Fouad Jeryes, talked with Dr. Tausif Malik, Founder-Editor of GCC Region’s First Startup & Entrepreneurship Newspaper ‘gccstartup.news’. Here are the excerpts of the Interview.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Before proceeding on with the Interview, at the outset I would like you to describe yourself so that our readers get acquainted and know you better.
Fouad Jeryes: I am the co-founder and business lead at Alpha Apps Inc., the creators of CashBasha (www.cashbasha.com). I have served as a partner and manager at a number of forward thinking ventures between the United States and MENA region, particularly in Jordan. I was offered and led technical as well as strategic consulting efforts to top tier telecom, software & internet giants such as Google, Microsoft, Verizon & others.
I began my first proper venture during my university days and returned to the MENA region in 2009, with the hope of playing a part in capitalizing on growing opportunities within the tech and consumer online spaces. Alongside his work as Director of Technology and Analytics at Open-Insights, LLC, a data mining and data strategy firm lead by Dr. Usama Fayyad, the former chief data officer at Yahoo! based out of Bellevue, Washington, Fouad served as partner and “Chief Rascal” at the Arab world’s most vibrant content sharing portal, d1g.com and was responsible for business and product development throughout MENA up till 2012.
Initiated by HM King Abdullah II, I was part of the founding team that startup Jordan’s first technology accelerator and incubation program, Oasis 500, where I built and grew the mentor and angel investor networks that facilitated the investment of the first 60 startups in the program. Thereafter, I became the manager of the recommendation engine and data team at BlueKangaroo, a US based big data firm focused on social shopping solutions with offices in Jordan.
Noticing challenges in a growing e-commerce market, in early 2013, I joined forces with longtime friend and engineer Sinan Taifour to build technology and infrastructure within emerging markets to map local payment, logistics, and other service preferences onto international online shopping properties in a manner that is seamless and automated. The mission was to eliminate friction and erase the borders that prevented the overwhelming majority of consumers who are interested in purchasing foreign products and face barriers in doing so. CashBasha was launched in Jan of 2014 and organically serves close to 100,000 packages a year to customers who want to make purchases from Amazon’s US site in MENA.
CashBasha has won 1st place amongst 25,000 companies at the largest gathering of Startups in Eurasia, StartupIstanbul. After hours, to build on efforts in the Jordanian eco-system, I founded a high impact non-profit, which is a free, open, monthly tech gathering titled Amman Tech Tuesdays (AmmanTT) that has drawn in over 40,000 engineers, entrepreneurs, students, business people and everyday enthusiasts over the course of its operation since 2010. All with the aim of encouraging open knowledge exchange and advancing the region’s tech sector.
I am a Business technologist by education and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.Sc. from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth in 2008.
Dr. Tausif Malik: What is your company name and what does it offer?
Fouad Jeryes: We’re an e-commerce technology company that enables shoppers in emerging markets to make purchases from international online shopping sites that do not serve their geographies in a seamless and automated manner with their preferred payment methods, local logistics, clearance and full customer service to their doorstep.
Our mission is to relieve the pains of customers in developing areas by creating disruptive layers of technology, building on new business processes and examining data to catalyze modern shopping services for the rest of the world. Our mandate is to produce efficient, elegant and machine-driven platforms that can be shared with the rapidly growing market of e-tailers so that they increase efficiency, reduce cost and source or sell internationally from the get-go.
Dr. Tausif Malik: What are the challenges you faced in establishing your business?
Fouad Jeryes: The challenges in the MENA region are mostly common to all startups. Since the region is fragmented, and most financial services are exclusive to the country they operate in, and logistics services aren’t as widespread as they could be, many companies are required to have multiple corporate registrations for them to serve target markets. This slows down progress.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Tell us more about your participation at the Startup Istanbul 2016 Challenge and what preparations you did to win the competition.
Fouad Jeryes: Out of the thousands of companies that apply to Startup Istanbul, we were honored and humbled to receive the award. It was a grueling process that required a good deal of preparation and pitch practice. We had to put together a 2 minute pitch that summed up the core of our business, our progress, competitive advantages, traction…etc.
It’s not easy to mush that altogether in a way that covers all points eloquently and keeps the audience engaged. Over the course of the 4 day program, we pitched our business multiple times to an array of different investors and industry experts. This was helpful in quickly identifying what caught the attention of the audience and what I should focus less on. My pitch was good at first, but quickly shaped up to be one of the best I’ve put on at the final. The exposure was incredible and the scale of the event makes it very valuable for any founder in the region to attend.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Jordan is the IT/Startup hub of the Middle East, but majority are websites which have been set up in the aim of targeting consumers in the Arab world with the majority among them being online shops and digital media sites?. Why is that so?
