The Adventure Continues in San Francisco

June 15, 2012

I’m drinking an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout at my house in San Francisco. Our Chief of Staff candidate is for some reason awesomely dancing in the kitchen behind me. I’m looking out the window at a view of the Castro, Mission, Potrero Hill, SOMA, Russian Hill, Corona Heights, and Buena Vista.

So here’s the story…

On April 14th I was in Mountain View, CA during a lecture on neuroscience at the Singularity University Executive Education program. A eureka moment had just occurred during a rather intense theta wave. The vision for what I just had to create came into my head. The same focused intensity that overtook me in the Summer of 2003 while building out iContact with Aaron had returned.

The next few days I was in whiteboard sketch-up mode in pure John Nash style. I was also on the lookout for a co-founder and knew I would need to start building out a great technical team.

Meeting My Co-Founder

A week later, Anima Sarah LaVoy (whose first name means “soul”) and I met here in San Francisco through our mutual friend Bear and her boyfriend Daniel, an engineer at Google. She was a brilliant and ebullient 31 year-old with an Oxford MBA, a decade of experience building complex political organizations, and a deep understanding of psychology and the human operating system. Turns out, she had the same problem I had: “How to intelligently scale our ability to organize and visualize our human relationships.” We decided to work on solving this problem together.

The Summer of 2012 in SF

By May 4th, I had decided to move to San Francisco for (at least) the summer and start a new company to bring this vision to market. I wrote my friend Burcu in an email:

“The intelligence and ambition and care and values of the people here is unmatched anywhere in the world. My best friends from so many different walks of life all happen to be living within a 6 block radius of a park called Dolores Park between the neighborhoods of the Castro and the Mission. I have found a great home to rent for the summer right here in the middle of it all, on a nice hill with a great view of the city. The values driven innovative culture here is palpable and this area of the world is truly the vanguard of our culture. It’s sort of like 1968 with iPhones. Imagine if the social justice passion of the 60s were combined with the connection and communication technology of 2012. Imagine how you could change the world in that environment. And then you wake up with a smile and realize that’s what’s actually happening. I’m like a little kid in a candy store here.

I’m consistently amazed that it feels like the future here. People are commonly talking about genomics, self-driving cars, 3d printing, the application of smart phone diagnostics to global public health in remote villages, artificial intelligence, robotics, and solving humanity’s greatest challenges. I may have found my tribe. Oh, and they dance and dress up in banana costumes! There is an amazing casual run called Bay to Breakers coming up on May 20th when everyone dresses up and jogs across the city as groups of penguins or bears or salmon or bananas. You must join my group of penguins.”

I think those two paragraphs pretty much summed up my thoughts on San Francisco as the Summer of 2012 begins.

Life, Death, Renewal & Innovation

On May 6 I left for my HBS interview in Boston and then Kenya for a week for a trip with the UN Foundation to Nairobi and the Kakuma Refugee Camp near the South Sudan border. After coming upon two Somali refugee teenagers who had Android smart phones in the remotest part of Kenya– I was hit by quite an obvious yet significant realization–smart mobile touch devices will be nearly ubiquitous globally within three years.

Kakuma Refugee Camp near the Kenya/South Sudan border

When I returned from Kenya to the States, I went to Florida as my mom was ill. While I was there, she ended up passing away from brain cancer on May 25th six months after being diagnosed. She was a social worker from Yorkshire, England who primarily worked with mentally handicapped individuals during her professional career. She taught me to be confident, think big, travel widely, and read often. She taught me to follow my bliss and to live fully everyday. I gained so much inspiration and purpose from her. I am now on a super-clear life mission.

When I came back to California on June 1st, I was focused. I would build this new company in my mother’s name. And at it’s core purpose would be a social mission to make it much easier for human beings to connect with each other globally on mobile touch devices. It would be a B Corp from the start.

Anima would become our Co-Founder and Chief Connector/Chief Alchemist. I would be the co-founder and Chief Energy Officer (chief “executive” officer sounds so boringly corporate). We would all work our butts off for the summer and get an alpha to market by mid-August.

And so, after May 22nd a new mobile technology company was born with the help of my good friends at DLA Piper and the lovely Delaware Secretary of State. For the next few weeks, we’ve decided to keep the official company name a bit stealthy until we lock up our domain assets. Our temp domain is stealthstarship.com :-) . Yep, we’re that nerdy.

And Then There Were Five

The last week has been just amazing. I had a chance to meet President Obama on Wednesday during a roundtable in San Francisco with Marc Benioff and was excited to join on as a National Co-Chair of Technology for Obama (T4O) for the remainder of the campaign season.

Our team also grew from 2 to 5 members last week. Addison Hardy the preternaturally brilliant PHP/Python engineer arrived from North Carolina, Sara Luchian the Chief of Staff candidate joined us from Philadelphia after completing her Wharton MBA, and Marwan Roushdy the CSS Guru/Front End Designer flew in from Egypt.

