Announcing 500 Falcons first closing at $15m out of $30m target

 

Today, I’m thrilled to announce the first closing of our 500 Startups MENA Fund (aka 500 Falcons) at $15M out of our $30M target. While we have been investing in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region since 2011, including 55 deals in 32 companies for a total of $6M, this is our first fund focused entirely on the Arab world.

With this new fund, we plan to invest in approximately 100-150 companies with about half of the fund and reserve the other half for follow-on investment in the top 20% of companies. The fund will focus on early-stage startups in the MENA region, MENA diaspora founders and non-MENA founders targeting MENA.

The MENA Team

I’m so thrilled to announce that Sharif El-Badawi has joined the team as a Partner for 500 Falcons.

Sharif El-Badawi
Sharif El-Badawi

Sharif joined 500 Startups as a Venture Partner in February of 2016 while he was still at Google and the Chairman of the leading global non-profit bridging MENA entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley, TechWadi. He left his role at Google after nearly 7 years this past September working with some of the top startups and VC funds in Silicon Valley to focus his time and attention on investing in MENA startups. He’s already been a great help to the startups in our portfolio and an asset to the team. Prior to Google, Sharif was with AdMob, which sold to Google in 2009 for $750 million, and a serial entrepreneur, advisor and investor in Consumer Internet startups since 1998 having jumped into his first tech startup, Website.com. Sharif brings almost twenty years of product, business development, marketing, and sales experience to the 500 portfolio.

We’re also actively recruiting for our team in the region, with plans to have people on the ground in our key markets such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan amongst others.

Who Are We Working With?

I’m pleased to announce that among our LPs for the first closing are 2 highly respected regional institutions, the Qatar Science and Technology Park and the Oman Investment Fund. In these LPs we have found partners that will help us achieve our mission to support and invest in startups and build ecosystems in the MENA region. I truly believe that thanks to LPs such as these we’ll have a significant impact on the regional ecosystem.

Along with our partners at QSTP, we are bringing our Series A Program (formerly known as our Distro Dojo) to the region as ‘Doha Dojo.’ Once a year, we will be working with some of the top MENA startups at the Series A level to bring them to Doha with some of the best growth hackers in the world to help build a growth mindset and support them in their growth. More information on our first batch is coming soon and investor day is taking place on May 23rd in Doha. If you’re a Series A investor and interesting in joining, please get in touch with Ms. Ghada Darwish at gdarwish@qstp.org.qa.

QSTP
QSTP – Partners for our Distro Dojo Program in the MENA region

In Oman, we are engaging on an ecosystem building project in partnership with the Oman Investment Fund through the Oman Tech Fund. This year we’ll be advising and supporting the Wadi Accelerator program in Oman with knowledge transfer, capacity building and a cadre of mentors. In addition, we’re working on a unique event, Geeks in a Wadi, the first event of its kind, with further details to be announced soon.

Oman - One of the most beautiful places in the world
A natural ‘Wadi’ in Oman

Why Are We Doing This?

The region has long faced political and economic uncertainty, and a growing younger population that is looking to take charge and change things with their own hands. These youth have access to the same global wealth of information as anyone else. If they so choose, they’re capable of achieving the same things anyone else in the world is.

The Middle East and North Africa are among the last large regional ecosystems to rise up, and emerging markets tend to leapfrog adoption of innovations and technology at higher and higher frequencies. Being a latecomer does not mean staying behind, and the Arabic speaking world is 500 million strong – young, resourceful, wealthy and a yearning to thrive.

Top 5 Reasons MENA is a Must Bet

  1. Massive 500 million Arabic speaking population
  2. Largely untapped ecosystem/market, internally and internationally
  3. Shift in fossil fuel prices and changing geopolitical forces
  4. Lower valuations and costs of operating a business
  5. Highly educated, competitive and vibrant talent pool

Bonus (coming soon): Surge in investor interest and options for progression from seed to exit

According to MAGNiTT’s State of MENA Funding Report, 2016 saw nearly $1B of venture capital investment into regional startups, a 424% increase over the previous year, and arguably a flat year due to the fact almost all the VCs were fundraising, including us. Sorry founders, but 2017 is looking very strong! We hope that our 40+ deals/year will boost early-stage startup growth and encourage more angel and venture capital to flow in.

