Startup Bahrain is honored to hold an exclusive interview with His Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin AlWaleed bin Talal, one of the region’s most prominent investors and entrepreneurs. We talk to the Prince about his work, life, his father, and interests.
Prince Khaled, tell us about your beginnings.
I was born in the United States, and lived there for a while before moving back to Riyadh, where I attended high school. As a young adult, I spent time working in New York, Riyadh, and Geneva.
When you look at companies like Twitter or Dropbox, what about them do you think is missing from companies in this region?
What I think is that some of these companies have had a stroke of luck. It’s not necessarily innovation. Let’s look at the example of WhatsApp. There’s WeChat, Line, and a ton of others. Some are even more interesting than WhatsApp, but WhatsApp picked up faster, and people resonated with it better. It got more exposure. It came out at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way. A few more factors played a part, but it had nothing to do with innovation. More luck than innovation, I’d say.
What’s missing in the region is structure, from government institutions. We don’t lack anything that the west has other than the proper structure for entrepreneurs, their ideas, and startups. There’s no structure to protect entrepreneurs so that ideas, like the ones from abroad, can flourish here (I speak specifically for Saudi Arabia). I come across so many interesting ideas and opportunities, from the e-mails I get, to messages on LinkedIn or Twitter. The ideas are there, the spirit is there, but the structure isn’t. Having the right kinds of protections for entrepreneurs is vital. Individuals need protection against going down when their companies do. Entrepreneurs should put some skin in the game, and take the risk. Of course, that’s the beauty of it; but it usually boils down to how well the judge slept last night and what’s Sharia-compliant. There need to be laws to protect entities as opposed to people only.
People are also part of the problem. They need to be responsible and exercise that responsibility. When they lose, they need to understand that they’re also losing other people’s money, too. They shouldn’t demand money just because they’ve come up with a great idea. That’s the problem: everyone’s looking for millions upon millions. Most people don’t really need that much to start out.
Unlike others, I didn’t start out with nothing. That puts me in a unique position where what I say may not be taken seriously. Thankfully, I grew up with a father who, as one of the wealthiest men in the world, could provide me with everything I require. I can’t claim the luxury of telling others what they need, or what they should need. I listen, though; I grew up listening to people and their stories. I learned what it’s like losing money, going bankrupt, and going through many failed attempts.
As an investor, I need to know you’re risking something, too—as much as the money I’m probably risking. I need to be comfortable that way. I’m not asking people to risk their lives and homes. Though many have, many can’t.
The hunger is there. Look at Saudi Arabia: what can kids do nowadays? There isn’t much. There are coffee shops, some malls, but what else? If no malls, then what? Driving around? What do they do instead? They resort to their creativity. You’ve seen how creative Saudi kids can be on YouTube. It’s fascinating.
Ali: They need some channel to express themselves.
Ahmed: Definitely! YouTube is open and free with no restrictions.
Exactly. You give people the freedom to breathe, and they will. Creative minds need the space to be creative. The platform is what’s missing. There needs to be a platform to draw the path for people to develop apps, start companies, come up with amazing ideas, and also to fail. Their success is the country’s success. This is why I think funds like Baader and Aramco’s are great; but that’s not enough. They need to lobby for a better structure, a better platform. A stronger foundation. Money isn’t always the answer.
Ahmed: Do you think one is dependent on the other? Can they both exist or happen at the same time?
Bader: I don’t think it’s the chicken or the egg thing, is it?
Well, let’s take a look at Baader and Aramco. Baader is owned by the government. Aramco is the government. It’s the backbone of Saudi Arabia. If those two, as a start, lobbied for, let’s say, a free zone, things would be better. I don’t want to be within Saudi laws. Many don’t. Many can thrive outside these limiting laws. There needs to be some forward thinking going on. Throwing money at things will not solve them. We need a supportive environment, with a good legal framework that develops entrepreneurs and sustains their growth. Allow them to put in the risk they want, and thrive or lose the way they need.
Bader: Do you think the lobbying mindset exists in this region?
I think it does, and it can happen; but there’s no desire for it to happen because people don’t see the need for it. If you want people to thrive, they need to have the right tools. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. A free zone has been set up elsewhere, and it has worked since. One in Riyadh, or Jeddah for example, wouldn’t harm anyone. It would be regulated by the government through external entities.
Do you think being in this region helps nurture one’s interest in entrepreneurship or startups?
