Twitmail and the Future of Middle East Tech

Ever wanted to post a hilarious email thread or those pictures from a group message? Twitmail now lets users share email content with their Twitter followers by uploading an email URL which generates a separate link to the message.

As a privacy precaution, all email addresses are blanked out. The subject line and first 100 characters of the email become the text that is tweeted along with the link. The best links are catalogued daily via @twitmail_fav, and the most viewed or ‘favorited’ ones feature on the Twitmail homepage.

The Middle East is not a region people generally associate with tech startups. Oil, uprisings, but iPhone apps? Surely that’s more Silicon Valley than Saudi Arabia. On the contrary, Saleh Al-Zaid, the 27-year-old creator of Twitmail, is just one software engineer in the burgeoning scene of Middle Eastern tech innovators.

Twitmail has become popular throughout the Middle East since its 2010 launch, with 95% of its users hailing from the Arab world. These users share 800-1,000 emails every day, generating 1.8 million unique visitors per month. As Al-Zaid explains, Twitmail has a particular audience in the Middle East because of the large number of people swapping humorous emails with their friends.

“In the Middle East we have this culture of email groups,” said Al-Zaid. “There is so much content shared on emails only that doesn’t get the chance to be converted to a webpage.”

Much of Twitmail’s most-viewed messages are of a political nature. This frustrates Al-Zaid, who doesn’t want the site to centre around political or religious commentary.

“Most of the topics are politics because of the Arab uprisings,” explained Al-Zaid. “Honestly, I don’t like it, but we have other great content that is funny and informative.”

Al-Zaid points to the success of Abu Nawaf, a site started over ten years ago. Abu Nawaf launched as a Yahoo! email chain, then moved to a Google group. Their Google group account was closed due to its volume (it has since been reopened). The email group has now moved to a separate website, where users send in their messages for Abu Nawaf to select a best-of and then post. It currently hosts over 670,000 members.

Twitmail may just be the next Abu Nawaf for Twitter. In 2011, Al-Zaid secured investment for the site from three private backers who now sit on its board. He eventually left his day job to take Twitmail full-time in October, and is now on a trip to California to get advice on how to grow his company.

This is the second successful site for Al-Zaid, who launched Untiny – a site that lets users generate the original link behind an abbreviated TinyURL. Al Zaid created the tool in 2008 because TinyURL is blocked in Saudi Arabia, making it impossible to open shortened links from Twitter. Originally only in Arabic, Al-Zaid soon launched the site in English. So far, over 280 million links have been shortened via Untiny.

“Just one week after I made it in English, people were using it in Japan, China and Brazil,” said Al-Zaid.

Untiny doesn’t just get around blockages – it also acts as anti-virus software, revealing what is behind shortened links. Al-Zaid found the site difficult to monetize, which is why he moved onto Twitmail.

Al-Zaid’s road to Twitmail started back in 2005, when he started blogging and helped launched a group for tech buffs called Riyadh Geeks. Soon the group of friends grew and took to Facebook, spawning chapters across Middle Eastern cities. There are now 15 geek groups which act as an informal support network and idea incubator for Arab techies.

In the past few years, the Middle East has seen a rise in the number of tools available to tech innovators. ARABnet, a conference aiming to bring together regional tech entrepreneurs, met for the third time this year. While there is not much by way of centralized infrastructure to support tech startups, NPR reports that local incubators such as Egypt’s Flat6Labs are doing their best to help regional techies on their way. Things certainly seem to be on the up – websites such as ArabCrunch are covering an increasing amount of tech news in the Middle East, and the first Lebanese Startup Weekend will be hosted in Beirut this July.

Some of these Middle Eastern tech startups provide versions of Western models with an Arab twist. Among them is Qaym.com, launched in 2007, which is similar to Yelp but focused solely on food. Already incredibly popular, it also released an app last year. Dealwaty functions as an Egyptian LivingSocial, while I3zif.com reinvents web-based music schools by offering online music lessons for Arabic instruments such as the oud and tablah.

Others, such as Yebab.com, are specifically tailored to Middle Eastern audiences. Yebab.com provides an online Middle East wedding directory, which is a one-stop-shop for the product details and contact listings of everything a bride-to-be might need to plan her special days.

The most innovative tech startups work to open the region to non-Arabs. One of the most exciting of these is an iPhone app called Keefak, launched in January by Hadi El Khoury, a Lebanese native living in France. Keefak teaches Lebanese Arabic, a unique regional dialect frequently colored by French and English. Costing $4.99, the app appeals to the 15 million people of Lebanese descent who live outside the country, as well as tourists interested in learning the language.

AskNative, founded by Abdelmoniem Ragab and Seif Sallam, presents itself as an app that connects tourists with locals as they travel. Currently in beta and set to launch soon, the app will also offer translation services.

While the future looks bright for Middle East tech, the entrepreneurial ecosystem still lacks the stability of its Western cousins. For now, Twitmail must take to the U.S. if it hopes to be successful internationally.

“50% of Twitter users are in the U.S.,” said Al-Zaid. “Right now I am doing well in the Middle East but my idea is to build the tool for everybody, not just those in the Middle East.”

(Source: forbes.com)

@1 year ago
#Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur #Natalie Robehmed 

From Idea to Business: It’s About Helping Your Customers Succeed

In honor of Entrepreneur Month, here’s a secret for helping your new business succeed. You have an idea for a business – what’s next? Of the key steps in the process—building a solid business plan, choosing a management team, and creating a pro forma budget—here’s the most critical component: The business is not about you. For your business to prosper, you must put your entire focus on helping your customers succeed.

