Christopher Schroeder Founder & CEO of HealthCentral




Christopher Schroeder Founder & CEO of HealthCentral



On: 2013-04-18 09:08:26 | Guest: Christopher Schroeder


Transcript:

Basel Kilany: Hello, this is Basel Kilany, with TechSparks. I have with me today Chris Schroeder. Chris is an American entrepreneur and investor. He's the founder of HealthCentral.com which was sold earlier this year. He's a pretty active blogger, especially about the Middle East startups and the entrepreneurship scene. He is also writing a book about the tech startup scene in the Arab market that's coming up in spring of next year. So, Chris, welcome.

Chris Schroeder: That's right. Thanks for having me.

Basel Kilany: Absolutely. You mentioned HealthCentral. Let's talk about how you came up with the idea and what instigated the creation of HealthCentral.

Chris Schroeder: It's a confluence of two things. On a personal level some years ago I went through two amazing health issues in the family. I lost my best friend to bipolar disorder and, at the same time, my wife's mother had gotten very sick with cancer. One of the things that I found then was the ability to find people who have been there, sharing their experiences. Not just talking about the clinical and technical stuff with the health issue but what it's like to live your life on a daily basis, how you can be supportive, what questions to ask your doctor, and how you live day to day. It was a very profound experience. All that was in the states at the time was WebMD and these sort of doctors talking to you type of websites, and I thought it would be a very powerful way to do something interesting there.

Basel Kilany: How did you manage to grow the community of people using HealthCentral? Did you approach patients, doctors, health care facilities, or other parties?

Chris Schroeder: No, not health care guys. So a lot of respect to the platform that we build ended up being about health and wellness, but it really was about the connection in the community about people. Before this, I ran all the online businesses for Washington Post and Newsweek; and what became very clear in the news business was that everybody was coming at the article page level not really to the home page like we used to think in the old days to the news business. I knew that if we could be really, really sophisticated in specific areas of health and specific experiences in health, we would become very find-able through search, which was the big issue when we first started HealthCentral. Social networks were really only beginning when we started it, so it was really much about search, and the more targeted we were, the more specific we were, we began to solve the empty room problem. We started by loading it up with content and created a very large network of bloggers who just wrote their personal and very specific stories. The more people who found us, the more people found us and started sharing with us, and it began to take off.

Basel Kilany: Let's talk about the exit of HealthCentral. Can you please expand on what happened? What kind of lessons you think are learned and, especially, for the Arab starters?

Chris Schroeder: I could tell you that in any exit of any circumstances the trues of wanting a fair amount of venture in vesting and, so, it's true. I think every deal must die three deaths before they happen. You think that it's going to be something that is going to happen and that it's going to be easy and you were bought by a strategic player who I admired greatly, and I was very close to the CEO. But, there are so many things that happen, and so many people who love you at first and there are issues that come up, and you talk about things in different ways. You just have to take it with a lot of patience and it's obviously exciting at one level. But, if you don't love what you're doing, if you don't love the enterprise that you're building, if you're not prepared to keep running it and just keep winning with it, then you're putting too much of your eggs in one basket in the exit. I think it was very poor in that, one, we were focused on building a very good company. Second, we had optionality and lots of different things that we were looking at the time. Thirdly, we were just very patient with all the ups and downs which come when people invest in you, and certainly come when you're at that final stage.

Basel Kilany: Let's talk about your other capacity as a CEO of Washington Post, Newsweek Interactive. What are your comments about the Arabic content on the Web. Do you see any hot opportunities in that space?

Chris Schroeder: I think that one of the most profound, early opportunities in that space will be around Arabic content for the reason you guys know better than anybody else. That relative to Arabic speakers online today, there's just, frankly, just so little of it. You know that at the end of the day, I saw this on the health sites as well as the news sites, when you have wonderful content that resonates with you, on your terms, because we're all in control in a way, we're all looking to connect with people and experiences and whether that's in a language or whether it's in the sensitivities that come with the language, it makes all the difference. It's not about a formality or, again, about people telling you what you want but an engagement, a mutuality. As I've seen a lot of great startups in your region who are looking to tackle this question, I think it's going to be explosive, and it's only that's the first kind of the stage. In parallel, other innovation will come with just the very act of doing things which really resonate within communities and the region and around the world who speak Arabic I think is exciting stuff in and of itself.

