Aly El Shalakany is CEO of Cairo Angels Syndicate Fund, a $5 million micro VC fund investing in early stage startups in the Middle East and Africa. He is also a founding partner of Saudi Angel Investors, president of the Middle East Angel Investment Network (MAIN) and a limited partner in a number of venture capital funds, including the Launch Fund in Silicon Valley and the LegalTech Fund.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from early stage investing in Egypt?
One of the things I love about being an investor is that you never stop learning! If I had to pick one lesson, I would say that the best way to look at the investor-founder relationship is as a long term partnership that can easily last five to ten years. With that mindset, you know you are in it together through thick and thin. Honestly, its kind of like a marriage. You get what you put in, so I try to give the maximum support to the founders I invest in.
What skill set do you most value in an entrepreneur you want to back?
Perseverance is top of my list. There are obviously many other key attributes you need to identify, but building amazing products and businesses is really, really tough and there will be many difficult times when a founder can start to develop self doubt and may not get enough positive support externally. This is when perseverance and true grit come to the fore and is the one quality that can save the day and take the founder to new heights.
Where are the untapped opportunities in the MENA region and Egypt in particular?
There are a lot of exciting categories that we like a lot that may not be as popular today as other sectors, like fintech for example. One of those is edtech. I wouldn’t say this is untapped, but I think this space doesn’t get the plaudits it deserves and there are some amazing companies across the Middle East and Africa building great products that are changing lives everyday. People confuse the fact that you can deliver great impact and also make excellent returns and that’s exactly what these startups are doing.
What tech investment do you regret missing when you had the chance?
As a general rule, I try not to have regrets in life, but that is even more so when it comes to the investments I missed out on, because it’s a long list that can haunt you. One example is El Menus, one of the leading food discovery and delivery platforms in Egypt. I have known Amir Allam, the founder and CEO, for many years and I was and continue to be a very happy customer of El Menus. We had an opportunity to invest at seed round many years ago, but we couldn’t agree on valuation. Oh well! Anyway, they have gone on to do great things and I am proud of Amir and his team.
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