You must determine in advance that there are customers willing to pay for the product or service you have.

As Forbes contributor Alan Hall said last week in his article on funding, you must have customers who are willing to buy what you are creating before your business can move forward, no matter how great you believe your idea will be. Douglas Merrill also expressed it in his April 11 article on Innovation: Your Users Want a New Product That Will Help Them Succeed—Do You?

This is one of the fundamental secrets that have helped my own company, Fishbowl, succeed. We provide software that is the most requested inventory solution for use with QuickBooks.  Larger Forbes 500 organizations use it as a standalone solution for inventory control, answering a very key priority for them—reducing inventory to a bare minimum for just-in-time delivery, which is critical to their own profitability. Smart companies see their inventory as cash.

Our customers dictate our product roadmap, new features, and the timing and priority level of updates. That priority is so widely open we even created a Facebook Group, Fishbowl Ideas, for customers to use in posting their hopes and priorities to us. It’s a wide open forum–you could even view it yourself. For nearly a decade, customers have been the source of some of our greatest ideas.

Listening to customers has forged a two-way partnership strong enough it’s helped our customers to be patient with us even when we’ve made a mistake. For example, an undetected bug caused our website to go down for a period of several hours during our last major product upgrade—we needed to rely heavily on the trust and faith our customers had placed in their partnership with us on that day.

In summary, to take your venture from the idea phase to a viable business you must be able to articulate a powerful value proposition for your product or service that will resonate with the needs of your customers and potential customers.

As our employee Derek Smith said recently, “Understanding your customers’ deepest needs is the key to understanding the value of what you have to offer. Talk to your customers and prospects. Discover their problems and concerns and you will discover your opportunities.”

It may be hard to accept, especially since a high degree of self-confidence is critical to an entrepreneurial personality—but in the final analysis, your success is about your customers. It’s really not about you.

(Source: forbes.com)

@1 year ago
#Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur #David K Williams 

How To Boost Your Confidence At Work

All high achievers have two attributes in common. The one you hear about is their self-confidence–the inner sense they can overcome challenges more often than not.

What is often forgotten (or ignored) is that most people who enjoy self-confidence were once plagued by fears born of imagined or actual inadequacies. The truly confident manage to flush much of that self-doubt from their systems.

In this sense, building self-confidence is a two-phase process. The first phase involves purging yourself of self-doubt; in the second, you build up your confidence. It’s like erecting a skyscraper: First you clear the site and lay a solid foundation, then you stack the superstructure. How high you go–how much confidence you muster–is up to you.


Here’s a 10-step plan. What follows isn’t easy, but the struggle is worth the reward.


Phase #1: Eliminating Self-doubt


Step 1. Understand Its Origins

Self-doubt crept into your system as a baby. As toddlers, we all looked at the power our folks had and thought: “Gotta be like them.” This wish isn’t the problem; putting our parents on pedestals is. It’s complex, but from the moment we crave power akin to what we feel our parents have, we continually contrast our sense of self with our ego ideal—an imagined, perfect self, derived from our image of our “super-powerful” parents. Since no one can live up to the standards set by ego ideals, we spend the rest of our lives (to greater or lesser degrees), plagued by doubt. This is irrational, of course, but true.


Step 2. Accept It

There’s a school of psychotherapy—called “acceptance therapy”—based on the insight that admitting you suffer from a problem reduces the distress it can cause. (Conversely, denying the existence of a problem, or beating yourself up for having a flaw, is always debilitating.) Everyone, even superstars, feels like a fake or failure at times. We all have imperfections. Recognizing that those whom you admire most have them, too, is the trick.


Step 3. Fess Up

You’re probably not done with Step 2 yet. Chances are that real acceptance won’t kick in without sharing your anxiety with someone you trust. Think you’ll flub a presentation? Give one to friends. Doubt you command respect? Ask someone you admire (but don’t report to) if all is okay. Worst case is that whomever you confide in will give you negative feedback that you can use to improve. Admitting what plagues you (and then learning that others feel the same way) will help you realize that while self-doubt is vexing, no one dies from it.


Step 4. Look At The Facts

If a claustrophobic person gets stuck in an elevator, it’s hard for them to focus on the certainty that, any minute now, it will be moving again. Fear and panic simply take over. The same tendency is true with self-doubt, but unlike with claustrophobia, a few hard facts can help. Example: If you’ve been promoted somewhat recently, remind yourself why you were tapped. Make a list of all your valuable skills and accomplishments. Read them aloud if you have to. But–and this important–don’t lean on a prepackaged pep talk, a la the old Stuart Smalley character on “Saturday Night Live.” False self-praise will do more damage than self-doubt.


Phase #2: Boosting Self-confidence


Step 5. Know That Nothing Is Inherently Threatening

If possession is nine-tenths of the law, then perception is 100% of the truth. A dreadful event can be made manageable if you tell yourself you have the stuff to cope with it. Remember that.


Step 6. Confront Your Fear…

Okay, for most people, that last Jedi mind trick isn’t enough. Fear, no matter its source, is a formidable adversary. That’s why you have to pick a fight with it. William Jennings Bryan claimed, “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear.” Setbacks are inevitable–suck it up. (For some help there, see How To Bounce Back From Failure.) Resilience is the steel skeleton of self-confidence.


Step 7. …But Choose Your Battles

Specifically, this means taking on challenges that are egosyntonic–that’s shrink-speak for behaviors and feelings that match your view of who you are. It is much easier to boost self-confidence by confronting challenges of your choosing than by tackling what someone else tells you to do. If you pick the battles you engage in because you believe in their aims, your self-confidence will increase along with your winning percentage.


