which is now part of Kinetic Technologies.

    Elie Antoun talked to LebNet about success, exiting companies and failing.

    Elie Antoun talked to LebNet about success, exiting companies and failing.

    In 2008, Antoun worked as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Eldorado Ventures, where his job was to identify and shortlist innovative renewable energy startups to invest in. He is currently managing an M&A project for a Japanese semiconductor corporation, to divest one of their divisions. The company offers a wide range of products and IPs that cover development from specifications planning and theoretical design to physical design, production and quality control. He is also sitting on the board of several other companies and actively mentoring three startups.

    In an interview with LebNet, Antoun spoke about the job he enjoys the most, his regrets and failures and achieving a good work/life balance. Read our Q&A below.

    • You were a President and CEO of several companies, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, an advisor and mentor and you helped many companies grow and get acquired. Which role did you enjoy the most?

    There’s no question being a CEO of big companies of many sizes and particularly CEO of startups is the most enjoyable part. I enjoyed pressure and people. Those are the two primary drivers for me. When you’re in a startup, you’re leading a group of people into an area that’s not clear and you don’t know what’s going to happen and there’s no safety net. Every day is do or die. There’s a short distance between every decision you make and the result of that decision. I was CEO of companies that were as big as 700 people and making $300 million in revenue and as small as 25 people and making $3 million in revenues. That’s where you learn the most and make the most mistakes also.

    • Tell us a little bit about your work with El Dorado Ventures, where you were an Entrepreneur In Residence.

    I joined them late 2008, after the Genesis deal closed and took some time off. I joined them to look at renewable energy. There was a lot of solar, water, and lighting technology. At that time, the massive financial crisis hit. For two years investors were very apprehensive about writing big checks. It was an opportunity to assess ideas, companies, entrepreneurs and make a couple of investments, but things were slower. My role was to listen to incoming ideas from entrepreneurs and then select a few to set up meetings with the partners at the fund. I screened maybe a dozen over one and a half years and Eldorado invested in two of them.

    • Which mistakes you wish someone else had told you to avoid when you were younger?

    I wish that I had known and researched the board of companies [I was managing] to understand why they got in trouble in the first place. I was spoiled in my first startup, I had such an incredible board, we were always open and straightforward with each other that I thought it would be  like that every time.

    • Most of the startups fail. Sometimes it’s because the entrepreneurs did not have the right characteristics to succeed and other times the idea and execution were wrong. Which of the two scenarios do you encounter the most?

    The world has changed in the last 10 years, but the biggest reason for failure has been founders problems. Founders who didn’t know each other that well and launched into a high-intensity and high-pressure environment without enough experience. They end up fighting and getting at each other instead of focusing on the goal and recognizing where their own shortcomings are. They bring investors in and those shortcomings force the investors to bring outsiders and sometimes outsiders aren’t all fully in tune with the founders and everything becomes a spiral from there. I find that companies in-fighting is the primary reason for failure.
    Execution is related to the team and not trying to go after the whole world, which brings me to the second primary reason for failure: the lack of focus. Companies want to change the world and tend not to laser focus on a market they can win, so they try to go after two big pieces of the pie and get nothing out of it. A market has to be big enough to put some food on the table but the lack of targeting is another major driver for failure. The third reason is not going after smart money. I am a huge fan of going after smart money, people who know how to invest, people who trust the management but are active enough and help in various areas.

    • What keeps you up at night?

    Only if I’m doing the right thing. That’s the only thing I ever worry about. If i’m being honest with myself and with the person asking for my help. When you look in the mirror and you’re being honest with yourself, you don’t worry about anything else.

    • Are you currently mentoring or advising any startups?  

    Yes, the last two months have become quite active. I’m helping three startups right now. One is doing a system for surveillance cameras without going to the cloud, which creates a storage problem. The founders are incredibly smart and have an idea they already actioned on and completed a  proof of concept. They can do very high resolution surveillance and handle the storage without using the cloud and they are targeting SMEs, not the huge enterprises for whom the cost of storage is not a problem. Another one is focused on assisted driving using laser and radio technology. The third one is IT verification for devices, mobile, PCs and laptops. This Japanese startup has a unique way of doing ID verification that’s cheaper and faster from what’s out there today. I mentor them, I like to be involved.

    • When does a mentor’s role become dispensable?