This is actually one of my passions, and I do think this region has made strides in that direction, but there is so much more that needs to be done if we want to create our own version of a Silicon Valley. Startups provide the energy, vitality and dynamism essential to any growing economy, whether developed or developing. We need to find ways to provide entrepreneurs with more support and encouragement as they navigate the vulnerable early stages, and seek to scale up. A number of structural changes, such as legal reforms, would go a long way to fostering a more vibrant startup culture.
There is certainly a role for government, but we need to create an environment that encourages risk.
What was it like starting KBW Holding?
KBW Holding is my primary business focus at this point. We are
In fact, the concept of KBW Holding evolved based on the recognition that interdependencies do exist between diverse companies and their growth, which could be greatly enhanced if their efforts were synchronized.
Given your interest in technology, what motivated you to invest in a 150-year-old Italian company that manufactures cranes?
If you look at Saudi Arabia today, there is so much building going on. You can’t do construction—at least the kind of construction in Saudi Arabia today—without cranes. Between diverse companies and their growths, Raimondi is a 150-year-old crane company with the most durable equipment you’ll find anywhere in the world. I am a believer in globalization, and you can’t build new economies without cranes. Raimondi is a company my father would invest in. One of his credos is to look at companies with a long track record and a mission that is easy to understand.
How do you build a positive company culture?
I give my employees a lot of responsibility, but I also make it a point to interact closely with each of them, to know what’s going on in their lives and to collaborate in solving challenges. My approach isn’t hierarchical, and I think that is key to building a culture people want to contribute to, a workplace where people want to come and do their best.
We assume you get a lot of requests from businesses or startups looking for investors. How do you manage those requests? What would they have to do to get your attention?
We get a lot of proposals, so we follow a simple system that is really rooted in doing our homework. Every proposal is directed to a business development manager, which makes a previous analysis of the prospective company. After one or two rounds of discussions with the business development team, the company proposal is presented to the Board. Out of 100 companies, on average three are solid proposals, two will be eliminated during due diligence, and one will come out as a strong partner. For us to enter into a deal, we must see a proven track record, a solid executive team, a clear edge against the competition, and the ability to scale, along with an above-average return potential. In other words, the company must dazzle us, both technically and financially.
When working with the companies you’ve recently invested in abroad, what did you learn that you weren’t expecting?
Despite the fact that we live in a global economy, there are still certain aspects that are particular to either the company or the country in which you are investing. This underscores the importance of having an excellent research team that helps us to fully understand the nuances of each market in which we invest.
Can you tell us about your investments in Bahrain, or in the region?
I do have a few in this region. In Bahrain, we started an investment bank about six years ago, no more than seven. It was called UIB, short for Universal Investment Bank. We then changed it to Seera Investment Bank. It’s an investment bank focusing on Sharia-compliant structures. It’s doing well; we’re doing very well. We had a change in management recently, and we’ve been very successful with our new chairman and CEO, Abdulla Al-Janahi, who has been around for the past six years.
In Saudi Arabia, we have a company called MISC, or Mobile Innovative Solutions Company. When it was founded, it was an SMS-based application company, if you remember the days when you’d send a code to a specific number and get back all kinds of fun stuff, like the weather, ringtones, or the news. At the time, we had 500,000 subscribers. It wasn’t free; it was a paid service. It was a great thing to have, and people were happy about it. Now we’re moving into the digital app world, slowly moving away from our old ways. Ringtones are still a big thing in Saudi Arabia, so we’re still trying to cater to that market.
We have several things going on in Dubai. We started a holding company called KBW Holding that’s planning on investing in various sectors. We’re starting with engineering and construction. You’ve heard about the recent acquisition of the 150-year-old Italian crane company, Raimondi Cranes. We’re setting up Raimondi Cranes’ offices in Bahrain, by the way. We’re planning on expanding our crane business throughout the Middle East. We’re also doing real estate investments in Dubai. We have some investments in Brazil, as well, through our Dubai arm. The economy in Brazil is growing, and focusing on construction, engineering, and petrochemicals over there makes sense.
We also have a company in Dubai, a private equity firm, Levant Capital, which is about eight to ten years old. We closed our first fund around two years ago. It was around 100 million dollars, a smaller fund compared to others. We’re entering our second fund now, and finalizing the first. We’re investing in retail first, a supermarket chain called Al-Raya in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s eastern province. We also closed a deal with another crane company, not Raimondi Cranes, in the UAE. Oh, and we also closed a deal with a fascinating energy company that we sold off a few years ago. They provide electricity to third-world countries–I hate that term–that are victims of natural disasters. Big ships pass by, dock, and roll out huge cables all the way into the cities, giving electricity to areas that are in need of it. A very interesting idea.
