Introduction: I’m Amro Abu-Hmaidan. I’m the CEO and founder of 3asafeer.com and we try to build the reading habits as an integral part of kids’ daily life. We try to do it by providing them with really interesting content- a digital library that is illustrated, portable, leveled and tracked and we deliver this as a service to schools and we help them with visual reports to know more about students reading and stuff like that. We also provide them with e-material – worksheets, lesson plans. We focus on reading literacy but we also focus on other literacy skills like grammar. We focus on critical thinking, writing and that kind of stuff.
Interviewer: As an Ed-tech business, how different do you believe operating conditions are in 2016/2017, compared to perhaps two years ago, 2014/2015?
Amro Abu-Hmaidan: I think people are becoming more aware especially teachers are becoming more aware of the value of technology and bringing more knowledge into the classroom and helping them doing their jobs so the way we deliver our services is we try to help teachers become super teachers and readers become super readers. So what we do is, we provide them with reading materials and tools that will help them understand their students better and we do it in that way because we believe that the evolving role of teacher is becoming, more of a coach so that they understand and identify strength points of their students and push them into that direction and give them insights on how to do that and I believe that is evolving right now.
We help teachers become super teachers and readers become super readers
Interviewer: What are the three biggest challenges facing Ed-tech start ups in the MENA region today?
Amro Abu-Hmaidan: I think one challenge is for the client is to find out where quality content lies. There are lot of people who are creating content and some of the companies who are doing it are not putting enough efforts into the content they create which is a big challenge – that is one thing.
The other thing is, some investors have a short sighted vision while investing into education and I think investing into education is a long term gain. So you need to be refocused on long term goals when you are building an educational or Ed-tech business.
Interviewer: So what do you think can be done to address the challenges that investors face?
Amro Abu-Hmaidan: I actually went to many investors while I was doing my homework. And I found very few who are interested in the long term kind of vision. And I think they are there but they need to be looking more into the quality of product, the quality of thought behind it rather than “Is it getting revenue right now”. Rather than looking at the short term progress right now, we need to explain that they need to look at what values it adds on in the long term or how needed it is as a service in the long run. Because many of the investors that we go to will say that people don’t read in this part of the world. And I have the data to prove them wrong because last month alone we had kids read over 1 million stories from our platform alone. They spent more than 50,000 hours reading on our platform alone and that’s in just 30 days and that is growing.
So I think maybe with more data that we provide them, they have more appetite into investing into Ed-tech. And it is not just their fault. It is just because they are investing in many businesses and they maybe couldn’t monetize but I think they need to keep an open mind, look at the product itself, and the thought behind building the product.
Many of the investors that we go to will say that people don’t read in this part of the world. And I have the data to prove them wrong because last month alone we had kids read over 1 million stories from our platform alone. They spent more than 50,000 hours reading on our platform alone and that’s in just 30 days and that is growing.
Interviewer: Interesting. Can you please tell us what investment your business has received?
Amro Abu-Hmaidan: So actually we received investment (in terms of the amount of money we were looking at) but the terms are something we are not conformable with and one of the things I always tell people or discuss with others in my opinion is to stay motivated. 5 years, 10 years from now to keep working on this business because you fight for it to grow, you want it to be something, put your efforts into it and diluting your shares just when you are starting is not a good idea. At the end of the day you will find yourself enjoying being the actual owner of your business.
The other thing is that I think investment is more than money. You need investment with passion in the industry you are working. And as I told you Ed-tech is not that attractive today at least to investors. And that we find investors jumping with both feet to e-commerce but it is not the same passion for Ed-tech.
Interviewer: Why did you receive this investment? What were your intentions when seeking external capital?
Amro Abu-Hmaidan: We wanted to speed up the process. Just like any business, cash helps grow operations and it helps speed up things most of the time. But it also has side effects, so as your money grows, things become sloppier and business starts spending.
So it was a good thing that we held back and we decided to grow with whatever operational cash we had. It is not always a good thing but in our case it was something we didn’t expect but it was a good outcome.
Interviewer: What do you think is the biggest myth start-ups often believe about the dangers of accepting investment?
Amro Abu-Hmaidan: I think a lot of entrepreneurs think you need to give them investments to run their business which I think is not true. I actually think a good business could grow without outside investors. In some cases, investment could speed up things and could help you scale much quicker but it is not like something that you can’t live without – That’s one thing.
I actually think a good business could grow without outside investors.
There are lot of good investors, you just need to look around. So you don’t need to go with the first investor who says I need to invest in your business. Also, it is not as easy as you go to many investors and you may end up with 1 or 2 who are interested.
I think many of entrepreneurs reach a point where they are tired so they find an investor who says yes and they go with them without even questioning the portfolio that the investor has, the cash he has in that kind of industry, the connections- all of these things are there. And they just want to conclude that investment round and just proceed- So that’s my take on it.
Interviewer: And to end with, what are you looking forward to at Education Investment MENA this year?
Amro Abu-Hmaidan: The most value i wish to get out of attending is to connect with like minded people and this is the best opportunity to connect with people who are interested about education whether investors, partners or even potential clients. That’s what I’m looking for – connecting with other people who care about education.
Dubai hosts the 5th Education Exchange MENA focusing on four education platforms across the Middle East. Meet the region’s biggest investors, educators, entrepreneurs and other like-minded professionals this November.