    You always have to work yourself out of a job. If you’ve become dispensable that means you’ve done what you need to do for that entrepreneur. You could become a board member, advisor, but don’t need to be a more involved mentor. If there was not a good fit from the beginning, whether it’s a functional, characteristic or chemistry fit, then both the entrepreneur and the mentor should know from the beginning. As a mentor who’s effective, the best thing you can do is to work yourself out of a job so entrepreneurs can focus on something else that is not an area of expertise for the mentor.

    • How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

    Lately it’s been a little harder, but it goes back to doing the absolute best that you can within the parameters that you control, and not sweating out the parameters that you can’t control. Also being incredibly lucky for having a great wife. Basically I get to work at 7 am and I leave at 7 pm. If you’re completely focused on what you need to do then there’s not much else that you could do differently. You can go home and be a bit more relaxed. Assembling a team that is incredibly strong that you can rely on [is also crucial]. Many people define importance by having everything go through them. The ability to put together a strong team and rely on it is way more powerful than having everything go through one funnel.  

  • 21 Dec 2018 2:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It’s not every day we come across a well established Lebanese entrepreneur with an exceptional career trajectory- someone who has emigrated from Lebanon and achieved the American dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur while staying close to their Lebanese roots through community engagement and contribution.

    That’s why we’re so excited to feature Richard Rabbat Co-Founder/CEO of Gfycat as our Member in the Spotlight this month!

    Richard holds a Ph.D. and an S.M. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a B.E. and M.E. in Computer and Communications Engineering from the American University of Beirut. He is also Vice-Chair, USA of the MIT Enterprise Forum for the Pan-Arab Region and is an advisor to numerous companies.

    Besides being an exemplary LebNet member, Richard drives the vision and mission of Gfycat, which has skyrocketed to success over the past 2 years. Gfycat is a platform that enables users to make amazing Gfycats, video-quality short looping silent GIFs. Gfycat is a top 100 US site, top 250 worldwide.

    Prior to cofounding Gfycat, Richard worked at Fujitsu, Google, Tango, and Zynga. Needless to say, he’s a busy entrepreneur. We’re thankful he took some time to chat with us and answer a few questions for fellow LebNeters!

    Tell us a few things about yourself that are not widely known.  

    I grew up in Beirut and came to the U.S. for graduate school. In my spare time I run marathons. I have two beautiful kids, Leyla and Waleed.

    How did you become an entrepreneur and how did the idea for Gfycat come about?

    Becoming an entrepreneur was a dream of mine since childhood. After working at some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley for many years, I decided it was finally time to pursue that dream in 2015. Along with my cofounders, we realized that GIFs were taking off in popularity across the Internet. We noticed there was no easy way for people to make them. So we focused on creating the best tools for creators to make great GIFs that they could share on social media and messaging apps.

    What has been the high and low of establishing Gfycat so far?

    High: we just announced that we reached 130 million monthly active users (all organic growth) and launched our AI projects. This is a really exciting time for us, and I can’t wait to see how we continue to grow in 2018.

    Low: Being the top 100 site in the US is very pricey and we sometimes had to slow down new feature development to optimize our backend.

    You’ve recently been in the news for incorporating AI technology into Gfycat. What is your ultimate vision for what Gfycat can offer users?

    I think short-form content will play an increasingly important role in our lives. We ultimate want to fill those short moments in your life where you pull your phone from your pocket and we can delight you with a snackable bite of fun or entertaining content. We will continue to innovate on the product side to help more of our users create amazing content.

    What idea, mentor, or book influenced you the most throughout your career and why?

    I love thinking through strategy. Running a startup is not unlike going to war. The book that has influenced me most is Sun Tzu’s Art of War. When an entrepreneur starts a company, he/she is immediately at war with many other large companies and startup and they need to think and play out the battle ahead so they maximize their chance at winning. Always thinking about the unfair advantage you can have when building a new product or service.

    You have been an active member of LebNet, what is the value that LebNet has provided and why is it important to you personally?

    Lebnet connects me to my community in ways unlike other professional organizations. Each person in the community has an amazing story to tell about hardship, survival, strength, success but also love for both our countries Lebanon and the US. I personally really enjoy getting to know the newer generation of Lebanese and Lebanese-American individuals doing fantastic at their jobs and in their personal lives.

    What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring Lebanese entrepreneurs who need mentoring?

    There’s never a “right time” to start a company so take it on when you have the conviction in your idea. Of course, leaving a cozy job with a steady paycheck is scary but the experience will be invaluable. Seek mentors along the way, ask people for help. It’s amazing what people will do to help you and open doors for you. Always be asking for introductions. The value of the company is partly in the product you built but so much more in your team and your network.