There was also a business I was trying to work through: livestock import. For ethical reasons, though, I didn’t want to get into that. That’s not something I wanted to get into. Get into investing in, I mean. Exploring the idea, telling you why I’m not into that, is fine. But there are certain lines I will not cross, and livestock, to me, is one of them.
How about your investments in the technology sector?
Well, let’s see. There’s this technology news website, which I invested and partnered with about three years ago, called TechnoBuffalo. We’ve grown from 300,000 page views a month to about 15 million total, over three years.
We haven’t penetrated the Arab world the way I want to yet. Most of our growth is in Europe and the United States. Some in Asia, but not as much as we’d like. We’re thinking of expanding a lot more by producing Arabic content: possibly starting out with translating the content we currently have, instead of producing unique content, just to see how well it works. Obviously, we’ll have to figure out how to deal with the website’s name in Arabic. That might be a problem (laughs).
Mazin: That will definitely be an issue!
Bader: I don’t think any other tech news websites have done something like this—translating their content into Arabic?
Not really. There are unique ones that have started in and from the Middle East: Maktoob and the Abu Nawaf Group. They each have their own thing going on, along with a few others I can’t recall; but there isn’t one that has translated their content into Arabic.
We also had this investment in Kuwait: a credit card processing company, about 8 years ago, called UPS, short for Universal Payments Service. We failed with this one. It’s still going on, but it’s not as lucrative as it should be. We’re trying to exit that investment. We had a great team of investors, very good friends of mine, and a really supportive company. The problem was that credit card processing requires volume, and we were not able to attain the volume we needed. It’s been slow but steady growth, but we can easily imagine how it could stop working out.
Do you feel that startups in this region are getting enough attention in the media? Do you think the absence of media exposure about startups is slowing down progress?
It certainly has a lot to do with exposure, yes. The media plays a huge role in the success or failure of a company, regardless of how it
portrays itself to its audience. For example, I think Thamena on MBC is one of the most successful programs around. This region needs to shed light on what’s missing, and what’s wrong.
I personally don’t care much about the news, in the traditional sense, at least. I might check Google News every now and then, but never CNN or Fox. I don’t want to know who killed who, and what country threatened what other country. I’m not interested in that. It sells, but I’m just not into it. Startups are good news. Entrepreneurs usually result in good stories to tell. People don’t want to hear it—that’s the problem. Those who do are just fed bad stories instead.
Look at programs like Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den. Those are amazing. I love them more than Game of Thrones. They’re real and raw. Five real entrepreneurs who started from zero, going through it all. Those are the ones I respect. I want to hear their stories, their input.
Ahmed: This is what we’re trying to tell the world. We need to have the likes of Dragon’s Den on TV today. The new generations need to be exposed to it. The impact might not be immediate, but generation after generation, it makes a big difference. I can speak for myself: Open Sesame, back in the day, shaped who I am now. Did we forget how Majed magazine influenced us?
Who doesn’t remember its song!?
Ahmed: It taught generations. Kids today are not exposed to the same things anymore.
Ali: We have a lot more distractions now. It’s not the same anymore.
Bader: The good ones are gone…
Exactly! Having programs like that might not interest everyone, but it will certainly capture the attention of those with the entrepreneurial mindset.
Ali: It starts at home. The educational apps I download for my kids really change them. I see the difference. We can’t play all the time.
The issue is that the old school mentalities are still dominant: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” That doesn’t work anymore. The system is not completely broken yet, but it’s getting there. We need new ways of thinking, new tools for thinking. The younger generations need more tools, and more power.
How much influence did His Royal Highness, Waleed Bin Talal, your father, have on your professional career?
During the 1990s, I traveled a lot with my father. That was around the time before his investment in Citibank. I traveled with him on all his business trips. We’d cover five states a day. From one meeting to the other, I saw how he conducted business. I learned a lot.
I’m proud of doing certain things and making certain decisions in the same way my father would. I reflect, and ask myself if it’s something he’d do. Most of my decisions are exactly what my father would have done. That, I’m proud of.