What we’re building is rather technologically complex and requires an integration of left brain big data analytics with right brain creative aesthetics and so we really have no idea if we’ll succeed or not, but we’re going to have a damn good time trying. We’re not afraid to fail, as to us, the only way to fail is living out of integrity. We’re super focused and we’re putting it all on the line.

The team is living/working in a house in Noe Valley/Eureka Heights, SF in a house that I now own, by way of Googler Max Ventilla, and having lots of fun while taking the time to bring together great advisors for wonderful dinners and think deeply about the problem we’ve set out to solve. I’m learning how to make super healthy smoothies on our Vitamix 5200. And we’re watching Star Wars movies at night in The Temple (which is complete with a gong, multicolor LED lights, and sayings from the Dalai Lama).

Here are the house rules we’ve posted on the front door and a white board…

Above our whiteboard is the quote, “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Everything else is hackable.” Above the fishtank is “A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.”

You can check out my Tumblr for more recent team photos.

We’re Hiring! Come Join Us!!

Now, we’re now looking for team members 6 through 8 to join over the next 2-4 weeks to join us on this crazy adventure with an ambitious, caring, competent, and semi-well capitalized crew.

We’re now accepting applications over the next 5 days for a senior PHP/Python engineer, a Data Scientist, an API Engineer, and CTO/Technical Co-Founder. We’re primarily looking for people from Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, and Salesforce with significant experience with scalability, but are open to applicants from anywhere. We’re also only looking for compassionate, caring, and highly competent people who want to make a difference in the world.

We’re centrally located in SF, paying above market salaries, offering early equity positions and the opportunity to work with the best technology, and promise an amazingly fun and meaningful summer. Come join us!

> Here’s some additional info on the technical job openings.

If you’d like to apply please send your CV to me at ryan@stealthstarship.com. If you know someone who may wish to apply, I very much welcome introductions at that email address.

With so much love,
Ryan

My TEDx Presentation – “Creating a Better World”

January 20, 2012

On December 10th, 2011 I gave a TEDx presentation in Raleigh on “Creating a Better World.” Here is the video.

And here are the slides from the presentation:

TEDx Ryan Allis – Optimism for the Next 40 Years of Human History

People I’m Especially Thankful For This Thanksgiving

November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving weekend is a time for gratitude for the people in our lives who make life a miraculous bundle of joy. Here are some people I’m especially thankful for this Thanksgiving 2011. Each of whom in one way or another has played a hugely influential role in my life this year.

West Coast Friends

  1. Carly Brantmeyer for her amazing energy and photography and for introducing me to Pinterest in August!
  2. Alan Mask for his musical inspiration, awesome beats and lyrics, and intensely creative Jambulance video.
  3. The visionary Elliott Bisnow for building a great team at Summit Series and putting on an absolutely one-in-a-lifetime Summit at Sea in April.
  4. The most amazing musician Austin Bisnow for making songs your heart can feel out of Malibu, CA and making a difference within the lives of children it with the Get Well Soon Tour.
  5. Rich Halvorson for giving me a great tour of Venice Beach this summer and kicking butt with Global Fast.
  6. Nathaniel Whittemore for working hard in SF-style stealth mode to create something amazing at AssetMap.

NC-Based Friends

  1. The unstoppable and wonderful Jess Shorland for lighting up my life in many ways, taking me to my first Taylor Swift concert last week, and along with her partner Dara Keatts kicking butt on Pengo Loans, a peer-to-peer SME lending start-up.
  2. Ryan Richards, Allie Treske, Sarah Miller, Tom Meehan and the team building Nourish International into a movement of people committed to ending extreme poverty in our lifetime.
  3. Mailande Moran formerly the lead singer for Rusty the European Tour for her to-die-for singing voice not to mention her passion for making a difference in the world.
  4. Aaron Houghton, Jeff Revoy, David Rasch, Tim Oakley, Sarah Stealey, Pam Rose, Kevin Fitzgerald, Ralph Kasuba, Michelle Tabares, Matt Kopac, and all the amazing 270 people working their butts off to build iContact into a great global company and leader in email and social media marketing.
  5. Malcolm Young, Russ Jones, Jeff Staub, Jake Bohall, and all the folks working to build Virante into a leader in search engine optimization.
  6. Rye Barcott for writing a book that changed my life – It Happened On the Way to War.
  7. My friend Zach Clayton for being there for me at a key time in the Spring, telling me what it’s like at HBS, and for kicking butt with Three Ships Media this year.
  8. James Rushton for being a great financial advisor and keeping me protected (not to mention a half-English man like me).
  9. Neil Bagchi for being the best corporate lawyer I’ve ever known as well as awesome Nourish board member.
  10. Alison Dorsey for some wonderful chats at Beyu in downtown Durham.
  11. Jud Bowman for some great chats about entrepreneurship and life.
  12. Rachel Weeks for having an amazing 2011 building School House into a leader in fashionable college branded apparel.