    How can LebNeters support Gfycat?

    Download our mobile app and tell your friends and family about us! We want Gfycat to be in every social network and messaging experience. If you know people or you work at a messaging app and don’t see Gfycat in that messaging app, help us connect to people who can integrate our amazing content in these messaging apps and social networks.

  • 13 Dec 2018 2:12 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There are countless reasons to launch a startup.

    Becoming your own boss, believing your idea will change the world, getting rich or not being able to work in a highly predictable environment, just to name a few.

    Romeo Elias launched a startup because he did not want to take over the family business from his father. It’s a manufacturing company and is now run by his brothers.  

    Born in Nigeria and raised in Lebanon until he was 17, this Lebanese entrepreneur went to the University of California San Diego to study mechanical engineering then finished his Master’s Degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

    It was his drive to break traditions and make it on his own that pushed him to launch his first venture, WWWID. With the help of a few friends and some self-taught coding experience, he started helping small businesses build their own websites. Their startup was very basic and they got few clients back in 1999, but it was merely a side project until he figured out what he really wanted to do.

    The Aha Moment

    In 2000, Elias started another company called Intellect, formerly called Interneer, which provided companies a software platform to automate processes for project management, quality management, HR and other areas.

    It all started when he participated in a business plan competition organized by UCLA, his MS alma mater. He and his partners won first place in the software track and second place overall. The event opened many doors for them and it was a launchpad to raise a seed round from friends, family and a few angel investors.

    At the beginning, Intellect developed a software to help mechanical engineers design processes for projects they’re working on. The product was heavy on content and software so Elias thought it was best to license content and extra information to publish engineering books as an additional revenue stream. Yet in 2001, after the stock market crash and the 9/11 attacks, it became very difficult for him to raise money and grow the business.

    How listening to clients saved the company  

    It was a critical moment for the startup, which had limited funds, so Elias had to choose between shutting it down completely or looking for alternatives to save money.

    “We listened to some of our key early clients. They liked the concept of designing processes that help engineers but did not care about the information coming from engineering handbooks. They wanted the information to come directly from the engineers, the ones who were about to retire, to provide them a way to capture their knowledge before leaving” he explained. So they pivoted from creating expert content to software tools to enable that.

    They started developing software tools for engineers following that with software to address project management, HR and training software, auditing, customer complaints and FDA and ISO compliance software.

    Intellect now works with around 500 corporations from all around the world. Their portfolio includes Emerson, an American multinational company that manufactures products and provides engineering services for industrial, commercial, and consumer markets; Princess Cruises, a cruise line company that started in 1965; Stryker, a Fortune 500 medical technology company that provide products and services in Orthopaedics, Medical and Surgical, and Neurotechnology and Spine, and many others. 

    Thanks to its multinational portfolio of companies, Intellect now operates in the United States, China, Australia, Turkey and other countries. Few years back, Elias tried to expand to the Middle East and talked to potential partners in Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, but none of them was the perfect match. He is still hoping to find the right partner one day.

    Intellect is headquartered in Los Angeles but works with people from India, Romania and Turkey. Some of its competition includes quality management software Sparta Systems and Master Control, but Elias believes the key differentiator is that his company empowers clients by allowing them to make changes to their accounts. “We empower them to stay up to date and compliant with regulations without coming to us always. Our vision is to empower them and let them innovate on their own,” he explained.

    Knowledge is only real when transferred

    With over 18 years of experience in mechanical engineering and software development, Elias strongly believes in paying it forward. Through Intellect Innovate, a yearly event for Intellect’s user base, he is connecting partners to potential customers and giving them a stage to to network and to present their ideas. That event also features a hackathon, where participants are given two hours to develop a product using Intellect’s platform. “Our partners would sometimes adopt these applications or sell them to their customers,” he added.

    Another way to give back is through mentoring other startups working in software. The startups Romeo is mentoring include Valcre, a real estate appraisal solution; an early-stage startup building an application that connects construction contractors to vendors; a solution that tracks delivery trucks in the US and another recruiting company.  

    “It’s been very rewarding to help them out and share ideas and an honor to feel that some of these companies are listening to me,” he said jokingly.  

    Elias could have chosen to manage his father’s company and avoid the daily struggles of an entrepreneur, but he chose to forge his own path. He learned a lot and one the most important tips of advice he shared with us was to stop obsessing about someone stealing your ideas, because execution, perseverance and patience are the needed requirements for success.

