Neil Patel

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In a captivating interview, Mohamed (Nagaty) Aboulnaga shares his incredible journey from being born in Cairo, Egypt, to becoming a key player in the global tech and business landscape. From the bustling streets of Cairo to founding and steering successful ventures like Fawry and Careem, Mohamed’s story is about resilience, innovation, and pursuing a dream.

In this blog post, we delve into the transcript of the interview to uncover the key lessons and milestones that have shaped Mohamed’s entrepreneurial path.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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    Cairo’s Heat and Entrepreneurial Roots

    Mohamed sets the stage by vividly painting his early years in Cairo, a city known for its scorching heat and ancient wonders like the pyramids. Born in the 80s, he describes the challenges and vibrancy of growing up in a city that never sleeps. Despite the initial toughness, Mohamed learned to embrace the chaos and eventually found joy in the hustle and bustle.

    Early Fascination with Technology

    From a young age, Mohamed discovered his fascination with technology, especially the burgeoning world of the internet. He vividly recalls the excitement of the early days of the internet, with slow loading times and the charm of floppy disks.

    Mohamed remembers spending most of his time on the old Mac at home. He spent his growing years training at facilities where they put together electronics like computers and televisions. His journey into computer science was a natural progression fueled by a love for technology and the desire to understand how things worked.

    The Three Failed Ventures

    Fresh out of university with a degree in computer science, Mohamed got his feet wet working at a brokerage firm, restaurant, and real estate agency. Next, he plunged into entrepreneurship with three simultaneous ventures.

    However, these ventures did not unfold as expected, and all three eventually failed within two years. Mohamed reflects on the tough lessons learned, including financial setbacks and the skepticism of family members. Despite the initial setbacks, these experiences laid the groundwork for his future successes.

    Embracing the Restaurant Business

    Mohamed’s journey in the restaurant business took an unexpected turn, driven by his social nature and connections. Starting with a Lebanese restaurant, he navigated the challenges of the industry, juggling between restaurant operations and other pursuits.

    Mohamed partnered with a friend he met at university and offered his skills in marketing and getting reservations. He ran a restaurant business side-by-side, splitting his time between both locations for the next two to three years.

    The experience in the restaurant business not only showcased his adaptability but also laid the foundation for future endeavors. After a time, he decided to go into the tech business, motivated by his father, who believed in his skills in engineering and technology.

    He also stressed that Mohamed was unlikely to make much money from the restaurant business, regardless of its success. That’s when he sold his shares and paid back the money he had borrowed from friends and family to go into the tech business.

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    Fawry – A Leap into Fintech

    The transition to Fawry marked a pivotal moment in Mohamed’s career. With a background in computer science and a growing interest in technology, he played a crucial role in scaling Fawry into a household name in Egypt and the Middle East.

    Fawry is highly successful as a fintech giant and the PayPal equivalent of the Middle East. It reached a valuation of nearly $2B in the Egyptian stock exchange after the IPO in 2018. It highlighted the importance of robust cash flows, identifying market needs, building strong teams, and understanding the evolving tech landscape.

    Mohamed looks back at the genesis of the company, which started out of two small apartments in Maadi, Cairo, by the river Nile, and they shared an office with another company. He remembers having very limited resources and purchasing some of its shares the first time.

    Having skin in the game gave Mohamed added motivation to work harder for its success. A point came when Fawry did more than an astonishing two million daily transactions. Today, it is a public company which is consistently growing. Mohamed estimates it will soon cross the $10B mark in revenue per year soon.

    Careem – Mobility as a Trojan Horse

    Mohamed’s involvement in the restaurant and fintech sectors provided a unique perspective that he brought to Careem, a ride-hailing company. Seeing mobility as a trojan horse, Careem became a unicorn in the Middle East, addressing the dire need for reliable transportation services in the region.

    The acquisition by Uber for $3.1 billion solidified Mohamed’s track record as a serial entrepreneur. He remembers being approached by the Careem team with an offer to help them expand operations in Egypt. Having worked in financial technology, Mohamed was ready to try his hand at mobility.

