Investing in Southeast Asian Startup Creates Social Impact in the Region

As part of the 500 Startups Durian’s fund, we often see first-hand how investing in Southeast Asia, a developing region, can play a core role in a region’s development and change.

We were reminded of this recently when one of our startups, GoGet, a portfolio company since 2015 (and 2016 distro dojo program graduate), told us of an encounter they had with the Malaysian government. GoGet is a service platform for errands. Their technology connects busy people to a trusted and verified person to perform these tasks for a fee (like dispatch, shopping, and food delivery).  

Below is an account of the experience, which demonstrates how a startup like GoGet can have a massive social impact. It follows with a short interview with the founder of GoGet.

On November 9, 2016, something surprising happened at the GoGet office. A member of the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), a government-sponsored initiative to create a hi-tech business hub in Malaysia, walked into the GoGet office and asked for a meeting. Unannounced and unplanned, the GoGet team had no clue what to expect.

The MDEC representative started the meeting with a video. It featured Pavalan, a full-time GoGetter ( a person hired to perform tasks for GoGet), telling the story of how he had decided to get involved with GoGet after the death of a family member. Pavalan had been struggling to balance work and family, and GoGet allowed him to earn a living, while still being able to take his father to doctor visits.

The MDEC informed the GoGet team that the video had been shown to the Prime Minister of Malaysia in order to start a conversation around improving the lives of the nation’s lower income segment through a technologically empowered workforce.

Usually, it’s the startups that spend time and effort to showcase their impact to the government. In this case, the message had come from the top down. The video had been created entirely by MDEC.

From the Nov 9 meeting, the MDEC and GoGet agreed to partner on eRezeki, a national program that gives low-income Malaysian residents and citizens the opportunity to generate additional income. GoGet verifies and trains low-income individuals that are part of the eRezeki program to become GoGetters.

500 Startups believes in investing in a vision rather than just investing in companies. Investing in GoGet, we saw how GoGet had the ability to impact people, change the fundamentals of a labor market, and create opportunities for the economy. This is also what makes investing in Southeast Asia exciting.

The government of Hong Kong has also strongly supported GoGet in helping to bring positive impact to its low-income communities. GoGet is working to expand its business into the region through Hong Kong’s Cyberport Incubation Program.

We had a chat with the co-founder of GoGet, Francesca, over coffee. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What are some recent updates from GoGet?

A: This year for GoGet has been amazing. From January until today, we have seen growth supply & demand, internal processes, and our team. To name a few big updates of 2016, our GoGetter fees reached RM1 million (about $225K) in the first quarter of the year. That just goes to show how much opportunity has been created through GoGet, and a number of pockets that we have filled with honest hard work and genuine help around the community. It’s truly amazing to our supply growth as well. We hit over 4,000 GoGetters in our second year. Most of our GoGetters join us through word of mouth and through other GoGetter experiences. The MDEC video is definitely one of our biggest moments this year. We didn’t know about this particular story until the MDEC showcased it. It shows how much of an impact we are making. Lastly, our recent update about expanding into Hong Kong is one of our biggest milestones. We are looking to raise funds for us to continue our work and growth.

Q: Investment into a company brings about changes in the team and company. How has GoGet changed since 500 Startups’ investment?

A: For GoGet, we’ve been working closely with Khailee [500 Startups Managing Partner] since the early days, and his push for us to drive our marketplace to the next stage has always been a great motivating factor. Being part of the Distro Dojo has changed GoGet in terms of our capabilities. We have genuinely come out smarter and better equipped for our funnels and optimization for marketing.

Q: Distro Dojo is a program that emphasizes rapid experimentation, quick results, and iteration. After Distro Dojo, tell me how you approach feedback from the market?

A: We have a quote in our office, “Listen to the market. Listen to the voice of the customer. That’s the fundamental essence of marketing. Always.” This was something we learned from Distro Dojo that shows feedback from the market is everything. This is why the ideas of data, A/B testing, user calls, and user surveys were all heavily drilled into us through Distro Dojo. Since then, our team has been so much stronger in our understanding of our users, execution, and numbers/bottlenecks.

Q: To make the last question fun, what is one thing GoGet office needs infinite supplies of?

A: Cake. We eat a lot of cake in the office. We celebrate birthdays, farewells, every day is cake day in GoGet. Infinite supplies of cake would do good in GoGet.