NYC-Based Friends

  1. NYC-based Fabian Pfortmellier and the founders of eco-friendly apparel company Holstee for creating the most amazing company manifesto ever.
  2. Bobby Bailey and Hugh Evans of the Global Poverty Project for being crazily impassioned earth shakers creatively bringing to the attention of millions the reality of extreme poverty in the developing world and what we can do about it.
  3. Michael Simmons, Sheena Lindahl, and Sarah Green (in D.C.) for kicking butt building Empact, launching the Empact100 list, and holding two Future of Entrepreneurship Education Summits this year.
  4. Dan Sutera for building low-cost schools in rural Africa with Impact Network.
  5. Doug Akin, for inspiring many by traveling the world over the past six months! (so far he’s been to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Bostwana, Zimbabwe and South Africa).
  6. The wonderful Carla Blumenthal for brightening my Thanksgiving morning by sending me the Turkey Dancer guy video!
  7. The newly Boulder-based truly unreasonable Amber Rae for her amazing motivational drawings she calls Ambergrams. They can be truly life changing.
  8. Antony Demenkin for his sweet freestyle rapping and being willing to jam with me in NYC.
  9. Tatiana DeMaria for her amazing music videos, particularly Road to Paradise.
  10. Michael Ellsberg for writing a very eye-opening article on hypomania/bipolar II and publishing a great book this summer on alternative educational paths called the The Education of Millionaires.
  11. Anthony Adams for being the type of dedicated crazy man we all love, letting me stay at his place in the West Village for 12 days in July, and introducing me to the wonderful world of Priscilla Queen of the Desert on Broadway (think Australian drag queens lost in the outback).
  12. The most amazing PR guy I’ve ever met, Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council for going to Egypt with me and helping launch iContact’s social media product media campaign.
  13. Danny Alexander, for being what I am convinced is my long-lost male soulmate and twin, yet infinitesimally more talented as a designer and drawer.
  14. James Marshall Reilly, a roommate of mine for 12 days this summer in NYC, for writing the book Shake The World
  15. Stephen Cesarini for throwing an unforgettable July 4th party in Montauk this year and successfully summitting Kilimanjaro in October.
  16. Simon Sinek for writing an amazing book Start With Why and spending some time together in New York City this summer. Watch his TEDx talk.
  17. Laurie Davis the eFlirtExpert!
  18. The amazing Montse Ferrer for teaching me how to truly love Cookie Monster and introducing me to Miss Favela’s Brazilian brunch in Williamsburg Brooklyn.
  19. Lewis Howes for being able to mind-control squirrels (seriously), put on great social media webinars, and introducing me to so many great people in New York this year.
  20. Kim Scheinberg of Presumed Abundance for being a friend and allowing me to host an impact investor meetup of 30 of my closest friends at her apartment in October.
  21. Sheel Tyle for being the most amazing 20 year old I’ve ever met.
  22. Taryn Miller-Stevens for her infectious energy and constantly encouraging me to dance.

Boston-Based Friends

  1. The wonderful Emily Silberstein for opening my eyes to so many great things including the joys of Hunger Games, the cosmopolitan excitement of Mumbai, the world of African private equity, the HBS Africa Business Club and so much more.
  2. Ameel Somani for sharing my excitement and passion for investing in companies in Africa over the next 50 years.

All Over The Place Friends

  1. Shervin Pishevar, Shauna Robertson, Angela Mwanza, Randy Zuckerberg, Brian Gott, Zaw Thet, Sergio Fernandez de Cordova, and Elliott Bisnow (repeated) for serving with me on the 2011/2012 UN Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council.
  2. Jit Sinha, Brad Woloson, Buck Goldstein, Carter Griffin and the amazing group of mentors I have around me at iContact.
  3. Shama Kabani for being an awesome friend while in Egypt and for sending the most amazing Sherwani to wear at the Nourish Chairman’s Reception this year.
  4. Saul Garlick for kicking butt with ThinkImpact in it’s first year as a for-profit company.
  5. The doubly-unstoppable Roey Rosenblith for having a great year with Village Energy Uganda bringing solar lamps to market in and around Kampala.
  6. Elizabeth Davis for kicking butt building a leadership, hospitality, and entrepreneurship college for girls in Kigali, Rwanda called The Akilah Insitute for Women.
  7. Cameron Herold for giving an awesome talk at the MIT/EO Entrepreneurial Masters Program, mentoring me from July-October, and sharing many a lesson learned as COO of 1-800-Got-Junk.
  8. Jeff Calibaba for leading the class of 2011 for the MIT/EO Entrepreneurial Masters Program and all my classmates.
  9. Ben Abram for showing me how to hustle with Wylan Capital by helping finance green tech companies.
  10. Super social enterprise connector Martin Montero for connecting me with so many great people.
  11. Daniel Epstein for being completely unreasonable, co-founding The Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, CO and having a huge vision.