Step 8. Once You Master Something, Stretch

Nothing erodes self-confidence like shooting fish in a barrel. Add more challenge to every task you tackle and your self-confidence will grow in lockstep. Level off for too long and you’ll be on the slick slope to burnout. (For more on that toxic topic, read How To Prevent Burnout.)


Step 9. Never Solicit What You Hope Will Be Confidence-boosting Feedback

“How am I doin’?” may a good question for politicians to ask their constituents, but it’s a bad question for those looking to boost confidence—mainly because it smacks of insecurity and probably won’t lead to honest feedback. For more on the value of constructive criticism (and how to give it, if need be), check out: How To Tell Someone They’re Wrong (And Make Them Feel Good About It.


Step 10. Beware Hubris

In all things, too much is no good. That goes for self-confidence, too. Believe in yourself–just don’t be a jerk about it.

(Source: forbes.com)

@2 years ago
#Forbes #Forbes entrepreneur #Steven Berglas 

The Case for Hiring ‘Under-Qualified’ Employees

From the Startup Rules of Josh James, founder and CEO of Domo, the all-star executive who also co-founded Omniture and took it from inception to IPO to sale for $1.8B to Adobe:

“Rule 45: No Unemployed Candidates. Always an Excuse. Too Risky. Top-Rated, Currently Employed Candidates Who Won’t Leave… PERFECT.”

With all due respect for your accomplishments, Josh, I disagree.

Most every company could benefit from finding the potential stars, and then creating an environment that allows them to thrive.

Our own company, Fishbowl, is neither public nor for sale, but we’ve achieved record growth (currently more than 70% through the last three tumultuous years), regional and national awards for product and management quality, and negligible turnover (under 2%) since we began in 2001. We’ve done all of this by doing the exact opposite of the strategy our Utah neighbor, Josh James, has described.

Consider the strong case for the traditionally “unqualified” hire. Not every company, particularly in the early stages, can afford to hire an established “superstar.” I maintain that most any company, particularly in the growth phase, is better off by discovering potential stars (we call them Champions) in the making and creating a healthy holding environment that allows and encourages them to grow.

But our approach requires the right core ingredients. I’ve honed my skills in identifying the traits we describe as the 7 Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude. I’ve previously written about the “7 NN’s” with my paired leadership partner, Mary Michelle Scott (Fishbowl President) in Forbes and in HBR.

We’re looking for candidates who exhibit these characteristics, and we’re watching the way they interact—their body language, eye contact, whether they are articulate—a good listener—and whether they can express what they feel without feeling nervous. Can they demonstrate strong character traits when asked how they would handle various situations in former jobs or in life? I can sense an individual’s work ethic. We look for someone eager and hungry to learn, which has generally been a good barometer of the individual’s work ethic as well. In 30 minutes, I can judge a prospective hire with pretty much 99% accuracy.  Our managers (we call them our “Captains”) have honed these sensibilities as well.

Consider our recent new hire in accounting last week. She came to us from a minimal position at Blimpie’s. She’s a lady who’s smart—highly qualified—was formerly the CFO of a small hospital. But then she got really ill. Then the economy caused her to lose her home. The short sale of her house left her with a little money to work with, but the only job she could obtain was as the manager of a Blimpie’s store for $9 an hour.

I sensed her capabilities from the moment we met. She’d never used QuickBooks (our inventory control software integrates with QuickBooks, and we run our own company on the same products and functionality we sell). Most everything we do (other than our basic financial/accounting principles) was new.

She embraced the challenge. She learned our system (eagerly) and made suggestions that within four days produced the most accurate financial reports in her area of stewardship our company has ever seen. Today she initiated a new process with our Controller that will cause our past due accounts receivable to diminish and possibly disappear. When someone is this eager and excited to excel, and is given the environment to thrive in, miracles transpire.

This is not a rare occurrence for us. Out of 18 developers (yes, our software product developers) only 2 had ever had any serious programming experience before. More typically, these individuals came with prior experience in dealing with inventory. They dealt with playground equipment, electrical or plumbing warehouses and many came from our customer support and training department. They know things about inventory beyond what engineering or even marketing could teach them. The programming skills they were able to learn.

We employ 50 individuals in support who had never worked in customer service before. The majority of our sales people came with little or no prior experience in sales.

Could this approach work for other companies? Consider the following advantages our philosophy gains:

Less-established employees have room for growth. They are fresh and eager, not fatigued or scarred.

They have no bad habits to break; only good habits to learn. You don’t have to un-train them on the paradigms they’ve put in place somewhere else. They can blossom into anything.

They have the right attitude. With attitude, as they say, the aptitude will come.

New blood, whether young or old, can bring fresh ideas and perspectives to old problems. Their enthusiasm can be infectious. Their naiveté is some of the gold that they bring. They’re not afraid to ask, “ Why do you do it this way?” From the most innocent questions, we may go back to our roots and say, “That’s a good point. Why do we do that?” The newest employee may be the one who prompts a positive change.

You can build lifelong relationships. Some of our employees are young; some are older. But when your company is the place an employee has been permitted to blossom and shine, they will love working with you, most likely forever.  Thus, turnover is low.

Many companies will argue that the cost of taking someone on with no experience is prohibitive. We disagree. We employ the concept of agile programming through our entire organization. We use paired leadership and paired teamwork. Each new hire has someone to coach and train him or her, and within a few months, or weeks in some cases, they’re fully up to speed and online.

