Christopher Schroeder

Internet CEO, Venture Investor/Advisor & Writer. Father of three, Husband of One & Mentor to Many

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 14, 2015

Discussion

Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
Am I an optimist? I've spent the last four years traveling across the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and beyond seeing how new generations with universal access to tech are changing their societies. Wrote a book on it Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East. Entrepreneur (healthcentral.com among others); Intrepreneur (washingtonpost.newsweek interactive among others); Investor (vox media; skiftt, 10APP, iBotta among many others); advisor/LP in leading VC funds (no name dropping). There is no time in world history better to be alive.
Hala Fadel هلا فاضل@halafrangie · Managing partner, Leap ventures
@cmschroed what is the market opportunity presented by Iran in the tech space and how does it compare to the rest of the middle east?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@halafrangie I have been in awe of what I've seen there -- the challenges are great, mostly in still figuring out what government will do sustainably -- but the talent, history, culture, access to the world around them is all there. I wrote some about it here: http://www.politico.com/magazine... I think the potential shared learning and connections with MENA are enormous. My generation likes to talk about historic distrust of Arabs and Persians -- and I don't know enough to comment on what that means to a new generation. Except that every young person I met loved to go to Istanbul and Dubai and vice versa. Note, btw, that Iran just announced a huge deal for air craft for flights to and from Dubai.
Nina Curley@9aa · Managing Director, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi
@cmschroed Much of the VC capital and the accelerator programs in the region are oriented towards pure tech plays and scalable products first and foremost. What trends do you see in social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship for environmental and societal impact? Given the challenges of the region, what opportunities do you see here?
Saeed Abbaspour@srabbaspour · Entrepreneur & Front End Web Developer
@cmschroed What is holding SV investors back from investing on Iranian startups? Especially now that Iran and the west reached to a deal and most of the sanctions are removed.
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@srabbaspour US Law. :) This will open shortly, but remember rule of law, ability to get transparency, ability to repatriate capital -- all will take time to convince investors. But if the politicians take this seriously, Iran will be an extraordinary part of the technology ecosystem. Even with sanctions in many ways it already is.
Khaled Talhouni@khaledtalhouni · Partner
Do you that cryptocurrencies will be widely adopted in emerging markets with limited financial infrastructure and banking/credit card penetration or is there a need for traditional financial services to develop first ahead of that?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@khaledtalhouni I believe necessity drives a ton of adoption. The question not demand, which is already large. But will the companies be able to sustain in scale as competition will come from places like Silicon Valley. But some great enterprises like BitOasis in your backyard are very intriguing.
Hala Fadel هلا فاضل@halafrangie · Managing partner, Leap ventures
@cmschroed what do you see as a game changer in the region over the next 2 years compared to other regions?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@halafrangie you. I mean this,. Folks like your VC operation, wamdacapital, sawari ventures, Flat6Labs and more global players are looking to invest real capital in the remarkable innovation that is coming bottom up in MENA and beyond. This despite the tradition one narrative in Western Media. The young folks need sustained capital, mentors, market access. Folks like you are providing this at scale now.
Loulou Khazen Baz@loulsk · Founder & CEO, Nabbesh.com
@cmschroed it's been 2 years since you published startup rising, what has changed? do you still maintain the same views on the Middle East? Are we better or worse off?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@loulsk you live the ups and downs better than anyone, so your answer is more valuable than mine. Much remains hard -- startups are hard. But the speed and increase of quality enterprises and capital has been very encouraging to me. Most of the companies I've written about are not only still there, but thriving. Souq.com, of course, the Amazon of the Middle East just completed a round valued at over $1 bb. eCommerce generally has blown the doors off in the region and elsewhere. The UAE has been very forward leaning with the GCC on opening rule of law. This is wonderful. Syria and Iraq are heart breaking, and yet I know so many superb entrepreneurs from there still building from impossible conditions in and out side of them.
Ruba Al Hassan@rubaalhassan
In your book you write about the rise of women entrepreneurs in the Middle East, which tends to be counter to the usual western rhetoric of the Middle East doing poorly on gender empowerment . What is the reality on the ground that you have seen?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@rubaalhassan The Economist reported 25% of startups in MENA are run by women. I've been to start up gatherings which have 40% women. Try to find that in Silicon Valley! One woman told me, "the definition of a great entrepreneur is someone who works through anything. Guess what, we work through a lot." Pretty good overview.
