This interview was held by Burak Buyukdemir and the article written by Nardine B. M’barek, the contributor author at Startup Turkey. This is part of a series of interviews with top venture funds in Europe by Startup Turkey.
An Interview with Abou Saab
Sami Abou Saab is currently the CEO of Speed, Lebanon’s first ecosystem-backed startup accelerator. He has been occupying this role since July 2015 and during his tenure, he officially launched Speed and recruited five batches with a total of 34 startups to accelerate. Part of his role, he has been mentoring startups in Lebanon and the MENA region and helped them grow in their early stages. Sami has more than 14 years of experience in technology, both in startups and big tech firms. Prior to [email protected], he worked at Skype and Microsoft Corporation in the US, covering strategy, marketing, and channel modeling. In Silicon Valley, Sami started his own company, MobiLock, which was voted as the best startup in the Berkeley MBA program entrepreneurship class. Sami holds a Bachelor of Engineering from the American University of Beirut and an MBA from Berkeley-Haas and London Business School.
Speed is a tech accelerator based out of the Beirut Digital District that empowers software startups to succeed and scale globally through a 3-month mentorship-driven program, $30,000 in funding, and a lifelong network of mentors and partners.
The accelerator offers software startups $30,000 in financial support, an intensive 3-month mentorship-driven program that includes in-house mentorship, mentorship from experts, workshops, access to a network of investors, and free working space at BDD, in exchange for 5% equity in common shares. Startups also receive lifelong support from a network of 100+ local and international mentors, the opportunity to be sponsored by Speed for a 2-week immersion program in Silicon Valley in partnership with LebNet, technology perks worth $1M+ through the accelerator’s partnership with the Global Accelerator Network (GAN), and a fast-track referral to the 47 Techstars programs around the world.
When it comes to their deal flow, Speeds usual players are locally and regionally, they try to get as many referrals as possible since one of the main sources of high-quality startups are referrals. Apart from that, right now they are in the middle of their application process and campaign which is a campaign running on different social media platforms including LinkedIn, Facebook, and the program’s website where people and startups could submit their applications. After the applications’ submissions, they are reviewed internally and then shortlisted. They organize rounds of interviews for the shortlisted startups and for the potential ones who might join the program. The process through which they choose the startups that are going to be part of the program is a little delicate since they ask mentors and experts in the field to study each startup’s potential and whether it has the chance to be successful in the future or not.
Red flags of Speed
When it comes to their ‘red flags’, the startup’s team might be the first criterion according to which the startup itself might be chosen or not. Being very important, the team needs to be a dynamic one with members that have been together for a considerable period of time, added to the fact that they need to know how to work with each other in order to make things eventually work through main teamwork and understanding each other’s ideas and thoughts. The chemistry between team members is very important and is a factor on which Speed’s team base their choices of which Startups to add to the program. The second red flag would be the degree of defensiveness of the startup’s team members and whether they are coachable or not. The team needs to be willing to take feedback from the coaches and listen to them constantly so that they are able to give them tips and guidance in order to help them become successful and achieve great things in the future. Another red flag might arise if the startup claims that there is no competition. Obviously, competition and market are mandatory for every startup; the absence of a competitor in the market could simply lead to a failure, and this could be the result of a mistake that the team made by not looking for potential competitors in the market.
As investors, they try to look for validated products that have at least a prototype that has been validated with some customers. These are preferred over startups that are still an idea to be realized. However, if the idea that turned into a startup is owned by a really great team who are ready to work hard and take all the feedback that they can receive in order to succeed, then the Speed team are ready to take their chances with them. In the matter of fact, some of their best-performing teams have been taken at the idea stage, they were able to execute their product really well, which makes the ability to execute well a primary criteria for each team since, as Abou Saab said, as long as a team can execute well, then that is what they care about the most.
Feedbacks to rejected startups
Abou Saab told that they often give very honest feedback, it could be that the startup does not meet the requirements that Speed wishes to find in a team. Another reason for turning down a startup might be the fact that Speed’s program does not fit the Startup itself, which means that they would not be able to help them much. They are also very strict about having teams who are able to understand technology and build their own platform since they are mainly technology startups’ accelerator. A full-time commitment is a big factor when it comes to selecting startups as well since you cannot build a startup while having another job on the side.
Advise to startups
Abou Saab advises startups to be themselves and to feel confident about what they are doing and how they are doing it. They also need to be open when it comes to the feedback of the investors whether it is positive or negative, which could help them fix some things.