I learned patience from my father. He always told me to take my time. If there’s no time for something, close the door. I’ve definitely passed on some great opportunities, and I’m glad I did. It’s never a good enough reason to rush. It’s always fishy when someone tries to rush you into things.
Two: do your homework. For my Raimondi Cranes deal, it took me a while to decide—about two years to make the decision to go ahead. I needed to understand the legal requirements, what they do, and everything else.
My father taught me to invest in companies that matter, ones with solid histories; and better yet, those with clear futures. At the time my father invested in Twitter, the company was a startup. It had a clear future, though. Everyone knew where it was going. It was the center of social media: not Facebook or Foursquare, but Twitter. There are other ways to measure success now. You need to see where it’s going. When a country’s government, like that of Turkey, decides to shut down a service like Twitter, you know how powerful Twitter is.
I learned that negotiating is important. There’s always a better deal. If there isn’t any space for negotiation, walk away.
Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned with him. I’ve made serious mistakes throughout my career, and those were mostly the ones where I didn’t follow his advice. I was young, eager, and naïve: never thinking about the process, but the bottom line instead.
That being said, I can’t speak enough about how much I’ve learned from my mother and the way it shaped me. I like to think that humility is something I’ve learned from her. She smiled at everyone and managed to know everyone around her by name: the people who work with her, at home, by name. Those simple things are lovely, and really shaped the way I deal with people, personally and professionally.
Would you mind telling us more about your failures?
They were great learning experiences, to be honest. I’m still feeling some of the pain left from those failures.
Most of them have been sorted out by now. We could have had better checks and balances at the time to avoid some of our failures, perhaps better corporate governance too.
Handing off responsibilities without accountability was one of those big mistakes. My father always used to say, “Trust, but verify.” I honestly thought I could trust people just because they told me I should (in hindsight, that really doesn’t sound like a good idea, does it?); needless to say, that didn’t work out too well.
One failure involved a company we started about 12-13 years ago, Asia Oil & Gas: a petrochemical cleaning company to clean tankers and whatnot. They had patented their cleaning technology. Again, trust and verify. It didn’t happen. I asked to see the patent, but was always asked to wait. In the meantime, they just wanted their money. Back then, I didn’t have enough money. My father told me it was a bad idea. I was young and dumb, and wanted to do things my way and prove to him that I could do this, too. I funded the company, got the patent, ran a check, and the patent wasn’t real. It was using technology used by others. I lost everything. I lost all that money.
Bader: Did you get the “I told you so”?
I got it! I deserved it! It was a fantastic learning experience. Not so much for my father. No father wants to see his son fail. Yes, I got burned, from that and from my father. It was a lot of money back then; it wasn’t just change.
What, other than profitability, is something you focus on when it comes to investing?
For me, profitability is number one.
If it’s not a business, then there have to be alternative motives. For example, if you’re getting into media, then one of your motives could be exposure. You’re trying to expose a certain kind of truth, or at least what you perceive to be the actual truth. I’m not into that market, really. I focus on profitability and how to make my money back. Non-profits are another story.
Looking at startups, I need to know my exit strategy. How do I make the money I invested back? Do I sell? Go public? We’re entering an age in which the number of users outweighs profitability. Is that right? A Warren Buffet would say no. An AlWaleed bin Talal would say yes. An investment of $300 million in Twitter is worth more than a billion now. These are very different schools of thought. I lean toward the latter.
What was Steve Jobs like?
I met Jobs when I was still a Windows user. I didn’t understand
what Apple was all about—what they did, their philosophy, their products. I met him during one of our trips with my father.
We met around 2003, I believe. We finished a meeting with AOL’s CEO, coming from several other meetings, from suit to suit, then finally to Cupertino. Someone walked in wearing a black turtleneck and jeans. It was a little odd, but I resonated with him. I was born in California. I loved how he looked. He introduced himself. He was very passionate and secretive. He actually showed us the first Mac Pro, before it was released. It was amazing. I wanted to know more about this man, more about his company. I started reading and researching about him and Apple. We met him a few years ago, a little before he passed away. It was an eye-opener, really. He was very secretive; even my father, as a big investor, knew nothing. My father invested in Steve Jobs more than he did in Apple. He respected him greatly.
Bader: So, he’s not the dictator portrayed in the media?
Well, the media might know him differently, but his way worked. He demanded the best, and got the best. He hired the best, too. He had a lot of talented people around him. You saw perfection in those working under him. They strived for it. Was he a dictator? He could be called one, but was that bad? Not necessarily. It worked.