Fouad Jeryes: Jordan graduates a great deal of technical talent. Historically, early investments in this space have nurtured an environment and mindset around capable technical skills. Nevertheless, Jordan as a market is still small. So it is natural for a startup to search to acquire more users from the region. In my view, and to the most sincere of my intentions, Jordan in itself is a startup – that is what makes it special. The dynamics of the country present a hotbed for tech startups to blossom. It’s a resourceful environment where most advice, partners, and support systems are way less than six degrees away from you.
Although KSA might be the major market to serve, and the UAE allows for mature products to seek larger clients, the cost of setting up shop, recruiting talent and proving product viability in Jordan is practical and achievable. With Jordan being a “spring-board” for companies and a place where their headquarters are still based, we mustn’t forget that this part of the world is sadly fragmented, and Jordan is a small market, but companies jump to other areas to reach additional customers. It’s expansion, not desertion.
Dr. Tausif Malik: HM King Abdullah II has been one of the inspiring Leadership in the region to develop the startup ecosystem and his support to establish -Oasis500; as you were one of the team members, can give us some information about the Jordanian Startup Ecosystem and Government’s support?
Fouad Jeryes: In Jordan, our leadership has played an active role in putting the spotlight on entrepreneurs and what they’re capable of. More importantly, and especially after the sale of Maktoob to Yahoo! as the region’s first tech acquisition, the private sector got together under the support of HM and sought out to build support networks, infrastructure, investment networks and additional venues to give the incumbents a boost.
Dr. Tausif Malik : CashBasha.com, is the only disruptive e-commerce site, how did idea came about….?
Fouad Jeryes: We started off as a fin-tech venture to solve the issues that were facing e-commerce companies with Cash On Delivery Payment methods and the failures that came about with them. After garnering interest from potential major e-commerce clients, we found that it would take months before our simple API could be integrated. Sinan and I did not want to wait around, so we decided to repurpose what we’ve built and solve an even larger problem for customers who were looking to shop from foreign websites that did not cater to our emerging geographies.
With over 70% of customers being unbanked in our part of the world, our technology allowed for customers to seamlessly order from Amazon and get it right to their doorsteps and pay in cash. No worries from customs, or lack in local customer service. You just get your items, securely and without any hassles. What was different about us was that we focussed on using technology intelligently to differentiate us from others. We are service oriented, but we aren’t a workforce-heavy service company. We have a fully scalable set-up.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Are there any plans to launch in other regions besides the Middle East?
Fouad Jeryes: We’ve already launched in Pakistan under www.nazdeeq.com and are interested in replicating the same with other regions facing e-commerce challenges. It happens to be that the majority of the world is underserved.
Dr. Tausif Malik: What can be done to increase the fertile startup ecosystem to support budding entrepreneurs?
Fouad Jeryes: Other than the region miraculously erasing it’s borders and businesses getting to serve customers all over, I would say that research & development efforts in MENA are the only thing that can truly allow us to grow and prosper healthily. Innovation and higher quality startups come from investing heavily in developing new products and patenting new technologies.
Dr. Tausif Malik: Finally, a message to budding Jordanian entrepreneurs?
Fouad Jeryes: Prepare For Mental Strife And Learn To Embrace It. The entrepreneurial community will always push and promote others to start their own companies, solve problems in their local markets, raise money, grow and eventually try to make it. There’s been a level of “celebration” towards entrepreneurship over the past decade or so, but nevertheless it’s an incredible learning experience.
One that, at least I find, will teach you more about yourself than anything else. It’s an emotional journey that’s exhilarating and although you know it might a challenge, it’s the “type” of difficulty that you will never be able to anticipate – no matter what you do.
At tough times you’ll question yourself, your skills, your existence, and you’ll be surprised by your vulnerabilities. You may give up on much more than the company you’re working on in the process. You may find yourself burned out and depressed out of your mind. Sadly, too little talk is conducted about the darker side of what you may experience while starting a company because it’s a chapter that most don’t like to remember, but if you understand what the condition is and how to harness it, you’ll continue to be comfortable with yourself and can conduct the rest of your life accordingly.
You put up with the condition and know it is part of your growth and discovery process. In the end you’ll find that all of this should have no affect on your sanity, well-being or having a full life. Focussing on that is the key to being calm and Too bad most of us can only learn that retroactively, but experience is always the best teacher.