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  • 30 Nov 2020 8:23 AM | Anonymous

    Dr. Magid Abraham is the CEO and co-founder of NeuraWell, a mental health therapeutics company. He also co-founded ‘ComScore’, where he focused on innovation and industry leadership, and was CEO of ComScore for 14 years and took it public in 2007. He was the founder and CEO of Paragren Technologies, producing CRM systems and president of IRI, a major international research company, which he led through sustained growth and innovation.

    Dr. Abraham received a Ph.D. and an M.B.A. from MIT, and is an Engineer of the École Polytechnique, France. He became a Visiting Scholar at Stanford in 2015, where he taught at the Graduate School of Business for three years. He serves on a number of commercial and institutional boards. Abraham is a world expert on consumer and market measurement and analytics and has authored seminal award-winning articles. He received some of the most prestigious awards in the field, was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and inducted in the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame and designated “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum.

    What’s the best lesson you learned?

    The most important lesson for me is to believe in yourself. People rarely believe in someone who does not believe in himself. We are sometimes lucky, and we have people who encourage us along the way, but there are also plenty of people who doubt us, expect us to fail, and feel their dismissive opinion validated when we do. Since failure is unavoidable in life, self-confidence is what makes us stand up and fight another fight.

    If you can describe your journey in one sentence, what would it be?
    I liked what I was doing and learned a lot along the way.

    If you were to prioritize one aspect when hiring, which one would you pick: culture or skills?
    I would never hire someone whose values run AGAINST the culture, but I would prioritize high skills when I think the person can adapt and learn the culture, over a perfect culture match in an average candidate.

    Magid Abraham

    What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

    I like hiking, boating and Golf, but I am always in learning mode even in my free time.

    What excites you about the future?

    Exponential progress is happening on most fronts. I wish I could be a student again.

    If you had a rewind button, name one thing you would change in your journey?

    I would have worked harder on upgrading my management team.

    What or who is your biggest support?

    I am blessed with a great family, and a wife who is really my best friend, always supportive but also honest with feedback.

    What are your three biggest accomplishments?

    My family, my career, and what I am now working on.

    Who is your role model?

    Abraham Lincoln, the ultimate self-made man who led by principle and example.

    What advice would you give to someone starting their professional journey?

    Make the most of the opportunity you now got, and, if you do your best, bigger and better opportunities will present themselves along the way.

  • 29 Nov 2020 8:31 AM | Anonymous

    Nora Denzel is a Silicon Valley software industry veteran with over 30 years experience in technology. She currently serves on the board of directors of AMD, Ericsson and Talend software.

    She retired from Intuit in 2012 as the SVP of Big Data and started her career in 1984 as a software engineer for IBM.

    She is also a trustee at, a non-profit dedicated to getting more women in computing.


    What’s the best lesson you learned?

    Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s part of it.

    If you can describe your journey in one sentence, what would it be?

    Anything is possible if you work hard enough.

    If you were to prioritize one aspect when hiring, which one would you pick: culture or skills?
    Culture because skills can be taught.

    What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

    I like to read and take classes.

    What are your three biggest accomplishments?

    I’ve worked for over 10 years with a non-profit to get more women into computing. I raised thousands of dollars to combat domestic violence in Northern California. I graced the cover of Computer Storage Magazine in the 90s.

    What excites you about the future?

    The changes technology will have on how we live and work.

    If you had a rewind button, name one thing you would change in your journey?

    I would have worried a lot less. It all works out.

    What or who is your biggest support?

    My husband supports me unconditionally.

    Who is your role model?

    Ada Lovelace. After reading about her, I decided to become a software engineer.

    What advice would you give to someone starting their professional journey?

    Make sure you’re enjoying yourself because time goes by so quickly!

  • 09 Oct 2020 7:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

    The learning curve has a beginning but not an end. Investing in young talent has a great impact on a nation because the future depends on the youth, especially in a country like Lebanon. To help Lebanese students gain global knowledge and prepare them for the labor market, Maroun Semaan’s Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) at The American University of Beirut (AUB) partnered with LebNet to give engineering graduates the rare opportunity to work with US-based companies for their final year projects (FYPs) and course projects. 