 Becky Kux leads Community & Portfolio Relations for 500 Startups’ Durians Fund in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Follow Rebecca on Linkedin or Twitter
For more info on GoGet visit their website or connect on Facebook. Download GoGet’s Android app here or iOS app here.
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Why We Love the World’s Startup Underdogs

Several of us at 500 are matching donations to Gaza Sky Geeks until January 27. If you would like to support Gaza Sky Geeks, donate at to help them keep the lights on and launch Gaza’s first coding academy. Here’s why we’re supporting.  

At 500 Startups, we’re countercultural investors.  We became the most active seed-stage investor in the world (1600+ companies and counting), because we pioneered a value approach to startup investing – using a quantitative approach to discovering wins rather than gambling large checks on fewer companies.

500 Startups operates microfunds around the world, extending our approach to emerging startup markets, such as Southeast Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, Japan and others.  We have also announced a fund focused on Black and Latino founders that we’re currently raising.  These funds help us develop expertise and presence in markets underexposed to startups and grow into a fixture in developing ecosystems.  500 believes great entrepreneurs can be found anywhere, and by focusing on these markets, we are capturing undervalued assets – underfunded or overlooked founder talent that will grow large companies.

This is why 500 Startups loves Gazan startups and Gaza Sky Geeks, Gaza’s startup accelerator.  Supported by Google, TechStars Foundation, Skoll Foundation (John Skoll founded e-Bay), Stripe (a 500 company), and others, Gaza Sky Geeks connects Gazan founders with the financial, knowledge, and technical capital to build regionally competitive startups.  They are providing Gazans with new economic opportunity – women in particular, as they make up 50% of GSG founders.

Gaza Sky Geeks is growing a maverick startup industry, launching the first startups in one of the toughest environments on earth.  Gazan founders face low access to capital (no startup investors locally because Gaza’s tech sector is new), limited electricity (4 hours of electricity per day from the grid)  and instability (there have been 3 wars in the past 7 years). Their biggest challenge, though, is isolation – Gazans are unable to leave Gaza, an area of land as small as Silicon Valley (32 miles by 7 miles).

Beyond the challenges are opportunities – Gaza has an educated, tech-savvy population, growing smartphone penetration, and excellent broadband infrastructure.  Most importantly, it has passionate, hardworking, adaptable people eager to take risks to launch new products.

Gaza entrepreneurs see strong market opportunity: Arabic is the 4th largest language online but only ranks 15th in content and the MENA region has high smartphone penetration and a population of 380 million.  And startups’ living online lends itself to surviving conflict more than a brick-and-mortar business. Startups are actively taking advantage: Baskalet, a game studio has received nearly 1M downloads across its game portfolio (80% of them from Saudi Arabia), 5QHQH, a 9Gag for MENA, has over 250,000 page views, and Zumrod, a platform for health and beauty products that just received Gaza’s largest-ever startup investment @ $50K. They showcase Gaza’s ability to create products that address the entire region.

If someone launches a startup successfully in Gaza, they can do it anywhere. One of 500 Startups’ investments in the MENA region is  a startup in Egypt that launched during the Egyptian revolution, Wuzzuf. We made that investment, because the company was operating well and generating revenue despite the circumstances. Dave and I have visited Gaza, and Gaza has the startup DNA to build great companies. Founders there will continue to face tough conditions they know they cannot change, but they still want to build.  They want to talk about user acquisition, cross-platform development, and fundraising.  They’re like founders anywhere.

Gazan companies are the world’s startup underdogs. We’re inspired that Gaza Sky Geeks is growing valuable startup assets in one of the unlikeliest places. When we see the challenges they face, we stop complaining about ours: having to raise a fund pales in comparison to waiting for weeks for a permit to exit Gaza to travel to Silicon Valley.  500 believes in finding talent on less-traveled paths, and Gaza Sky Geeks like 500, will prove the value of this approach.

Dave McClure, one of 500 Startups’ founding partners and is an advisor to Gaza Sky Geeks.

Justin Ledbetter works on ecosystem development at 500 Startups and is a former staff member of Gaza Sky Geeks.

