MENA’s Digital News, Week #4

A weekly round up of the top headlines from the digital sector in MENA, covering startups, corporate and public sector news.

Investments & Acquisitions

Careem raises $200M from existing investors, increasing it’s valuation to over $2B (EN) https://goo.gl/6kPEML (AR) https://goo.gl/wvnY3H

Unifonic, Saudi telecom startup, raises more than $21M in a Series A round from STV, Riyad TAQNIA Fund, Endeavor Catalyst, ELM, & Raed Ventures (EN) https://goo.gl/XYhcjx (AR) https://goo.gl/pJ2tS6

HitchHiker, Egypt’s crowd-shipping startup, raises its $200k seed investment https://goo.gl/XjbS79

Kashtah, Bahrain-based on-demand pool reservation, acquired by Kuwaiti Investors with plans to launch in Kuwait during 2019 https://goo.gl/4YN4gL

Emaar Invests in Texas based 3D printed housing technology startup ICON along with other investors https://goo.gl/GQUGWS

Sector News

UAEPASS, a National Digital Identity and Signature Solution, launched in partnership between Smart Dubai and the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) https://goo.gl/NisR1H

Dubai’s Emcredit launches blockchain powered payment with Pundi X POS systems https://goo.gl/2ibrvm

Ecommerce platforms in Egypt are now required to charge and remit VAT https://goo.gl/umfpe8 

New Pan-African Data Centre Association launched in Morocco https://goo.gl/nbVzvo 

Smaat launches programmatic advertising platform Shaheen https://goo.gl/JhLYAA 

The Lab:Suli, Iraq’s first co-working space launches in Sulaimani https://goo.gl/KHM5Gm

UAE-based global satellite operator, Yahsat launches YahClick in Zimbabwe https://goo.gl/FWP2bm

PolicyBazaar, Indian Insurtech startup back by Softbank, expands to the UAE https://goo.gl/TWco65

RYOT Studio, Verizon Adtech subsidiary, launches in MENA in partnership with ConnectAds https://goo.gl/kLKp6T

Further Readings

Softbank Vision Fund in active talks with UK based Oaknorth, digital lending platform, for potential investment, this would mark the fund’s 3rd UK investment https://goo.gl/osJxrw

Recent Books 

The Fix, How Countries Use Crises to Solve the World’s Worst Problems by Jonathan Tepperman
A global cruise exploring how different leader solved national disasters from lack of natural resources to fighting poverty. 

“…when confronted with an impossible situation, wisdom often lies in forgoing the optimal for the acceptable”

No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein
I wish we could apply this book to really life, but in my humble experience in the emerging world, the immediate realities of poverty, lack of access and education would make this utopia a little far off

“multinationals were competing in a race toward weightlessness: whoever owned the least, had the fewest employees on the payroll, and produced the most powerful images as opposed to things, won the race” – about the rise of brands that led to the election of the “Trump Brand”

The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis (audible Only)
Highlights the historic treasure trove of environmental data held at the US economic department threatened by corporate influence on politics and the lethal implications that can ensue due to ignore the facts on climate change. 


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In Personal News…

This has been published later than usual today, as I have been caught up with preps for a short vacation and work trip to Istanbul starting tomorrow to attend Startup Istanbul, and speak at Global South Tech’s Turkey Meetup. If you’re in town, do reach out or join either event! 


MENA’s Digital News, Week #3

A weekly round up of the top headlines from the digital sector in MENA, covering startups, corporate and public sector news.

Investments & Acquisitions

Smart Crowd, Dubai’s real-estate crowdfunding platform, has raised $600k in seed funding from Shorooq Investments, Abaxx Technologies and 500Startups https://goo.gl/trmPFX 

AnaMehani, an online services marketplace, raises a third investment round from V.P.F Limited and moves it’s operations to Cairo (EN) https://goo.gl/YSuig6 (AR) https://goo.gl/3M8gMd 

Kitopi, Foodtech, raises a seed round from CE Ventures and BECO Capital https://goo.gl/K97dSz 

Skiplino Raises Series A Round from KISP Ventures https://goo.gl/ynM2Fy

Training Calendar, skill-development marketplace, raises $1M in seed funding https://goo.gl/tXbNvu 

BeyondCapital invests in Tickitto, AI powered digital concierge (on Linkedin) https://goo.gl/nr6CHL

Qordoba Announces $11.5M Series B Funding https://goo.gl/1fELPx

Samara, Saudi car-rental company, acquires CarSpa, mobile on-demand car services startup (on Linkedin) https://goo.gl/2qj1d3

Qwikly Dubai

Sector News

Jordan’s Arab Bank announces plans to launch a $30M fintech fund and incubator before end of October https://goo.gl/9ftPVN 

Bahrain’s Economic Development Board announces plans to raise a $100M Fintech fund outside the existing $100M AlWafa fund of funds announced earlier in the year https://goo.gl/i1qqgt 

Saudi British Bank (SABB) to Acquire Alawwal Bank for $5B https://goo.gl/wvNDSq

Dubai Airports signs 10-year extension with leading outdoor advertising company JCDecaux https://goo.gl/1MkXnF

Islamic Finance company embarks on launching Digital Sukuk in the age of cryptocurrency, followed by an Ethereum blockchain asset in 2019 https://goo.gl/h1TaEq

