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UAE start-ups attract talent with stock options over salaries



When Uber agreed to buy ride-hailing platform Careem in March, it made history by creating the region’s first unicorn exit that will make hundreds of employees millionaires once the sale is complete. The $3.1 billion (Dh11.39bn) deal, which is expected to close early next year, is frequently cited as one of the region’s success stories along with Souq, which was bought by Amazon for $580 million in 2017.

As a result, start-ups in the Emirates are increasingly able to convince new hires that the potential rewards are worth the risks, and they are attracting talent with stock options and other incentives — even if it means taking a pay cut.“Yes, there will be some [pay] cuts that people may have to see, but it rewards you in a different way,” says Varun Khosla, head of executive compensation at Mercer Middle East. “Often times these companies will give you some sort of long-term retention plans. This is where it makes a difference between what you take monthly as a take-home salary and what you get long term once you become an equity partner in the company.”

The number of investment deals for start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa climbed to a record 238 transactions in the first half of this year, attracting $471m in funding, according to start-up data platform Magnitt. The volume of deals grew 28 per cent year-on-year, while the amount raised surged 66 per cent. The Uber-Careem deal was accompanied by 14 other exits, with the UAE remaining the most active start-up ecosystem, accounting for 26 per cent of all deals and two-thirds of total funding in the region. This makes joining a start-up an increasingly attractive option both for junior and senior employees.

Mr Khosla says Mercer’s start-up clients ask for advice on how to structure compensation, particularly for the top roles in the “C-suite”. Part of the start-up hiring process is not only negotiating salaries, but benefits such as shares in the company or multiyear stock option plans (contracts that give the right to buy or sell the stock at a specific price by a specific date). This is when employers need to sell a long-term vision to employees that they will be rewarded for the company’s future success.

“If later on the company decides to go for an IPO, like Facebook and Instagram, the employees who bought the initial stocks in those companies, they became millionaires,” he says. “That’s the kind of vision you need to sell to these executives.”Going through an IPO has its own challenges, though. Employers must decide early on through “change in control” provisions whether it will offer employees prorated vesting, based on a set schedule, or accelerated vesting, whereby employees can gain access to their shares or stock options more quickly. While a transaction has not yet been completed, there is often a lock-in period before employees can cash out.

For example, the pending Uber-Careem transaction will be paid in a $1.4bn cash portion and $1.7bn in notes convertible to Uber stock. Meanwhile, the much-anticipated Uber IPO yielded disappointing results, with the stock still hovering below the IPO price of $45 a share. In the company’s first quarterly financial report released in June, Uber posted a $1.01bn loss.

Nevertheless, there has been enough evidence to show there is significant money to be made through company equity, prompting more of the region’s start-ups to offer stock options, says Khaled Talhouni, managing partner at Wamda Capital in Dubai.

“There is a much larger number of start-ups available, the ecosystem has matured, there is validation that you can make money [and] there have been a number of exits that show how the option pool works and can crystallise into an actual cash return — so all of that together has helped drive it,” says Mr Talhouni.

Wamda Capital has invested in start-ups across the Middle East and Africa, including several prominent ventures in the UAE, such as Souq, Careem, e-commerce platform Mumzworld and financial comparison website yallacompare.

“Across our portfolio as a whole, they virtually all have stock-option plans,” Mr Talhouni says. “We certainly pushed them in that direction. We think it’s a great way to retain talent, to align the incentives of the talent you attract around the same objectives of the company, the founders and the investors, which is towards pushing value creation towards an exit.”

Stock option plans lock employees in for a longer period, typically three to four years, because of the way they are structured. They apply a “strike price”, the fixed price at which the owner of the option can buy or sell shares, and a “cliff period”, the time frame after which the shares can be vested.

Such options help bridge the salary gap, Mr Talhouni says. For example, a role that is usually $100,000 may be paid as $60,000 in salary and $40,000 in stock options.

“The salary really depends on the stage of the company,” says Mr Talhouni. “The earlier the stage the bigger the non-salary portion of the compensation, as a general rule.”

Tariq Sanad, chief financial officer of UAE pickup and delivery service Fetchr, says salaries also depend on the availability of talent. Start-ups are almost always strapped for cash, so they have to pick and choose carefully when it makes sense to offer salaries on the higher end of the spectrum.

“If you look at ranges, start-up salaries will more typically follow the lower part of the range, but for key areas of expertise the start-up requires, there will be more towards the mid-to higher range,” says Mr Sanad, who previously worked for Careem, founded his own digital marketing platform Lime & Tonic and held traditional finance roles with Procter & Gamble.