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7 UX / UI Design Tips to Improve Your Startup Growth

Below is a collection of my tips and feedback from a creative branding workshop I led during the most recent 500 Startups’ seed accelerator program, Batch 19. The goal was to teach startups to apply design thinking methods to improve their UX/UI , and thus increase user acquisition and market growth.

Did you know the human attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s?
[Fun Fact about Attention Span] Goldfish: 9 seconds > Human: 8 seconds. 😱

Yep, your website has a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to get your key message to your audience.

How do you do it? Here are 7 Design Thinking Tips to Improve Your Growth Rate 🔑:

1. Integrate

Combine a strong marketing message (content) with effective visuals (form).

My Feedback for Bstow: Bstow rounds up your spare change to charity.

Below is the original design for the top half of Bstow’s  home page. It has a simple marketing message, “Donate spare change to charity”. However, at first glance, the website looks like it’s featuring an analytics product.

Neither of the key visuals, the app interface on the phone nor the blue background, reflect the marketing message – “donation” and “charity”. How does the graph on the phone have anything to do with charity? Why the blue background?  They are disconnected. There is no integration of the form & the content.


I asked the founders to look at their analytics and see which part of the website gets the most engagement. They told me the most engagement comes from the “causes” section, which on the website you have to scroll all the way down to find:


Yep, that’s a lot of scrolling… By the time you scroll down to the causes, those Goldfish have already lost their attention – let alone humans!

I suggested the Bstow team integrate their charity causes into the homepage visuals by using the iPhone screen as a frame, showcasing charity partners’ content one by one.

Homepage After Feedback: Team Bstow came back with the new home page designs below: Boom! 💥


2. Manifest:

Present your company with a short, punchy tagline & visual, make it clear and obvious to the mind. This helps people remember who you are and what you do.

My Feedback for Scopio: Scopio is a search engine to find and license images on social media.

Homepage before Feedback:

Get a short and effective tagline (6-8 words) that conveys both HOW your company works and WHY you do what you do (your purpose, cause & belief).

Combine the original two lines on your website homepage,“Search engine and licensing platform for trending photos & videos on social media” and “Discover Moments and Tell Stories”, into a simple and effective one-liner.

Homepage After Feedback (version 1):

“Real Images Engage Audiences” is a much more effective tagline. Now how can we show (even better) that these photos are taken by real people?

When using very light weight text over the video, it’s VERY hard to read the tagline and explanation. I suggested changing the text, “A cutting-edge platform…,” into a one-liner.

The more clear and obvious you can make this, the better.

Homepage After Feedback (version 2 – current): Team Scopio came back with the new home page designs below. You can view the full site here.

3. Portray:

Depict your product/service vividly, let it come to life through visual storytelling.

My Feedback for ShearShare: ShearShare connects salon owners to stylists to fill empty salon chairs.

Below is ShearShare’s original Homepage:


On the home page, a static image of a phone with the app search bar text, “Where do you want to work?,” is not the best use of the precious space.

Let’s make it more vivid and engaging, by actually showing the audience how this app works. Embed the Demo video on your demo page as an animated .gif or video on the phone.

You can see my above feedback into the mockup below.

After the Feedback: Team ShearShare came back with a much improved homepage animation seen below. You can view the full site here. 👊

4. Reuse

Whether you are a new or established company, branding consistency always matters, because your brand is reflected in your logo and messaging. One of easiest ways to improve your branding consistency is by examining the visual consistency of your site/app. Reuse and reapply your branding colors and elements throughout the site and app, to create a unified look and feel.

My Feedback for ChangeJar: ChangeJar is a mobile cash platform optimized for small retail payments.

This is ChangeJar’s current logo:

But if you look at their icon page, the main branding has not been maintained. It’s completely different with white on a purple background.

To remain consistent across your whole site (and aid in brand recognition), add the green color from your brand/logo and/or the “jar” icon to the design of these icons below:

I made the mock up below to highlight the dollar signs in the green color from your brand logo. Now these icons look more consistent with your brand:

Also, the current Favicon is hard to read when it’s white on green gradient. Its design/color scheme is not consistent with the current logo.

Current Logo:

Current Favicon:

I suggest making it the same design & color scheme as the current logo. See the mockup below:

Similarly, here is Scopio’s current logo and it’s current set of icons (more on Scopio below):
I suggest you reuse the Symbol from the logo/brand as much as possible like below:

5. Organize

You can organize content by color making it easier for people to remember your brand name or for the audiences to differentiate the business.