I look forward to 500 Startups playing a significant role in building ecosystems across the MENA region, and investing in the best founders solving real problems. I hope that our deal volume and speed will provide at least a small boost in funding activity at the earliest stages and even encourage others to do more deals as well. I’m grateful to the other investors and key stakeholders in the region who are fighting for the same cause. Progression is key for entrepreneurs and they need optionality of capital sources at all stages in their startup and scaling. We’re all aligned in that we want to create more companies and help those companies grow.

Here’s to building world class startups from the Middle East, creating jobs, solving real problems, empowering the youth, women and anyone who wants to effect real change to better their surroundings, and generating a positive return on capital while we’re at it!

How to Invest “Smart Money” — 4 Lessons Learned

I recently attended VC Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing, an investor training program run in partnership with 500 Startups and Stanford Center for Professional Development. The two-week program took place July 25th – August 5th, 2016, and a class of 28 participants dove deeply into the world of tech, understanding fund dynamics and hearing from seasoned experts.

My big takeaway was that along with all the attention and hype startups are garnering around the world, there is still a large gap in the knowledge available to investors entering the space.

We hear a lot about “dumb money” and to avoid it like the plague, but is that it? As a former educator I believe not – and so here are a handful of tips for new investors from VC Unlocked to make your money smarter:

1. Understand the market/ecosystem you are investing in

Copying and pasting a playbook from Silicon Valley directly into a different region will not get you the startup ecosystem you hope for. It’s taken a while for this message to make its rounds, but it’s important to know that building up the key components are what matters; Do smart founders, early and later stage capital, legal and other services, and exit opportunities exist in your market? If not, how will you as an investor traverse those voids?

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Bedy Yang and Mary Grove speak about building ecosystems around the world.

2. Educate yourself and peers on good etiquette and best practices

Unless you imagine yourself solely generating your own deal flow and funding your companies throughout their lifetimes, you will find yourself working alongside and benefiting from the participation of the rest of the startup community. It is in your best interest to play well with others, and this applies to how you manage the interests of and your relationships with LPs, fellow investors, and entrepreneurs.

Good behavior could be saying “No” quickly and kindly to founders that do not fall within your investment thesis, having a discussion with your LPs about recycling management fees, or understanding which terms are investor vs. founder friendly.

Your responsibilities as an investor will include:

  • knowing what you are buying
  • how to navigate and properly negotiate terms
  • what part you play in being a constructive board member beyond just writing a check

The good news is, there are many thought leaders and content around these topics that you can find online, and even better news is my colleague will be sharing a post devoted to the best ones!

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Jeff Clavier shares his fund’s journey.

3. Know your value proposition as an investor

“Why you?” is a question investors are often heard asking founders, but it is just as important for investors to ask themselves both for fundraising as well as deal flow. During one of the sessions, David Hornik of August Capital said, “If you don’t have dealflow, you don’t have anything.”  Echoed by Constance Freedman of Moderne Ventures, she pushed for differentiating yourself from other investors.

Whether it is your industry expertise, personal network, or unparalleled access, investors should be able to articulate how their assets power their investment criteria. Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC encouraged everyone to have “a clear schtick” because at the end of the day smart founders will optimize for investor-market fit.

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Capturing a great session with Jason Calacanis

4. Be transparent with others, honest with yourself

This tip will go a long way, allowing you to attract the best relationships, utilize your time efficiently, and build your brand.

“Be clear about your investment filters and make sure they are known by founders, investors, everyone.”

Dave McClure tells us, “Be clear about your investment filters and make sure they are known by founders, investors, everyone.”

This will help you avoid pitfalls of herd mentality or just falling in love with the problem the company is solving, as well as not wasting meetings with founders you would never back.

Another area of transparency that requires some introspection was brought up by Mary Grove of Google for Entrepreneurs, who said that while it’s widely known that diversity fosters innovation, she pushes investors with the question of “What are you doing to brand yourself or understanding of your own biases?”

