Talk to 500 Startups’ Dave McClure about what’s important for his seed fund and accelerator going forward and, it’s not just about finding and supporting whiz-bang entrepreneurs, it’s supporting entrepreneurial and ecosystem growth outside of the U.S. Many of the top accelerators in the U.S. have been working to expand their programs and networks at home and abroad before the accelerator bubble bursts.
Adeo Ressi and Founder Institute are of the same mindset and, in many ways, they have a head start on the international front. In December of last year, Founder Institute already claimed to be the largest accelerator (in terms of graduates), with over 20 percent (100+) hailing from overseas.
Since then, FI has been continuing its expansion march, doubling its presence in Europe during the month of October, for example, by launching chapters in Croatia, Finland, Rome, Ukraine — on top of those already existing in Germany, France, Belgium and The Netherlands. This puts the early-stage startup accelerator on pace to launch over 250 European companies in 2013, which it hopes will begin generating 1K new jobs/year. Today, it has over 660 alumni worldwide.
However, many Western minds (and media outlets) tend to overlook innovation happening outside of Europe, specifically in the Middle East. And to be fair, there’s good reason that the Middle East, at least traditionally, hasn’t been seen as a hotbed for startups or technological boundary-pushing. In fact, as Mehrunisa Qayyum recently pointed out, the Middle East is now wrestling with its reputation as being, instead, a hotbed for clones.
However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Qayyum continues. And she’s right. As I’ve written about the fast-growing Peak Games (a Turkish social gaming startup), there’s big opportunity for startups, mobile developers and entrepreneurs in localizing everything from games to Groupons for the Arab World — and beyond. Look at how Peak Games is doing it.
Just because one is taking a successful format and applying it amidst a different cultural backdrop, doesn’t mean it’s blatant copy-and-past porting. Peak Games has been gobbling up local engineering talent and game development houses to help it build original titles for an Arab market that put a local spin on formulas that have worked well for Western gamers. Either way, this localization is a good place to start, even if originality is the end-game for Middle Eastern and MENA-based innovation.
These is the type of discussion (and the types of lessons) Founder Institute is attempting to produce as it quietly rolls out across the Middle East. In conversation with FI Founder Adeo Ressi, who just returned from a whistle-stop tour across Europe and the Middle East, where the startup accelerator is already operating a chapter in Tel Aviv Israel and has recently launched new chapters in Istanbul (Turkey), Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and Alexandria (Egypt). It is also currently developing chapters in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman.
“The Middle East is particular interesting to us,” Ressi says, “both because it collectively has a young population that’s growing fast and is increasingly literate in web and mobile tech as well as the fact that young, entrepreneurially-minded people in these countries have traditionally been underserved and overlooked by incubation and accelerator programs.”
What’s more, historically, parts of the Middle East also have embattled relationships with supporting female entrepreneurship, women’s rights and roles in business. While the landscape is still far from ideal, things are beginning to change and Ressi says that Founder Institute sees huge potential in these countries for female founders.
While its Middle Eastern initiative is still incipient, the founder is optimistic because in the case of its chapters in Egypt, Oman, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Founder Institute has been invited into each country by the state as a way to promote the growth and stability of tech innovation. Again, the founder sees this as an opportunity to encourage women to put on entrepreneurial hats and to help accelerate those already-existing female-led enterprises in the region.
“Our goal is to get to a place where 50 percent of our graduates are female,” Adeo says — a goal they’re already nearing in Israel. It’s not going to be easy, as women often face a greater number of obstacles in starting a business everywhere, especially in the Middle East, he says, but you can argue that the extra effort will lead those who are willing to try to even greater success.
And while challenges lie ahead, change is coming. “If there wasn’t an opportunity for women in the Middle East,” Ressi tells us, “we wouldn’t be there.”
500 Startups recently funded its first Middle Eastern startup called Jeeran — a Yelp for the Arab world — and for more info on startup initiative and support in the Middle East, check out these two posts.
Over the last several months, the biggest Western social gaming companies have been making moves, and attracting attention as a result. Japanese gaming giant GREE bought Funzio for $210 million to help it move into Western markets, and Zynga grabbed Draw Something creator OMGPOP for $183 million. Meanwhile, European social gaming companies, like Sweden’s King.com and Germany’s wooga have been steadily moving up the developer leaderboards.
While the bigs all focus on Western markets, Istanbul-headquartered social gaming company Peak Games is busy taking a different tack, producing titles specifically for emerging markets, like the Middle East and North Africa. And it seems to be working. With just under 30 million monthly active users (MAUs) and 9.7 million daily active users (DAUs), Peak Games said today that it has become one of the three largest social gaming platforms in the world.
The company’s chief strategy officer Rina Onur says that the company has been able to do this in just a year-and-a-half based on its laser focus on building social titles based on popular card and board games that are native to the region and are tailored to Turkish and Arabic (local) markets, in their native tongue.