Could this approach work for you? At a minimum, I hope I’ve given you the reason to consider these possibilities as you make your next set of new hires. I maintain there are many all-star/champion employees within every company’s reach. You just need to recognize their potential, and then create and maintain an environment that allows them to be nurtured, developed and then to shine.

(Source: forbes.com)

@1 year ago
#David K Williams #Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur 

Dealing with a Bad Hire? The Case to Teach and Adapt, Rather Than Fire

Last week I wrote a Harvard Business Review column with Mary Michelle Scott, the president of Fishbowl and the other member of my own paired leadership team (more about that concept here.) We talked about the cost of a bad hire and how we use our seven Non-Negotiables to identify and sustain winning players. You can read that article here.

In short, we noted that of nearly 2,700 employers surveyed, 41% estimate a single bad hire cost $25,000. A quarter of respondents estimate a bad choice has cost $50,000 or more, not to mention the demoralizing affect of the issue on other employees.

Are you going to fire me?

Our strategy to avoid bad hires is to look for—and adhere to–the principles we call the seven Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude.

A hire that is going the wrong direction is bad for everybody involved. A dismissal is bad for the morale of the entire team. It’s even worse for the morale and future of the person you fire, who faces one of the most stressful events in human experience.

What should you do and when should you act? We have a radical suggestion: Consider the ways you can teach a struggling employee to grow and adapt, rather than immediately moving to fire.

In our company, when someone makes a mistake, we don’t punish. Mistakes that are learning experiences should be celebrated and cherished for the benefits they create.

In the case of a seeming character lapse, we work with the individual to determine if the situation was perhaps in actuality a mistake. If so, we can move directly to support the learning involved. If not, we’re still not finished – we determine if there might be an opportunity to help the individual identify a blind spot in their thinking and behavior. Is the person receptive to being coached? That growth and improvement could produce a favorable outcome as well.

However, if the situation exposed a fatal character flaw in one or more of our non-negotiable traits, we would encourage the person to leave, and to do so quickly. We’d even assist. (All of our practices are strictly legal. That priority remains first.)

In practice, however, while we’ve had several of these conversations in our company of approximately 100 employees, we’ve never fired an employee for the breach of a Non-Negotiables principle yet.

In fact, our entire turnover for any reason is negligible (less than 2 percent) since we implemented our current program at the beginning of 2011. Granted, we’ve gotten well ahead of the game by making the active search for these characteristics our highest priority during hiring. We consider it even more crucial than direct background and skills.

Time will tell if our own record continues. Still, we maintain—do you really need to fire? Perhaps some mentoring or coaching on your own Non-Negotiable principles could turn around that “bad hire.”

(Source: forbes.com)

@1 year ago
#David K Williams #Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur 

How To Tell Someone They’re Wrong (And Make Them Feel Good About It)

Here’s what all the touchy-feely folks out there don’t get about constructive criticism: It’s invaluable. The important thing is how you deliver it.

Everyone makes honest mistakes. What most people don’t realize is that embedded in criticism–constructively conveyed–is the wish to help someone get better at what they’re doing.

Any fool can deliver a meaningless “good job.” Being a constructive critic takes thought, effort and compassion. Here are eight tips for getting your good intentions across:

Pick Your Spots. Before you tell someone they’re wrong, recite–three times–Jack Nicholson’s tirade from A Few Good Men: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Then answer the question: “Can he or she handle the truth?”  If the answer is an unqualified ‘Yes,’ let them know they’re wrong, right then and there. If “No,” then keep reading.

Never Qualify. Trying to soften criticism with qualifications like “With all due respect,” “No offense,” or “Don’t take this the wrong way” is slathering poison on an open wound. Avoid this infuriating strategy. The same goes with showering praise early on, only to switch gears and unload with the bad news. At best you’ll come off as disingenuous; at worst, a jerk.

Sugarcoat Donuts. Some blunt but effective advice from James G. Ellis, Dean of the USC Marshall School of Business: “Never try to simultaneously be a good cop and a bad cop,” he says. “You need to deliver your view without beating around the bush.” Ellis’ faculty knows all about this. “Say what the problem is, and if you must amplify your message, say where your data came from,” he adds. “But make it clear that your goal is ‘movement toward constructive change,’ and nothing else.”

Paint A Picture.  Ambiguity is your enemy when telling someone they’re wrong. Be concrete and don’t sermonize, even if the culprit knows he’s a sinner. Your feedback, like his priest’s, won’t afford a single clue about how he can extricate himself from purgatory.

Deal In Facts. Objectivity is crucial to constructive criticism. Remember that the goal is to communicate that a performance standard has not been met. Your sentiments (and certainly your judgments) are irrelevant. Never, ever talk down.

Focus On Behavior, Not Character. It’s easy to lapse into character assassination without knowing it. For example, in saying “You were lazy in preparing this report” you may think you are helping the author improve his writing; instead, it addresses your assumption about the person’s attitude toward their work.

Show Them The Way. Criticism without an action plan is worthless. Give them direction or keep your mouth shut.

Let The Fixes Feel Like Their Own. Chelsea A. Grayson, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Jones Day’s mergers-and-acquisitions practice, is acutely sensitive to saying, “You’re wrong” in a constructive manner. “After I present my approach to someone I solicit feedback to ensure buy-in,” she says. “When I get it, and we concretize a plan, I often characterize it as theirs. If people feel you support their fundamental views and value them, achieving buy-in is easy and natural.”

Mark Twain observed, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” Reform through care–not condemnation.