    Four teams from AUB worked with two companies in the US: Asurion (a device insurance, warranty, and support services provider for cell phones, consumer electronics, and home appliances) and FADEL (the creator of rights and royalty management software). 

    In 2019 and 2020, each of the four teams either worked on an FYP or a course project, closely collaborating with mentors from FADEL and Asurion.

    (In collaboration with LebNet, four teams from Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB worked on course and final year projects with US-based companies Asurion and Fadel.)

    Projects at a Glance 

    Expert Helper (FYP)

    Students: Sara Hammoud, Aya Eido, and Dana Daoud
    Company: Asurion
    Mentors: Peng Xie and Sundar Kuppuswamy

    The Work:

    The AUB team prepared and curated a data set of tech support sessions from Asurion into a category of replies. They then selected categories of these sets and automated initial replies to them using natural language processing techniques mixed with expert knowledge. 

    (Aya Eido, Sara Hammoud, and Dana Daoud)

    The Experience:

    “The collaboration went very well. Our goal was to make sure that students worked on a problem that interests them and has a potential value for Asurion and to ensure the team learned from a tech standpoint how to implement new algorithms and solve problems at hand while getting a sense of data in the real world,” said Sundar Kuppuswamy. “My experience with the students was good. The students were very curious and motivated, did a great job exploring the original data set, and came up with multiple ideas. I would be happy to repeat the exercise next year between AUB and the team at Asurion,” added Peng Xie. 

    “The last academic year was definitely not easy. Our team had to adapt to many challenges and work hard to be able to deliver what we promised, all while taking care of our well-being and mental health. If it weren’t for my teammates and the culture we established that is based on openness, optimism, and trust, we would not have been able to submit the requirements, let alone be nominated for the Murex Best Innovative Software Development Award and present our work to Asurion’s Chief Analytics Officer, Faker Zouaoui,” revealed Sara Hammoud. 

    Emerging Problems (Natural Language Processing NLP Course Project)

     Students: Julia Zini and Issa Issa
    Company: Asurion
    Mentor: Peng Xie and Sundar Kuppuswamy

    The Work:

    The AUB team helped Asurion’s tech support team figure out whether a novel tech problem is emerging on social media (Twitter). And for novel emerging problems, it also helps determine if the problem is related to tech support or generic news events.

    (Julia Zini and Issa Issa)

    The Experience:

    “Working with industries on a course project gives you a different perspective, because usually most of the university projects are research-oriented and not backed by delivery. It was especially interesting for me and Julia because we had to deliver a well-packaged product and the insights from Asurion and feedback were rewarding,” commented Issa Issa. 

    Extracting Insights (NLP course project)

    Students: Mohamad Mansour, Fouad Khnaiser and Bassel Musharrafieh
    Company: Asurion
    Mentor: Harsh Tomar and Sundar Kuppuswamy

    The Work:

    The AUB team focused on extracting phrases of trends from collection of text data (emails) allowing the Customer Experience team to quickly identify and mitigate issues. The project was hosted by a startup incubated by Asurion, which had different IP regulations. This prohibited Asurion from sharing the data as they discovered they required different NDAs. Despite this, the team worked on a methodology to extract information from public data similar to what Asurion might have. The results were impressive enough to be accepted as a possible solution. It was a learning curve for the team because they had to apply NLP techniques to an industry-level problem and deal with real-data. 

    The Experience: 

    “The industry project provided a great opportunity for the students to experiment with real business problems. Where in an academic problem, students try to solve problems to get to the right answer via the right methods, in business problems, there sometimes isn’t a right answer, and oftentimes no “right method”.
    The students broke the problem down into smaller pieces and attacked each piece sequentially with the easiest methods to get the outcomes. At each step, new problems emerged and so did several different ideas to solve them. Key steps from the students’ implementation of phrase extraction ended up being utilized in the working of the ‘Extract Insights’ project.” – said Harsh Tomar.