It’s a defensible strategy, Peak Games believes, as this approach to building games based on native, offline games (in the native language) can’t just be whipped up or ported in a few weeks. The startup has been quietly acquiring local development operatios, like hardcore strategy game studios Umaykut and Erlikhan (both of which are Turkish), as well as its recent purchase of Saudi Arabian social games giant Kammelna Games.
Again, these moves were made as part of the company’s effort to expand into markets underserved by gaming companies with localized, culturally-specific titles. Why? Well, for starters Onur says, young people in these regions are coming online en masse and they love games. There’s also the fact that Turkey and MENA have increasingly connected populations, and Turkey, for example, has the seventh largest Facebook markets, with over 30 million+ using the social network.
What’s more, in February, Onur told us that more than two-thirds of Internet users in Saudi Arabia were playing games online and that “the country has one of the highest average revenue per user (ARPU) rates in social gaming.”
Today, Peak Games seems to be benefitting in kind from this active gaming market, as Onur tells us that it’s seeing an average of between seven and eight cents in daily average revenue per user (DARPU) in Gulf countries — a rate which, she says, is noticeably higher compared to what’s seen in the U.S., U.K. and Germany.
Not only that, but of its some 10 million DAU and 30 million MAU, Onur says that an average of 2 percent convert to paying users on Facebook, 5 percent on iOS and 20 percent on the iPad. This led to Peak Games seeing a 10-fold increase in revenues in Q1 2012 over the same quarter in the year prior. And apparently this revenue growth is accelerating, as Peak’s revenue has grown 600 percent since January 1st.
There’s no question that Peak Games is growing fast and that it’s localization strategy is finding validation in a market that’s exploding with new gamers. But, as to its claim that its now the third largest social gaming company? If you look at AppData’s developer leaderboard for DAUs among gaming companies, Zynga is in first, King.com in second, EA in third, wooga in fourth, and Peak Games in fifth.
But, according to Onur, that some 5.9 million DAUs that one sees on Peak Games’ AppData profile page doesn’t include DAUs for their published titles. Adding the 3.7 million from their 11 published titles, one gets the 9.7 million number the company announced today, which sees them leap-frogging over EA (8.8 million DAUs) and wooga (8.2 million DAUs) into third.
These numbers are subject to change, and AppData is not always reliable, so these numbers should be viewed in that context. However, Peak Games certainly has reason to consider itself now part of a handful of the largest social gaming companies on the planet.
On the heels of this growth, the startup is also attempting to build out its leadership team to help it move beyond social into mobile and online platforms in emerging markets. Today, Peak announced that Ali Kutay, an angel investor and former CEO of WebLogic and GoldenGate (both multi-billion-dollar companies acquired by Oracle during his tenure) will be joining the company’s board of advisors.
Robert Unsworth is also joining the startup as director of business development. Unsworth was previously the VP of global sales and business development at Digital Chocolate.
The company is backed by $18 million from Earlybird Venture Capital and Hummingbird Ventures and now has over 170 employees.
Go here to read the rest: Is The Next Big Game Company In The Middle East? Peak Hits 9.5M DAU, Revenue Up 600% Since Jan. 1
Online private sales burst onto the scene a few years ago in the shape of Vente Privee in Europe and, later, Gilt in the US. It’s a model we all know and love – and it’s rapidly proving a model with which emerging economies are, well, rather obsessed. I was just recently in Istanbul where you can almost throw a stone and be sure of hit a private sales startup entrepreneur. And from there, and across the Middle East and North Africa (known as MENA), online businesses are growing like weeds.
And some investors know it. Thus today MarkaVIP, a runaway private sales success story in the Middle East has completed a $10 million Series B funding led by European venture firm Prime Ventures. It’s joined buy participation from New York City-based Invus Financial Advisors (IFA), Antwerp-based Hummingbird Ventures, and San Francisco-based Lumia Capital.
The cash will be used to expand MarkaVIP’s current operations and marketing, and expand into other parts of the Middle East, specifically the region known as the Gulf states, of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to its friends.
Ahmed Alkhatib, founder and CEO, MarkaVIP says the company pursued the funding to “focus on decreasing product delivery lead times and improve quality across the board.”
If you’re unfamiliar with MarkaVIP, was founded in Jordan in November 2010 by Alkhatib and Amer Abulaila, MarkaVIP’s CTO.
Since its launch in Jordan and Saudi Arabia in November 2010 and expansion across the GCC and Lebanonit’s garnered 1.5 million registered users and is adding around 5,000 new members per day.
Here’s a few stats for ya: The MENA apparel and accessories market is worth US$15 billion/year. But right now almost all of it is offline. Additionally, there are only 77m Internet users in MENA (excluding Turkey) right now with an overall Internet penetration of 30%, but this is still growing fast. Plus, there are 36m Facebook users in MENA (and this grew 30% in the last 6 months). So there is a huge opportunity here.
But MENA is not ALL about e-commerce, and that’s a theme I’ll be returning to soon, so watch this space…