I got to know Ibrahim in the first enpact camp in Egypt in March 2015. The first camp is very important for every participant, whether mentor or mentee. Everything is new, everybody needs to soak up the spirit of enpact, to get familiar with the people, the procedures, the mentoring, and so on.
For most of the mentees it is the first experience of mentoring on their entrepreneurial journey. The fact that the group is extremely diverse, with strong individual characters from different countries, cultures, religions and value systems, adds to the challenge.
For the mentors it’s precious time, time they can’t spend running their own companies. Therefore, it’s in nobody’s interest to just talk nicely; it’s meant to hurt a little, to make people think and develop in the best possible way in the given timeframe.
If you want to progress as an entrepreneur, you need experienced people to tell you the truth from time to time. That can be brutal, but it has to be sometimes
During the first camp I met Ibrahim and he presented his idea of Twiyar to me. Twiyar is an easy-to-use app which empowers citizens to report public infrastructural problems (e.g. damaged traffic lights) to city administrations, so they can send somebody to fix it. An obvious problem to be solved by a social enterprise with an impact on the common good. The app was first to be launched in Casablanca, Morocco, Ibrahims home town.
My journey with Ibrahim was remarkable in many ways. I’m an entrepreneur for 6 years now, and Ibrahim was in his first year when we met. Remarkable, because I found out that, no matter the country, the cultural background or the business model of the company, entrepreneurs around the globe seem to face the same challenges. That became our common ground, even though I’ve never been to Morocco, nor do I speak any French.
Out of all 60 entrepreneurs, many were impressively ahead of the game within their relative contexts, but some, like my mentee, were still very early stage. For these fellows, it is possible that the benefits of such a mix of startups and mentors adds the most value, quickest.
When I first met Ibrahim, it took me 30 minutes to understand what he was planning to do. He was half way through building the platform, so had no functioning prototype yet. But, most importantly, he didn’t have a clear business model, he had some vague ideas about how he could monetize the traffic and interaction on the platform with advertisements.
To be honest, I didn’t really get it, and none of the ideas felt close to being a sustainable source of income
So we spent the first hours and days to figure out the best and most realistic business model from myriad options and ideas. For what I’ve learned in my entrepreneurial life so far, having strong focus is crucial to the development of an enterprise, regardless of business acumen or resources.
We came to focus on the city administrations first, to figure out what they really need, if and how this app would add value to their operations, and if so, whether they would be willing to pay for the service. It was clear that before any further programming, market research and stakeholder discussions were the obvious next step.
Leaving the camp in Egypt we agreed that Ibrahim will work on a pitch deck of max. 5 slides and will make at least one appointment with a city administration to present his idea to get feedback. We expanded to potential 2nd tier cities in Morocco, so the chances where higher to get appointments.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the 2nd camp in Berlin a couple of months later, but Ibrahim managed to visit me and we had an intense session.
It turned out that after trying to push things forward in his company, he had to deal with a much bigger problem – his team!
So instead of further working on the business model of Twiyar, we tried to find a rational way to an emotional situation which kept him from developing the company. Ibrahim left Berlin very troubled, with urgent issues he needed to discuss with his co-founder and his team. A very difficult situation, which is usually not solved over-night. However, especially when it comes to core team members, there is no room for compromises. Unless you are not able to develop full trust in the abilities and loyalty of your team mates, you won’t be able to survive critical situations in the future. And especially when things turn somehow bad, you need their loyalty the most.
It took Ibrahim a while, but he grew a lot during that time. I saw a different person in the third camp in Tunis. Ibrahim managed to make hard and personally difficult decisions. He cleared his team structure and presented to me a focused 5 slide pitch deck with a clear message. He had finished the prototype to a solid level, and had also designed a cockpit for the administration to show them how it would feel working with Twiyar on their end. He didn’t program it, first he wanted to get feedback. He was ready to pitch! And he had made his first appointment with the city administration!
So we achieved what we had to set out to achieve! Through the enpact experience, I can really see that it can be of great value for every entrepreneur in the startup phase of a company. The mentoring is one thing, the exchange with your peers in other countries is another, plus the entrepreneurs build up a valuable network in Europe and the MENA region.
I had a great time mentoring with enpact. I wish Ibrahim and my other mentees the best of luck in the future!