When it comes to content marketing, color can help you stand out from the crowd. According to NeuroMarketing, “if a good color sells, the right color sells better.”

Color is an important emotional cue in content marketing. Different colors and their combinations will evoke different emotions and feelings. It is vital to choose the right color(s) which represents your identity truthfully and effectively.

According to CoSchedule, people make a judgment about your content in 90 seconds or less. And up to 90% of the judgment in that 90 seconds is influenced by color. Marketer Neil Patel gives further proof of how colors affect conversion rate, revealing that 85% of consumer-based buying decisions comes from color and that full-color ads in magazines get recognized 26% more than black and white ads. Color helps people recognize your brand by up to 80%. It’s important to choose your brand color carefully and stick with it.

My Feedback for Aumet: Aumet allows medical suppliers & distributors to do business with companies no matter where they are.

Here is Aumet’s current website:

Since “Aumet” is a made-up name, I recommend highlighting two different syllables, using two different colors, to help users learn how to spell and pronounce your name

Also, because your target audience is both medical suppliers and distributors, it makes sense to use the same two colors to highlight the two different target audiences.  

Since your brand is targeting the medical industry, the current mint green works well as the main color. I would suggest your additional color be something like blue to compliment the green. Here is a simple mockup of how this could be done:aumet-after

If your business market is facing both B2C and B2B, like Aumet and ChangeJar, I would also suggest using two different colors for the two different consumer audiences.  


A picture is worth a thousand words: Applying effective visuals helps to arouse emotion within your audience, creating an instant connection with your company.

My Design Feedback for TalentBase: TalentBase is an HR software for growing enterprises in Africa.

Below is their current website homepage:


Very straightforward website with all its functions. My overall feedback with your current branding & logo is: It’s too plain and there’s a lack of engagement.

If you are a B2B company, remember the foundation of business is still human. I love what Jack Ma suggests, whether your business market is B2C or B2B, it’s all about P2P, People to People.

I suggest you either add a secondary color that works with the existing blue color or add a set of colors inspired by your market, African HR (Human Resources) professionals. Start with Africa, and its people!

I have mocked the site with photos of real African professionals,  with the same text/content from the current site. Do you see and feel the difference?

Showing the faces of the workforce arouses emotion within your audience, thus establishing trust and loyalty between your audience and your company.

7. Elaborate

“Elaborate” means provide more context and add additional details, which can help others (e.g. your users or investors) to have a better understanding of what your business is.

My Feedback for ChangeJar: ChangeJar is a mobile cash platform optimized for small retail payments.

The width of the logo type and the symbol in the current logo looks a bit too thin, especially when it’s being scaled into a smaller size. It’s hard to see. Keep “change” in white, but change “jar” to green.

Also, add a dollar sign or currency symbol in the logo. At the moment the logo only conveys the notion of a jar, but it doesn’t indicate money. Adding a money symbol will help your audience subconsciously digest what your company (a payments provider) does. As you scale internationally, change the currency symbol. You can already create multiple mockups with a dollar “$” sign, pound “£”, euro “€”, and Japanese or Chinese sign “¥”, etc.

I mocked up the above suggestions below:

If you want, you can even animate it with the different currencies, like this:

To summarize, here are the 7 Design Thinking Tips to Improve Your Growth Rate:

1. Integrate: 
Combine marketing message with effective visual content
2. Manifest: Make your message clear and obvious to the mind
3. Portray:
Depict your product / service vividly, let it come to life
4. Reuse:
Re-apply visual elements to achieve visual consistency
5. Organize: 
Categorize content by color to help users read & remember better
6. Visualize: 
Use visuals to engage and establish emotional connections
7. Elaborate: Provide context to help users understand your business better

And if you are paying close attention, you will notice the initials of each tips make the word “IMPROVE” (I know, so nerdy 🤓 right? But admit it, this just made your day!)


500 Batch 22 begins July 24th, 2017 in San Francisco.

Click Here to apply for our the Batch 22 Seed Program.