Basel Kilany: Let's talk about social media. How did you reach and engage with a wider market. How can startups use the power of social media to reach the level that you've attained?

Chris Schroeder: I think that one of the biggest mistakes that people make in social media often is that they think about it almost as an extension of PR. It's sort of like I want you to hear my thing, I want you to see me the way that I want you to see me and, what ends up happening is that you've broken the most fundamental rule of social media, which is really mainly, about service, it's about what you can do for other people and why they should lend on your expertise. Health was a very funny place for this because nobody wants to come out and say, "I've got a sexually transmitted disease." It's a very personal thing, a very anonymous thing and, yet, it's incredible powerful in terms of what kind of expertise can be shared in great ways. I remember our business model was an advertising model and a lot of people advertising were pharmaceutical companies. Every one of them had a Twitter. I met every one of them, 50 of them. I met every one. I asked them a very revealing question. I asked them, "If you no longer worked at this company, would you follow yourself on Twitter?" Literally, to a person, not one of them said, 'Yes.' What does that tell you? It tells you effectively they're there doing their job, doing what their marketing boss is telling them to do, but really they're unbelievable experts in their subject matter. That would be on peoples side, that would be an expertise to share, but they weren't of the mindset to think about, what I'll call, this sense of service. If you do that kind of thing, it doesn't matter what category you are, it's really about your audiences and shared expertise and experience, you're on the right side of what's happening.

Basel Kilany: Let's talk about the fun stuff now. You're currently writing a book about text startups in the Arab world that's, again, due in September 2013. Can you please tell us about that?

Chris Schroeder: Absolutely. When I first came to the Middle East, I'd been an admirer of it for many, many years. My college roommate was Lebanese. I'd been very attuned to the region but at kind of a distance, I just didn't know a whole lot about it. I certainly did not know what was happening in the technology there which is ironic because I've outsourced and I've done partnerships with great talent in every corner of the globe; but not so much in the Arab Middle East until two years ago when I went to that Celebration of Entrepreneurship gathering in Dubai and just was hit by a 2x4 by 2400 of these incredibly bright, tenacious people with their head down focused on building a product. When I came out of that experience, I actually wrote an article about it for the Washington Post and that really just started a journey with some very dear friends of mine who I just kept coming back, I mentored, I judged some competitions. Every moment, no matter what was going on, was more exciting than the moment before. Of course, the Arab uprisings happened, that took it off to a much more societal level and, as you know, it's had ups and downs and different kinds of things and, yet, the innovation, the technology keeps going, and I've kept writing about it. About six or nine months ago, some book publishers came to me and said, "Would you ever want to distill this all, and I'm thinking the book because it's clearly restoring a lot of people in the west aren't focused on it." Candidly, my first reaction was who on the internet is reading books, I should probably just do a blog. Then I realized there are a lot of people who would love something to hold onto, something to look at, either on their Kindle or in hard copy that they could really have a sense of what's going on. It's fun, but it's not fun. It's a very brutal thing to do justice to the wonderful stuff that's happening there, it's a brutal thing to tell it in an interesting way. Things change every day and move all the time. I really do think that just putting something down that people can step back and say, "Wow", is something that would be pretty valuable in and of itself.

Basel Kilany: Let's be a little bit more specific. If I was somebody who didn't know anything about the Middle East market; which unique observations have you come across while doing your research for the book. What stands out in terms of opportunities or trends or anything of that nature?