“When it comes to finding talent that are engineers, people who are really high-calibre tech, they can still demand quite a considerable amount of cash because there’s very, very few of them,” he says.

Mr Talhouni of Wamda says other roles that can be difficult to fill include chief technology officer, chief product officer and performance marketing-driven roles.

Recruiting for senior roles is more challenging, as the potential risk is higher, especially for those coming from a “Fortune 500, big-name company, or the more normalised corporate world”, says Mr Sanad.

“The more junior requirements, it becomes easier to attract them to come through,” he says. Fresh graduates to the mid-30s range are the “kind of talent that’s more willing to take a risk, has less responsibilities, or has reached a turning point in their lives where they want to be able to prove something to themselves”.

There are still incentives that can be used to attract senior executives. Those who come in at an earlier stage may benefit from a lower strike price with much more potential upside.

“As the company becomes more profitable, the equity starts to get more expensive to give away,” says Mr Sanad. “Senior executives who have been there the longest are heavily incentivised on the stock option plans.”

There is, of course, the possibility that it all goes wrong. Only one in 12 start-ups succeed, according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2019 from Startup Genome, a research company in San Francisco. Even after an IPO, it may be that the strike price is higher than the actual stock price — a term known as “out of the money”.

“Joining a start-up company is not everyone’s piece of cake,” says Mr Khosla of Mercer. “You need to have a very different vision and you need to be bought by the vision of the company that is hiring you.”

Mr Sanad says the motivation to join a start-up should not be purely financial, as it takes passion and commitment to ride both the successes and failures.

“The people that become successful at start-ups don’t look at it from the compensation level. It’s really about a personal journey to prove to themselves that they have been able to build something and they want to drive impact,” he says. “Those are the people that in the end get better compensated, have the better drive and become much more successful in these companies.”

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Saudi Arabia: Supercharging Startup Opportunities



As the Kingdom amps up its business-friendly credentials and welcomes a new wave of entrepreneurs, Kais Al Essa, Founding Partner and CEO of venture capital firm Vision Ventures, talks opportunity and accessibility

Supercharging opportunities for foreign startups is a high-profile focus for Saudi Arabia. While our nearest neighbours have historically been the go-to hubs, in future a much higher percentage of entrepreneurs are expected to venture into the Kingdom.

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Programme to foster cooperation between startups, corporates in Dubai



Dubai Startup Hub, an initiative of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has unveiled its revamped Market Access programme which pairs leading companies in the UAE with startups that offer innovative solutions addressing their key challenges.

Details of the new Market Access features were announced at a launch ceremony in Dubai and was attended by members of the business community, including previous corporate and startup participants who shared their experiences and success stories. Among the additional benefits provided to companies participating in the programme are: one-year membership, specialised workshops and access to a wider network of solutions, in addition to the ability to list multiple challenges on the Market Access interactive and smart online portal where they can also communicate and collaborate with startups. Startups that are selected to participate in the programme can benefit from training and pitching workshops, access to lucrative business opportunities, as well as a platform to boost their market exposure and build their brand reputation.

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Misk Innovation & 500 Startups Reveal Joining Accelerator Program



The Misk 500 Accelerator program – a collaboration between early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator 500 Startups and Misk Innovation, the Saudi non-profit foundation devoted to developing Saudi youths – have recently revealed the 20 participating companies in the program’s second cohort.

Currently underway in Riyadh, the program’s ‘Batch 2’ comprises a diverse group of startups that span the MENA region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Jordan. Those startups are building technologies and products that impact B2B, B2C, E-Commerce, FinTech, EdTech, HealthTech, IoT, robotics, artificial intelligence, SaaS, and messaging services.

To read more click–500-startups-reveal-second-batch-of-20-startups-joining-misk-500-accelerator-program

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AgroFood tech

A Lebanese Student Came Up with the Solution to the Apple Crisis in Lebanon




A Lebanese Student Came Up with the Solution to the Apple Crisis in Lebanon featured image


Wissam Hachem · 

Have you ever thought about preventing the oxidation of fruits by extending their shelf life? Biology student Richardos Lebbos found a solution for the apples’ problem in Lebanon, seeing the extent of the damage done to the apple produce in 2017, where tons of Lebanese apples were thrown on the ground after being banned in several countries.

“I remember hearing about the crisis of apples being thrown because of the high price of cold storage and other problems. I was in a taxi at the time, and I had an idea to do something that would preserve the shelf life of the apples,” Lebbos told Berytech, a dynamic environment for Lebanese startups, fostering innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

Via Food-heritage

It all began in the university lab in USEK, which Lebbos had full access to as an employed student. He started working on creating a starch-based liquid that acts as a bio-coating for fruits and vegetables and extends their shelf life. Starch, in scientific literature, is known to be a natural polymer that is used in many industries.