Family

  1. My cousin Lisa for introducing me to the world of hilarious and dirty Disney jokes over Thanksgiving dinner last night.
  2. Andy Allis for being a wonderful brother and lighting up my life as a castmember of the improv troupe The Proverbial Loons at The Castillo Theatre.
  3. My parents Park and Pauline for a lifetime of inspiration and lessons and not charging me rent for 18 years AND still to this day giving me a free place to stay every Thanksgiving week :-)

This year has been a wonderful whirlwind, with still 35 days to go. Thanks to everyone who has helped make 2011 an amazing year full of so much growth for myself, iContact, Virante, and Nourish!

Today’s Fuel Explosion in Nairobi

September 12, 2011

I’ve got a special place in my heart for East Africa, having visited there three times and with investments in Pengo Loans and Think Impact, both with operations in Kenya. After visiting the Kibera slum in Nairobi in 2009 to see the work of Carolina for Kibera, I feel especially for those who are living day-to-day in the slums of Nairobi and other parts of the developing world.

Today in a Nairobi slum called Sinai a fuel pipeline starting leaking. Immediately hundreds of people gathered around, grabbing every container they could to capture the fuel. Soon thereafter, the pipeline caught fire and exploded. At least 100 people immediately burned to death in the explosion and ensuing house fires in the densely concentrated slums. Another 120 went to the hospital with severe burns.

Below is a news video of the story from the local Kenyan NTV. Take a look at the living conditions of these communities. Often without electricity, running water, and sewage. Yes, it’s true that 39% of the world survive on less than $2 per day (a per capita income of $730 per year), and yet so few people are aware of this. For those of us in the United States living on an average of $130 per day (the U.S. per capital income as of 2011 is $47,240), this type of existence is surely hard to fathom.

And here is another video from NTV showing some of the burn videos in the hospital (warning: graphic):

Here’s the NY Times article.

My Message to Egyptian Entrepreneurs

July 4, 2011

On Thursday at the Smart Village Egypt outside of Cairo, I had the opportunity to give a keynote speech during the NexGen IT Entrepreneur Bootcamp award ceremony.

The winning teams were Bey2ollak, Inkezny, Supermama, and Crowdit. The team from Bey2ollak and one other team TBD will be interning at iContact in North Carolina in October. The other two winning teams will be participating in a three month Danish startup bootcamp in the Fall.

My message to the young Egyptian entrepreneurs in the room was “You can achieve anything you set your mind to.”

Mike Ducker from the Global Entrepreneurship Program at the U.S. State Department gave an introduction and then I jumped right in.

Here are my prep notes from the speech:

Intro

  • Congratulations to all the teams that have participated in the NexGen IT Entrepreneur Bootcamp.
  • Coming here Monday I wasn’t sure what to expect.
  • The quality of the young tech entrepreneurs here in Cairo is world-class.
  • The youth of Egypt have already proven their ability to affect change, and this class of tech entrepreneurs has been extremely impressive.
  • I run iContact in North Carolina. We do email marketing and social media marketing software and services for small and mid-sized businesses.
  • I also have a small investment fund called HumanityFund that invests in entrepreneurs who are changing the world in both the United States and in East Africa.
  • I hope someday to have my first investment in Egypt.
  • Today I’m going to challenge you to be a leader.
  • Be a leader in in your community.
  • Be a leader in your nation.
  • Be a leader in changing the world.
  • Entrepreneurs change the world.
  • Entrepreneurship is not about making money.
  • Entrepreneurship is about helping others.
  • Entrepreneurship is about creating value–for your customers, employees, community, and shareholders.
  • Wonderfully, the more you help others and the more value you create, the more money you will make that you can then invest in giving back and helping other entrepreneurs succeed.

My Story

  • I started in business at age 11 helping senior citizens learn how to use the internet in Florida.
  • I learned that word of mouth marketing is the best type of marketing you can get because it is trusted and it is free.
  • At 14 I had a business creating web sites.
  • I learned that you need to hire a team of people around you to scale the business.
  • By 18 I was the CEO of iContact.
  • I learned that if that you hire people much more experienced that yourself, amazing things can happen.
  • Today iContact has 300 employees and $50M in annual sales.
  • Here are the eight of the lessons I’ve learned in business in the last fifteen years.

