It was the Back to the Future movie franchise that first intrigued Dany El-Eid about altering reality using technology, and in 2010, he learned about the subject of augmented reality. “At the time, the technology was still mainly used for industrial and military purposes,” he says. Its endless possibilities for consumer use immediately struck El-Eid, and together with co-founders COO Elie Youssef and CTO Denis Kruger, the trio founded pixelbug, a tech company developing advanced augmented reality applications, which, thanks to their flagship edutainment app colorbug, was crowned as the winner in the Startups Track at the 8th MIT Pan-Arab Conference in Kuwait in May 2015. The app fuses traditional children’s coloring books with augmented reality features, and while it is free to download, it also offers in-app purchases to unlock some augmented reality features. According to El-Eid, this provides them with two revenue streams: B2C and B2B2C for businesses and brands to partner with the platform.
When discussing the challenge of taking the leap from employee to self-employed, El-Eid says that the MENA region still has “a significant aversion to risk and transcending status quos.” He describes entrepreneurs as people who are “co-creators, risk-takers and change-agents,” and believes “proper communicated planning” is essential for a business to run efficiently. El-Eid’s personal source of motivation includes listening to books and seminars by authors Napolean Hill and Abraham Hicks. “I read many biographies about innovators and business leaders that I would like to emulate,” El-Eid says. “I also write in a journal to externalize, analyze and improve my approach in business and in life. I practice martial arts, take long walks with my dogs, do yoga and meditate. All these activities help me to realign and regenerate.”
pixelbug’s co-founders, with their respective fields of experience, make a good team who cover the bases pretty well: El-Eid comes from a digital tech and events background, Youssef’s CV includes business development, and Kruger comes from an edutainment background. Some tips from El-Eid for aspiring ‘treps? “My advice for any aspiring entrepreneur, no matter which field or endeavor they choose, would be the following: first of all, if you believe you are good at doing just one thing and have a passion for it, then that is enough to start a business. Choose to promote your value today, don’t wait! It has never been easier to start a business. Setup at DTEC, an incubator such as in5 or AstroLabs, or join an accelerator such as Turn8. At the time when pixelbug was setup, we didn’t have as many options.”
“[Secondly], don’t listen to the naysayers,” he continues. “You’ll face a lot of opposition and discouragement when you begin. Keep the ones who encourage and believe in you close and distance yourself from those who offer resistance and negative feedback, even if that includes friends and family. Get ready to alter your environment. [Thirdly], entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a race! If you’re serious about the ‘trep lifestyle then get ready for a serious roller coaster ride. It’s exhilarating and highly fulfilling, but not as glamorous as many pretend. Entrepreneurship is being able to bend reality, finding creative ways to constantly remove obstacles and rallying people towards a common vision.”
What would you say is the region’s biggest challenge for entrepreneurs?
One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is most definitely the massive funding gap between the seed and Series A round. There is a dissonance between what investors claim and the actual dollars being deployed in the ecosystem. This definitely stifles Dubai and the region as a global contender for innovation. The startup ecosystem in the region still has a long way to go in order to provide entrepreneurs with the right support systems and laws that foster risk-taking and the creativity associated with starting a business, especially in the tech industry.
How would you describe the availability of resources and support for entrepreneurs and startups in UAE?
I’d describe the availability of resources and support as premature at best. The UAE has some serious work to do if it wants to be a center for innovation in time for Expo 2020. There are several factors that are hindering the growth of entrepreneurs and startups in UAE. To name a few: there is very little cross-collaboration between academia and enterprise. There must be more synergy for talent acquisition and sharing of resources/equipment between these two fields. Secondly, the ecosystem is disjointed. More emphasis must be given to collaboration between incubators, accelerators, facilitators, VCs and government entities. One way to resolve this would be to setup a committee whereby one individual from each party is appointed to officially meet on a regular basis. Thirdly, the government is not keeping up with the demands required to truly foster creativity and risk-taking. Bankruptcy laws are outdated. Licensing procedures are still cumbersome and expensive. And finally, proper mentoring and support groups for entrepreneurs are not readily available.
What were the biggest lessons from your endeavors?
I’ve learned so much through my endeavors, and I know that I still have much more to learn. If I had to isolate just four major lessons, it would be that I constantly strive to remove fear from any situation; no experience is ever wasted- I learned this from previous failed attempts. There were always nuggets of wisdom to take away that contributed towards the next successful endeavor.
Secondly, perseverance and grit are the most important attributes that you can develop. The difference between a successful and unsuccessful person is the time it takes to bounce back from setbacks. I’ve learned that by passionately pursuing my aspirations, the appropriate circumstances towards their accomplishment unravel. By paying attention, what seems as a setback proves to be an opportunity.
Thirdly, choose your partners wisely. You must full-heartedly, and mutually, believe in a common vision. I learned this the hard way after having less desirable partnerships that undermined the success of my previous endeavors. In retrospect, these experiences only led me towards aligning with complementary and talented co-founders (shout out to Elie and Denis!). Fourth is that praise and encouragement does a lot more to foster creativity and innovation than criticism. If a mistake is made, whether by you or other team members, immediately aim to reframe the situation into a positive outlook for improvement. If we stalled at every mistake that we made at pixelbug, we wouldn’t be the beacon of innovation that we are recognized for today.
And finally, never underestimate the power of your network or a person’s ability to contribute their knowledge. Pay attention to enthusiastically foster meaningful relationships with likeminded people; you never know which doors they will open. This happened recently when a good friend introduced me to Robert Scoble, the most influential tech blogger in the world, who featured our colorbug application in a video that went viral.
How do you manage your time?
Time is probably the scarcest resource available to us. It’s crucial to deliberately make the most use of your time. Self-discipline and proper planning is essential to achieve success. I make sure I log everything into my calendar with as much detail as possible. I meditate daily to quiet my mind, which gives me a new lease on the day and keeps me going.