(Source: forbes.com)

@3 years ago
#Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur #Steven Berglas 
Twitmail and the Future of Middle East Tech

Ever wanted to post a hilarious email thread or those pictures from a group message? Twitmail now lets users share email content with their Twitter followers by uploading an email URL which generates a separate link to the message.

As a privacy precaution, all email addresses are blanked out. The subject line and first 100 characters of the email become the text that is tweeted along with the link. The best links are catalogued daily via @twitmail_fav, and the most viewed or ‘favorited’ ones feature on the Twitmail homepage.

The Middle East is not a region people generally associate with tech startups. Oil, uprisings, but iPhone apps? Surely that’s more Silicon Valley than Saudi Arabia. On the contrary, Saleh Al-Zaid, the 27-year-old creator of Twitmail, is just one software engineer in the burgeoning scene of Middle Eastern tech innovators.

Twitmail has become popular throughout the Middle East since its 2010 launch, with 95% of its users hailing from the Arab world. These users share 800-1,000 emails every day, generating 1.8 million unique visitors per month. As Al-Zaid explains, Twitmail has a particular audience in the Middle East because of the large number of people swapping humorous emails with their friends.

“In the Middle East we have this culture of email groups,” said Al-Zaid. “There is so much content shared on emails only that doesn’t get the chance to be converted to a webpage.”

Much of Twitmail’s most-viewed messages are of a political nature. This frustrates Al-Zaid, who doesn’t want the site to centre around political or religious commentary.

“Most of the topics are politics because of the Arab uprisings,” explained Al-Zaid. “Honestly, I don’t like it, but we have other great content that is funny and informative.”

Al-Zaid points to the success of Abu Nawaf, a site started over ten years ago. Abu Nawaf launched as a Yahoo! email chain, then moved to a Google group. Their Google group account was closed due to its volume (it has since been reopened). The email group has now moved to a separate website, where users send in their messages for Abu Nawaf to select a best-of and then post. It currently hosts over 670,000 members.

Twitmail may just be the next Abu Nawaf for Twitter. In 2011, Al-Zaid secured investment for the site from three private backers who now sit on its board. He eventually left his day job to take Twitmail full-time in October, and is now on a trip to California to get advice on how to grow his company.

This is the second successful site for Al-Zaid, who launched Untiny – a site that lets users generate the original link behind an abbreviated TinyURL. Al Zaid created the tool in 2008 because TinyURL is blocked in Saudi Arabia, making it impossible to open shortened links from Twitter. Originally only in Arabic, Al-Zaid soon launched the site in English. So far, over 280 million links have been shortened via Untiny.

“Just one week after I made it in English, people were using it in Japan, China and Brazil,” said Al-Zaid.

Untiny doesn’t just get around blockages – it also acts as anti-virus software, revealing what is behind shortened links. Al-Zaid found the site difficult to monetize, which is why he moved onto Twitmail.

Al-Zaid’s road to Twitmail started back in 2005, when he started blogging and helped launched a group for tech buffs called Riyadh Geeks. Soon the group of friends grew and took to Facebook, spawning chapters across Middle Eastern cities. There are now 15 geek groups which act as an informal support network and idea incubator for Arab techies.

In the past few years, the Middle East has seen a rise in the number of tools available to tech innovators. ARABnet, a conference aiming to bring together regional tech entrepreneurs, met for the third time this year. While there is not much by way of centralized infrastructure to support tech startups, NPR reports that local incubators such as Egypt’s Flat6Labs are doing their best to help regional techies on their way. Things certainly seem to be on the up – websites such as ArabCrunch are covering an increasing amount of tech news in the Middle East, and the first Lebanese Startup Weekend will be hosted in Beirut this July.

Some of these Middle Eastern tech startups provide versions of Western models with an Arab twist. Among them is Qaym.com, launched in 2007, which is similar to Yelp but focused solely on food. Already incredibly popular, it also released an app last year. Dealwaty functions as an Egyptian LivingSocial, while I3zif.com reinvents web-based music schools by offering online music lessons for Arabic instruments such as the oud and tablah.

Others, such as Yebab.com, are specifically tailored to Middle Eastern audiences. Yebab.com provides an online Middle East wedding directory, which is a one-stop-shop for the product details and contact listings of everything a bride-to-be might need to plan her special days.

The most innovative tech startups work to open the region to non-Arabs. One of the most exciting of these is an iPhone app called Keefak, launched in January by Hadi El Khoury, a Lebanese native living in France. Keefak teaches Lebanese Arabic, a unique regional dialect frequently colored by French and English. Costing $4.99, the app appeals to the 15 million people of Lebanese descent who live outside the country, as well as tourists interested in learning the language.

AskNative, founded by Abdelmoniem Ragab and Seif Sallam, presents itself as an app that connects tourists with locals as they travel. Currently in beta and set to launch soon, the app will also offer translation services.

While the future looks bright for Middle East tech, the entrepreneurial ecosystem still lacks the stability of its Western cousins. For now, Twitmail must take to the U.S. if it hopes to be successful internationally.

“50% of Twitter users are in the U.S.,” said Al-Zaid. “Right now I am doing well in the Middle East but my idea is to build the tool for everybody, not just those in the Middle East.”

(Source: forbes.com)

1 year ago
#Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur #Natalie Robehmed 
The Case for Hiring ‘Under-Qualified’ Employees

From the Startup Rules of Josh James, founder and CEO of Domo, the all-star executive who also co-founded Omniture and took it from inception to IPO to sale for $1.8B to Adobe:

“Rule 45: No Unemployed Candidates. Always an Excuse. Too Risky. Top-Rated, Currently Employed Candidates Who Won’t Leave… PERFECT.”