    Image Match (FYP)

    Students: Hadi Ahmad, Hafez Jawhary, and Samir Saidi
    Company: FADEL
    Mentors: Rony Eid and Ziad Bassil

    The Work:

    Specialized in copyright and digital rights management, FADEL’s goal is to ensure that the digital content its clients use does not violate any copyright laws. Hence, the AUB team was tasked with improving matching performance. Walid Daccache, FADEL’s CTO, explained that with the help of FADEL mentors, who met with students on a weekly basis, the team implemented a different algorithm that outperforms FADEL’s algorithm while being compatible with the rest of their system. 

    (Hadi Ahmad, Hafez Jawhary, and Samir Saidi)

    The Experience: 

    “My colleagues and I agreed with FADEL to extend this project beyond the course’s frame. The complexity and time requirements of our assignment ensued this mutual understanding over the project’s time management. The new image detection model is substantially accurate for large datasets, while still maintaining adequate performance,” shared Samir Saidi. 

    “We were glad to work with the AUB faculty members and their bright students on finding solutions to challenging problems in image processing. We feel that the collaboration and knowledge exchange between FADEL engineers and the AUB FYP team added value to all parties who participated in the project,” said Daccache. 

    “Though the final solution required some refinement in terms of accuracy and performance but still Samir Saidi, one member of the team, continued to work on it within his internship with the company and that added additional plus points to the solution towards its feasibility to be integrated within our product. Eventually the collaboration yielded good results on which we can build further to reach more successes,” said Rony Eid. 

    For the Future

    Lebanon is suffering from many crises and significant challenges are facing the education sector and students. But such collaborations bring hope for a better generation and future. 

  • 10 Sep 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Marianne Zakhour did not grow up in Lebanon, but she always dreamed of living there one day. She got accepted in Civil Engineering at the American University of Beirut and was getting ready to move in with her uncle and his family in Beirut before he passed away that summer. 

    “That was a pivotal moment in my life. I couldn’t go anymore. I was too close to him,” she said. Instead, she went to McGill University in Montreal to study commerce. The dream of coming back home was shattered but her efforts to help Lebanese carried on.  

    A decade later, Zakhour co-founded Orderbot, an e-commerce, order management and back office platform for modern e-commerce, which was recently acquired by a US firm. “I focused on tech because it is very solution driven. After finishing my studies, I learned everything I needed to learn to start my own business.”

    Today, aside from running her business, Zakhour is also outsourcing tech work to Lebanese in their home country through LebNet, as a way of giving back. Her company hired a senior developer knowledgeable in ASP.Net coding, who is working remotely with Orderbot for two months now, after being referred to by LebNet board member Jeanine Akiki. Those interested in outsourcing work to Lebanon can send an email to [email protected] 

    In the first part of a LebNet video series on Women in Tech, Zeina Saad, Senior Consultant at Exponent Partners interviewed Marianne Zakhour, who talked about women in leadership, future trends in e-commerce, career takeaways and advice for younger women.

    Watch the full interview sponsored by Joun Technologies here

  • 10 May 2019 4:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jeanine Akiki is a proud native of Beirut, Lebanon who came to the U.S. in 1983.  She graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering from Western New England University in 1986 and earned an M.S. in electrical engineering in 1987 from The University of Vermont.  

    Her career has spanned over 30 years with IBM and GlobalFoundries, including assignments in engineering, management and operations. She was recognized with an IBM Division Award for Management Excellence and holds a patent in I/O circuit design. Akiki retired from the semiconductor industry in August of 2018 and is now leading LebNet’s internship program. Her passion is to guide and enable success for students of Lebanese origin.

    Jeanine Akiki moderating a panel during a LebNet San Diego event (Image via LebNet)

    What’s the best lesson you learned?

    Once your life starts with surviving a war, the rest of your journey is likely to get easier.  

    If you can describe your journey in one sentence, what would it be?

    An incredible and unpredictable journey: Starting with my innocent childhood in Lebanon to becoming an exec in a semiconductor company.