Lessons Learned

  1. Set your goals high. Write them down. Frame them. When I was 16 I wrote down the goal to build a company to 1 million in sales by the time I turned 21. At that point I was making $4000 per year designing web sites, so it was an ambitious goal. I missed the goal. On September 1, 2005 iContact reached 1 million in sales. Eighteen days after my 21st birthday. Because I set that specific definite goal, I went after figuring out how to get the people, knowledge, and resources into my life necessary to make it happen, even though I wasn’t sure how it would happen when I set it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail your way to succeed.
  3. Surround yourself only with positive people. Avoid negative people.
  4. Hire people more experienced than yourself. You should never have a direct report who can’t do their job better than you could do their job.
  5. Have fun. Enjoy the journey. Don’t be boring. Consciously create an awesome culture at your company.
  6. Think big and think globally when you build your business.
  7. There are two types of people in the world. People who watch more TV than they read. And people who read more than they watch TV. Be the second type of person. Read as often as you can. Five hours of reading per week minimum. Book recommendations: Rich Dad Poor Dad, Think and Grow Rich, and How to Win Friends and Influence People.
  8. Create your business around one simple principle, “do unto others as you’d have done unto yourself.” Make every interaction you have with every employee and customer follow this principle.

Final Thoughts

  • As entrepreneurs, you are all in the business of changing the world.
  • Our generation can communicate and collaborate globally like none other before it.
  • Work hard, collaborate.
  • You can do anything you set your mind to.
  • The world is watching what you do now.
  • Be a leader.
  • End with chant of “I’m an Egyptian. I can change the world.”

What message would you have shared with an auditorium full of future Egyptian changemakers and innovators??

Egypt: From Political Revolution to Entrepreneurial Evolution

June 30, 2011

I came to Cairo five days ago not knowing what to expect. I leave knowing there are world-class tech entrepreneurs here in Egypt.

In April, I learned I had been selected as one of six American entrepreneurs who would be mentors for a USAID/State Department program backed by the Danish and Egyptian governments to mentor tech entrepreneurs here in Cairo.
The program, called the NexGen IT Entrepreneur Bootcamp kicked off on Sunday in Egypt�s Smart Village, just outside of Cairo.
The Mentors
The six American entrepreneurs were:
Jeff Hoffman, Co-founder, Former CEO of Priceline.com
Scott Gerber, Founder, Young Entrepreneur Council
Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit and Hipmunk
Shama Kabani, CEO of Marketing Zen
Kevin Langley � Global Chairman, Entrepreneurs� Organization
Ryan Allis � CEO iContact
We were joined by four entrepreneurs from Denmark:
Tomas, Podio
Natasha, Gignal
Kamran, Marketing Lion
Alex, Startup Bootcamp
Together, we worked with nineteen teams young Egyptian tech entrepreneurs age 18-30 to help them refine their business models and pitches in preparations for the final pitch competition on Thursday.
The Winners
On Thursday we held the final pitch session. Each team presented for 8 minutes followed by 2 minutes of Q&A. We served as the judges, scoring each team across five category. After four hours of final pitches, the four winners were announced:
Crowdit � �A digital collaborative storytelling platform that is using real-time pictures, video, and social media reports to reinvent the way stories are told and shared online. Their first project will be called 18 Days in Egypt and provide a 360 view of the Egyptian Revolution told through the eyes of the people of Europe.
SuperMama.me � The iVillage of the Middle East. Creating a community of mothers designed to connect and empower the women of the Middle East / North Africa region.
Inkezny (RescueMe) � An iPhone app that enables travelers to make emergency calls (Police / Ambulance / Fire ) in any location they are traveling in the world without having to know the local emergency phone number, as well as seeing GPS directions to and phone numbers for the nearest hospitals, and posting a panic notification with location to a users social networks.
Be2yollak � An iPhone app that provides live user-generated reports of traffic conditions on the streets of Cairo. They already have 50,000 users shortly after launch and are working on expanding their application globally.
In addition to these four winners, I also really liked
Balooshy – A location-based ad network for mobile content.
Tabshora – A 37-signals like tool enabling designers to easily get feedback on design comps from customers.
OfferQ � A social network for daily deals.
The Winners Interning at iContact
Two of the winning teams will be coming to North Carolina in October for a three week internship at iContact. We are very excited to host them.
They will have a chance to observe every area at iContact including marketing, customer service, sales, finance, and technology. They will also have a chance to meet with investors in both North Carolina and New York City.
The other two teams will have the chance to attend the three-month Startup Bootcamp in Denmark in September, October, and November.
Creation of an Investment Fund for Egyptian Tech Entrepreneurs
On Wednesday night, we all had the opportunity to have dinner at the residence of the Danish Ambassador to Egypt (Insert Name).
While there, we met Hany (Last Name), an Egyptian venture capitalist who runs Flat6 Labs, an incubator and fund that is launching in Egypt in July.
We were so impressed by the quality of the Egyptian tech entrepreneurs. We wanted to do something tangible and meaningful to show our belief in that these businesses would succeed.
After discussing, members of the American and Danish delegations came together that evening to create a $100,000 pool of committed angel investment funds to invest in the Egyptian tech companies that will come out of the Flat6 Labs incubator in the coming months. The excitement on both sides was palpable when we announced this commitment the next day at the finals. It was clear that we believed in these Egyptian entrepreneurs and were willing to back them with more than words.
Leaving Cairo
And so, after a wonderful celebratory dinner cruise for all participants on the Nile earlier tonight, now I am in the Cairo airport heading back home to the USA.
Tonight, I leave Egypt inspired. And I leave immensely impressed by what Egyptian youth can accomplish�whether it is in eighteen days in the Spring or five days in the Summer.
The American Entrepreneur delegates are thankful and inspired as they leave Cairo to head back home.