With all due respect for your accomplishments, Josh, I disagree.

Most every company could benefit from finding the potential stars, and then creating an environment that allows them to thrive.

Our own company, Fishbowl, is neither public nor for sale, but we’ve achieved record growth (currently more than 70% through the last three tumultuous years), regional and national awards for product and management quality, and negligible turnover (under 2%) since we began in 2001. We’ve done all of this by doing the exact opposite of the strategy our Utah neighbor, Josh James, has described.

Consider the strong case for the traditionally “unqualified” hire. Not every company, particularly in the early stages, can afford to hire an established “superstar.” I maintain that most any company, particularly in the growth phase, is better off by discovering potential stars (we call them Champions) in the making and creating a healthy holding environment that allows and encourages them to grow.

But our approach requires the right core ingredients. I’ve honed my skills in identifying the traits we describe as the 7 Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude. I’ve previously written about the “7 NN’s” with my paired leadership partner, Mary Michelle Scott (Fishbowl President) in Forbes and in HBR.

We’re looking for candidates who exhibit these characteristics, and we’re watching the way they interact—their body language, eye contact, whether they are articulate—a good listener—and whether they can express what they feel without feeling nervous. Can they demonstrate strong character traits when asked how they would handle various situations in former jobs or in life? I can sense an individual’s work ethic. We look for someone eager and hungry to learn, which has generally been a good barometer of the individual’s work ethic as well. In 30 minutes, I can judge a prospective hire with pretty much 99% accuracy.  Our managers (we call them our “Captains”) have honed these sensibilities as well.

Consider our recent new hire in accounting last week. She came to us from a minimal position at Blimpie’s. She’s a lady who’s smart—highly qualified—was formerly the CFO of a small hospital. But then she got really ill. Then the economy caused her to lose her home. The short sale of her house left her with a little money to work with, but the only job she could obtain was as the manager of a Blimpie’s store for $9 an hour.

I sensed her capabilities from the moment we met. She’d never used QuickBooks (our inventory control software integrates with QuickBooks, and we run our own company on the same products and functionality we sell). Most everything we do (other than our basic financial/accounting principles) was new.

She embraced the challenge. She learned our system (eagerly) and made suggestions that within four days produced the most accurate financial reports in her area of stewardship our company has ever seen. Today she initiated a new process with our Controller that will cause our past due accounts receivable to diminish and possibly disappear. When someone is this eager and excited to excel, and is given the environment to thrive in, miracles transpire.

This is not a rare occurrence for us. Out of 18 developers (yes, our software product developers) only 2 had ever had any serious programming experience before. More typically, these individuals came with prior experience in dealing with inventory. They dealt with playground equipment, electrical or plumbing warehouses and many came from our customer support and training department. They know things about inventory beyond what engineering or even marketing could teach them. The programming skills they were able to learn.

We employ 50 individuals in support who had never worked in customer service before. The majority of our sales people came with little or no prior experience in sales.

Could this approach work for other companies? Consider the following advantages our philosophy gains:

Less-established employees have room for growth. They are fresh and eager, not fatigued or scarred.

They have no bad habits to break; only good habits to learn. You don’t have to un-train them on the paradigms they’ve put in place somewhere else. They can blossom into anything.

They have the right attitude. With attitude, as they say, the aptitude will come.

New blood, whether young or old, can bring fresh ideas and perspectives to old problems. Their enthusiasm can be infectious. Their naiveté is some of the gold that they bring. They’re not afraid to ask, “ Why do you do it this way?” From the most innocent questions, we may go back to our roots and say, “That’s a good point. Why do we do that?” The newest employee may be the one who prompts a positive change.

You can build lifelong relationships. Some of our employees are young; some are older. But when your company is the place an employee has been permitted to blossom and shine, they will love working with you, most likely forever.  Thus, turnover is low.

Many companies will argue that the cost of taking someone on with no experience is prohibitive. We disagree. We employ the concept of agile programming through our entire organization. We use paired leadership and paired teamwork. Each new hire has someone to coach and train him or her, and within a few months, or weeks in some cases, they’re fully up to speed and online.

Could this approach work for you? At a minimum, I hope I’ve given you the reason to consider these possibilities as you make your next set of new hires. I maintain there are many all-star/champion employees within every company’s reach. You just need to recognize their potential, and then create and maintain an environment that allows them to be nurtured, developed and then to shine.

(Source: forbes.com)

1 year ago
#David K Williams #Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur 
From Idea to Business: It’s About Helping Your Customers Succeed

In honor of Entrepreneur Month, here’s a secret for helping your new business succeed. You have an idea for a business – what’s next? Of the key steps in the process—building a solid business plan, choosing a management team, and creating a pro forma budget—here’s the most critical component: The business is not about you. For your business to prosper, you must put your entire focus on helping your customers succeed.

You must determine in advance that there are customers willing to pay for the product or service you have.

As Forbes contributor Alan Hall said last week in his article on funding, you must have customers who are willing to buy what you are creating before your business can move forward, no matter how great you believe your idea will be. Douglas Merrill also expressed it in his April 11 article on Innovation: Your Users Want a New Product That Will Help Them Succeed—Do You?

This is one of the fundamental secrets that have helped my own company, Fishbowl, succeed. We provide software that is the most requested inventory solution for use with QuickBooks.  Larger Forbes 500 organizations use it as a standalone solution for inventory control, answering a very key priority for them—reducing inventory to a bare minimum for just-in-time delivery, which is critical to their own profitability. Smart companies see their inventory as cash.