Bader: Do you have anything to say about Tim Cook?
I met Cook at WWDC last year. He’s quiet, reserved, and extremely thoughtful about every word coming out of his mouth. He’s a brilliant guy. He demonstrates this southern graciousness. Very accommodating, too. Jon Rettinger, from TechnoBuffalo, and I sat with Tim one-on-one to ask him a few questions. Typically, CEOs listen more than they talk. Cook was engaging, instead, much more giving than we’d expected. I was honored. I’m hoping to meet him again soon.
Bader: Got your WWDC tickets for this year?
I sure hope I do! Not sure yet, but I hope so!
How do you deal with stress as an entrepreneur?
Not well. I’m a reserved person. I don’t show people I’m stressed. I usually read, stay home, and meditate. I practice a lot of self-reflection. I need to know what went wrong or right, and how is it stressing me out. I over-analyze at times. I got that from my father. He is very meticulous, very detail-oriented. Almost obsessive, I’d say. I also exercise and enjoy driving. I used to let out my stress through junk food, though.
Ahmed: Before you became a vegan?
Bader: Was that recent, by the way?
Well, not really. That happened a few years ago. I used to eat a ton of junk food.
Ali: When I’m stressed, I eat more. Is it more difficult when you’re a vegan?
When my stress was at an all-time high, I found that eating was a way to feel good for about an hour or two. My cholesterol at the time was around 330, and I weighed about 110kg. The doctor prescribed some medicine, and it had some side effects—until he prescribed Choresto. Six months later, my cholesterol dropped to 220, and that was great. I asked when I could stop taking the medicine, and the doctor said never. It was forever. I thought that was crazy. I started reading around, and in roughly January, I decided to go vegan. I went to the doctor much later, and he thought I looked good. My cholesterol was down to 180. He thought it was what he prescribed. He demanded that I continue with it. I told him that wasn’t it, and that it wasn t going to happen anymore (laughs).
Ali: Do you miss the junk food?
Not really. I’m completely over it.
Ali: Are you bothered by those who eat meat around you?
Not at all! I go to steakhouses with friends. Not bothered at all.
Bader: What’s a typical meal for you?
Well, let’s start with breakfast. I usually have a giant smoothie with bananas, dates, berries, and some other ingredients.
Ali: Is it like that ‘Reboot Your Life’ thing?
Yes! I started with that, actually. I actually got in touch with Joe Cross when I first started. He’s a good friend now.
Ahmed: How about lunch?
I typically eat a giant salad. Lots of greens and veggies. I get my proteins through beans, lentils, and some seeds, too. For dinner, I usually cook with tofu. I cook a lot on my own. For pasta, for example, I cook buckwheat pasta, and substitute cream sauce with tofu sauce. Some of my friends can’t even tell the difference.
Being a vegan really changed my life. I’ei started loving the earth more. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to invest in livestock. It’s about sustainability. I care about that, and Saudi Arabia should, too.
Ahmed: Our food habits are relatively new. Having this much food available anywhere, at any time, changes things.
Bader: Of course, it’s also about convenience. Healthy food is inconvenient for most. It’s much easier to get something from McDonald’s than to learn how to cook, choose what to cook, and make yourself some healthy food.
Exactly! I agree. I had that mentality before. Some people can change; others can’t. Take a few minutes of your time to cook something. It might really change things for you.
Bader: That’s true. Whenever I did cook, what I ended up eating tasted better, and I felt good. It felt like a personal achievement. I made something for myself that I’m now enjoying.
Mazin: Bader wants to find something he can cook in two minutes. Other than eggs, he’ll find nothing.
What’s on your iPhone’s home screen?
I love this question! My home screen is inspired by Brandon Russell’s home screen. He’s a good friend from TechnoBuffalo. I started doing the same. It’s an empty screen with no apps. The dock has four apps I frequently use, and that’s it. I like to leave it clean.
Bader: The guys make fun of me for having a clean desktop! Clean desk, clean mind.
Mazin: Sometimes you don’t have the time or luxury to organize that way.
Bader: Organizing takes five minutes, Mazin. There’s no excuse.
What’s going on with Tesla? Are you bringing it to Saudi?