See also:

7 Marketing Secrets from 500 Startups Demo Days
7 Design Hacks to Improve Your Startup Logo Designs


Yiying Lu is award-winning bilingual (English & Chinese) artist and designer. Born in Shanghai China, Educated in Sydney Australia & London UK, now based in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, she currently is a Design Lecturer at the NYU Shanghai Program on Creativity & Innovation. She is also an individual creative consultant who provides talks & workshops for global startups and corporate innovation teams on design thinking, entrepreneurship & creativity. Her projects have been featured in many publications, including The New York Times, Forbes, NBC News, TIME, CNN, BBC, San Francisco Chronicle, TechCrunch, Mashable, and The Huffington Post. She was named a “Top 10 Emerging Leader in Innovation” in the Microsoft Next 100 series. For more from Yiying, you can follow her on TwitterLinkedin and Medium.


Announcing: 500’s Women Invest Initiative

500 Startups has always been in the business of challenging conventional wisdom in the venture capital industry. Since our inception, we’ve focused on taking our expertise wherever there is talent. That’s taken us to some flung corners of the earth and compelled us to look in oft-overlooked places in our own communities. We’ve baked this diversity into our DNA, trying our hardest to be champions of the world, not as it is, but as we’d like to see it.  

Don’t be mistaken. We don’t do this for charity, or to boost our social profile, or even to make ourselves sleep better at night (although those are obvious benefits.) We do it because it just makes sense. We do it because it makes money. Diversity is the lifeblood of innovation in the 21st century.

Peter Thiel asks “what valuable business is nobody building?” in his book Zero to One. He posits that many of the world’s largest tech companies are built on unconventional ideas about how the world works. To tackle today’s problems and create tomorrow’s biggest companies, we’ll need complex solutions; solutions incubated by people who look at problems from unconventional angles. We’ll need investors willing to invest in those solutions and products.

In 2016, we ran a number of investor education programs with the goal of reaching the next generation of angels, fund managers, and lawyers in the venture capital industry. While we experienced wide–ranging diversity in our last Deal Camp program, we were disappointed that our class consisted of just 15% women. In 2017, we’re pushing towards more gender equity by announcing our Women Invest Initiative for the upcoming Venture Capital Unlocked: Deal Camp program. Deal Camp is a four-day course focused on the legal mechanics of deal making for investors who want to improve their ability to define, negotiate, and execute early-stage investments. We’re offering a 25% discount on the Deal Camp program fee for any woman who recruits another woman to attend the program (Application Deadline: Monday, January 23rd). Both women must identify each other in their applications and attend the program for the discount to apply.

We don’t want the conversation about diversity and inclusion to be relegated to small bubbles on the internet. We want to see change. So, if you’re in the LA area this weekend. Please join us for our Unity & Inclusion Summit. It’s a one-day event bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and the tech community to talk about the current state and future of diversity & inclusion. Details on the summit can be found here:

Header image courtesy of

What does unconscious bias mean for entrepreneurs, investors, and the tech community?

Guest blogger – Rory Gerberg, Partner at Refound

Bias at work

Every second your brain is flooded with 11 million bits of information, but it can only process 40 bits consciously. To cope, the brain uses mental shortcuts to instantly identify which 40 to notice and remember. These mental shortcuts function like a newsfeed algorithm that filters your lived reality: there’s way too much information out there, so rules of thumb determine what comes on your radar in the first place.

These mental shortcuts or rules of thumb let you focus on the job. But the drawback is that they can cause you to miss important information. This is why after an investor meeting, one investor confident in an entrepreneur’s capability is ready to invest, while another concerned about market prospects isn’t ready to jump the gun. The same goes for entrepreneurs pitching to investors–you might think you nailed your pitch, but your co-founder thinks it didn’t go so hot.

Bias about people

For teams, the most detrimental category of biases are your beliefs about people.  Your ability to communicate and collaborate at work is hampered by how you see social identity groups. Social identity groups include gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, religion, age and class. These biases filter what you notice, hear, and remember–and what you don’t. When a person’s actions are consistent with your bias toward that group, you are actually more likely to remember it. For example, given the bias that women are ‘less financially savvy’, an investor will more vividly remember a woman entrepreneur’s discomfort with her financial models compared to a male entrepreneur in the same position. When both Joe and Barbara are confused by the numbers, Barbara’s confusion will remain etched in your memory.  

For colleagues on the receiving end, biases can create experiences of exclusion. This exclusion decreases the likelihood that excluded colleagues will be creative, speak up in a meeting, or take professional risks. They’re bad for company culture, and they’re bad for your bottom line.