Our customers dictate our product roadmap, new features, and the timing and priority level of updates. That priority is so widely open we even created a Facebook Group, Fishbowl Ideas, for customers to use in posting their hopes and priorities to us. It’s a wide open forum–you could even view it yourself. For nearly a decade, customers have been the source of some of our greatest ideas.

Listening to customers has forged a two-way partnership strong enough it’s helped our customers to be patient with us even when we’ve made a mistake. For example, an undetected bug caused our website to go down for a period of several hours during our last major product upgrade—we needed to rely heavily on the trust and faith our customers had placed in their partnership with us on that day.

In summary, to take your venture from the idea phase to a viable business you must be able to articulate a powerful value proposition for your product or service that will resonate with the needs of your customers and potential customers.

As our employee Derek Smith said recently, “Understanding your customers’ deepest needs is the key to understanding the value of what you have to offer. Talk to your customers and prospects. Discover their problems and concerns and you will discover your opportunities.”

It may be hard to accept, especially since a high degree of self-confidence is critical to an entrepreneurial personality—but in the final analysis, your success is about your customers. It’s really not about you.

(Source: forbes.com)

1 year ago
#Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur #David K Williams 
Dealing with a Bad Hire? The Case to Teach and Adapt, Rather Than Fire

Last week I wrote a Harvard Business Review column with Mary Michelle Scott, the president of Fishbowl and the other member of my own paired leadership team (more about that concept here.) We talked about the cost of a bad hire and how we use our seven Non-Negotiables to identify and sustain winning players. You can read that article here.

In short, we noted that of nearly 2,700 employers surveyed, 41% estimate a single bad hire cost $25,000. A quarter of respondents estimate a bad choice has cost $50,000 or more, not to mention the demoralizing affect of the issue on other employees.

Are you going to fire me?

Our strategy to avoid bad hires is to look for—and adhere to–the principles we call the seven Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude.

A hire that is going the wrong direction is bad for everybody involved. A dismissal is bad for the morale of the entire team. It’s even worse for the morale and future of the person you fire, who faces one of the most stressful events in human experience.

What should you do and when should you act? We have a radical suggestion: Consider the ways you can teach a struggling employee to grow and adapt, rather than immediately moving to fire.

In our company, when someone makes a mistake, we don’t punish. Mistakes that are learning experiences should be celebrated and cherished for the benefits they create.

In the case of a seeming character lapse, we work with the individual to determine if the situation was perhaps in actuality a mistake. If so, we can move directly to support the learning involved. If not, we’re still not finished – we determine if there might be an opportunity to help the individual identify a blind spot in their thinking and behavior. Is the person receptive to being coached? That growth and improvement could produce a favorable outcome as well.

However, if the situation exposed a fatal character flaw in one or more of our non-negotiable traits, we would encourage the person to leave, and to do so quickly. We’d even assist. (All of our practices are strictly legal. That priority remains first.)

In practice, however, while we’ve had several of these conversations in our company of approximately 100 employees, we’ve never fired an employee for the breach of a Non-Negotiables principle yet.

In fact, our entire turnover for any reason is negligible (less than 2 percent) since we implemented our current program at the beginning of 2011. Granted, we’ve gotten well ahead of the game by making the active search for these characteristics our highest priority during hiring. We consider it even more crucial than direct background and skills.

Time will tell if our own record continues. Still, we maintain—do you really need to fire? Perhaps some mentoring or coaching on your own Non-Negotiable principles could turn around that “bad hire.”

(Source: forbes.com)

1 year ago
#David K Williams #Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur 
How To Boost Your Confidence At Work

All high achievers have two attributes in common. The one you hear about is their self-confidence–the inner sense they can overcome challenges more often than not.

What is often forgotten (or ignored) is that most people who enjoy self-confidence were once plagued by fears born of imagined or actual inadequacies. The truly confident manage to flush much of that self-doubt from their systems.

In this sense, building self-confidence is a two-phase process. The first phase involves purging yourself of self-doubt; in the second, you build up your confidence. It’s like erecting a skyscraper: First you clear the site and lay a solid foundation, then you stack the superstructure. How high you go–how much confidence you muster–is up to you.


Here’s a 10-step plan. What follows isn’t easy, but the struggle is worth the reward.


Phase #1: Eliminating Self-doubt


Step 1. Understand Its Origins

Self-doubt crept into your system as a baby. As toddlers, we all looked at the power our folks had and thought: “Gotta be like them.” This wish isn’t the problem; putting our parents on pedestals is. It’s complex, but from the moment we crave power akin to what we feel our parents have, we continually contrast our sense of self with our ego ideal—an imagined, perfect self, derived from our image of our “super-powerful” parents. Since no one can live up to the standards set by ego ideals, we spend the rest of our lives (to greater or lesser degrees), plagued by doubt. This is irrational, of course, but true.


Step 2. Accept It

There’s a school of psychotherapy—called “acceptance therapy”—based on the insight that admitting you suffer from a problem reduces the distress it can cause. (Conversely, denying the existence of a problem, or beating yourself up for having a flaw, is always debilitating.) Everyone, even superstars, feels like a fake or failure at times. We all have imperfections. Recognizing that those whom you admire most have them, too, is the trick.


Step 3. Fess Up

You’re probably not done with Step 2 yet. Chances are that real acceptance won’t kick in without sharing your anxiety with someone you trust. Think you’ll flub a presentation? Give one to friends. Doubt you command respect? Ask someone you admire (but don’t report to) if all is okay. Worst case is that whomever you confide in will give you negative feedback that you can use to improve. Admitting what plagues you (and then learning that others feel the same way) will help you realize that while self-doubt is vexing, no one dies from it.


