Egypt 2.0: The Revolution Continues
It is equally unsurprising, checking in a year later, that the momentum of entrepreneurship in Egypt, if anything, has increased amid the ups and downs of the macro economy and political uncertainty. “Generation Z” has come of age in Egypt like everywhere else, never knowing a time without access to information technology. They have at their fingertips communication and collaboration tools that allow them to innovate with friends from around the country, the region and the world. The cost of starting a business can be merely thousands of dollars in Egypt, and an ecosystem of angel and venture capital is rising in the region, as well as coming from Europe and the United States. Dozens of start-up competitions, hundreds of hackathons, thousands of new start-ups later, the entrepreneurs we have reconnected with believe there is no turning back.
No story is more encouraging than that of Amr Ramadan, whose company Vimov caught our attention last year. We were impressed that we were both users of Ramadan’s first consumer app, Weather HD, then the fastest and largest selling weather app in the Apple Store, with over 400,000 downloads at $.99 a pop — not knowing it had been built by him and three young guys in Alexandria, Egypt. Egypt-based venture capital firm Sawari Ventures — which has since launched one of the most successful incubators in the region, Flat6Labs — subsequently invested in Vimov in the midst of the turmoil of last spring without hesitation.
How are things today? “We are approaching our five millionth download,” Amr told us last week, “half of which are coming from the US. We also released Weather HD for the Mac, which stayed at the number two top-selling spot in the States during its week of launch.” They just released their most ambitious version on July 31 in the iTunes App Store, which is visually stunning and offers new features like “MultiForecast,” allowing users to see weather information from more than one weather provider. They have grown from three to 30 employees, all engineers from Amr’s home town in Alexandria, Egypt.
Navigating historic uncertainty was not easy, Ramadan notes. “We tried to take it slow in terms of growth after the protests of January 25, expecting the dust would settle in a few weeks. It quickly became apparent it wouldn’t settle down soon, and it wouldn’t be clear fast enough where the politics or economy would go.” Facing too many questions and scenarios, Vimov did what great entrepreneurs do around the globe: Hope for the best, plan for the globally competitive business they dreamed of, and execute. “Let me be clear,” he smiles, “[Revolution] causes tremendous pressure on top of that of simply being a start-up. One is always re-evaluating, guessing what could happen next, and building backup plans. But focus and execution is the only way; slow is not an option in the technology business.”
And execute they have. With growth rates that would be coveted by many in Silicon Valley, Ramadan has pushed his team to constantly redefine what a great weather application can be. Proud of their unique, graphic visual interface, they immediately improved navigation between the many cities their average viewers monitor. “We just launched Quickview, which shows weather animations of several locations all at once in a simple, elegant way,” he beams.In the new release, Ramadan believes he is displaying his broader ambitions. “We are trying to set the standard on how a weather application — in fact, any useful consumer information app — should look like. Weather HD is only the beginning, and will be the base of a series of consumer apps beyond weather that we hope will change a lot of things in the mobile space.”
But can Egypt and the Middle East really play with the exciting innovation coming not only from the United States, but Europe, Israel, India, Asia and Latin America? For Ramadan, the now accepted precedent of innovation coming from all corners of the globe, even places once ignored, only suggests things could move faster in the Middle East. “Technology here is at its infancy, but that means there are opportunities around every corner,” he believes. “The reason why this huge market of some 400 million users has been under-served was that the young people were not encouraged to innovate, not from anyone around them, and they themselves had little hopes that a dream can come true.” He believes that this way of thinking has been forever shattered in the last year. “The number one motivator of great engineers is having great problems for them to solve,” he speaks as an engineer himself. “I have a world-class team at a fraction of the cost of what we could get in Silicon Valley — but we all love Alexandria, make great livings here, and are proud of building great products made in Egypt.” Thousands of other start-ups, he notes, have concluded the same all over the Middle East.
Neither Seth Goldstein nor Chris Schroeder are investors in Vimov.
Seth Goldstein @seth is a San Francisco-based angel investor and chairman of turntable.fm. Christopher M. Schroeder @cmschroed is a Washington, D.C.- and New York-based angel investor and former CEO of the online content and social platform start-up healthcentral.com, which he sold last January. He is writing a book on innovation and start-ups in the Middle East.