    If you were to prioritize one aspect when hiring, which one would you pick: culture or skills?

    I would prioritize culture over skills. I believe that it is attitude above aptitude that will take anyone to the highest altitudes. I consider the ability to meld and adapt well to a company’s culture to be very significant in developing an enthusiastic and productive team with a great sense of pride and belonging.

    What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

    I enjoy cooking, hiking, reading and traveling.   

    What excites you about the future?

    The best part of the future is that it belongs to our children! I am in awe of the people they are and the great minds that they have developed for a better unprejudiced and unbiased world! Coupled with the amazing technological advances, I am hopeful that in their hands they will make this world a much better place.

    If you had a rewind button, name one thing you would change in your journey?  

    I would not change a thing on the career front! On the personal level, I will worry a bit less and enjoy more of it along the way! I would also get a lot more involved earlier with giving back to my community and to Lebanon.

    What or who is your biggest support?

    My family is my biggest fan and support group. Every member has been there along the way to support my endeavors, lift me up when I need it and applaud me when I succeed.

    What are your three biggest accomplishments?

    Our two kids for sure: I am grateful for them and for the amazing people that they are. My third accomplishment is successfully transplanting and growing roots in the US without forgetting my Lebanese identity and origin. The journey was arduous at times but so well worth it.

    Who is your role model?

    I am always so inspired by courageous women who were willing to put their lives on the line to change the world.  Women such as Pakistani Malala Yousafzai who campaigned for female education in the face of life-threatening danger and Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on a racially-segregated bus to end segregation. Thankfully the list of heroins goes on and on.

  • 10 Apr 2019 4:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    [Editor’s Note: This is the first article of a new series called ‘10 Questions With’, where we ask C-level executives, serial entrepreneurs and senior professionals 10 personal and professional questions and give them a platform to share their wisdom in their own words. The series targets LebNet members.]

    Habib Kairouz received a B.S in Engineering and a B.A in Economics from Cornell University and an MBA in Finance from Columbia University. With 25 years of experience in technology, private equity and venture capital investing under his belt, Kairouz helps ambitious entrepreneurs build successful businesses and establish themselves as market leaders.  He joined Rho Capital Partners in 1993 where he’s currently a Managing Partner. Prior to Rho, Kairouz worked in investment banking and leveraged buyouts in New York with Reich & Co. and Jesup & Lamont. He is currently a board member in 5 private technology companies and multiple organizations including LebNet.

    What’s the best lesson you learned?
    The best lesson would be the one I try to pass on to my kids as they grow up and that is to always aspire to reach one’s ambitions and dreams and take risks even if the likelihood of failure is high. Failures are lessons as long as one lands on their feet and tries the next move, albeit always within the rules of high ethics and integrity.

    If you can describe your journey in one sentence, what would it be?

    I found a partner I trust and respect, got into the world of technology investing at the right time, got lucky, learned quickly, and continue to learn and adjust my investment strategy as the world and markets evolve.

    If you were to prioritize one aspect when hiring, which one would you pick: culture or skills?

    Both are important but if I had to prioritize, I would pick culture since I believe it is easier to teach skills than pass on a culture.

    What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
    In order of priority: spending time with family and friends, tennis and skiing.

    What excites you about the future?

    We are finally seeing the success model of Silicon Valley being exported and replicated throughout the world giving young entrepreneurs anywhere the opportunity to innovate and create new businesses at a scale and pace never seen before. In many markets around the world, young people are being encouraged to create rather than find their job opportunities.

    If you had a rewind button, what would you change about your journey?

    I would have probably liked to take a few months off to travel the world at some point rather than squeeze in vacations the way we do it when we’re working full time. I guess I will just have to wait for retirement at this point.

    What or who is your biggest support?

    Without any doubt, my family.

    What are your three biggest accomplishments?
    The first would be a personal accomplishment in the family I was able to build, my wife Lara and our three children. The second would be my professional success as I’ve been able to convert a beginner’s luck into a sustainable career. The third would be my ability to maintain my roots with Lebanon and continue to be engaged with the country at many levels and pass on this passion and commitment to my children.

