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Required Reading: Startup Rising

As my friends and family know, at the moment I’m painfully behind in most aspects of my personal life – my unread gmails recently hit 4 digits, my to-do list is embarrassingly outdated, even my blog posts here have been delayed (related: don’t expect time management-related posts from me anytime soon…) – but what troubles me most is how far behind I’ve fallen on my preferred reading list. I used to be a voracious reader, loving how a few pages can quickly transport you to a new place or spark excitement in heretofore sleeping neurons. Whether modern or classic, fact or fiction, books are the key to keeping the brain well-fed, creative, and curious.

I always wonder – “Why did you work in that company / sector / country? And how did you get there?” I recently huddled down with a book at the top of my list – Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, by Christopher Schroeder. The book was published in 2011, but I had the opportunity to meet Chris in 2015, and since then learn more about his experiences that led him on his path from US-based entrepreneur to investor and mentor in the Middle East in what is truly an inspiring read.

Admittedly I am biased because of my friendship with Chris, but even from the first pages – a forward by legendary Marc Andreessen – it is clear this particular book is more thoughtful and more personal than most coverage of the region. Unlike many publications covering the “exotic” nature of entrepreneurship in emerging markets, this one does so incorporating decades of first-hand experience, as a live witness to watching the emergence of infrastructure, political involvement, and more. 

Chris cites 3 main trends that support entrepreneurship in the Middle East specifically: 1) That technology now provides transparency and connectivity which can connect entrepreneurs with capital, consumers, partners, and more; 2) That the past 20+ years of globalization in marketing investment has made investors more adept at understanding local markets and risk factors; and 3) That technology can unearth huge possibilities in terms of market demands – whether individuals, businesses, or others – previously unnoticed.

I don’t want to give away too much detail, but know that the book has countless examples of entrepreneurs from around the region, admissions of Silicon Valley “tunnel vision”, and honest observations of the strengths and opportunities that entrepreneurs – and investors – face in an emerging market like the Middle East (indeed, even saying “the Middle East” oversimplifies the diversity of culture, resources, and economies therein).

Perhaps what resonated with me the most is how, at the end of the day, entrepreneurs from San Francisco to Samsun actually have much more in common than they are different. The same energy to create something; the same drive to solve a problem; the same willingness to adhere the emotional rollercoaster of success and failure that make startup life so unlike anything else. 

So i suggest Startup Rising – not only for the incredibly poignant vignettes of entrepreneurs, or the reservations of judgment and measured observations of the author, but also for a gratifying moment of – “oh you too?” Day to day trying to create something new is difficult and often lonely – so to see the many similarities that entrepreneurs grapple with across borders that tie them together is actually inspirational and empowering. It also forces the reader to think about what the future holds – what will the impact of political and economic reform be? What does a free press have to do with finding VC investment? When should an entrepreneur run to the Bay Area versus stay at home? – this book certainly forces the reader to think through these difficult questions in a new and more nuanced light.

23 May 2016

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