In April, I learned I had been selected as one of six American entrepreneurs who would be mentors for a USAID/State Department program backed by the Danish and Egyptian governments to mentor tech entrepreneurs here in Cairo. I learned about the program from Scott Gerber of the non-profit Young Entrepreneur Council.

The program, called the NexGen IT Entrepreneur Bootcamp kicked off on Sunday in Egypt’s Smart Village, just outside of Cairo.

The Mentors

The six American entrepreneurs were:

We were joined by four entrepreneurs from Denmark:

Together, we worked with nineteen teams young Egyptian tech entrepreneurs age 18-30 on Sunday-Wednesday to help them refine their business models and pitches in preparations for the final pitch competition on Thursday. It was extraordinarily impressive to see the immense improvement in the pitches as each day passed.

The Winners

On Thursday we held the final pitch session. Each team presented for 8 minutes followed by 2 minutes of Q&A. We served as the judges, scoring each team across five category. After four hours of final pitches, the four winners were announced:

  • Crowdit -A digital collaborative storytelling platform that is using real-time pictures, video, and social media reports to reinvent the way stories are told and shared online. Their first project will be called 18 Days in Egypt and provide a 360 view of the Egyptian Revolution told through the eyes of the people of Europe.
  • SuperMama.me – The iVillage of the Middle East. Creating a community of mothers designed to connect and empower the women of the Middle East / North Africa region.
  • Inkezny (RescueMe) – An iPhone app that enables travelers to make emergency calls (Police / Ambulance / Fire ) in any location they are traveling in the world without having to know the local emergency phone number, as well as seeing GPS directions to and phone numbers for the nearest hospitals, and posting a panic notification with location to a users social networks.
  • Bey2ollak – An iPhone app that provides live user-generated reports of traffic conditions on the streets of Cairo. They already have 50,000 users shortly after launch and are working on expanding their application globally.

In addition to these four winners, I also really liked

  • Balooshy – A location-based ad network for mobile content.
  • Tabshora – A 37-signals like tool enabling designers to easily get feedback on design comps from customers.
  • OfferQ – A social network for daily deals.

Across the board, the quality of the teams was high, nearly akin to what you might see at a Y Combinator or TechStars in the USA.

The Winners to Intern at iContact

Two of the winning teams will be coming to North Carolina in October for a three week internship at iContact. We are very excited to host them.

They will have a chance to observe every area at iContact including marketing, customer service, sales, finance, and technology. They will also have a chance to meet with investors in both North Carolina and New York City.

The other two teams will have the chance to attend the three-month Startup Bootcamp in Denmark in September, October, and November.

Creation of an Investment Fund for Egyptian Tech Entrepreneurs

On Wednesday night, we all had the opportunity to have dinner at the residence of the Danish Ambassador to Egypt.

While there, we met Hany Al Sanbaty, an Egyptian venture capitalist who runs Sawari Ventures and�Flat6 Labs, an incubator and fund that is launching in Egypt in July.

We were so impressed by the quality of the Egyptian tech entrepreneurs. We wanted to do something tangible and meaningful to show our belief in that these businesses would succeed.

After discussing, members of the American and Danish delegations came together that evening to create a $100,000 pool of committed angel investment funds (which has since grown larger) to invest in the Egyptian tech companies that will come out of the Flat6 Labs incubator in the coming months. The excitement on both sides was palpable when we announced this commitment the next day at the finals. It was clear that we believed in these Egyptian entrepreneurs and were willing to back them with more than words.

Leaving Cairo

And so, after a wonderful celebratory dinner cruise for all participants on the Nile earlier tonight, now I am in the Cairo airport heading back home to the USA.

Tonight, I leave Egypt inspired. And I leave immensely impressed by what Egyptian youth can accomplish, whether it is in eighteen days in the Spring or five days in the Summer.

Going to Egypt Tomorrow

June 24, 2011

Hello from Boston. I’m here today for year three of the EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program.

I am excited to be heading to Egypt tomorrow as part of a U.S. State Department and USAID funded program in alliance with the Egyptian and Danish governments. I’ll be headed there with American entrepreneurs Shama Kabani, Alexis Ohanian, and Scott Gerber of the Young Entrepreneurs Council.

