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How gamification can empower the crowd: Interview with Mohammed Ezz ElDin, founder of Tennra

Photo credits: Tenra Facebook page

Raising funds for a new startup is a challenge that faces many entrepreneurs around the world, and in Egypt in particular. While some entrepreneurs look for investors or incubation programs, others use crowdsourcing as an alternative option, but how does that work in Egypt?

EgyptInnovate spoke to Mohamed Ezz ElDin, co-founder of Tennra, Egypt’s first gamified crowdsourcing platform.  The startup, which is less than a year old, has managed to raise 80,000 pounds after recently winning Injaz’ startup competition.

 

  • Tell us more about yourself. How did you become an entrepreneur?

My name is Mohamed Ezz ElDin. I graduated from the faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University in 2011, I used to play water polo professionally and I was a part of the National team.

When I was at college, I volunteered in many student activities, where I learned more about entrepreneurship. I love engineering but I knew I did not want to become an engineer, especially that my friends who graduated before me and had already started working always told me about their jobs and how boring they are. I thought: I don’t want to be that.

 

  • What is it that Tennra does? How was the idea born?

Tennra is a gamified crowd-funding platform that helps entrepreneurs fund their projects.

During my last year at college, I saw the crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter, for the first time.   I liked the idea and I found it very inspiring. There are so many good ideas here in Egypt that get lost because of the lack of funding. I wanted to build on what kickstarter was doing: add more features and create another platform here in Egypt. Unfortunately, I couldn’t start immediately, I had to serve in the military for a year right after graduation. The idea was put on hold.

 

  • So Tennra remained only an idea for quite a while. When was the moment that transformed this idea to reality?

After I finished my military service, my family started pressuring me to “try out” engineering then decide, the experience that most entrepreneurs have gone through with their families. I decided to give it a try and work in something that is somehow similar to what I want, especially that I had no one to help me with the technical part of building the website.

I got an offer in a multinational, and on the day when I was supposed to sign the contract, I remembered all the stuff I heard from my friends about their jobs. I apologized and left.

With the help of someone I met in one of the initiatives I launched when I was a student, A Cultural Corner, I was then offered a job from another company that was working on a program that provides young entrepreneurs. I worked for a whole year in the team that selects grants recipients, this helped me have a better picture of the ecosystem and understand that an entrepreneur needs other things along with funding.

After I left this job, I had the idea and the network to help me start, but I kept wondering how I can do the technical part. I was looking for a technical partner, but I decided to start anyway, so I started offline and launched a pilot in March 2013.

 

  • Offline gamification? How was that?

I knew an entrepreneur, Mohamed El Raffi who was working on an educational project called C.O.R.D. C.O.R.D teaches science through very interesting techniques like creating robots from very mundane objects like rulers and erasers. I did not want to start with a very big target, and Raffi was not looking for much funds (it was 5000 pounds), so he was willing to risk it. It seemed like a perfect chemistry.

We filmed a short video and started publishing it on social media and we organized events in 4 co-working spaces. People attended and listened to Raffi speak about the project, and then they were able to pay and support.

We wanted to prove our concept so we had board games during the events. We told people that if 10 people played the game, Tennra, as a company, will contribute with 500 pounds.18 people played. Some of them did not want to pay in the beginning and changed their mind after playing.

Some people also sent their pledges via google and then we contacted them to arrange a way to pick up the money.

The campaign went beyond our expectations and achieved 122% of the target.

 

  • But probably it would have been easier for you to launch the platform without the gamification concept. Why did you choose to do it anyway?

Internationally, crowd-funding campaigns work because of many factors that we still don’t have here in Egypt now. Culturally, the awareness with the potential of crowd-funding is much higher than here, many people are ready to support with $100, but here we have a real trust issue. It’s almost impossible for someone who needs 10,000 pounds to get them from individuals.

Why don’t corporates help? We thought. As a part of their corporate social responsibility, so many corporates fund charity organizations and in most of the times, they don’t get the exposure they want. We thought of a way to offer them this exposure through supporting something that could even be better than charity- not that I think charity is not good, I just think that other ways of development are more sustainable. We wanted to get companies involved with the crowd, and this is where the gamification idea came up.

 

  • Getting both the corporations and individuals to support entrepreneurs is such an interesting and unique concept. How were you able to convince both to be involved?

Marketeers usually use the gamification concept to engage people. It’s something like a game. For example, you can get users to answer 30 second quizzes about your brand, things like colors of your logo or other elements of your corporate identity.

We convinced corporates to do this for them. In return, they will support one of the projects featured on our website. We match the corporations with projects that work within their areas of interest, and we create simple games. If a certain number of users play this game, the sponsor will pay a certain amount of money, and the rest will be collected through the crowd, who will get rewards in return.

This way, the crowd becomes more powerful: They don’t only provide support directly through their pledges, they also play to get corporates support. Through both corporates and individuals, we can help entrepreneurs get enough funding to secure their projects.

 

  • Tennra’s team is very diverse, some people don’t like working in such environment. How did this influence your work?

We’re two partners, Emily and myself. We also have 3 people who work with us, who’re basically co-founders: Seif, Marwa and Elwy. Are you asking me this question because Marwa is not Egyptian or what? I’m kidding.

You probably haven’t met Emily before, she is the most Egyptian among us. She has lived in Egypt for over 2 years now, and she speaks Arabic as well as I do. Yet I can tell you that this diversity has helped us so much. Each one of us comes from a completely different background, and we appreciate this- it’s a point of strength. It helps us see everything from different angles and build a better understanding of different target segments. It made a huge difference.

 

  • How many users do you have now?

We featured 5 projects. The highest rate of success was for Awraq, whose product is a set of cards that guide entrepreneurs in planning through questions. Awraq reach 144% of their original target.

In less than a year, we reached 500 registered users. Over 2000 users played the games, so far, and over 330 people paid money to support these projects. The average amount paid is $19.

 

  • What is your next destination?

Generally, our next goal is to go regional and help more projects- this is what we are currently planning for.

 

  • Do you think the road ahead of you will be bumpy?

The biggest challenge is market education. The crowd-funding culture is not well-known even to many entrepreneurs, so imagine what it is like with the average users who don’t come from a technology background, the ones who’re actually going to pay.

We are trying to deal with this through organizing workshops that feature success stories, so people can see the impact of every amount they pay.

 

  • If you are to name the most important tips to an aspiring entrepreneur, what would they be?

If someone is about to start a career as an entrepreneur, I want to tell him that things won’t always go the way you want. You have to be flexible and work with whatever resources you can access.

You also need to believe in your idea. Only those who are 1000% convinced are able to keep going, those who can give up the stable salary and the car.

 

  • If someone offered you 5 times what you make now, to start another company abroad, will you move?

It’s a matter of lifestyle. Sport taught me that there is always competition anywhere in life, and as much you exert, you get.

I have much faith in God, so I will continue what I started. Failure is quitting something in the middle and chasing something else. If you don’t believe in your idea that much, then you have to reconsider. People who chase quick profits have no place in entrepreneurship.

 

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