Businesswoman Mai Medhat made her dream a reality and her strategy for success is one the entrepreneurs of tomorrow can learn from, Y’s Alvin Thomas discovers.
In the eyes of the Arab world, Egyptian entrepreneur Mai Medhat is a business titan.
From starting off with a skeletal concept that has culminated in her leading one of the largest digital event platform and networking applications in the world – Eventtus – she has come a long way since her early days as a software engineer.
In fact, her concept has been so widely accepted that the company has taken control of more than 10,000 events in the span of eight years since its inception.
Mai remains one among an exclusive panel of Arab women who have been interviewed live on television alongside former US president Barack Obama and the chairman and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
While some entrepreneurs reckoned that she’d hit the peak of her career at the time of the interview in 2016, she continues to prove time and again how she’s on the way to creating an empire.
We caught the 30-year-old CEO for a quick interview following her interaction with the visionaries of tomorrow at the Startup Grind Muscat event in the Innovation Factory in the Knowledge Oasis Muscat.
The humble and soft-spoken entrepreneur has some insights to share – but it’s the story of her success we all want to know about.
She says: “Everything starts with a dream that you have in your head. The key is to then put it down on paper and start working towards it so that it materialises.”
Mai’s “dream” began when she and her friend Nihal Fares met when studying to become computer engineers at the Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. The duo went on to procure Master’s degrees in their fields before finally making the shift to work as full-time employees for companies in the region.
“I started my career working for companies but I always had the entrepreneurial big in me. I wanted to do something on that with Nihal,” Mai reveals.
“So, what I did next was I began networking. There’s no point having the skills and sitting on it, which a lot of the youth tends to do.”
Her networking soon took her to the first Startup Weekend in Cairo, where she began meeting people in the industry and garnering experience from them. And several roadblocks later, she – along with Nihal – started their own event software solutions company, Eventtus, in 2011.
Eight years down the line, her company, which focuses on digitising events, ticketing and providing one-stop solutions with mobile technology and applications, has become the largest of its kind in the region.
During her public interaction, Mai recollects: “Nothing comes easy. In fact, even with Eventtus, we had a lot to prove to the people and ourselves. We would, therefore, attend a lot of startup events to meet people learn more about the latest in technologies.”
It was during one such event when Nihal and Mai realised the need for a company such as Eventtus, she explains, as she looks into the optimistic eyes of the budding entrepreneurs that are jotting down valuable notes.
She is, without a doubt, a product of hard work and determination.
And in our interview, she reveals: “There has been so much that has gone into Eventtus since its start, and honestly, our greatest success comes from building a platform that addresses an issue.
“Don’t open up a company because you want to; do it because the community needs it. That way, you know there’s a market for that. And in our case, bringing a digital outlook into events was key.
“It hadn’t been done before, and that’s why we continue to try and innovate; to stay ahead at all times.
“Bringing technology into events isn’t just a value-added service anymore. It’s become a necessity. That way, people can make the most out of a great service while procuring much easier routes to attain the same result,” she says.
The net worth of Mai’s company isn’t known, but in 2017, Eventtus was ranked as the 48th most innovative tech idea in Forbes’ top 100 startups from the Arab world.
Mai’s ideas are unique to the region, and she says it gives her an edge in the market. But, we cannot fail to ask for her thoughts on recent acquisitions of Arab-born tech companies by Western conglomerates.
She smiles, as she says: “There’s no right answer to this question. I believe that it relies on what’s the next step or vision of the founders for their company.
“There’s still a ceiling on the market in our region. So, unless you have the power, investment, and partners to go beyond this market, it’ll be very tough.
“Maybe an acquisition is what’s necessary for the company at that point but it all depends on the business and market they’re in.
Talking about transportation solution provider Careem’s recent US$3.1bn (RO 1.2bn) acquisition by US-based company Uber, she says: “I’m very happy for everyone with Careem. I think it gives a huge push to the market.
“But, all the startups need to understand that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel some day, and it needn’t always be an acquisition.
“An acquisition of Careem now brings great value to the startup ecosystem and also the numbers they’ve brought to the company and its employees of the company is amazing.
“Now, you’ll see a wave of new entrepreneurs and investors coming in. Besides, all the employees now know about the company, the scale of operations, and how to run such a great company to compete on a global level,” she explains.
“I’m sure you’ll see a lot more startups going down that road; acquiring overseas experience to compete on a much more bigger scale at either local or international markets.
On a note to the aspiring entrepreneurs in the room, she then says: “Who knows, maybe the next big idea will come from this room. And it may be so great that an international firm may want to come and take a slice of your brilliant idea.” ν