With accelerated digitalization brought on by the COVID-13 crisis, TechInvest is optimistic about Kuwait’s future forays into the digital economy.
What lessons have you learned from the current crisis, and can you tell us about TechInvest’s ability to adapt and be resilient?
There is always an opportunity in every crisis. The gift of chaos is wasted on those who refuse to look past the obstacle. For example, the chaos forced everyone to adopt digitalization. Luckily, this has been in play for the past few years. The current crisis is validating online economy, which has become more resilient and more of a reality than the brick-and-mortar retail of branded regional malls. The pandemic is the final nail in the coffin for retail real estate; it has put an end to short-sighted business expectations. With barcodes and QR codes now being used by everybody, all parts of society are becoming automated overnight. Metaphorically, we have been resocialized in this period of crisis. We have automated and integrated into this virtual network of food delivery, acquiring all kinds of permits and licenses online. Capitalizing on this momentum will help us get ready to be on the forefront of the adoption of e-commerce and e-government, and transition toward a knowledge-based economy and society.
What is your assessment of the government’s response to the pandemic, and what more can be done to support start-ups and particularly tech SMEs?
First, the government did a fantastic job in adopting technology and educating people how to use it. The government has taken initiatives so that people can make appointments, consult a doctor, or do shopping online. This process was a crash course in educating the community, connecting people, and making them feel that they are a part of this. As to how this is going to translate into the government supporting business, we have seen public entities like Kuwait Ports Authority automate their processes. The Central Bank of Kuwait recently passed regulation allowing banks to accept new clients online. I am an investor in an online coding academy, and we have seen an increase in the number of people who want to learn coding and gaming, as well as people who want to learn how to start a business. The demand is there, the will is there, and so are the technological capabilities and infrastructure— all it requires is more direct support and investments.
What opportunities are you looking for now, and from an investment standpoint, how does this change your priorities or redefine your strategies?
Luckily, in February 2020, we had a final close for our Micro VC 3.0 Fund. It focuses on early stage, emerging managers, and operators. We are hoping people will realize now is the time to invest in early-stage private equity. It has been technically, statistically, and scientifically proven that the only asset class that realizes gains during such crisis is early-stage VCs. After 2008, investors who invested early in companies like Twitter, Airbnb, or Uber became billionaires. We have already identified online banking technologies that will completely disrupt the space. The three things I have invested in are edutech, fintech, and last-mile logistics.
How should Kuwait reopen for business to maximize the potential on offer?
What differentiates Kuwait and makes me hopeful is that all the start-ups here are started by people in their 20s. Kuwaitis are entrepreneurial in nature; we are the original venture capitalists. The government needs to understand that the entrepreneurs who came up with lifesaving technologies like Talabat, Carriage, and Zyda are all Kuwaiti. There are endless possibilities if we take that and scale it into every single vertical. We should empower employees to come up with alternatives to the old way of doing things in the oil, transportation, and real estate sectors. My role is to keep investing in funds that plan to enter the region and Kuwait. I would like to see the government funds invest in these start-ups and support local talent and employment. Without investment, there will be no growth, and we cannot generate high rewards without taking high risks.
we are the original venture capitalists.”