Chris Schroeder: There's a micro observation for which the Middle East falls into and this is happening all over the world in a way that I sometimes convey it to friends of mine here is if I asked you where does almost half of all mobile payments come from in the world, invariably in the west, the gringos all think it has to be the United States or whatever, and they almost fall out of their chairs to hear that it's Kenya, the [en passe] capability where you can text cash transactions represents almost 20% of their GDP right now. Nobody thinks in those terms in different corners of the world that way. What is happening is that there is so much of this wonderful technology ubiquitously in the hands of anybody anywhere, that you've got this unbelievable experience for people inexpensively to innovate, to create problem-solving opportunities, and it's just an incredibly exciting thing. One of the things that I'm really looking at in this book is not only what is it doing to new generations of entrepreneurs now who've got this facility, they've got the ability to see how other people, they've got the ability to learn from the experiences of everybody else and teach themselves as they grow it but what innovation may actually come from that. So, [em passe] is an innovation, right, even though it's a text capability and everything else. What I see right now in things like Soup.com and e-commerce space over there. At one level, they sound like they're things in English that are working there but they're hyperly-sensitive to the region, they're incredibly tailored to the opportunities of the region, and I think in that we're going to see some very interesting innovation, call it [made in Mena], which is actually not just going to be about each country, not about each part of the region but actually something that people will use around the world because it's easy to do.

Basel Kilany: Jumping from that to the global space, and, again, you've been engaged in exploring global trends toward entrepreneurship. In terms of trends, what's going on right now globally. The entrepreneurship field in general. Where do you think the field is headed?

Chris Schroeder: I think that it's not unlike what I said a minute ago. When you've got access to the kind of information technology that allows you to see how others live, to be able to connect unbelievably cheaply, to be able to try things quickly and fail at very little cost overall, there's not a corner of the earth that when they have access to these capabilities, new and exciting things and surprising things are not going to happen. You see this in Latin America and you see it in Africa, and you see it in the Middle East, and you see it in every corner of Europe. I think it's just inevitable. When you stop and think about it right now, you know the statistics better than I do, but mobile penetration in the Middle East approaches 200% in almost any country. So that means there's a behavioral paradigm that never understood landlines and have very unique understanding of mobile capability. Right now, pick your favorite study in places like Egypt and they have 8% or 20% Smartphone penetration, well I've seen that $40 Smartphones in the next three years, half of the Middle East may very well have computing devices on their person. This is true everywhere else. The opportunities I think for innovation and full entrepreneurship are very powerful which leads me to one other real "aha" moment for me which is I think a lot of places in the world, and this is true in the United States also, the line between social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship is blending tremendously. Meaning that people just look at problems to be solved, they know they might be able to make money at it, great. Not only can they make money at it, they can make impact with it, and I think there's a lot of people today who thinks, "This is our time. This is our chance to make impact. We're not going to wait for the government to solve stuff. We're not going to get in the midst of a lot of political stuff, we're just going to do stuff." That's something which has been incredibly moving and profound to me in the Middle East, but I see it now in almost any corner of the earth.

Basel Kilany: Can we talk about some examples of some business models that you've seen recently that really stood out?

Chris Schroeder: One of the most exciting ones about the Middle East in particular, I've made a distinction in my writing between being optimistic which is sort of like everything will go well and be hopeful. Which is more like I think everything should go well but we'll have to see how it plays out. The thing that really is most exciting to me in your region is the e-commerce side. If the first stage, in some respect, and these are happening parallel so I don't mean to stage them, but if there's a lot of kind of what people, what some of the majority call copycats is kind of the first stage. In parallel with that this idea of e-commerce is very powerful. As you know, there have been two fundamental problems and challenges in e-commerce in the region; and one is the regulatory environment which is simply hard to get packages from one country to another with all the different customs and that kind of thing. The second is payments and COD. Everywhere I go now, I'm just looking at people who are just trying to solve those problems. You've got Air Amex that is just doing incredible stuff with the infrastructure to get things that are shipped country to country. Effectively, just plug into us, we'll solve all those headaches, you just innovate. Ukash has been around for awhile. I think it's been very exciting. PayPal was just launched in the region a month ago. They could not be more excited. This is something that I think is going to happen because the market is so large and there's great capital and people like to purchase goods, and once the goods flow and once trust is built in the system, I mean look nobody trusted eBay at first in the United States. You have to build trust, you have to get comfortable with the different payment methods. I just think it's going to be one of the more interesting things that's going to happen over there in the relative short term.