    Who is your role model?
    Many members of my family have been role models throughout my life for different reasons. But to pick non-family members, one would be Bill Gates, who followed his gut to drop out of college and pursue his passion when the opportunity came knocking, created an industry leading company that survived many waves of disruption, and when the time came started to pay society back through his philanthropic foundations. The second one would be Mahatma Gandhi, who believed the impossible could be done by leading his country’s independence movement from the biggest Colonial power at the time albeit in a non-violent way.

    What advice would you give to someone starting their professional journey?
    Chase something you are passionate about, look for people you admire and trust to work with, and don’t worry about failing.

  • 15 Mar 2019 4:26 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Rania Afiouni Monla was in the right time at the right place when she started working on her PhD in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in organizations at Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University.

    After 10 years of entrepreneurship experience and another 10 years in academia between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, she moved to Montreal in 2015 and found her inspiration.

    “When I went to Montreal, the AI revolution was booming, especially in research. Some of the most renowned researchers in AI are there, and the government is making an effort to place Montreal on the global AI map.”

    With a Bachelor of Engineering in Computer and Communication and a Master in Business Administration, Monla was interested in studying the impact of AI in organizational learning and healthcare.

    She is an active LebNet member, a board member at the Montreal chapter of the American University of Beirut’s alumni, and a member of Montreal AI Ethics Group, part of Montreal AI Ethics Institute. “We [the group] had an input in the Montreal declaration on responsible AI, which was issued few months ago. We met, discussed and gave feedback to the committee writing the declaration and our input was taken into account,” she said.

    Her ongoing research is looking into several aspects of AI including how it is impacting some of the jobs in healthcare, such as radiologists, and its ethical use.  

    Monla revealed that radiologists are most likely to be affected by the AI revolution because they work a lot with imaging and this is one of the most advanced areas in AI. Yet, their jobs will not be threatened.

    “Some people say AI will replace radiologists, others say it will augment them. AI still doesn’t have the general intelligence to replace the jobs, but the narrow intelligence to replace certain tasks.” Until this happens, the Canadian Association of Radiologists released a white paper stating that they are aware of the impact of AI on their work and calling for many changes: updated curriculum so that radiology graduates become ready for the AI revolution and additional research.

    Early beginnings and challenges

    Shortly after graduating from AUB, Monla became a partner in a software company providing IT consulting, development, and implementation services in Lebanon, which later developed into ERP operations in the Middle East region and offshore development to Europe. Then she started teaching at AUB and LAU and ‘fell in love’ with the academic environment. She dedicated more time to teaching and doing research. In 2006, she moved to Saudi Arabia and became a lecturer at Prince Sultan University. Five years later, she came back to Lebanon where she was in charge of the accreditation process of Adnan Kassar School of Business at LAU. In 2015, she moved to Canada and joined Concordia University as an accreditation consultant before she decided to pause her career and focus on her PhD.

    Doing so wasn’t easy, she recalled. “Going back to school after so many years of work is hard. You’re used to a certain level of autonomy then you are forced to push a reset button. Rethinking the way I structured my day was a challenge,” said Monla.

    The other challenge was setting boundaries and managing her PhD and organizing events and activities with the groups she’s part of. As an organizer of AUB’s Seventh North American Regional Summit, she had to put on hold her research. It was a 3-day summit for North American alumni and Monla organized a panel on AI and brought speakers from the USA, Canada and AUB.

    “Research takes time, effort and focus. Having to balance my life and my work takes a lot of energy and it’s hard to set boundaries,” she concluded.

    The hard work will pay off eventually. Monla is expected to finish her PhD in three years and looking to pursue a career in research.

  • 08 Feb 2019 4:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “I left Lebanon in 1981 to study in the US but emotionally I never left it.”

    One dream always pushed Fadi Daou to come back to Lebanon: create job opportunities in high-tech, develop a high-tech center in the country and export tech products rather than talent.

    And so he did.