Step 4. Look At The Facts

If a claustrophobic person gets stuck in an elevator, it’s hard for them to focus on the certainty that, any minute now, it will be moving again. Fear and panic simply take over. The same tendency is true with self-doubt, but unlike with claustrophobia, a few hard facts can help. Example: If you’ve been promoted somewhat recently, remind yourself why you were tapped. Make a list of all your valuable skills and accomplishments. Read them aloud if you have to. But–and this important–don’t lean on a prepackaged pep talk, a la the old Stuart Smalley character on “Saturday Night Live.” False self-praise will do more damage than self-doubt.


Phase #2: Boosting Self-confidence


Step 5. Know That Nothing Is Inherently Threatening

If possession is nine-tenths of the law, then perception is 100% of the truth. A dreadful event can be made manageable if you tell yourself you have the stuff to cope with it. Remember that.


Step 6. Confront Your Fear…

Okay, for most people, that last Jedi mind trick isn’t enough. Fear, no matter its source, is a formidable adversary. That’s why you have to pick a fight with it. William Jennings Bryan claimed, “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear.” Setbacks are inevitable–suck it up. (For some help there, see How To Bounce Back From Failure.) Resilience is the steel skeleton of self-confidence.


Step 7. …But Choose Your Battles

Specifically, this means taking on challenges that are egosyntonic–that’s shrink-speak for behaviors and feelings that match your view of who you are. It is much easier to boost self-confidence by confronting challenges of your choosing than by tackling what someone else tells you to do. If you pick the battles you engage in because you believe in their aims, your self-confidence will increase along with your winning percentage.


Step 8. Once You Master Something, Stretch

Nothing erodes self-confidence like shooting fish in a barrel. Add more challenge to every task you tackle and your self-confidence will grow in lockstep. Level off for too long and you’ll be on the slick slope to burnout. (For more on that toxic topic, read How To Prevent Burnout.)


Step 9. Never Solicit What You Hope Will Be Confidence-boosting Feedback

“How am I doin’?” may a good question for politicians to ask their constituents, but it’s a bad question for those looking to boost confidence—mainly because it smacks of insecurity and probably won’t lead to honest feedback. For more on the value of constructive criticism (and how to give it, if need be), check out: How To Tell Someone They’re Wrong (And Make Them Feel Good About It.


Step 10. Beware Hubris

In all things, too much is no good. That goes for self-confidence, too. Believe in yourself–just don’t be a jerk about it.

(Source: forbes.com)

2 years ago
#Forbes #Forbes entrepreneur #Steven Berglas 
How To Tell Someone They’re Wrong (And Make Them Feel Good About It)

Here’s what all the touchy-feely folks out there don’t get about constructive criticism: It’s invaluable. The important thing is how you deliver it.

Everyone makes honest mistakes. What most people don’t realize is that embedded in criticism–constructively conveyed–is the wish to help someone get better at what they’re doing.

Any fool can deliver a meaningless “good job.” Being a constructive critic takes thought, effort and compassion. Here are eight tips for getting your good intentions across:

Pick Your Spots. Before you tell someone they’re wrong, recite–three times–Jack Nicholson’s tirade from A Few Good Men: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Then answer the question: “Can he or she handle the truth?”  If the answer is an unqualified ‘Yes,’ let them know they’re wrong, right then and there. If “No,” then keep reading.

Never Qualify. Trying to soften criticism with qualifications like “With all due respect,” “No offense,” or “Don’t take this the wrong way” is slathering poison on an open wound. Avoid this infuriating strategy. The same goes with showering praise early on, only to switch gears and unload with the bad news. At best you’ll come off as disingenuous; at worst, a jerk.

Sugarcoat Donuts. Some blunt but effective advice from James G. Ellis, Dean of the USC Marshall School of Business: “Never try to simultaneously be a good cop and a bad cop,” he says. “You need to deliver your view without beating around the bush.” Ellis’ faculty knows all about this. “Say what the problem is, and if you must amplify your message, say where your data came from,” he adds. “But make it clear that your goal is ‘movement toward constructive change,’ and nothing else.”

Paint A Picture.  Ambiguity is your enemy when telling someone they’re wrong. Be concrete and don’t sermonize, even if the culprit knows he’s a sinner. Your feedback, like his priest’s, won’t afford a single clue about how he can extricate himself from purgatory.

Deal In Facts. Objectivity is crucial to constructive criticism. Remember that the goal is to communicate that a performance standard has not been met. Your sentiments (and certainly your judgments) are irrelevant. Never, ever talk down.

Focus On Behavior, Not Character. It’s easy to lapse into character assassination without knowing it. For example, in saying “You were lazy in preparing this report” you may think you are helping the author improve his writing; instead, it addresses your assumption about the person’s attitude toward their work.

Show Them The Way. Criticism without an action plan is worthless. Give them direction or keep your mouth shut.

Let The Fixes Feel Like Their Own. Chelsea A. Grayson, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Jones Day’s mergers-and-acquisitions practice, is acutely sensitive to saying, “You’re wrong” in a constructive manner. “After I present my approach to someone I solicit feedback to ensure buy-in,” she says. “When I get it, and we concretize a plan, I often characterize it as theirs. If people feel you support their fundamental views and value them, achieving buy-in is easy and natural.”

Mark Twain observed, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” Reform through care–not condemnation.

(Source: forbes.com)

3 years ago
#Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur #Steven Berglas