    He concluded the interview  saying: “The world is full of ideas but not enough people can make them happen.”

  • 19 Nov 2018 2:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Part of its mission to empower the next generation of Lebanese entrepreneurs, LebNet launched its residential mentorship program LebNet Ignite in 2014, to offer startups in Lebanon a two-week bootcamp in San Francisco.

    Startups get access to the required expertise and know-how that will help them scale their businesses globally. Participants will meet investors and learn how to attract global funds, connect with mentors, scale globally and get legal advice. Since its inception, the program graduated 19 startups.


    “LebNet Ignite was the best experience ever. We had access to people we can never have access to in Lebanon,” said Audrey Nakad, cofounder at Synkers, an online private tutoring platform. The Lebanese market is in need of more role models and success stories they can look up to and seek advice from, she added.

    Similarly, Charlie El Khoury, cofounder at Nar, added that “we lack success stories. We need people to look up to. In San Francisco, you always find people to help.”

    His startup Nar is a smart-drone software solution that integrates with drones to track wildfires and oil leakages.

    Photo: During a feedback session with LebNet Ignite startups, held by LebNet president George Akiki this month at Speed Lebanon.

    Customized mentorship for each startup

    The program featured one-on-one sessions with LebNet members, coaching and brainstorming dinners, which were startup-focused. “LebNet  organized [for us] a dinner with 5 mentors, and it was about Synkers challenges, how to enhance algorithms and growth hacking and they answered all of our questions,” added Nakad.

    Another participant found an advisor who helped him throughout their journey. “Connections are extremely important. One of LebNet’s members, Amer Hajj, is now our advisor. He’s been in the healthcare sector and we were lucky to have someone who wanted to be involved,” said Ziad Alame, founder and CEO of Spike, a diabetes management mobile application.

    Alame’s startup recently won the GITEX competition in Dubai and was shortlisted to participate in Seedstars MENA Regional Summit, which is happening in Beirut on November 29.

    A mentor is not an advisor

    Like Alame, finding the right mentor for a startup is crucial at every stage. Yet mentors are confused with advisors/coaches, knowing that the latter have a deeper involvement, which is often remunerated.

    Marc Suidan, Mergers and Acquisitions Tech sector leader at PwC and a LebNet member, advised entrepreneurs to distinguish between the role of mentors and that of advisors/investors/board members. The former guides entrepreneurs to a certain direction until they are able to execute on their own and the latter is when entrepreneurs bring someone to the company for a longer period of time and potentially give them shares in it, hence a different level of commitment and involvement.

    “If mentorship requires a lot of time then maybe a startup needs to talk to investors as well. Mentors don’t own decisions, [they are] just a sounding board. If there’s a match, if should become more organized and deeper,” said Suidan.

    Adding to what Suidan said, Elie Antoun, a veteran LebNet member and a serial CEO with a handful of experience in corporate development, management and growth, strongly believes that mentorship comes down to setting objectives and expectations so nobody gets disappointed. “You have to be careful to distinguish between mentoring and consulting. Consulting you pay for it. Mentoring there’s an emotional involvement,” he clarified.

    For this reason, his strategy with helping startups is to focus on a few, help them at a certain stage then connect them to another mentor who can fill in the gaps and he does this all for free. Mentors should not demand shares or money in return. “Giving a mentor 1 percent is very expensive. You only give this to an early board member. Advisors take 0.2 or 0.5 percent and you will use them a lot. Engage with those who have time and passion for you. Don’t be shy to ask for help”

    LebNet Ignite startups

    Its 6th edition held on February 2018, LebNet Ignite welcomed two new startups, making a total of 19 graduated startups until now. In the upcoming editions, the program will be reinforced with follow-ups.

    “We need to setup a structured mentorship program. We will do it as much as the mentee wants it and mentors might be re-assigned. It will be for people who will be very aggressive. We need to move quickly and don’t want to design something so heavy that takes 6 months to setup,” said George Akiki, cofounder and president of LebNet.

    In addition to this, Akiki also spoke about the possibility of setting up a network of angel investors, who will fill in the gap between seed money received by entrepreneurs in Lebanon and bigger tickets in the US. “We don’t want to come at a pre-seed level, we don’t want to compete with what’s happening locally [Lebanon].”