Internal organizational dynamics

Unconscious bias is everywhere. By definition, startups endeavor to create innovative solutions to problems, disrupting the status quo. Given the startup ethos, it is tempting to conclude that startups must be ahead of the game in tackling bias. But in fact, the opposite is the case: a startup’s organizational structure–or lack thereof–makes it even more prone to bias. With few, if any, established standards for conducting business, there is greater opportunity for bias. Bias is more likely to occur in situations of ambiguity, where employees either have increased discretion or are applying a set of rules for the first time. Without established rules of thumb that indicate how to act and respond at any given point in time, biases can inadvertently become a fallback for team interactions.

Questions to ask to start uncovering unconscious bias in your organization:

  • Onboarding: How do you welcome a new member of your team? When does an employee feel like a “culture fit”?
  • Team bonding: How do you bond with your team? What activities or locations do you frequent?
  • Daily decision-making: Who do you consult when making decisions? Who takes the most air time in meetings?


Investors aren’t immune either from unconscious bias faux pas. Initial meetings between investors and entrepreneurs provide only a bird’s eye view of a startup’s team, business model and product.  Investors must make an evaluation based on highly limited information, and often that information is based on uncertain financial data and market conjecture. In early stage investing, there is a strong role of intuition: their “gut feel” about entrepreneurs, the market, the product. In the end, a significant part of the decision to invest in an early-stage startup is the decision to invest in the founding team. And that isn’t an objective evaluation. Rather, it opens up space for investors to fall back on biases. Investors can be influenced by biases about the entrepreneur ranging from salient social identity categories, to seemingly irrelevant characteristics like the geographic distance between the startup and the investor. Generally, the need to make hasty decisions based on limited data leaves investors in a situation ripe for unconscious bias.

Additional questions investors should ask before deciding on a second meeting:

  • What are your biases about the entrepreneur’s social identity group?
  • How has the entrepreneur demonstrated preparedness, commitment, and trustworthiness?

Both entrepreneurs and investors need tools to bust unconscious bias at work.


How do you bust bias in your organization? Find out at the Unity Inclusion Summit (Get 15% off with RoryVIP) for a chance to meet 1:1, or learn more about Rory Gerberg’s work on unconscious bias here.


rory-refound-professional-headshotCreating diverse teams and inclusive organizations is at the heart of Rory Gerberg‘s work. At Refound, Rory designs and facilitates unconscious bias workshops for clients across all sectors—from tech startups and large corporations to nonprofits and public sector agencies. With a master’s degree from Harvard, she has also advised educational institutions and foundations on gender-sensitive program implementation and sexual harassment response strategy. Originally from New York, Rory moonlights as a salsa dancer and looks forward to her next backpacking trek.  Follow Rory on twitter

Can Muslims in Tech Fight Rising Islamophobia in the United States?

Guest blogger – Dustin Craun, Founder and CEO of Life Beyond Borders

As we enter a new political era built on a combination of misogyny, racism, and fear-based politics, I think of an unlikely hero, Muslims in tech. Muslims in tech in the United States and around the world is one of the biggest stories not being told. Muslim technological talent, founders, and venture capitalists play a central role in the majority of tech ecosystems around the world. This is true of the tech ecosystems in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta.

There are an estimated 300,000 Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area, and according to one study upwards of 20% of them work in the tech sector. According to research that we will release in the coming months via Ummah Wide, a digital media company I started to tell stories that transcend the borders of the global Muslim community, hundreds of Muslim founders across the world (the majority in the United States) have raised billions of dollars in venture capital investments for their startups and exits worth tens of billions of dollars. Despite these numbers, as well as the fact that Muslims make up large populations at every major tech company in the US, Muslims in tech still face discrimination on a daily basis. Even microaggressions, like questioning people’s faith or asking inappropriate questions regarding terrorism, have a profound affect on the Muslim community. Because of these discriminations, Muslims feel the need to hide their identity as a Muslim (even at the founder level), often times can’t find a place to pray at work, and Muslim women feel unsafe wearing and keeping on the hijab. Publicly hiding one’s Muslim identity can also take the form of people changing their names at work. Muhammad becomes Mo, or in the case of the owner of the NFL franchise the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shahid Khan becomes Shad Khan.

