We sat with Mohamed Marei, CFA, Co-founder and CEO of Egypt-based business ai-advisory startup, Xpovi, to discuss crucial opportunities and challenges in Africa’s startup ecosystem.
Founded in May of last year, Xpovi provides automated financial and business planning services. With an impressive pre-sale of $300k the startup looks set to explore the vast opportunities across the continent.
Let’s dive in!
BEA: What’s the meaning of the brand name Xpovi?
Mohamed Marei: The name is short for Exponential Visionaries, and it reflects our mission to secure the exponential growth route for visionaries that try to build disruptive ventures and startups.
BEA: What inspired the launch of Xpovi?
Mohamed Marei: Xpovi is an artificial intelligence enterprise software that automates financial and business plans in real-time. And most importantly, infuse such development with tailored industries and sub-industries, data insights, and analytics. So the experience we’re trying to create here is that you get your AI advisor that is present for you around the clock.
That’s the mission we’re on. And it’s what inspired us to launch. We had to first take the top-down approach. The business management and financial global advisory businesses are estimated at almost a trillion dollars in market value globally, and yet they remain mostly manual work-oriented with very few technology adoptions.
And long advisory processes always mandate very high fees, which in turn is a layer of constraints to accessibility for startups and small and medium businesses to get the benefits of advisory. Hence, we have touched on such a pain point for high-potential ventures.
The first was offering tailored and inclusive industry data insights and analytics. The second was integrating such data insights and analytics in a full, automated financial and business plan. And the third, which was the most difficult to develop is to actually automate the advisory handshake for the manual meetings by inventing the concept that we call the questionnaire, which automates the integration. So after integrating these three verticals together, we were able to provide startups and SMEs with real-time business plans that contained detailed data insight that also helped them identify a lot of deliverables. Like the addressable clientele, monetization plans, automated marketing plans, potential investment needs, and others, all in a few clicks.
BEA: Can aspiring entrepreneurs leverage Xpovi?
Mohamed Marei: Actually, we launched our operations last March, targeting idea-stage and early-stage startups. And now, with the new data library and new data analytics and algorithms that we are actually building and integrating, we are expanding into small and medium enterprises or cross-stage startups that have been operating for a while, but we can serve all.
And that’s the beauty of it. Whatever your size is, whatever your stage is, and with the current cycles of deployments and technology developments that we are doing, you can use Xpovi. We currently operate only in Egypt.
However, next year, we are expanding into other African markets. Such data insights and analytics need to be market-tailored, so this takes quite some time. So we are rolling out our model in Egypt and by next year, we’re going to expand into serving other African markets. Nigeria and Kenya are definitely on the radar.
BEA: Why did you choose to start Xpovi in Egypt?
Mohamed Marei: Egypt is a massive market. We have around 4 million operating companies plus around 35,000 new ventures that start every year. And this is increasing around the clock. And because it’s very diverse—we are 110 million, and 81% of the population is under 45 years old.
We have a saying here that if you succeed in Egypt, you’ll probably succeed anywhere else. And by the way, Nigeria and Egypt have very similar ecosystems. So it makes complete sense that, hopefully, our next expansion might be directed toward these regions.
It was logical to establish it in Egypt. And also, it was a plain vanilla decision since we are currently serving Egypt-domiciled companies and startups. So we tried as much as possible to limit non-product, non-technology decisions and establish ourselves in the market where we are serving addressable clientele.
BEA: What were the resources you leveraged when launching your startup?
Mohamed Marei: We are three co-founders. It was only the founding team that multitasked. And still, most of the time I wear different hats—sales, product management, marketing, and business development, besides designing the logic and functionalities of our solution and raising funds. And I believe this is the norm in most startups, you’re always on a very constrained budget and limited resources.
So you need to achieve so much with so little. Nowadays, we’re actually growing the team after we raised a preseed round of $300 thousand dollars to gradually start delegating more. But most importantly, to make sure that whoever joins Xpovi is well onboarded on the culture and enjoys the mindset to build a global disrupting product.
BEA: Advice for African startup founders looking to raise funds?
Mohamed Marei: The problem with African funding is that most prominent investors actually look for a replicated or imported business model from Brazil, India, the US or Europe. However, I think the time we’re living in will require investors to open up to new innovative African developments and technologies.
And my advice is that early-stage startups should not lose a lot of time trying to raise the biggest pre-seed round ever. And instead, focus more on closing fast and deploying such capital on developing their technology and launching their startups. A lot of startups get into the trap of trying to negotiate bigger pre-funding rounds.
BEA: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt from launching a tech startup in Africa?
Mohamed Marei: It’s very hard to operate in Africa. And I’d say it’s a battlefield, so always be prepared for war because you’re always at war with very limited and constrained resources. So if I were to give out tips, I’d say that you need to be a hundred percent invested and in the best form round the clock to convince investors and stakeholders that you are building a new, innovative, homegrown product.
Second, sales is not a position anymore. So everyone at your enterprise or at your organisation is a salesperson, even if they work in technology. So that they can pitch whatever you are building in a maximum of 30 seconds. And third, stamina, stamina, stamina is the name of the game as it’s a very long marathon, and fourth, building tech startups with a team of co-founders is always better than solo founding.
And especially if you are a first-timer, because your co-founding team is your main support, especially during the dark days, which happens a lot. So before building your first MVP, you need to build and plan your scenario analysis.
What will happen if the market dries up? What will happen if people did not like my product, or if they liked it? So you need to prepare well for pivoting. And finally rationalise your spending, especially on the good days because the market actually dries up. We might be getting into a new global recession.
BEA: How do you deal with stress?
Mohamed Marei: I usually work 12 or 14 hours a day, seven days a week. What I try to do is keep a very detailed calendar. And I usually cross out every task I complete to get a little dopamine boost. Also, we celebrate small wins, even if we launch a very tiny feature or even change the font on our interface, so that everyone gets a bit happier and people are relaxed. I’d advise people to spend more time with their loved ones without discussing business and to try as much as possible to exercise because it releases stress.
Real estate is a crucial aspect of the global economy and affects individuals and communit…