Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of priceline.com, addresses the audience.
CEED Global hosted its first annual conference in North Africa on October 22-24. Over 400 participants from 17 countries, including Armenia, were present in Casablanca, Morocco. The conference was attended by investors, mentors, executives, policy makers, and entrepreneurs. The theme of the conference was “Doubling the Size of your Business: a ‘How to Guide for Smart Growth’. The conference brought advice from internationally acclaimed keynote speakers and practical ‘how to’s’ from a diverse range of panelists. International investors provided valuable feedback to start-up and growth-stage entrepreneurs in the CEED network through pitch sessions. B2B meetings were also arranged throughout the conference allowing entrepreneurs to maximize their interaction with potential clients, strategic partners, investors and other entrepreneurs.
Bringing Silicon Valley to Casablanca
Victor Hwang, entrepreneur, author of The Rainforest, and contributor to Forbes.com launched the conference with his keynote entitled “How to Unleash Innovation in Your Company, the Real Lessons From Silicon Valley.” The keynote focused on Silicon Valley as a state of mind that every company is able to achieve by fostering innovation and following the “rules of the rainforest” which are:
- Break rules and dream
- Open doors and listen
- Trust and be trusted
- Seek fairness, not advantage
- Experiment and iterate together
- Err, fail, and persist
- Pay it forward
Managing your Brand
Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline.com and Color Jar accelerator, kicked off day two with his keynote entitled “How to Leverage Your Brand as a Tool for International Growth.” Jeff emphasized the importance of building one’s brand around a core message defining the product’s personality and inspired by the company’s assets. According to Jeff, success starts with specialization, finding a need, and filling it. For every product there is an intended customer who will be delighted by the solution. Having a clear vision of who this customer is, knowing their habits and understanding their expectations is the best way to think through one’s message to this core client. This client was also referred to as the “second slide” client in the presentation, meaning the person who wants to buy your product after seeing the second slide in your 20 slide presentation. “Why bother giving the rest of the pitch if they are already in?” This person has been waiting for your product or service their whole life and thus this is who you should keep in mind when thinking about brand personality.
Striving for Excellence
Building a fast growing company is every entrepreneur’s goal. Jeff Hoffman, Moncef Belkayat, Hakim Belmaachi, Leyth Zniber and Shafik Sabiry shared their stories with the participants on a panel entitled “Building a Million Dollar Company.” According to the speakers, success starts with taking a calculated risk, developing solutions, creating value, engaging a competent and cohesive team, believing in the company and the product and focusing on excellence. One speaker talked about the lack of risk-taking in the region and ended the panel with a call to action imploring the ‘interpreneurs’ at large companies to take the plunge and start their own companies. These executives have the brains and experience needed to start disruptive new businesses but are comfortable therefore do not try to venture out and become entrepreneurs. He made the point that these executives are sought after in the market and if they fail they can always go back to corporate jobs, so they have little to lose. Lack of management skills is often touted by investors as a limiting factor for many startups and these executives have this skill therefore with a little help from CEED and its network they can change the face of entrepreneurship in emerging markets.
The conference was a great success and many new personal and professional relationships were forged. There were over 200 B2B meetings, 20 pitches to investors, and over a 99% satisfaction rating from those who responded to CEED’s post conference survey. Several entrepreneurs were invited to pitch to a broader audience of investors and hope to raise capital from both international and domestic angels by the end of the year. CEED aims to grow its network to over 25 countries in the next 5 years and the need for CEED is clear. CEED offers entrepreneurs the know-how and networks needed to grow and scale their companies and events such as this one aid in this mission.