We’ll be mentoring 48 young Egyptian tech entrepreneurs ages 18-30 in Cairo with the NextGen IT Entrepreneurs Bootcamp and judging a business plan competition. Four of the winners will be coming to the US in October to intern at iContact for three weeks. I’m passionate about using business, technology, and entrepreneurship as tools to make a positive impact in the world, so this will be a great opportunity to see Egypt and work with great tech entrepreneurs in an exciting part of the world.

This will be my fourth trip to Africa, but first in North Africa. In about 5% of my spare time, I invest in tech entrepreneurs in the US and Africa via the Humanity Fund, so when I was asked to go by Scott Gerber I knew it would be right up my alley.

Egypt is passing through a very significant time in it’s history and it will be fascinating to be there. Quoting one of the participants in the program, “Egypt holds an important place in human history as one of the birthplaces of commerce, and the knowledge and experience of Egyptian business people will lead to many exciting and valuable products, services, and innovations for years to come. This is a great time for Egypt to truly shine.”

Here’s some additional info on the program. More blogging to come as I’m there…

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NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp
Background

The NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, is a collaborative effort by the Government of Denmark, the U.S. State Departments Global Entrepreneurship Program, the United States Agency for International Developments Egypt Competitiveness Project, and the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, affiliated with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The NexGen IT Boot Camp is a series of training events that includes a Business Plan Awareness Class and an IT Master Class. The later will be taught by US and Danish Delegates in which prizes will be awarded to four winning teams.
Process of Selection of prizes
After the each winner is announced first and second place winners will chose what prize they prefer, the internship in the US or the Boot Camp in Denmark. The third place winners will chose depending if first and second place split their choices. The fourth place winner will be given the remaining prize.
More on the US internship @ iContact
The US internship will be with iContact in October. iContact is based in Raleigh, NC and is working to make email marketing and social marketing easy so that small and midsized companies and causes can grow and succeed. Founded in 2003, iContact has more than 300 employees and more than 700,000 users of its leading email marketing software.
As a B Corporation, iContact utilizes the 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Model, donating 1% of payroll, 1% of employee time to community volunteering, 1% of equity, and 1% of product to its local and global community as part of its social mission. iContact works hard to maintain a fun, creative, energetic, challenging and caring company culture.. The triangle business journal (Local North Carolina business newspaper) has named iContact one of the best places to work. The company has been listed on Inc. 500 3 years in a row and its founders Ryan Allis and Aaron Houghton were selected by Inc. Magazine 30 under 30 in 2009 as two of Americas Coolest Young Entrepreneurs.
Two of the winning winning teams, composed of two individuals, will win the opportunity to gain critical knowledge of how to grow a business during a three weeks internship at iContact in Raleigh North Carolina. The iContact internship will be an entrepreneurial rotation in which the interns will learn about the critical parts of the business including marketing/sales, IT, customer service and finance. The internship is paid for by USAID through the Egyptian Competitiveness Project (ECP).

The NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, is a collaborative effort by the Government of Denmark, the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, the United States Agency for International Development’s Egypt Competitiveness Project, and the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, affiliated with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The NexGen IT Boot Camp is a series of training events that includes a Business Plan Awareness Class and an IT Master Class. The later will be taught by US and Danish Delegates in which prizes will be awarded to four winning teams. Two of the winning teams will travel to the US in October to intern at iContact, a very rapidly growing American tech company.

More on the US internship @ iContact

The US internship will be with iContact in October. iContact is based in Raleigh, NC and is working to make email marketing and social marketing easy so that small and midsized companies and causes can grow and succeed. Founded in 2003, iContact has more than 300 employees and more than 700,000 users of its leading email marketing software.

As a B Corporation, iContact utilizes the 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Model, donating 1% of payroll, 1% of employee time to community volunteering, 1% of equity, and 1% of product to its local and global community as part of its social mission. iContact works hard to maintain a fun, creative, energetic, challenging and caring company culture. The Triangle Business Journal has named iContact one of the best places to work. The company has been listed on Inc. 500 3 years in a row and its founders Ryan Allis and Aaron Houghton were selected by Inc. Magazine 30 under 30 in 2009.

Two of the winning winning teams, composed of two individuals, will win the opportunity to gain critical knowledge of how to grow a business during a three weeks internship at iContact in Raleigh North Carolina. The iContact internship will be an entrepreneurial rotation in which the interns will learn about the critical parts of the business including marketing/sales, IT, customer service and finance. The internship is paid for by USAID through the Egyptian Competitiveness Project (ECP).

