Bruce Gurfein, a serial entrepreneur based in Dubai, has recently returned from a unique 9,000 km road trip through 6 Middle Eastern countries. This road trip was promoting the launch of Future Gig Accelerator, a platform for desert sustainability startups. We met with Bruce to discuss the news, his experience, and plans.
LAFFAZ: For 20 days you have been traveling through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Bahrain, and Israel to meet in-person startups you have selected for the Future Gig accelerator. Tell us about your experience, and the idea behind it. Would do it again?
Bruce: The reason I went out on this long trip was to create awareness, get the buzz and make people talk about it. This trip was a great opportunity, no one has ever done such before. I also did it because I enjoy traveling, particularly in the Middle East, where I’ve been living for many years. Some of the companies we’ve met were new, with some we have been working for a couple of months up to a year and a half already. It’s always good to meet in person. I also got to see the whole terrain of the fields along the roads. The trip allowed us to visit Saudi farms in rural areas that we haven’t had a chance to visit before – to see the fields, how agricultural markets are currently growing their products, and where products go from there. I don’t know if I’m going to do the whole 9,000 km again by car this year, but I’m definitely going to be traveling and visiting many of these places again over the next couple of months.
LAFFAZ: What is your chief motive behind the Future Gig accelerator and how is it different from existing startup accelerators in the Region?
Bruce: Well, first of all, you do not always have to be different, you have to be better. Today there are a lot of technologies that allow you to grow anything within an incubator, within a closed area, which increases the price of the goods, making it really cool and potentially innovative, but not necessarily solving the problem which is bringing mass food to mass populations without increasing the price. We have decided to focus on this particular aspect, on products that are related to climate tech, related to technologies for deserts. And that is the goal of our accelerator: to support such startups, unite regional entrepreneurs with great ideas, provide a platform that will allow them to prove that their initiatives actually work and from there go forward and see where we can run.
LAFFAZ: What kind of projects Future Gig is looking for? In what way will the accelerator support startups? How can startups apply?
Bruce: There has to be a company that passed the stage of the idea and already has a product, ready for a bidder side. It has to be able to come and request: I need x,y,z to implement my project. We will then help find the right local partner within the Region depending on the product and its needs, like locations with more or less humidity, required types of land, and crops. Once we find the matching regional partner for the startup, we’ll help them set up the pilot to move forward with funding and business development. When the pilot is successful, we will come in as partners to invest in either the company or a subsidiary in the Region, depending on the needs and other factors. And the best way to contact us would be to contact me directly: through Connect LLC website or on my LinkedIn profile – let’s talk.
LAFFAZ: Does Future Gig accelerator focus on agro and desert tech startups only?
Bruce: Yes, Future Gig is going to be focused purely on these two sectors. In Connect LCC we do have other divisions for other types of investments, however, Future Gig is going to be focused on desert sustainability, such as technologies that help reduce water loss or improve growing in a desert, anything that would result in better crops or better price is what we are interested in exploring further.
LAFFAZ: You invented the first online banking platform at the age of 17 and sold it to HP, with time you have changed sides and now select startups to invest in as Connect LLC CEO. What have you learned over the years?
Bruce: Over the years I’ve been involved in various startups – some were more successful for investors, others were more successful for me learning. Statistically one of every twenty startups is successful, but you do need that other nineteen before. The advantage of people who are involved in startups is that they do not have the fear of taking their idea and moving it forward, trying to figure out things to materialize and convert their initiative into an actual business. What I expect from entrepreneurs I meet: I want to see them excited about their idea, I want to see them treat it like their baby as they are sure it is going to be the future and that’s what I believe is going to eventually help them succeed.
LAFFAZ: What are your responsibilities as Connect LLC CEO?
Bruce: Unlike a traditional venture capital fund that evaluates a startup from a financial and technical point of view, our focus is mostly on investing in companies we can bring to the GCC and we can create projects with. We look for startups that match our current projects and bring them on board. My day-to-day involves choosing the right projects, connecting them with my team, and making sure the implementation is as easy as possible.
LAFFAZ: How should one choose a co-founder?
Bruce: I chose co-founders based on friendship and personal relationships. I think of a co-founder as a marriage. It may be a temporary marriage for a couple of years until you sell your startup and move on, but you still hopefully will be this person’s friend for many years to come and you’ll definitely have to be spending many hours together. So if it’s not someone you get along with and believe in personally – everything else is not going to work. Someone you get along with well and know both of you are motivated and devoted to making it happen, then everything else is secondary and will be figured out.
LAFFAZ: For how long should one bootstrap their startup?
Bruce: Bootstrapping depends on how much you have. Obviously the longer you bootstrap the better evaluation you can get when you raise money. At the same time, we always say ‘one should raise money when they can – and not when they need it’. Because when you need to raise the money you get a much worse evaluation, and much harder to negotiate. So raise money when you can, not when you need it.
LAFFAZ: Would you agree technologies cause unemployment?
Bruce: Does technology change our life? Yes. Does it create unemployment? No. It creates a different type of employment. `if 40-50 years ago our grandparents used to grow food in fields with a horse plow the land, now tractors do this automatically. Are there no more farmers? No. Modern farmers are just doing different jobs, they are sitting in front of their computers and managing the process. Our parents used to use pens and paper and they used to send faxes. Most of the younger generation today don’t even know what a fax is and they have never seen one. Does that make them unemployed? No, that just makes them send emails and use what’s up or other forms of faster communication. Technology doesn’t create unemployment, it creates shifts in routine. The world is a combination of everyone together. No person can run the world independently. So everyone has to find the right angle that fits them best and capitalize on that.
LAFFAZ: Over the years do you see patterns that are keys to startups’ success?
Bruce: Hard work, a lot of hard work. People who are involved in startups are people who get to take fewer vacations through the first couple of years. Also, the work-life balance would increase your personal success, be happy with what you do, happy people are ultimately more successful.
LAFFAZ: What is your opinion on ‘Global recession’?
Bruce: The world is round and every one of us who is older than 25 has already been through one recession, it comes and goes. There will be people who will lose their jobs and at the same time, there will be others who will find new jobs based on innovation. The world doesn’t stop at the recession, it just gets a little harder. Instead of being the first, you have to be the best. And people who are the best are not going to lose their jobs, their startups are still going to get funded as there is a lot of money out there that is looking for a loan. Try and look for something innovative, and different, and build yourself a team that is strong enough to support you through.
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