At another level of the discrimination conversation has been the recent discussion around whether tech companies would help build the proposed Muslim registry being talked about by the incoming administration. With push from groups like MPower, and Color of Change the majority of major tech companies (excluding Oracle) have responded that they would not.

One of the craziest things to me about all of this, as someone who has lived in Muslim-majority countries around the world, is that for American companies, this is not a population they want to discriminate against. In fact, American companies are already making billions of dollars off of Muslims globally. Muslims today make up nearly one-quarter of the world’s population, and by 2050 (according to Pew Research data) there will be nearly 3 billion Muslims, totaling 30% of humanity.

With my company, Ummah Wide, we publish an annual story on the 50 top global Muslim Startups. This story has resonated so deeply with Muslims that it has been translated into six languages and republished around the world. The global Muslim market is one of the largest emerging economies in the world with current spending equaling $1.8 trillion dollars and expected to grow by 5.8% on average over the next 5 years, according to the research firm Dinar Standard.

A recent Mashable article about the United States based Muslim startups explores how “ignorance and fear are big obstacles for Muslim startup founders.” While this may be true for US-based venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and beyond who are missing opportunities to invest in Muslim company’s, Muslim startups are finding major funding around the world led by venture capital funds in Malaysia, the Gulf, and Singapore. This is a quickly maturing startup space with innovative young entrepreneurs as well as seasoned serial entrepreneurs building companies that are growing across borders and developing this global Muslim market. Recently US based Affinis Labs, joining with Elixir Capital (US), and MAVCAP (Malaysia), announced a $250 million dollar global VC fund targeting the Islamic economy. For Silicon Valley, the time is now to play catch up with global firms as the 500 Startups partner Khailee Ng stated recently about Muslim startups in South Asia, “I need to be very interested in investing in Muslim tech startups to be a good investor in this region…If anything, I’m just playing catchup.”

While there is growing investor interest, this is a complex, global emerging market representative of both local economies and diasporic populations who live across borders and whose reach can allow products to grow beyond traditional markets. To best articulate the scale of the emerging global Muslim startup ecology it is best to break it up into 4 areas:

  1. Muslim leadership is prevalent in global tech ecosystems

Muslims entrepreneurs play vital roles in regional startup ecologies around the world from Silicon Valley to Istanbul, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangalore, Singapore, Jakarta, London, Berlin, New York City, Casablanca and in dozens of other cities and startup communities. In Silicon Valley alone there are tens of thousands of Muslims embedded in every layer of the tech and startup community, including entrepreneurs with major exits like Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, as well as major players in VC firms, like Mamoon Hamid, co-founder of the VC firm Social + Capital, Qasar Yunus, COO of Y Combinator, and Omar Hamoui, Partner at Sequoia Capital.

  1. Companies and startups that focus on Muslim majority populations and use Muslim-centric branding win

Companies around the world know the importance of creating products for and catering to Muslim markets. Uniqlo created a modest fashion line designed for the Asian market, Marks & Spencer introduced the burkini, and Dolce & Gabbana launched the abaya. Whether it’s creating modest fashion options, or developing advertising campaigns for Ramadan, this is, simply put, a market that can not be ignored by global companies. However, this isn’t new – local companies in Muslim majority countries go above and beyond to market to Muslims, like Careem for example, the Dubai based Uber competitor, who offered free rides to the Mosque in their cars during Ramadan in 2015. The US is the one that needs to play catch up.

  1. Muslim startups should focus specifically on Muslim consumers

This is the area we focus on in our 500 Startups article, where we look at Muslim-centric products that can be created by any entrepreneur, regardless of faith, who sees the global market opportunity. While many of these companies show the real potential for what companies in this space can grow to, it can also be one of the hardest types of startups to get funded. As of today, the largest companies in terms of investments and growth are modest fashion companies like Modanisa (Turkey), Hijup (Indonesia), and Fashion Valet (Malaysia), as well as Halal food companies like Saffron Road (US) and The Halal Guys (US). We believe a third major sector will emerge over the coming years in Islamic FinTech, with early stage companies growing in the space like our company Salaam Bank (US / Malaysia), Finocracy (Dubai), Investroo (US), and Ethis Crowd (Malaysia).