Lastly, Jason Calacanis of Inside.com and LAUNCH spoke to always giving back to founders with something constructive, regardless of his investment decision. For each meeting, Jason shared that he takes time to thoughtfully respond to the founder(s) with feedback on what was positive and candid concerns around potential challenges.

While this is not an exhaustive list of how to be a more valuable investor, it’s a start to what is a long journey journey ahead should you choose to become one.

As far as 500 Startups is concerned, this is the way we have guided ourselves in our various ecosystems and how I’ve tried to reestablish our presence in New York. It was never about blindly setting up an office, but rather working alongside all the other great organizations that are building up the meaningful pieces of the tech scene. The response has been wonderful so far, and I’m looking forward to bringing some of 500’s larger programs and resources to New York.

Keep your eyes out in the coming months for more announcements!

Our 2016 VC Unlocked class
Our 2016 VC Unlocked class

The 7 (Pitching) Habits of Highly Effective Founders

Finding the right investors is like dating — you need to kiss many frogs before you find a prince.  

Today, I’m going to share seven ways fundraising founders can kiss fewer frogs and find more princes (subtle hint: Batch 19 applications are now open).

Habit 1 – Pitch to the Right Investors

Not all investors are created equal.

Some investors only invest in seed investments. Some investors only focus on Series A.  

Before approaching any investors, do your homework and make sure you go after the right target audience.

You can segment them with these 5 characteristics:

  1. Investment stages (seed, Series A, B, C, etc.)
  2. Check size (e.g. $50,000 – $150,000)
  3. How many deals has he or she done in past 6 months (you will find out how active this investor is)
  4. Industry focus (if any)
  5. Geography (most Silicon Valley investors would not invest outside of the Bay Area)

It is certainly quite rare to turn someone who isn’t already engaged in your industry or geography into someone who suddenly cares about what you’ve created.

Habit 2 – Pitch with Purpose

My colleague Andrea Barrica introduced me to this quote by Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

What do you want your potential investors walk away with after your pitch?

Keep that in mind and you very likely will change the story you tell and the way you tell it.

Habit 3 – Curate Your Story

It’s harder to tell a short than a long story.

It’s easy to tell your investors everything that’s happened in your life since you were 3, but whittling that down to what they really need to know is much harder — and much more compelling.

Don’t be lazy, or self-indulgent. Put in the extra 20% effort and curate only relevant and story that make you uniquely over qualify for your startup.

Habit 4 – Pitch like a Professional  

During your pitch, you need to convey two things: 1) why you are the most qualified person and 2) why investors should give you money now.  

Be sure to cover the following if you are ready, but always start with traction & demo if you have it.

Here are 11 things to cover:

  1. Traction, traction, traction
    1. Revenue
    2. User download
    3. User engagement
    4. Major signed partnerships
  2. Product demo (If you have it. You should have it.)
  3. Market size & target market
  4. Pain point
  5. Product
  6. Team (team, investors, advisors)
  7. Technology
  8. Business model
  9. Monetization model  
  10. Competition
  11. Market Trends

Habit 5 – Understand the Big Picture

Most founders I met are in love with their product.  

Unfortunately, as an investor, I don’t just want a person who is in love with himself or herself or their product.

I want a founder who truly understands how to create a business. You should be the one who can tell me everything about your competitors, market, legal environment or policy changes.

Habit 6 – 24 Hour Follow Up

After your first call or in person meeting, be sure to follow up within 24 hours and make sure to cover the following in your follow up email:

  • Thank them!
  • Your deck
  • Current traction
  • Team
  • Action items
  • Your ask
  • Ask for follow up meetings or phone calls

Habit 7 – Show Passion & Honesty

Building a startup is really, really hard work.

As an investor, I want to find someone who won’t back down when things get (even) harder, and is willing to do whatever it takes to make things happen.

A huge part of working hard — and knowing where to work harder — is knowing what isn’t working (yet).

Show your true self, and be honest. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” You don’t need to have all the answers, but you do need to have the strength of character and work ethic to figure it out.