12 Life Lessons

April 15, 2011

Tonight I gave the graduation speech at the Leadership Triangle College Edition graduation that nineteen amazing local college students from Duke, UNC, NC State, NCCU, Shaw, Meredith, St. Augustine’s, and Peace college have participated in. In preparation for the speech I wrote down “12 Life Lessons” I’ve learned in the last ten years. I only mentioned a handful of them during the actual speech, but here are the prep notes…

  1. Surround yourself with people you like and admire. You are who you surround yourself with. It pays to choose the people you surround yourself with carefully.
  2. Put positive thoughts into your head. The internal message that you tell yourself over and over becomes reality. Thoughts become things. Don’t be insecure. Be confident. YOU ARE AMAZING! You are all here because you are brilliant. Life is a wonderful opportunity. Believe in your power to do good.
  3. Laughter is the best medicine for stress. Laugh at yourself often. Find what is funny in whatever situation you’re in.
  4. Take time to think about and write down your goals and frame them!!! Set bigger goals than you think are actually possible to achieve and try to hit about 50% of them. If you’re hitting more than 50% of your goals, they’re not ambitious enough!
  5. Don’t worry about what other people think about you. Just be yourself.
  6. Travel the world at every opportunity you get. Take an interest in what’s going on in the world. Know about the tremendous opportunities in Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America.
  7. Build authentic relationships in which you give. Don’t build fake relationships.
  8. To find a job, stop sending resumes out blindly! Just find 5 people who you want to be in 20 years who have accomplished what you want to accomplish and build an authentic relationship with them at least a year before you need a “job”. Start by offering to take them to coffee or lunch and keep asking 1x per month until they say yes :-) .
  9. Don’t take a normal job. Only take a job working with great people doing something you really enjoy doing.
  10. Find something you’re passionate about that you love doing that you enter the “flow state” when you do it, then figure out how you can create value (and maybe make money) doing that!
  11. Save and invest money whenever you can and never ever go into debt for something you don’t need. Make your money work for you.
  12. Spend more hours reading than you do watching TV! Book recommendations: Think and Grow Rich, Rich Dad Poor Dad, and How to Win Friends and Influence People.

What do you think?? What key life lessons have you learned in the last ten years?

Announcing iContact Free Edition

April 13, 2011

iContact is announcing iContact Free Edition today – a no cost version of our email marketing and social marketing tool designed to enable more individuals, community organizations, and small businesses to grow and succeed using the power of easy online marketing tools.

Here’s the video announcement…

For more info, take a look at the iContact Blog Post – Helping More Companies & Causes Succeed with iContact Free Edition.

iContact Free Edition:

  • Is available for anyone with up to 500 subscribers on his or her list and who wants to send up to 2,000 emails per month
  • Allows anyone to manage his or her list of contacts; use our professionally designed templates; send email and social messages; and track opens, clicks, and social views
  • Includes 24 premium designer templates in addition to a library of basic templates
  • Includes social media integration with Facebook and Twitter, free iPhone and Android apps, and a built-in survey tool
  • Includes chat and email support

You can give iContact Free Edition a try at www.icontact.com.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog post Aaron and I wrote as co-founders on the iContact blog this morning…

We want iContact to become a great global company someday–a great company that is passionate about customer success, building easy online marketing tools, and social responsibility.

And so today we have an exciting announcement that we believe enables iContact to help more companies and causes succeed.

We’re proud to announce iContact Free Edition, a no-cost version of our email marketing and social marketing tool.

We believe that everyone needs a chance. As two entrepreneurs who set out to build a company while still in college, we can’t count the number of people who helped us get started.

For individuals, community organizations, and small businesses that are just starting out, we believe email marketing and social marketing should be free, easy to use, AND backed by great customer support.

Whether you use iContact Free Edition, iContact, or iContactPlus, we’re passionate about your success.”

Finally, here’s an awesome photo from a helicopter yesterday afternoon of our employees preparing to announce iContact Free Edition to the world by spelling out the word ‘free’ in our courtyard…

CEO Role #1: Setting the Mission, Vision, & Purpose

April 5, 2011

Here’s a short except from the article “The CEO Job Description” that I’m slowly writing over the course of a couple months whenever I have a few moments…

CEO Role #1: Set Your Mission, Vision, and Purpose (MVP Statement)

Why does your company exist? What is the problem you are trying to solve? Where are you going in the future? In order to keep your growing team on the same page you should define (and put up on visible flat screen monitors if you can) your purpose, mission, and vision.

What’s the difference between a purpose, mission, and vision. Mission is the WHAT, the vision is the FUTURE, and purpose is the WHY.

Mission – Your company’s mission is the WHAT you are trying to achieve

  • iContact’s Mission: Making online marketing easy so companies and causes can grow and succeed.

We also have a “specific what” that is a quantitative mission. We call this our 2020 mission, which is “to become the largest global provider of software and services that make online marketing easy so companies and causes can grow and succeed.”

Vision – Your company’s vision is the description of the FUTURE

  • iContact’s Vision: Build a great global company, based in North Carolina, for our customers, employees, and community.

Purpose – Your company’s purpose is the WHY behind what you do what you do.

  • iContact’s Purpose: Create value for our customers, employees, community, and shareholders while having fun and serving as a model for what a high-growth venture-backed company can become in terms of social and environmental responsibility.

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