Shared electric scooters to hit Dubai pavements soon https://goo.gl/n4mSyV 

Egypt is producing smartphones and expanding it into Africa https://goo.gl/F9qhbn

Further Readings

ArabNet’s Kuwait Innovation Economy Tech Startups 2018 Report: “88% of Kuwaiti startups mention referral marketing as a key challenge to attracting new business.” https://goo.gl/XuoXMb 

CBInsight’s “How Saudi Arabia Is Hedging Against An Oil-Less Future” https://goo.gl/1wGfqk

NEOM announces it’s global advisory board including prominent names such as: YCombinator’s Sam Altman; Az16’s Marc Andreessen; Uber’s Travis Kalanick; and ofcourse Softbank’s Masayoshi Son https://goo.gl/GdYTQr

SoftBank Vision Fund in talks for a majority stake investment in WeWork totaling ~$15B; it already owns 20% after committing $4.4B last year https://goo.gl/CwrWko

MIT and Qatar Computing Research Institute are working on a training computers to detect fake news sites https://goo.gl/MtCGrJ 


The rise of the data monster

What’s framing the discussion about data within your organization or personal consumption today? For me it’s the following:

  • GDPR leading to a decrease in trackbacks on websites in the EU and an increase in trackbacks on US based sites [here]
  • IBM’s latest Cost of Data Breach report, that shows the MENA is the second most expensive geography to endure a data breach by public and private sector [here]
  • Tim Berners-Lee’s (Director of the World Wide Web) latest venture for increased data-ownership protocols by the consumer vs platforms [here]
  • Endless breaches: from AppleID’s used in China [here], to Facebook’s latest breach [here] and final coffin of Google+ security loophole [here]
  • Bloomberg’s disputed article on China’s spying espionage which was widely denied by everyone 

I have also recently read and reviewed Unscaled by Hemant Taneja which focuses on the rise of decentralization and its long term impact on the business world as we know it. Which evoked me to think: “Something I’d sign up for: an encrypted lifetime health record that can only be accessed with a biometric password or a physical encryption key, were only the patient owns their data and can “lease” or give access to their data to doctors and health care providers as needed (or to pharma and researchers)” 

From an individuals perspective: Maybe a decentralized data future would be a replacement for that “important documents” folder you have lying around in the back of your closet with everything from birth certificates to contracts, into an encrypted folder that can be accessed or authorized partially as needed. 

From a business perspective: To get better at security we need far more (cyber)security engineers and researchers. Are you training some or investing in getting more on your team?
Also what checks and balances do you have in place to secure your supply chain regardless where your manufacturing is done. Do you have security auditors in-house or outsourced? How to you take responsibility for your service or product?

Food for thought. 


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Google vs Advertisers; Does google have too much Ad power?

2 minutes

First lets spell out some facts:

  • According to Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends Report Facebook & Google control 85% of online ad growth
  • Google Ad revenues for Q4’16 were $22.4B, represent 86% of total Alphabet revenues
  • Ad blockers have been growing at a rate of 41% year-on-year
  • Adblocker Plus reached 100M users during May 2016 and launched an Ad Exchange by Sept 2016
  • Chrome has more than 50% browser marketshare & Google search *drum roll* 77.8%
According to alphr.com 50% of their readers come from chrome

Google Ads + No Ads

As you may have heard Google is planning on launching their own Ad-blocker on Chrome by 2018! Here’s the problem though, everyone is competing for a share of Google’s ad revenue pie already, and now Google wants to control whose ads to block as well… that doesn’t sound right.

Google has already prioritized results on mobile that use AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages Project) and / or are mobile optimized on top of Google’s ever changing search algorithms. While many may be talking about Ad safety and standards for unified ad metrics (how many seconds counts as a view for a video?), can we ask: Who holds Google (and Facebook) accountable for ad-neutrality?

The rise of adblockers on mobile — Pagefair

Adblocker Plus vs Chrome

ABP (Adblocker Plus) launched an Ad network after accumulating alot of data on ads that consumers hate (block) and how publishers serve their ads (server pings + speed). Which placed them in a position to answer: What (type, shape, placement etc) ads will my target audience likely respond to without getting annoyed? ABP is not an advertiser.

Google has been serving ads for over a decade and have extensive data on ads: types, interaction, conversion, tracking, etc. Enough data to expect what ads will go unnoticed, increase conversion, or annoy a user. Google also has their own suite of products to push to consumers and compete with a lot of companies (under Alphabet) that use the internet to promote their services. Google, Alphabet, produce everything from to-do-lists to self driving cars.

Data Data Data

Chrome and Google has SO MUCH data about their users, and even more on their prolific users (guilty). It was hard for me to imagine switching to another browser while I read Eric Petitt’s “Browse Against the Machine”, but come to think of it, he’s right! Google (and chrome) know too much, all to fuel more Ads, it’s not a fair battle ground for advertisers and surely not a fair battle ground for any Alphabet competitors.

  • What can publishers do to control how much power Google has over their advertising (and ad revenues)?
  • Is it time a conversation about ad-neutrality is raised?
  • Is Google too big to stand up against at this stage? While the Youtube ad backlash allow us to extend that conversation to more ad-related discrepancies?

Is Google simply to be trusted to fairly regulate itself against bias? If Bing ran an Adwords campaign, would Adwords recommend ways to optimize the campaign and improve conversion?

This post originally appeared on Medium on Jun 6, 2017