Ever wonder what it’s like to go through Mashroo3i? Find out how two young entrepreneurs turned their visions into highly successful startups.
Thank you for coming. Can you please tell me who you are and what you do?
Nazaar: I’m Nazaar AbuBaker, co-founder of Vitee. I’m 24 years old, half Bahraini and half Scottish.
Aisha: My name is Aisha Abdulmalik, and I’m a jewelry designer and founder of Aisha Jewels. We do a combination of 22-carat gold and high-quality wood. I’m Bahraini, I’m 19 years old, and I study fashion design.
Excellent. Nazaar, can you tell me more about Vitee?
Nazaar: Vitee is a social network app for events. You can discover events nearby, and follow them so you can always be up-to-date with your favorite event. In the future, you’ll be able to buy tickets through the app, so you won’t have to wait in queues. You can take your phone with you, go to the event, show your ticket, and you’re done.
Aisha, can you tell me about your jewelry idea? How did it start, and why?
Aisha: Because I love jewelry, I follow this passion. And it’s weird, but I like wood. Usually, when we look at jewelry that’s made of wood, it’s bulky, and—not very nice. So I combine it with 22 carats of gold to make it elegant.
Let’s talk about your involvement or participation with Mashroo3i.
Nazaar: I took part in Mashroo3i back in November 2013. I actually found Mashroo3i by talking to the other co-founder of Vitee, Ahmed Alsaba. We went through the first round, then the business plan round. That was when I gained experience: listening to other entrepreneurs from different industries.
What were you doing back then? Were you a student?
Nazaar: At that time, no; I was a freelance web developer.
What about your experience, Aisha?
Aisha: I was studying at university, and I had never thought of this as a business until the exhibition at the city center, where people were like, “Oh that’s nice. How much would you sell this for?” And I said, “No, it’s not a business.” I was studying for my physics exam at the exhibition. Then I thought, maybe—why not? I closed my first deal. A Kuwaiti guy came to me and said, “I want a nice gift for my fiancée, and I want something unique.” I said, “I can sell you something unique that no one has seen before.”
So you joined without the intention of having a business—that just came up halfway through?
Aisha: Exactly. The guys there were very helpful, like my mentor, Damion. He kept motivating me to do it, and I was like, “No, but I have to go to university. I have to finish.” Back then, I wanted to be an architect, so the design area was not part of my future business. But then it completely changed my life.
Tell me about the different stages of Mashroo3i. What happened before and after the exhibition?
Aisha: First, we had to write our business plan. It was very difficult, because I wasn’t very good at talking to people, but I had to go to retail stores and make inquiries. I had a few of my sketches, and some of the stores literally kicked me out. Others were very motivating and helpful.
Excellent. Could you describe highlights of some of the different phases you went through?
Nazaar: For me, during the business plan phase, that’s when the idea of Vitee actually became a real thing. I had to do the research, with numbers and everything. I managed to use my experience as a web developer. We had to present it to customers, judges, and potential investors, and we got a lot of positive feedback. We had people asking, “Hey, can we download it now?” It definitely gave us a lot of confidence.
Would you say that was the most challenging step, or was the business plan more challenging?
Nazaar: They were both challenging, from two different perspectives. I’m not business-minded at all; I’m more design-minded. I like to think in colors, shapes, and sizes. And at times, yeah, we got rejected. It was definitely a full experience.
What was the most challenging aspect of Mashroo3i ?
Aisha: Managing school and Mashroo3i. It was my final year, and we had the IB exams coming up. Being rejected a few times was a bit demotivating. But when we went to the exhibition and saw the reaction of potential customers, it was actually very satisfying.
Do you think rejection is a helpful part of the process?
Aisha: Yes, but not always. Sometimes, rejection can come across as extremely blunt, but where rejection is constructive, it’s very good. It helped me to think of what would people like or accept.
What was something you never imagined you’d learn during Mashroo3i?
Nazaar: I think one thing I probably didn’t ever think of learning was how to talk to an investor. Talking to customers and business owners is one thing, but talking to an investor is something else. Luckily, through Mahsroo3i, I did pick up a few tips.
Aisha: For me, it was probably how to speak to people. If you guys know Ahmed Janahi from Tamkeen—he mentored me in school, in a competition called Trade Quest. At our first presentation, I actually left the stage crying because it was very difficult for me to stand and talk. But now when he sees me talking, he’s like wow, you’ve come a long way.
Amal Al-Sorani: That’s really wonderful to hear, because that’s the reason why we work. It’s really lovely to hear testimonials—it makes me feel like it’s worth coming to work in the morning. Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Amal Al-Sorani, from the marketing communications department. I congratulate you on your successes, and we’re very proud to feature you on Startup Bahrain.
Aisha: Thank you.
Did the program in any way help you to gain investments afterwards? Did it get you customers, or at least open that door for you?
Nazaar: It did, actually, and I will definitely not forget that day. We got our investor on the final day of the exhibition, when we all had to be onstage. I remember this investor came up and said, “Hey, let’s have a meeting next week.”
So if you were to talk to the new group of people joining Mashroo3i, what would you tell them? What would you prep them for?
Nazaar: Eat, sleep, and breathe your business idea. Be as obsessive as you can. If you take a break, during that short time, someone else could have a better idea, or easily snatch yours away from you. You need to literally be on it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Aisha: I suggest that everyone accept criticism. They should actually try to improve their business, not just stick to what they have at first. I used to get very offended, but then I realized that people were just trying to help me.
Perfect. Let’s be honest: how can Tamkeen improve Mashroo3i for the next batch?
Aisha: My only issue was that it was during school, but then again, when I thought about it, there is no other time they could do it. It’s a very lengthy process.
Amal Al-Sorani: So the timing.
Just make it more flexible for students?
Nazaar: For me, one’s external, one’s internal. Internally, as a participant, the length, the business plan, I felt was a bit too long. Externally, I felt like it needed a stronger marketing approach, because no one knew what it was. I found Mashroo3i literally out of luck.
Amal Al-Sorani: Maybe this time around, we’ll see a stronger social media presence.
Aisha: I did notice that this year, more people knew about it. If I talked to a person and mentioned Mashroo3i, they recognized it.
Amal Al-Sorani: This is the third edition, so maybe it finally clicked.
Thanks a lot for this. I really appreciate it. And we’ll be in touch.
Amal Al-Sorani: Insha’Allah.
Thanks a lot.