    As Mohamed reveals, Careem caters to a population and customer base that is much bigger than the audience for Fawry. The company served customers from Morocco to Pakistan, an estimated 600 million people, which is bigger than the population of the United States.

    Working at Careem reinforced Mohamed’s theory that all you need is a great team of people and the funding to purchase cutting-edge technology. With these three components, building a successful company is super easy.

    Halan – A Billion-Dollar Venture in Mobility, Then a Super App for the Underserved

    Following the success of Careem, Mohamed ventured into mobility once again with Halan. This time, the focus was on two and tuk-tuk three-wheelers catering to less privileged areas in Egypt. Mohamed realized there were nearly two and a half million of these vehicles in Egypt.

    A former colleague. Ahmed Mohsen came to him with the idea of a partnership with a dealer who was the largest distributor of those 2 and 3-wheelers. Mohamed came on board with the role of managing the commercial and business side of the company

    Halan’s journey from a startup to a billion-dollar company emphasized the intersection of technology and social impact, showcasing Mohamed’s ability to identify and address diverse market needs. The company quickly became a billion-dollar organization.

    Halan started out as the Uber equivalent of 2 and 3-wheelers and got a million downloads. The company initially raised $10M and then another $23M, making it to the cover of Forbes magazine for the Middle East and then featured in the Inside Africa version on CNN. By the time Mohamed exited the company, they had created a bigger conglomerate.

    Today, it is Egypt’s biggest lender and has become like a super app for lending or the sort of “WeChat” of the region.

    Storytelling is everything, which is something that Mohamed A Aboulnaga was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.

    Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

    Exiting and Creating Opportunities

    The journey doesn’t stop at success; Mohamed’s post-exit ventures include starting an accelerator, a fintech fund, and a venture builder. These experiences, leading to successful exits, led him to his current role in acquiring and leading a company focused on mergers and acquisitions in the tech sector.

    Mohamed stresses the importance of consolidation in the tech industry, a critical component often overlooked in the startup ecosystem.

    The Future – A Global Marketplace for Startups

    Mohamed shares his vision for the future: a world where startups can be bought and sold seamlessly on a global marketplace. He emphasizes the need for transparency, diligence, and the role of intermediaries in facilitating M&A transactions and using technology to scale this and make it more seamless.

    His current venture aims to create a platform where startups worldwide can engage in merger and acquisition transactions and even buy primary and secondary shares in companies with full transparency and efficiency.

    Lessons from Mohamed Aboulnaga’s Journey

    Several key lessons emerge as we reflect on Mohamed Aboulnaga’s entrepreneurial journey. From the importance of resilience and adaptability to the necessity of strong teams, Mohamed’s story inspires aspiring entrepreneurs.

    The journey from Cairo to the global tech stage led to Mohamed being the first Egyptian and maybe African to speak at the Fox Theatre in Redwood, San Fransisco, at the Startup Grind Global Conference in April 2021.

    Mohamed has also led many international keynotes in Tier 1 conferences and summits, which is a testament to the power of innovation, strategic thinking, and a relentless pursuit of one’s dreams. Mohamed’s experiences underscore the potential for growth and success when one remains true to one’s values and embraces the challenges of the entrepreneurial path.

    Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:

    • Mohamed Aboulnaga’s journey teaches us the resilience needed to overcome initial failures and setbacks in entrepreneurship.
    • Mohamed’s diverse ventures, from restaurants to fintech and mobility, showcase the value of exploring varied sectors for business success.
    • The success of Fawry and Careem highlights the importance of identifying and addressing critical market needs for sustainable business growth.
    • Halan’s focus on social impact through technology underscores the potential for startups to create positive change in less privileged communities.
    • Mohamed’s trajectory as a serial entrepreneur emphasizes the importance of learning from failures and leveraging diverse experiences for future success.
    • The entrepreneur’s post-exit ventures stress the often-overlooked aspect of consolidation in the tech industry, paving the way for future growth.
    • Mohamed’s vision for a global marketplace for startups highlights the potential for a seamless and transparent platform for worldwide mergers and acquisitions in the tech sector.


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    Neil Patel

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