  1. Social enterprise products are rising in Muslim majority countries that use aspects of Muslim branding focused on western markets

There are also an emerging set of companies who are making an impact on Muslim majority markets where products are produced, branded, and sold in Western markets with positive representations of Muslim cultures and values. A great example of this is Port of Mokha, the coffee company founded by Mokhtar Alkhanshali, who is focused on transforming the coffee industry in Yemen, and who recently had their coffees featured at Blue Bottle. Other examples of this include the wide range of social impact companies focused on global refugees like Rumie and Techfugees.

If the tech community wants to stand for the values it preaches, it must take a collective stand against Islamophobia and racism broadly, while also recognizing the major role Muslims play in Silicon Valley and Tech ecosystems around the world. This can take many forms ranging from blocking government requests for data that could be used to police Muslim and other vulnerable communities. To companies conducting research and reviewing hiring policies with special attention paid to how interviewers are responding to job candidates who wear hijab or who are visibly Muslim. Tech companies must also make training on religion and multifaith dialogue a central part of their larger diversity training and discuss issues of Islamophobia in the workplace as a major component of this.

For Muslims in the tech ecosystem in the United States and around the world, the value we bring must not continue to be under-appreciated. In the political era we are entering Muslims in tech can play an important role in combating Islamophobia not only within the tech community but rather within society at large. To do this we must not be afraid to be unapologetically Muslim and have the hard conversations that are necessary for creating a more just, unified and inclusive society for all.


Learn more about being Muslim in Tech at our upcoming event: Unity & Inclusion Summit Los Angeles with 500 Startups & Microsoft. Get 15% off with “DustinVIP”


Dustin Craun is a social innovator, writer, digital strategist, community organizer, and educator. His writings on race, philosophy, and Islamic spirituality have been published in academic journals and popular publications.

He is the founder & CEO of Life Beyond Borders a digital production studio focused on product development, content and digital strategy, design, and video production. With LBB Dustin has launched three portfolio companies: Ummah Wide, MPower Change, and Salaam Bank, an Islamic finance and banking FinTech platform. Follow Dustin on twitter
*header image courtesy of Samuel Corum – Anadolu Agency


Are there ghosts in your convertible notes?

Guest blogger – Adam Sterling is the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy, co-founder of Startup@BerkeleyLaw, and a former venture capital and startup attorney.

Are you investing in convertible notes or securities? Do you know what a phantom liquidation preference is? Did you know it could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars? Let’s illustrate how with a simple example…

Sally purchases a convertible note with a valuation cap of $5 million in Tuber Corporation for $100,000. Six months later, Tuber closes its Series A with a pre-money valuation of $10 million, selling new shares at $1/share. Thanks to its valuation cap, Sally’s convertible note converts at $0.50/share and she receives 200,000 shares of Series A stock. Sally’s very happy about this outcome.


A year later, Tuber is acquired. Unfortunately, the acquisition price is not enough to trigger a conversion of the preferred stock. Series A holders will just receive their liquidation preference. Assuming the Series A investors negotiated a standard liquidation preference, each Series A holder should receive the “original issue price” of their Series A stock. The question for Sally then becomes, is the “original issue price” of her Series A stock $0.50 share or $1.00 share?

Assuming Sally’s convertible notes were silent on this issue, Sally would most likely be entitled to receive a liquidation preference of $1.00/share in the above example or $200,000 (an outcome that greatly benefits Sally). This benefit to Sally, getting $1.00/share as opposed to $0.50/share (which ends up being worth $100,000), is known as a phantom liquidation preference.

While most investors would prefer to keep this phantom liquidation preference, many companies are drafting convertible notes to avoid it. Their argument is that investors are double-dipping — benefiting from the discount/valuation cap when their security converts and again with the liquidation preference. This argument may be valid, but as an investor you should at least be aware of it. As some investors successfully retain the preference, it could be worthwhile to fight to keep it. 

Understanding nuanced concepts like this can provide investors with a critical edge in the crowded venture capital space. To this end, UC Berkeley will be partnering with 500 Startups at Venture Capital Deal Camp in February to breakdown concepts like this and explore other mechanics of early-stage deal making. Deal Camp also features VIP access to 500’s famous Preview Day and simulated negotiations with real companies. Check it out and consider applying!

Thank you to Adam Sterling for contributing to the 500 blog. For more insights from Adam, follow him on Linkedin or Twitter.