This morning it was my turn to be the teacher. I had an hour long slot to talk about Customer Development. Moving away from the buzzwords, this basically means finding people who will buy your product, ideally before you even launch. It's about getting feedback on people's habits, i.e. how are they already solving the problem? And is this even a real problem for them? It's about avoiding empty compliments ("I love it!") and drilling down into whether or not people will actually show you a real commitment to buy or use your product.
I am very fortunate in that I spent a year working alongside Rob Fitzpatrick who literally wrote the book about Customer Development, so not only have I seen him give this workshop maybe 20 times, he also very kindly let me use his slide deck in Gaza. No point trying to reinvent the wheel, right? Plus, his whole approach is about open sourcing knowledge so that people become better entrepreneurs. THANK YOU ROB!
Customer Development is key learning for any startup founder anywhere in the world - but after the conversations I had had on Day One, it did feel particularly pertinent in Gaza. Most people have their eye on the Saudi Arabia / UAE market, because they are rich and populous places. But, if you are not physically in those places, and if you don't know anyone there, how can you find out whether people will really buy your product? Basel was my interpreter for this session, as well as being the MC / compere for the whole bootcamp - and he did a great job fielding questions and explaining the concepts.
For lunch we had a traditional Gazan dish prepared by Hani's mother (Hani is the key logistics person for Gaza Sky Geeks) called Maknuba, which translates as "Upside Down". It's beef or chicken cooked with onions, aubergine, potatoes, tomatoes on the bottom of a huge pot, and with the rice on top. You have to know what you're doing when you serve this dish because it can easily go wrong... The waiter from the restaurant did the honours, bringing the pot out upside down on a large platter, tapping it on the sides, and then slowly slowly lifting the pot up so that the rice stands straight up with the meat and vegetables on top. It was quite the performance, and it tasted delicious too!
Just before lunch I was introduced the Head of Software Engineering at one of the universities in Gaza, and we discovered that we had both been studying at the University of Birmingham at the same time! He introduced me to some of his students, all expert developers who can throw together Android apps in a day...
The afternoon was dedicated for more mentoring meetings with the teams. One of the coolest ideas I heard today was Newsi. They want to build an app that will do two things: 1) bring people curated news stories from sources around the world, and 2) work "offline" so that it can be used where there is no 3G connection, i.e. in Gaza and the West Bank. Maybe this is just my own biased interest in "tech for good", but really when you think about it, the US and UK markets are pretty saturated with tech startups and solutions - there are far more opportunities for innovative ideas in places where tech and entrepreneurship is still in its infancy. In places like Palestine you have young, technologically literate, educated, and ambitious people - they are the ones who are going to change the world. This is true of many African countries too: check out Salim Virani's work with Source Institute (I was fortunate to work alongside him too, at the same time as working with Rob.)
Officially the team mentoring slot was from 4pm - 6pm, but we ended up sticking around til 7pm, which gave people plenty of time for some informal mentoring... oh, and a gazillion selfies! We went for dinner at Roots hotel (we're doing the bootcamp in Roots 2), and to round the night off, we had nargile, fruit smoothies, and dessert back at Al Deira hotel where we are staying.
I got to hear more about Basel's amazing story (my interpreter in the morning, and the bootcamp's MC/compere)... 21 years old and he's done so much already! He started the first and only TEDx in Gaza, and was chosen to participate in a 6 week leadership course in the USA alongside 45 other promising future leaders from around the world. Heba (GSG's mentor coordinator) and Basel together started Gaza's debate club, and they've been invited to participate in debates around the world (they are fundraising to cover the costs of their trips - please do click through and read their story, as I can't do it justice here.) Both Heba and Basel are the ultimate connectors and community leaders - with the same recognisable qualities as the community leaders who I know in Sheffield. They have a natural ability to bring people together, to break down barriers, to encourage and support people to reach their full potential... they are bursting with energy and good ideas, and have the dedication to see through their ideas to completion. Honestly, I am blown away by both of these amazing people!!