What Lebbos wanted to do was create a liquid that could turn starch into an invisible layer that is transparent on fruits, and that would consequently act as a barrier to oxygen and bacteria, and hence a barrier to the oxidation of fruits.

Via Berytech

“Fruits that are not exposed to oxygen, and therefore do not have oxidation taking place, have more than twice the shelf life without cold storage,” Lebbos explained. 

The liquid was invented for businesses such as big farmers and retailers that import and export fruits. These retailers usually have a wax line where they polish the fruit with a chemical to make it shiny. “I plan to replace this chemical with the Startchy liquid” said Lebbos. “Once you spray the fruit with the liquid and dry it, it will be ready for shipping without cold storage.”

Via Startchy

While working at the lab, Lebbos met pharmacologist Kayssar Eid and agricultural engineer Tony Barcha, both USEK students. They came together on that one vision and aim and founded Startchy.

With the support of Berytech, Startchy was registered in the US, which allowed the team to test their product with Stemilt, the biggest exporter of apples in the US and one of the biggest in the world.

Via Agrytech Program

“We did a test with Stemilt on their apples, where we coated them with our Startchy liquid, and it worked! We saw an extent of the shelf life twice and more. They gave us a letter of intent, and now we are working together,” boasts Lebbos and for a good reason.

And that wasn’t all. The creation of this product has come to be of benefits to other countries as well.

Via Doehler

Döhler, the German producer of technology-based natural ingredients, invested in Startchy a total of $600,000. Maersk, the Danish growth (incubation) program for international startups worldwide selected Startchy among 30 other shortlisted global startups.

Via FreightWaves

After 30 grueling days with Maersk in Copenhagen, Startchy was selected along with one other startup for a cash investment of $500,000!

The Startchy team is now finalizing the industrialization of their product by partnering with Dohler, and they’re working on getting the certification to enter different markets, beginning with the US market.

Via abedhassoun

In addition, Lebbos and his two partners have started this month (September) running pilot trials with big suppliers and customers. “Hopefully, we will hit the market soon, beginning of 2020,” commented Lebbos. 

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WEEK IN REVIEW : MENA startups under scrutiny – WeWork’s IPOs failure: $3 billion in cash needed to get through 2019 despite $12 billion in investments!!!

WeWork needed $3 billion in cash to get through 2019. Despite $12 billion in investments, i




Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy news pertaining to startups and venture capital.

Three main headlines last week but my favourite is still the completion of Amazon mega merger with – In a press release it says it has completed its acquisition of e-commerce firm, which was first announced at the end of March and sees the U.S. retail giant enter the Middle Eastern market.

Amazon paid $580 million in cash for Souq, according to filings. Bloomberg previously reported that Amazon was in discussions over an investment at a valuation in excess of $1 billion but, amid rivalry from Emaar’s ambitious project and others, an acquisition agreement was reached. The two companies said today that they have completed an initial integration that allows customers to log into  using their Amazon account credentials.

Next is our headline on Middle East StartUps and Silicon Valley Guru look for common synergies

In 2018, a record number of investments – 366 of them – were made in the Middle East and North Africa region, Magnitt 2018 MENA Venture Investment Report found. More widely, it detailed that more than 155 institutions invested in the region’s startups in 2018, 30% of which were from outside the region.

These developments, coupled with efforts seen in the past year – such as the establishment of Egypt’s first venture-capital fund focused on investing in fintech, the $100m for startups in the Bahrain-based Al Waha Fund of Funds, and Tunisia’s startup act – are giving the region’s startup scene unprecedented momentum. With record levels of investment, interest from tech watchers and interesting new ventures launching all the time, the region’s startup scene looks like it’s going to get even hotter.

The region itself covers a total of some 50 million consumers across several countries, as well as a relatively untapped market: only about two percent of all retail spend today is made online, according to a report from McKinsey.

Lastly we look at we work our story focuses on the downturn of the company following the failure of its IPO.

As of the most recent funding round’s valuation, WeWork would be the second-largest IPO of 2019, trailing only Uber.

WeWork has copied an old business model, slapped some tech lingo on it, and suckered venture capital investors into valuing the firm at more than 10x its nearest competitor.

The company also burns tons of cash, carries huge risk factors in a recession, and sports some of the worst corporate governance practices we’ve ever seen. WeWork – now rebranded as The We Company (WE) – filed its initial S-1 on Aug. 14, and the company reportedly plans to go public in September. We don’t have official pricing information,Continue with Free Trial

WeWork’s eccentric CEO/founder Adam Neumann stepped down this week amid pressure from board members (SoftBank) to exit the C-suite. Wall Street doesn’t think Neumann is fit to be CEO of a public company and if you don’t know why, read this WSJ piece.

