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The Newsmaker: Mai Medhat, Co-founder And CEO, Eventtus How this Egyptian entrepreneur built a startup and went on to share a stage with US President Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

By Sindhu Hariharan

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Eventtus | GES 2016
Eventtus co-founder and CEO Mai Medhat with US President Barack Obama at GES 2016.

Being recognized at public places and fielding requests to pose for selfies doesn't typically figure in every entrepreneur's wish list, but there's no denying that such a recognition can do wonders to the acceptance of entrepreneurship in any society. Egyptian entrepreneur Mai Medhat, who is the co-founder and CEO of Eventtus, admits to have realized this after her tryst with fame at Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2016 in June this year. It would have been quite hard for anyone following the Middle East entrepreneurship space to have missed the moment when the Arab world was propelled into the spotlight as Medhat shared the stage with US President Barack Obama, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and other entrepreneurs at GES 2016 in Silicon Valley.

As I sit down for a chat with Medhat, it's clear to me that the attention that's been coming her way rests partly uneasy on her, and she admits to haven't processed all of it yet. "Someone at the mall recognized me, and it happened at the airport too, when people wanted to click a selfie with me- all this is very new to me," she explains bashfully. But she does reiterate that being at GES 2016 was a "great experience," meeting hustlers from across the globe, which made her realize how entrepreneurs everywhere in the world are fighting the same battles. She considers her presence onstage as a sign that "the [Middle East] region has all the capabilities and skills [as other nations], [and] we just need to dream big, go there and achieve it." From a personal standpoint, Medhat is also glad that her presence helped put the focus on "the region, its startups, and their potential."

Mai Medhat, co-founder and CEO, Eventtus with US President Barack Obama, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other entrepreneurs at GES 2016. Image credit: GES 2016.
A technology entrepreneur, Medhat started to dream big while at college, and is today "on a mission to mobilize events" with Eventtus, a web platform and mobile app for events planning, networking and ticketing. Having been friends for over a decade, classmates in college, and partners on most university projects, Medhat and co-founder Nihal Fares always dreamt of building something together and running a business. Medhat recalls the days when the duo would be huddled over a "livestream of TechCrunch events," or obsessively following every development in the startup world. "We used to attend a lot of events and exhibitions, and we always felt that there is a gap," Medhat remembers. This hit them more clearly in the case of events in the entrepreneurship space (where most attendees aim to network with one another and make business connections), where they faced difficulties recognizing delegates and connecting with them. This was the moment Medhat and Fares understood that there was a problem here that technology could address.

Deciding that the issue merited their full-time focus, they quit their jobs as software engineers, and started Eventtus in 2012, developing a basic web version as a concept that they could validate with event organizers. The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, Eventtus has grown from feature to feature- launching its app, working with more than 800 organizers, and creating and e-managing 8,000+ events. They have gone from attending conferences to creating a product managing the very events they went to- ArabNet Digital Summit, Step Conference, RiseUp, and Dubai Expo 2020 are among the regional events using the app today. If the numbers and client portfolio doesn't amaze you, consider that Eventtus launched at a time when even the term "startup" was quite alien to Egypt, and an enabling environment was almost non-existent with very few mentors and no accelerators. Ask Medhat how they managed this feat, and all you get is positivity. Despite the challenges, she prefers to talk about how Egypt nurtured their growth. "The Egyptian market is large. It's very normal to go to an event and find 5,000+ attendees, and so, it is a good place to validate and test things," she says. She also mentions that Egypt offers wannabe entrepreneurs the space to correct themselves and pivot, and with numerous quality educational institutions in the country, finding talent isn't too hard either.

Eventtus co-founders Nihal Fares and Mai Medhat. Image credit: Eventtus.
Listening to Medhat talk excitedly about Eventtus' journey, I realize that she is perhaps a good example of the popular belief that you don't need to go to a B-School to excel as an entrepreneur. A long pause greets me when I quiz Medhat about her transition from a software engineer to a CEO. "It was very hard and very challenging," she admits slowly- but the way she handled the challenge should serve as a good lesson for every aspiring entrepreneur. "We try things, we learn; if it doesn't work, we try another way, and [ensure] we don't commit the same mistake again," she says. She also gives credit to an aspect of her personality that helped her in growing the business. "I never get tired and I am not afraid to go to mentors and ask them about anything," she explains. "I am a person who recognizes that though I may have the tech background and complete knowledge of my product, I need to learn business management, and I went ahead and learned it. I am not afraid." The importance of mentorship is also a factor she stresses on. "These [mentors] are people who have done it before, they have the experience. They work with a lot of startups and they see it repeated everywhere," she says. For Medhat, support even came from her friends and peers in the ecosystem- people she says she could just reach out to whenever she needed assistance and advice.

Medhat follows the same strategy in managing her team. Believing in a transparent and supportive workplace, she says: "Culture is everything." In fact, the startup has a team-fit interview as part of its hiring process, which every candidate needs to clear. "We always try to hire people smarter and better than us. You can always learn engineering and technical aspects, but it's more important to look for people who can contribute to the company's culture." Another way Eventtus ensures a quality product is by making developers attend a few of the client events and learn about customer experience first-hand. "It's important for developers to see how people use the tool," she says. "They can then relate to it better." Medhat says Eventtus constantly iterates the product, and is now working on features supporting the generation of analytics, for organizers to measure the return from events. In terms of expansion, while the Middle East remains a focus in the short term, their ambitions include building a base in European markets too.