    The startups:

    1- Brate, an online marketplace for products, services and businesses
    2- Nar, a drone software that tracks wildfires and oil leakages.
    3- Vision in Motion
    4- Synkers, an online platform for private tutoring.
    5- Jellyfish, a budget management software.
    6- Zoomal, a crowdfunding platform in the Arab World.
    7- Rational Pixels, a dynamic advertising format for online games
    8- TeensWhoCode, a coding academy for kids and teenagers.
    9- Spike, a mobile application for patients with diabetes.
    10- Neotic, a customized AI solution for traders.
    11- Cherpa, an educational platform teaching robotics, coding, AI and others courses.
    12- Vbout, a marketing and analytics tool
    13- Petriotics, an online pet shot.
    14- Riego,  a solar powered, agricultural irrigation dynamic-control device.
    15- Sqwirl, an idea-generation lab for startups.
    16- Neumann, a data platform for businesses specialized in data collecting, mapping, and visualizing.
    17- Makerbrane, an online and offline platform for creating and playing games.
    18- Wango, a dating application.

  • 01 Nov 2018 2:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “In the US, if every position is filled, if every person looking for a technology job gets hired, there are so many positions that can’t be filled for at least 20 years,” said Ahmad Al-Amine, cofounder of outsourcing management company TechGenies. “That’s how much shortage of tech talent there is in the US.”

    A shortage of tech talent in the US is driving many multinational companies to seek IT support outside, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Georgetown University and the reason might have to do with education.

    report by global management consulting and professional services firm Accenture, stated that today’s education and training systems are not keeping up with the current and future demand for skills. As intelligent systems and machines are reshaping the nature of work, people will need entirely new skill sets, the same report stated.

    The fact that small to medium businesses are competing with giant tech companies for tech talent puts the former at a disadvantage as it’s hard to offer the same salaries and benefits.

    How can small businesses survive? 

    These factors, combined with the challenges that come with outsourcing (quality, constant follow-ups, commitment and meeting deadlines) don’t make it easier for smaller entities in the US.

    So how can smaller entities find the right tech talent?

    Two Lebanese entrepreneurs, Mark Hamdan and Ahmad Al-Amine, might have found a solution called TechGenies. Launched in 2015 and headquartered in Texas, the company acts as a middleman between those seeking technical help and those providing it, while guaranteeing proper execution and delivery.

    TechGenies offers businesses seeking outsourcing a dedicated team or individual (Genie) who will work on their technology projects from its inception to delivery. For instance, TechGenies will hire, train and manage this individual or team and will also follow up and track the work to guarantee a proper execution.

    “Outsourcing companies work in a way where you have no control over who works on your product. They bill you by the hour then move on,” said cofounder Al-Amine in an interview with LebNet.

    The business model worked. Hamdan tested it during HRsmart, a previous company he founded and sold it to Deltek in 2015, and he believed there’s a need for it in the market. Yet brand awareness was a challenge.

    The founders needed to make themselves visible to potential clients and create a trust with them. “The biggest challenge we have is explain to others how we are different,” said Al-Amine. However, they knew that the challenge was time-related and once they started working with several clients, things became smoother.

    Now, TechGenies completed around 490 projects and works with up to 25 clients. It has several operational countries, with offices in Toronto, Mexico city, Beirut, Gurugram and Cebu.

    Making outsourcing an in-house solution

    To guarantee each client gets the right match, TechGenies hire people on demand.

    “From day one, clients know exactly who they’re going to work with and what they’re going to work on and that helps them become excited about the project they are working on,” explained Al-Amine. The team becomes part of the client’s team yet TechGenies takes care of the hiring and managing process. “In our case, this has helped us retain people. Our retention is around 95 percent, including the country we’re in and India, which has a very high turnover rate.”

    The demand for tech jobs is on the rise but will take on several forms in the coming years. A report published by the World Economic Forum on The Future of Jobs revealed that the nature of work will change towards more flexible work habits; new demanding industries such as advanced robotics, AI, machine learning and biotechnology will require new skill sets and reskilling and upskilling workers will become a necessity.

    We will have enormous opportunities and challenges but it will be exciting to see how advanced technologies will shape the way we work, hire and interact. 

  • 09 Oct 2018 5:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With a Ph.D. in in Cellular and Molecular Biology, Farah Fawaz developed a passion for science and living organisms since the beginning of her career.

    After working for several years in the healthcare industry, Fawaz – a LebNet board member – is working on developing a biotech community under LebNet, to scout biotech innovations, empower startups in this field and provide support and expertise.