Elmira Bayrasli@endeavoringe · Author, From The Other Side of The World
I agree w you that there is a lot of potential in the Middle East. Yet it seems to get overlooked and/or eclipsed by what's happening in Silicon Valley. Should we measure startups and innovation in the Middle East in the same way we do in Silicon Valley? Or how can we value/access what's happening in the region on its own merits?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@endeavoringe I think your fabulous new book has made clear that innovation and great ideas -- game changing all -- makes clear that great ideas come from where great humans, which means everywhere. The difference between today and even five years ago is the access to software that unleashes and scales these ideas where ever they come from. Like most things in life, one has to take the criteria seriously from Silicon Valley - there is a reason why the Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter of India are Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter; or that Google has such a swath in search and other activities. But, at the same time, these new markets will be huge and require local understanding -- look at Ali Baba and Tencent which built multi billion dollar enterprise with virtually no revenue from the West; and great global innovation will come like Waze did in Israel. But the competition with software will be compelled to duke it out with great ideas from Silicon Valley very often
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@endeavoringe btw, so people have the link to your must-read book: http://www.amazon.com/Other-Side...
Nina Curley@9aa · Managing Director, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi
@cmschroed You've written extensively about the benefits of entrepreneurship; what are the potential pitfalls that we face as startup enablers and promoters? Are we realistic and open enough about the challenges entrepreneurs face? What are we doing right and where/how could we improve our coverage and our work to evangelize and advocate?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@9aa If we convince entrepeneurs that this life is the movie Social Network, we have failed. This is hard work. Give everyone a copy of Ben Horowitz's book (It should be coming out in Arabic also I think shortly!) :)
Paul Niehaus@paulfniehaus
@cmschroed can you talk public sector. Emerging market governments have some of the biggest needs for innovation and IT to deliver critical public services, but are notoriously fickle customers. I've seen several startups in India run out of runway while waiting for gov't to pay on a big contract. What should the public sector be doing to build trust?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@paulfniehaus I'll stay this until I am blue in the face. Never has there been more tools available for people to solve problems bottom up -- the people most benefiting by these opportunities and problem solving. When we look at the challenges of poverty, or the youth bulge (30+% of populations now between the ages of 15 and 30) government too often hope the old games of government jobs and big traditional processes will solve things top down. Well how well has that gone? Now the tools are there. If governments embrace this kind of problem solving, get their own processes to the 21st century (as the UAE has to a great degree and we are seeing amazing potential in places like Rwanda -- the irony is their societies will improve in the very ways governments are most held accountable and let their people down. It is happening anyhow.
Donna Harris@dharrisindc
While entrepreneurship is emerging all over the world, "Silicon Valley" has yet to take it seriously -- both from an investing and media coverage standpoint. What will it take for this to change?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@dharrisindc I think not so much not taking it serious as balancing opportunities. The talent, rule of law, ability to scale is so powerful here -- those who can will invest in the best here. This of course has expanded around the country as you know, and many are beginning to look abroad. I think the challenge is they have historically done it wrong: "We're americans from Silicon Valley! Roll out the red carpet" -- or the market cap is so big we have to be there; we can outsource so have to be there. ME ME ME. It takes time to build serious relationships and partnerships; it takes a change in mindset to know that great innovation and ideas will come from everywhere, and no one knows their markets like the great innovators from these markets. Everyone has something to bring to the table. I've not seen any where enough of that.
Nora Jabbour@norajabs
What do you see as the largest impediment to growth in the Middle East as it relates to the entrepreneurial community? Alternatively, what is the catalyst for continued success?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@norajabs success will breed success. Look at souq., talabat, and many others. This will encourage more startups to go for it; more money to invest. I think the greatest impediment is too large a belief societally that this is an economic side show. They miss the multiplier impact of startups; for their enterprises; for new enterprises they buy and sell from; for the new enterprises they kick off. And that EVERY company today is a tech company in some form. That which makes for a great startup ecosystem also makes for globally competitive enterprises at any size or stage.
Amy Guttman@amyguttman1 · Journalist, Forbes
What's the most innovative product or service you've seen in your travels around the accelerators of the Middle East?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@amyguttman1 I think we in the west get very hung up that "innovation" means the next bright, shiny new thing. That is absolutely one of the things that makes Silicon Valley amazing. But we forget that if you lived somewhere where there was no banking, and no mobile access -- and one day you all have mobile phones and can text cash, expand your businesses, create new business, connect better to your families and loved one and friends -- try telling me that is not innovation. I have seen remarkable use of technolgy to go at education. Nafham by Flat6Labs founder Ahmed Alfi has over 20,000 videos uploaded in Arabic to supplement the education system in Egypt with 35 mm videos viewed, 500,000 uniques a month -- all in 18 months. It's like Khan Academy in away; tell me that is not innovation in Egypt and shortly around the region. At the same time, I've seen great ideas in fin tech, crowd sourcing work like Nabbesh, alternative use of solar energy and more. We'll see a whole spectrum of ideas and innovation there as software continues its unstoppable access to everyone.
