Yesterday #ebda2 (Google Startup) award winner was announced, out of the all the finalists Bey2ollak was picked as the winner, getting the most prestigious startup / entrepreneurial award in Egypt ($200k). Bey2ollak is one of the most ubiquitous applications in Egypt if you pick any random smart phone most probably Bey2ollak would be installed on it. And its definitely the most frequently used Egyptian application. Bey2ollak offers crowd sourced traffic updates that are incredibly valuable to anybody who has to drive across Cairo on daily basis (most smart phone users). However I don’t think they deserved to win!
My first reaction was thinking that they deserved it, Being the first crowd sourced application in Egypt, they were one of the first people to believe that Egyptians would help one another solve that traffic issue, back then no one believed that we were capable of such a thing – this was long before the revolution by the way – so in a way they were being rewarded for believing in the Egyptians when no one else did, in a way that this award went to each and every single person using bey2ollak being the reason that it worked. An over romanticized version of reality that was amplified by all the positive congratulatory tweets filling my time line. Until “Are they even a Startup?” popped up in my timeline. Personally I believe that the answer should be No they aren’t a startup and thus shouldn’t have been qualified to win this prize in particular. The real question here what constitutes as a start up, and what were the competition’s entry criteria?
Put simply, we are looking for committed Egyptians with tech ideas, or Egyptian tech start ups looking to make their visions a reality and are potentially capable of contributing to the overall enhancement of the Egyptian technological ecosystem. (ebda2’s website)
That was the mission statement stated on ebda2‘s website. Using words such as vision and start up I had the impression they actually meant underfunded companies trying to make it in the technical field with limited resources and a great idea they want to realize (AKA start ups). Bey2ollak has been around since forever, The URL was registered more than 2 years ago, however they existed long before that, Getting around 100k individual hits everyday they have steady revenue stream through ad banners they sold to Vodafone and Shell (oil and telecom!). Sponsored by Vodafone they even secured their spot on some of their banners which gives them even more exposure (one of the 5 cousins actually works for Vodafone). I think it was quite unfair for them to enroll under the pretense that they are a start up, mainly because they had a 2+ years head start over any other competitor, more importantly they have enough resources to build a better application, with their revenue stream they can build a much better app with a lot less effort than any of their competitors.
What strikes me as weird is how bey2ollak’s business model didn’t progress throughout the competition, they haven’t updated the application in ages with the last update being the shell helix ad banner. Realistically this competition added little to no value to their product (other than the increased exposure of course), which is logical since they are well passed the startup phase.
Bey2ollak is sponsored by Vodafone, and it just happens that 3 of the panel members are Vodafone employees
Finally I believe that Bey2ollak is really cool, well built application built by amazing people who believed in Egypt and thus should be awarded, yet I don’t think they qualify as a startup and I think it was quite unfair for the rest of the companies who enrolled into this competition. Competitors who could have used the prize money to turn their vision into a product.