I met Elon Musk a while back. We went to Tesla, their headquarters. His philosophy is much like Apple’s. They own their own stores, with hardly any middlemen. No dealers or franchising opportunities, either. Is the Middle East on his radar? I’m not sure, really. I tried to get it here, though. I wasn’t very successful. I’ve driven the car, and I love it. It’s the only car I drive when I’m there. I’m getting one, for myself, brought to Saudi Arabia. I absolutely love it. It’s full of technology, and gets better with time, with software updates—much like your phone. Very remarkable.
The car charges in around 30 minutes with the charging stations they’ve built. You could grab a coffee, and your car would be charged by the time you got back. I dream of seeing something between Apple and Tesla. I’ve heard rumors, and I’ve read Musk’s statements. I’d like to see Apple buy Tesla one day. They pursue the same philosophies.
Bader: Is he some sort of crazy evil genius?
He really is a genius. I was in awe meeting him. He’s passionate about Mars, rockets, physics, solar power, and Tesla. Very passionate and detailed.
Bader: What about his magnetic train?
I think he worked on something like that. He drew up the solution for it, the concept, how to execute it, and left it for others to work on. He didn’t get into it. He solves problems in unique ways. I am very fortunate to have met him.
What have you learned covering the biggest tech stories as a partner at Technobuffalo, one of the web’s leading tech websites for the past several years?
I was following the technology sector way before I invested in TechnoBuffalo. I learned that it’s an ever-evolving environment. You need to change, evolve, and adapt, continuously. TechnoBuffalo helped me learn the journalistic side of technology, the ethics of reporting; what to do and what not to do. Seeing how John runs the company taught me a lot.
Last year, we got the opportunity to report something no other tech news website could regarding a leaked Apple product. We decided that our morals were more important than our page views. We gave Tim Cook a call, and gave it back. John and I pride ourselves in doing that. It was the right thing to do. One quick FaceTime call, and both John and I were on board with the idea.
Bader: Has the product been released yet?
Yes, of course! You can guess what it is by now.
Mazin: Did working with technology encourage you to invest more into it?
It made me think of how TechnoBuffalo should grow. Not necessarily to invest in technology, but in what I was interested in, at least. I was already in touch with technology, way before I was investing in it. TechnoBuffalo is currently the biggest tech website doing video and written content combined. We shadow CNet and Engadget when it comes to that. We’re growing, and we’re growing organically.
Bader: Do you guys cover WWDC?
Yes, we do. We were there last year, and we’ll be there this year. Our next big thing is covering more Apple events.
Do you think this region has enough VC companies for startups? Does it lack any?
A lot of people might hate this. There are zero venture capital companies in the Middle East. I don’t care who says otherwise. You’re not a VC, not by the true definition of it, at least. We need the necessary protections for good venture capital firms to exist. There’s no reason to have the funds without the necessary protections. We could work in Dubai’s free zone, and set up something there. But I’m a Saudi; I want something for my country first. Venture capital firms over here are ineffective, at best. They should be ashamed of calling themselves VC firms. That’s my personal opinion. If I’m wrong, then that’s fine. No one is winning over my loss. People are going to win for having genuine VC firms. That would really give entrepreneurs the chance to take off.
Ahmed: I couldn’t agree more. Startup Bahrain has been looking for some funds to grow. There’s no one to approach: someone who’d believe in your idea, and who would be willing to help you achieve that dream.
The region is flooded with cash. It’s going through amazing growth. We’re at an amazing place, an amazing time. The older generations are slowing things down. Sure, we need investments in housing and construction to fuel the economy, but don’t ignore the other, new face of the economy. Don’t forget how the App Store changed the biggest economy in the world. What about the 70% of Saudi Arabia’s popular culture who are under 30? That sector can really contribute to the economy.
It’s not charity, either. People shouldn’t just fund entrepreneurs because it’s nice, or something. The sector needs funding. It helps in job creation.
Mazin: Look at China…
Exactly! I’m not limiting entrepreneurs to those who want to create apps. I’m talking about those who have good business sense, good ideas. Build a good infrastructure, and a lot more than the next great app will come up.
Mazin: Entrepreneurship has become a buzzword. Companies want to look good by sounding like they’re supporting ‘entrepreneurs,’ at this point. There’s no ground for what companies will say.
How do you handle criticism? A different opinion?
If it’s constructive, then I like it. People on Twitter criticize the things I tweet, and I welcome it. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not always right. As long as it’s nice and constructive, then we’re good. Otherwise, I’ll block you and won’t want to hear from you again. I’ve blocked hundreds of people like that.