Mohsen Khalkhali@mossibat · IoT investor @ Iratel Ventures
@cmschroed what is the most important step a new VC (I'm a partner) can take to help a new/young startup community (In Iran) flourish and succeed?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@mossibat You guys are doing so much smart now. See my note above about being "of service." Too many VCs, and I've seen this in MENA too often, think their companies are lucky to "have them." Their term sheets are abusive because often there isn't competition. You should wake up every day asking how you are service to your companies and the ecosystem. This is not zero sum game stuff. You all will raise amazing boats in your amazing country of young talent. I think the VC's known as the truly -- not in words -- entrepreneur friendly place with have huge advantage. Be tough; shoot a dying business or a CEO who crosses the line. But until those tough decision nodes, it is about helping them win.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
You are an optimist about many things and it's very refreshing. What's something that deeply scares you, that you're not optimistic about, that perhaps may not seem as obvious?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@eriktorenberg the clock. I want to see how all this plays out and there is not enough time in the days of all of us believing in this to have all the impact we wish we could. Beyond that it is things I cannot control . Remember, I was in Damacus in 2011 and saw brilliant and creative young startups. So I know first hand what people playing a 20th century game can bring for a time. But I believe it is only for a time, and so while politicians do what they do, I support the young people who keep coming.
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
You've talked about your management philosophy of "no surprises" -- communicate, communicate, communicate so that your employees, investors, board members, etc. aren't caught off guard. How do you square this philosophy with a world that's changing rapidly, and in which entrepreneurs sometimes have limited info about the future? In other words, how do you advise CEOs and entrepreneurs to embrace "no surprises" as a value in a world and industry full of unexpected surprises?
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@bencasnocha to say just that. to not only communicate exactly what you said here -- and you've conveyed this so beautifully in your books -- but to make it a co-authored discussion. No one founder, no one ceo, no one team members has a handle on all that is going on. This is a reciprocal, co-authorship of insight on rapidly changing worlds -- with amazing tools like unprecedented data -- to find and digest based on the expectation that the world will surprise us, but we'll learn to conquer it in the base we can.
Amer Bin Breik@amerf1 · Startup
@cmschroed Just got your book today! Looking forward to reading it!! Do you see a rise in on-demand startups in the Middle East? And do you think incubators work well in the Middle East? Because some seem to take large equity (over 20%)
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@amerf1 Thank you for doing so. Do let me know what you think. Accelerators have lost some of their panache in the States as the records of companies has been mixed. The glaring exception is YCombinator which has been amazing. 500Startups and TechStars in my view are also very important. But in growth markets I think they are essential -- not only in offering capital, resources, infrastructure young companies need -- but mentorship and a collection of other young people who can rethink culture of what it means to scale and succeed. I think Flat6Labs across the region is extraordinary in this, and there are many more. I've seen the same in Iran with Avatech and others.
Amer Bin Breik@amerf1 · Startup
@cmschroed thanks a lot for that reply, will let you know about the book! I'm sure Flat6Labs is one of the few that are great, @9aa is doing an amazing job. Thank you again
Atil Erken@atilerken · General Partner, Collective Spark
@cmschroed What do you think about the noise factor in the region both on the investor (angel/VC) and the entrepreneur side? Is it a self-destructing factor that deters innovation and success stories or is it part of the creative destruction that is required to bring out the best and the fittest? As optimists my guess is we both think it is the latter.
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@atilerken absolutely the latter. you see and cultivate this balance beautifully in the companies you back in Istanbul. It's fun to visit and watch how you interact with them
Nicki Friis@nickifriisw · Entrepreneur. Former Partner @ Ideanote.
@cmschroed B2B SaaS company - Ideanote. .com is occupied by a domainshark. Do you recommend to change name or use .io/.co? Our target market is big corporations. We've existed for 1 year and have customers.
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@nickifriisw with time, I'm not sure there will be a difference. But .com is still so common, so findable in search etc., if you can get their with a good related .com, I'd lean a bit there.