Related: Women Hackathons: A Gateway To The Evolution Of A More Equal World

In order to achieve the scale Eventtus envisions for itself, Medhat counts fundraising as one of the priorities in the near future. Having secured a seed funding of US$175,000 from Vodafone Ventures and Cairo Angels in November 2013, Eventtus then raised an undisclosed amount from leading regional investors MEVP and Raed Ventures (Saudi Arabia) in early 2016. Medhat believes that Egypt's funding scene lacks a crucial middle ground between angel investors and large VCs. "There is a gap in the funding, especially in the seed round- say a gap between EGP100,000 and EGP5 million," she explains. This is one of the reasons, she says, Eventtus has expanded to UAE- to reach out to a broader variety of investors. Medhat has also learnt a few key lessons from her fundraising experience: "Do your homework and chase investors who are interested in your industry, because they will be more valuable to you than any other investor," she notes. She also stresses on the need for both founders and investors to be aligned with the vision of the enterprise- it's not just about financial stability.

Social media is another tool that helped Eventtus grow at such a rapid pace. Medhat says their biggest breaks can be attributed to the brand awareness they possessed, engaging with ecosystem partners on social media. A chance meeting with an acquaintance that connected her to founder of STEP Conference resulted in Eventtus bagging one of its biggest clients today. "They [STEP] had already heard about us, because we used to engage with them on social media whenever we launched a new feature," she explains. Looking ahead, the founder's presence at GES can certainly do wonders to Eventtus' prospects, and in fact, it already has. Medhat says that Eventtus is in preliminary talks with many potential clients they met at GES that may translate into actual business opportunities. She also claims to have noticed other impacts from the much-talked-of event. "We found that we were trending on the app store for three days after that [GES]," she says. "The number of users and requests we got after, we are still filtering all of that to understand the ROI."

Here, my curiosity gets the better of me, and I can't help but grill her again about how she feels about all the attention. "It's a mixed feeling," she confides. "Though I am still trying to get used to the attention, it makes me happy to think that people [entrepreneurs] may feel a sense of hope when they see me there and dream big." And that's something the region's ecosystem can definitely use- success stories that help entrepreneurship go mainstream, inspiring future generations with resourceful ideas.

Mai Medhat, co-founder and CEO, Eventtus with President Barack Obama , Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other entrepreneus at GES 2016. Image credit: GES 2016.

What is GES 2016?

The Global Entrepreneurship Program is an initiative launched by US President Barack Obama from Egypt in 2009, when he declared his government's intention to host annual Summits on entrepreneurship to forge ties between the business world in the US and countries around the world. GES 2016, hosted at Silicon Valley, is the seventh edition in a series previously hosted by the US, Turkey, UAE, Malaysia, Morocco, and Kenya. At GES2016, starting with a quip on how he will have to wait another six months to appear in public wearing a T-shirt like Zuckerberg, Obama went on to reveal how the Summit has, since its inception, helped 17,000+ entrepreneurs "connect with each other, access capital, find mentors, and start new ventures" over the years. He applauded efforts of tech companies "committing to make their technology workforces look like America," noting companies' moves to publish data on diversity. While acknowledging the complexities plaguing policymakers in promoting open social platforms ("which can also empower some bad people"), he noted that blocking information flows is not the answer, as it then gets hard to foster an entrepreneurial culture.

"Trep Talk ME

Mai Medhat co-founder and CEO, Eventtus

Mai Medhat, co-founder and CEO, Eventtus. Image credit: Eventtus.

On getting to the stage at GES 2016

"I registered online to be an attendee at GES 2016, just like all other people. I got my acceptance, and I flew from Dubai to San Francisco only as an attendee. Then, just three days before the event, when I was there, I got an email from one of the organizers that they wanted to meet with me, and understand Eventuss' journey, as they found it interesting. I met them on a Tuesday for a casual chat about Eventuss, and I could see that they were quite impressed. The next day, I was told that I would be on stage with POTUS [President of the United States] and Mark Zuckerberg!"

Entrepreneurship in Egypt

"I would say we have all the separate ingredients for success [in Egypt], but we need to bring it all together. We need more success stories that can inspire. We have the consumer base; we have the technology. What we need is more investments and collaboration between corporates and startups. Here in Dubai, you can find corporates using products and services from startupsthe spirit is there. It's harder to achieve that in Egypt. We need more trust in startups and startups also need to dream bigger in terms of branding and marketing. There are many startups from Egypt such as Instabug, Kijamii, Integrate and Wuzzuf- they all have great products and [are] grow[ing] their businesses rapidly and [have] managed to get regional and global reach."

Being a woman in tech

"I have seen various reactions when going in front of people as a woman entrepreneur. I have seen people who are interested, and also people who don't take you and the product seriously. Honestly, I hate being labeled as a female entrepreneur. It's very hard to start and run a venture– launch a product, gain customers, attend meetings and meet investors, it's hard for everyone, and more so, if you don't have the required skills and qualifications. It's the same for male or female entrepreneurs. When it comes to funding, no one will give you money unless you prove that you can do something– applies to males and females. I feel what we should focus on is making more girls learn [to work with] computers. My class had a 70-30 [ratio in terms of] female population, and we clearly have more girls learning tech in the region's universities. The problem is the gap that's created after that. We need more awareness and spotlight on women in tech. For instance, we need to see a situation where women engineers who have all the skills conduct technology workshops."

Related: Tips For Women In Business (From Women In Business)

Sindhu Hariharan

Former Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Sindhu Hariharan is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East.  She is a financial consultant turned business journalist with a FOMO when it comes to everything technology.

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