Kate Clark@KateClarkTweets

What’s next for Peloton? International growth? Doubling down on original content? New hardware? Tell me what to write.1069:13 PM – Sep 26, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy62 people are talking about this

I particularly like an opinion piece on Wework by Japan times

nitially, investors were intrigued. Softbank’s Masayoshi Son provided more than $10 billion in funds, calling WeWork “his next Alibaba” — a reference to a $20 million investment that paid back $50 billion when it went public. As WeWork began preparations to go public, initial valuations reached $47 billion.

The prospectus for that offering was eye-opening and deflating. The company was a huge landlord, but that created sobering operating expenses — $50 billion in lease commitments — and no guarantee of revenue from armies of freelancers that could not afford long-term commitments of their own. The figures were not reassuring: WeWork’s revenue increased to $1.8 billion in 2018, but the company lost $1.6 billion that year. According to projections, WeWork needed $3 billion in cash to get through 2019. Despite $12 billion in investments, it had never reported a profit.

In addition to financial issues, there was the problem of Neumann himself. The prospectus noted that he ensured his continued control of the company through a special class of shares and the power to fire the board of directors; he had used some of his WeWork stock to secure a $500 million personal loan; he owned four buildings that WeWork was paying him to lease; and he was paid nearly $6 million for the trademark “We,” which the company had recently adopted. (Those funds were returned after the resulting uproar). In addition, there were tales of adolescent behavior that raised questions about his judgment. Hanging over it all, however, was a board that did not rein him in.

The furor that greeted the prospectus prompted the shelving of the IPO, the slowing of expansion plans, the prospect of layoffs of as much as one-third of the company’s workforce and Neumann’s decision to step down and his replacement by two co-CEOs.

The WeWork failure is not unique. It follows similarly lackluster IPOs by ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, and that of Peloton, the stationary bicycle manufacturer that considers itself a technology platform as well. Neumann is another “bad-boy founder” like Travis Kalanick, who was forced to step down as head of Uber after reports surfaced of his abusive behavior. Yet for all the flaws in WeWork’s ambitions, the system worked. Public scrutiny laid bare the gap between WeWork’s aims and its reality. WeWork is, despite the hype, a real estate arbitrage, and should be valued accordingly.

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Egypt’s Homemade Food Market Mumm Launches Meal Subscription Service For Companies



Egyptian food-tech startup Mumm has just added a meal subscription service called Mumm Office Club in Cairo to their line of services. Mumm’s kitchen-to-delivery online marketplace has been offering homemade food cooked by partners to users for over three years, but the Mumm Office Club sources a large variety of meals and different cuisines from central kitchens throughout Cairo specifically catered to companies.

Within their operations, Mumm partners with companies from a variety of sizes to offer ‘nutritious meals’ at a discounted rate to its employees, where both companies and employees can save up on costs and receive food on a daily or monthly basis. Once the company partners up with Mumm, their employees are allowed to subscribe to receive food on working day, pick the meals they receive daily or monthly, and have a free deducted from the employee’s salary or pay directly upon receiving.

After piloting last month with several companies varying in sizes, Mumm’s CEO Waleed Abdelrahman watched fellow business owners realise the difference ‘Mumm Office Club’ has made on the overall productivity of their employees in only a few weeks. “Across the board, the employers witnessed a general decrease in wasted office hours and the spread of a positive outlook on company culture,” says Waleed Abdelrahman, CEO and founder of Mumm.

Mumm Office Club is a comprehensive food programme offering over 15,000 unique dishes from a variety of international and Middle Eastern cuisines, giving employees full control over their daily orders by allowing them to set their own dietary restrictions and get information on the nutritional value of each meal. Since its official launch this month, Mumm’s new service managed to gather over 700 paying subscribers at 10 companies and startups ranging in size, including Swvl, Robusta, Harmonica, BasharSoft, and Bel using the subscription service.

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Golden Scent First Startup to obtain SAGIA Trading License



Leading beauty e-commerce platform celebrates a remarkable achievement in 2019 with a huge boost to its regional position

Following its four years of continued success, Golden Scent, the leading Saudi Beauty  E-commerce Platform, announced that it has been granted the first commercial license by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), without the minimum capital requirement.

The company’s excellent reputation, class A investors and customer loyalty all combined to ensure the company could be exempted from the SAGIA’s Minimum Accepted Capital requirement.