    In a chat with LebNet, Fawaz talked about her journey and the vision behind the biotech community, the role of women and achieving a work/life balance.


    LebNet: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you become interested in biotech

    Fawaz: As far as I can recall, I have been curious and inquisitive about living organisms and understanding the underlying mechanisms that govern life at the macro, micro and molecular levels. My schooling and career are a direct consequence of this passion. I obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the American University of Beirut. I then received a Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I moved on and completed my post-doctoral studies at the University of California in San Francisco. From academics, I moved to the Biotech industry where I held various roles with increasing responsibilities in research, development, and commercial operations in different companies such as Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Berlex Biosciences/Schering AG, Bayer AG, Intarcia Therapeutics, and most recently at Allogene Therapeutics. Throughout my career, my drive has been to make a difference in people’s lives while working on what I like best, science.

    LebNet: What are the mission and vision behind the biotech community?

    Fawaz: Over the past years, LebNet has experienced a tremendous success in growing the Hi-Tech network across the U.S. and in Lebanon and in supporting both these communities. As LebNet matures, and we continue to attract new members entering the workforce, reaching out to professionals in another exciting, fast-paced and impactful technical area namely, Biotech, would strengthen our organization. Furthermore, bringing together professionals from both disciplines would no doubt provide opportunities to advance areas that overlap both fields.  

    The mission of the LebNet’s Biotech community is to establish a network of professionals in the field across the US and Lebanon. Such a network will provide these professionals with a forum to connect, meet, exchange ideas, and create opportunities for advancement at the individual and community levels.  

    LebNet: What activities and programs are you planning on hosting for this community? 

    Fawaz: In line with the events and programs that have been sponsored by LebNet, we would like to host several events across the country as we grow the network, featuring guest speakers, panel discussions, and interviews with leaders in the field. Furthermore, we would like to support several programs, such as establishing mentorships, pairing senior leaders in the network with mid- and entry level individuals, as well as connecting members to secure internship programs for new graduates as well as graduate/college students.

    LebNet: What type of support do you need? 

    Fawaz: The immediate goal for the Biotech community is to establish a presence first in the US and reach out to colleagues in Lebanon next. As we establish, point contacts in the various cities, the biotech community will further expand.

    LebNet: Why should members join? What’s the added value?

    Fawaz: Networking is a key element for personal development and advancement of ideas. Traditionally, fewer Lebanese individuals chose Biological and Chemical Sciences, key disciplines for the biotech industry, as their professional career. This is demonstrated by the small number of Lebanese people in the Biotech field in comparison to Hi-Tech or other professional areas, albeit this is based on anecdotal observations. The strength in numbers and bringing people together, both in the US and Lebanon, will only help individuals as well as the Biotech industry to advance. Leveraging the existing Hi-Tech network is an added bonus that could potentially help foster new interdisciplinary ideas.  

    LebNet: How are you planning on growing this network? 

    Fawaz: As an immediate action, I have started to reach out to Lebanese colleagues and friends who are in the field in the U.S. I hope to have volunteer point people in the various existing LebNet communities who will then support us in expanding the network. Planning events, as mentioned earlier will also help us to attract members and grow the network.

    LebNet: Do you think there are enough women working in biotech? How will you be focusing on women? 

    Fawaz: As the Biotech industry has grown, women representation has increased and women are now an integral representative group of this industry, certainly at the individual contributor and manager levels. It is however imperative to increase the representation of women at the mid-management and senior levels of organizations. This can be supported by providing mentorships, coaching, and shadowing opportunities to women within or across industries. Furthermore, providing internships for college/graduate students or fresh graduates may help fast track young women scientists on a path that will encourage them to grow and remain within the industry.

    LebNet: How do you achieve a good work/life balance? 

    Fawaz: As a professional woman in Science and mother of two young women, this is a topic that is dear to my heart. What has worked for me is to define my priorities at the time, and work toward achieving the goals associated with them, recognizing that there may be sacrifices at times, either in one’s career or personal life. These priorities can be re-visited as one progresses in their career and as personal demands shift. It is also crucial, when balancing family and career to have a partner that is supportive of your career and professional development, and/or a reliable support system to help as needed or in cases of emergency. Finally, carving time for oneself, no matter how small, to recharge is also a must.

    Those interested in joining the community or collaborating can reach out to Farah Fawaz: [email protected]

  • 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, [email protected], 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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