    Daou is now the founder and CEO of MultiLane, a semiconductor company based in his hometown Houmal, a village in the Aley District. He is also building Houmal Technology Park Academy, a center to train fresh graduates on Integrated Circuit Design (IC Design), host multinational companies and incubate high-tech projects.

    Fadi Daou working with one of his team members at MultiLane’s offices in Houmal. (Images via MultiLane)

    Selling the house, the company and moving back to Lebanon

    After studying Electrical Engineering and working for 15 years with a company called GenRad, the entrepreneurship bug bit him. Daou launched and sold three companies in the US: Telephotonics in 2000, FiberGrade in 2002 and PXIT in 2004. He then sold his house and came back to Lebanon in 2004, worked for a couple of years with several NGOs, mainly Bader, on promoting technology as a sector of growth, creating applied training centers and developing human resources so that multinational companies would set up offices in the country. “One of the real success factors to help create and evolve the economy is human resources,” he said.

    In 2008, he started ATC-Lebanon then sold it to IPG Photonics, a high-performance fiber laser manufacturer. Two years later, MultiLane was born.

    MultiLane is a manufacturer of high-speed test instruments and interconnect test product for the backbone of the cloud-computing industry.

    Manufacturing and exporting high tech  

    Overlooking the sea and the beautiful village of Houmal, MultiLane is nestled in a calm location, making it the perfect environment for creativity and focus. Many of the employees come from remote areas in Lebanon and they benefit from free accommodation during the week.

    During a visit to MultiLane’s offices, Daou discussed company growth and his plans to build a high-tech center and attract companies and talent.

    “The company is growing as a leading supplier of test equipment globally for the past 6 to 7 years. Our compounded annual growth rate is north of 60 percent. We offer products to companies building data center infrastructure as well as data centers and our customers are the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Alibaba, Cisco, Intel, and many other semiconductor and data center companies. Overall we have 500 B2B customers worldwide in Japan, Taiwan, China, Korea, Europe, US and we offer 200 products today.”

    The company also has branches in Silicon Valley and Taiwan while the Lebanese branch is in charge of developing, designing, building and shipping products. All shipped products have a ‘made in Lebanon’ stamp and the team ships up to 8k items every week, according to the founder.  

    Building a non-existent industry in Lebanon

    Daou’s vision to train and create job opportunities in a non-existent field in Lebanon, aims to put the country on the high-tech map.

    To get there, he’s building a 215,000 square foot (20,000 square meter) campus called Houmal Technology Park, that hosts up to 1,000 individuals and includes state-of-the-art facilities, research and development (R&D) labs, a training academy, an incubator, coworking spaces for high-tech multinational companies, guest houses as well as other amenities. MultiLane’s offices will soon move to a 6,000 square foot (557 square meter) facility within the campus.  

    Houmal Technology Park under construction. (Image via LebNet)

    “Companies are primarily interested in resources, building products to get to market and the limiting factor in our business is people. So a major part of  HTP’s activity is to develop talent to attract multinational companies. We will offer free training to students. The initial course is in IC Design and semiconductor. We started a course in partnership with some of the universities in Europe and in Lebanon to pick fresh graduates and train them at HTP. We’re working with professors from Notre Dame University (NDU) and Lebanese international University (LIU) that offer IC Design and we’re funding that training,” said Daou.

    In a market saturated with coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators, Daou is targeting a niche industry to differentiate his endeavor. He believes focus is the ultimate key to excellence and decentralization is crucial to boost creativity.

    “Any tech center or incubator has to be focused on a particular know-how so it becomes a center of excellence. I am a firm believer that with focused effort and developing know-how for human resources you can create tremendous influence, value and return,” he said.

    “My ancestors moved to Houmal in 1639. I am deeply rooted here and can’t find any better place in the world to exist but here. You have the view, nature, and a great environment .In my opinion, there is no  better ecosystem anywhere else,” he concluded.

  • 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.

LebNet, a non-profit organization, serves as a multi-faceted platform for Lebanese professionals residing in the US and Canada, entrepreneurs, investors, business partners in a broad technology eco-system, and acts as a bridge to their counterparts in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East


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