The news, which was announced during the 7th Arabnet Riyadh Conference, marks a great achievement in 2019. As Golden Scent has expanded to new GCC markets, by entering the UAE and Kuwait, and exceeding over 3 million app downloads. The E-commerce platform increased its product portfolio by 250%, added new logistics warehouses, and continued to grow its manpower – both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Supporting start-ups has always been a key element for SAGIA’s mission, attracting and retaining investors and establishing Saudi Arabia as a world-class investment destination. As a result, Golden Scent has been granted the commercial license as it represents a perfect example of how Saudi entrepreneurs, supported by foreign capital, can make a significant contribution to developing a sustainable, diversified national economy – a key objective of Saudi Vision 2030.

Founded in 2000, SAGIA is the foreign investment license provider for the Kingdom. Alongside its legislative role, SAGIA works with government entities to create, develop and market business opportunities; offering specialized consultations to companies in different sectors. Through its five business centres, SAGIA provides most of the government services by facilitating the necessary steps for clients to start and maintain business.

Golden Scent is rapidly growing stronger since its launch in 2014 and continues to address and anticipates its clientele needs with special offers and discounts, with more surprises and additions in the pipeline to make 2019 yet another unforgettable year for the platform and its ever-growing client base. As Malik Al Shehab, Co-Founder and CEO of Golden Sent said: “We are very proud of the achievements we have accomplished till now, and receiving the commercial license from SAGIA. And we would like to thank all the supportive parties involved in Golden Scent’s journey in becoming a leading platform and a trusted brand in the Middle East market.”

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Egyptian B2B e-Commerce Marketplace, MaxAB Closes Landmark $6.2 Million Seed Round



MaxAB, an Egyptian B2B e-commerce marketplace that connects informal food and grocery retailers with suppliers via an easy-to-use app, has secured seed funding of $6.2 million, one of the largest ever seed rounds raised by a MENA start-up. The round was co-led by Beco Capital, 4DX Ventures, and Endure Capital, with participation from 500 Startups, Outlierz Ventures and other local investors. With this injection of capital, the company expects to reach 50 percent of Egypt’s population within the next two years before expanding across different markets.

Led by Egyptian and Libyan entrepreneurs Belal El-Megharbel (previously at Careem) and Mohamed Ben Halim (Previously at Aramex), the 270-strong MaxAB team has built a stock list of over 600 products [including groceries, beverages, dairy, confectionery and non-food products]. Using technology to close the gap between traditional retailers [over 400,000 in Egypt] and FMCGs, the Cairo based start-up leverages technology to connect brands to retailers via its Android app. It is working to automate and simplify Egypt’s $45bn FMCG food retail market and has recorded 50 percent month-on-month growth, with 9,000 activated retailers on the platform already.

Brands using MaxAB have access to real-time demand monitoring and business intelligence tools, which improve end-to-end supply chain control, and better forecasting. Retailers in remote and under-served areas will have access to a wide variety of products, the convenience of ordering stock online in addition to second day deliveries not to mention the added benefit of access to credit facilities.

Belal El-Megharbel, Co-Founder and CEO at MaxAB, says: “Nobody has addressed the underserved retailers before; retailers are faced with a limited assortment of products, the hassle of dealing with multiple wholesalers and restricted access to credit facilities. At the other end of the supply chain, the FMCGs have limited visibility on market trends, demand patterns and retailers’ business needs – leading to losing potential revenue opportunities.

“We are using data and analytics to understand purchasing and retail behaviours, as well as make the end-to-end process of brands seamless and convenient. This will enable FMCGs to make informed decisions about their purchasing, which will ultimately have a positive effect on their bottom line and catalyze one of the biggest markets in Egypt. This investment round will allow us to accelerate our growth plans and develop new products and services throughout North Africa using the first of its kind B2B ecommerce platform”.

Yousef Hammad, Managing Partner at Beco Capital, says: “This is Sparta” was the first impression I got when I met this team of warriors, battling one of the biggest inefficiencies on the country’s balance sheets. By leveraging technology, MaxAB is redefining the grocery supply chain in Egypt to fit the requirements of the micro retailers who make up 90% of the grocery market. The metrics they have recorded in such a short period are impressive, and we expect to continue to see double-digit growth as they scale.”

Peter Orth, co-founder and Managing Partner at 4DX Ventures, says: “We’ve been consistently impressed with how Belal and the rest of the team have executed, and achieved significant traction in a very short period of time. We believe that their B2B e-commerce model is the right way to serve this significant market, and we’re really excited to partner with the team to drive the next phase of growth.”

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Ecosystem of the MENA

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