People can really be jerks. I mean, fine, tell me what you think, but don’t be a jerk about it. I’m not always right, and you’re not, either. I’ve had many conversations with people online, and I enjoy the way we talk. I love how they try to push my buttons, but that’s the beauty of hiding behind a screen: being able to poke at others.
Bader: Problem is, people behind the screen tend to forget that those on the receiving end are other people with feelings.
Mazin: Exactly; the lack of facial expressions online really makes a difference. Expressions are essential to how a conversation goes. One smile or frown can really influence the outcome.
Exactly; I mean, look at one of trends on Instagram. In my case, the trend is that on any of the photos I post, I’ll get at least one comment from someone asking for a Bentley. I mean, my father gave someone a Bentley, and now, everyone wants one.
Any advice for investors?
Investors need to understand the importance of taking risks. Not everything is sure or certain. Be willing to take risks, with people or ideas. The region is lacking traditional VCs. We have investors, sure; investment and other banks—all of which could be useless for entrepreneurs. Without the risk, you’re just a bank, and banks are extremely boring. An investment bank is even more boring. Do your homework. If the idea is great, take the risk and invest. Otherwise, move on.
Are you a fan of soccer?
I sure am! I’m a big fan of Al-Hilal. I’m an equally big fan of Real Madrid, too. I like sports. I play tennis a lot. A friend of mine, Kevin Kerns, a tennis professional, just moved to Saudi. I’ve known him for 19 years. We frequently play together. I play golf, too. I love golf.
Bader: Any business deals on the golf course?
I’ve never closed a deal on a golf course. I mostly golf with friends. I played golf once with Donald Trump, though. He’s an exceptional golfer. Very gracious, too; the opposite of how he’s seen in the media.
Bader: How about TV shows?
You name it, I watch it. I love reality shows, too. Shamelessly, I watch The Real Housewives. Keep that on the record. I think it’s fun and great. I love Gordon Ramsey, and have met him a few times. He’s an amazing chef, and a better businessman. I enjoy cooking shows, too.
Needless to say, I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones.
Bader: How was the last episode?
I haven’t gotten past the second season yet.
Bader: Well, now I know what I can spoil for you. Thanks for that.
Ah, well. Also, I don’t like politics. I don’t get into it. I don’t like the news. Maybe on the surface, but nothing too serious.
Mazin: A little off-track, but do people take advantage of the fact that you’re AlWaleed’s son?
Do people try to take advantage of me? Try to take me on a free ride? Yes, of course they do. Many have in the past, but not anymore. Do I know that they do now? I do, yes. I’m a reserved guy. I like keeping things close to me. My home is my office, and my real office is not so far from home.
What is something about His Royal Highness, Prince AlWaleed bin Talal, your father, that the world doesn’t know? What’s not portrayed enough in the media?
Well, I’m not sure what else is left, after the book. Let’s see. I think his interaction with his grandkids, his kids, and mine is really fascinating. Obviously, the businessman disappears. He becomes Baba Waleed then. That’s definitely (and understandably) not portrayed in the media, where he’s the outspoken, hardcore businessman. You don’t really see his soft side when he’s doing what he does. Also, he’s extremely caring about people. You’d think he’s cutthroat and all, but he’s one of the fairest people I know. He cares about everyone around him: the people working for him, under him, his employees, and his staff, from the janitor to his CFO.
You’ve taken out some of your valuable time for Startup Bahrain. Why?
I’m a very private person, as I’ve said. I don’t like interviews, and I don’t like seeing my face anywhere and everywhere. But as soon as I heard about Startup Bahrain, a startup, a digital publication, I knew I wanted to help out in any way possible. If my interview is going to help out in any way, I will be happy. I just think it’s the passion in me to want to do something for the passion in you. That is the least I could do, and I’m glad. I thought it was a brilliant idea once I saw it—after I fixed my iPad, that is. Some water was suspiciously spilled on my iPad, and I had to get a new one. I downloaded the app and loved the idea, loved the name. I think it can grow into a regional thing. There isn’t one, but there needs to be one. I think it’s unique, and that made me want to be a part of it.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Hopefully, being a good father to two adorable and wonderful kids.
Ahmed: Thank you for your time. This is great, and it was such a pleasure to have you as a part of our magazine.
Bader: Thank you. Once we’re set up to expand regionally, we’d love to have you on board.
It’s my pleasure, really, thank you guys.