Basel Kilany: Chris, you mentioned copycats. This is kind of an interesting subject to me. There's a fine line, they say from imitation to innovation and that we've seen this in countries like India, for instance, they've started with low-paying jobs, with low technical capabilities, and now we see where India is. What's your thought about the strategy in that regard. You mentioned it, some e-commerce, just people. We've got rocket internet in Germany. They copied a couple successful businesses in the US, and look at them now. Although they're not really doing great in the Middle East.

Chris Schroeder: [Napshi], which they're big investors in, obviously, just raised $20 million additional, for General Atlantic so I think they do still make the point.

Basel Kilany: What's a good strategy, in that regard, for startups? They see the opportunity. They do want to innovate but there's a big void in some spaces that they want to tackle.

Chris Schroeder: It's an incredible powerful question and, candidly, my observation is, for what it's worth, that people sometimes get hung up too much on innovation almost for innovation sake. In fact, I just a wrote a piece yesterday in a Harvard business review, where I really called to question what do we mean when we say innovation? In the west, when we say innovation, we typically mean the shiny, new bright thing that's never been there before, but when we stop to think about it, some of the great, really innovation things that have come from Silicon Valley and software, they were built on the shoulders of other ideas, the iPod and the iPhone was an incredibly powerful thing that took on an innovation clearly that was unique, but we had different devices that allow us to listen to music on our person and no one remembers Lycos, but Google was not the first search engine. Things build on the learning of what happens, and I just think that's true throughout the history of innovation. But, secondly, I think a lot of people don't give enough credit to the idea, that for people who access technologies and capabilities for the first time, that, in and of itself, is innovation. Because to the society that in the infrastructure and the ecosystem they begin to build, is incredible profound when you start to think about it. Again, having access to the texting capability was something in Kenya until, one day, somebody said, "We're going to create a banking system here where there wasn't one before." Having texting, one could argue in Kenya wasn't 'innovative,' but look what innovation it spawned maybe first for that market, and I think it's going to have other ramifications in Africa and elsewhere. I've see this countless times, I think, in the Middle East. The final observation that I would give is the only thing that matters in the end, is are you doing something that you love and are passionate about and you're serving customers. The rest of kind of noise. You can make an argument about innovation or not innovation but, if you're not building stuff that makes somebody's life better, easier, faster, cheaper, more beautiful, more connected than the way they did it beforehand or shifting a behavior like that, then it doesn't really matter what's innovation or not innovation, it just matters that you're thinking really smartly about creating something that you love, that you would want to have, that you'd want to do, and I think the dice of destiny about what's innovation or not innovation becomes more a conversation in hindsight than it is one that you sort of strategize to. Here, I'm sorry to go on, but the one last thing I'd say is notwithstanding, I bet that we're going to see interesting innovation in the Middle East and places like Mobil in the more kind of classic, broader new thing because there's so much behavior and technology and skill there. I think we may see some really interesting stuff in solar energy because the opportunity there is so powerful, and I actually think that the next great social network may come from somewhere in the Middle East because, the fact of the matter is, the unique experience that so many people had during the Arab uprising means that they're thinking about the capabilities in ways that anyone who didn't go through that experience can't. So, it's all part in parcel the same thing, and what is not better than the other, in my view.


Basel Kilany: What a phenomenal answer. I'm inspired myself now.

Chris: I believe it, it's true.

Basel Kilany: Let's talk about the financial side. We are entering into a new era of crowd funding. How do you think this will change the game in the US and global markets? Then let's talk about the Arab market. Do you think this would work in the net market?

Chris Schroeder: The honest, direct answer is I can't tell yet in terms of financing companies. I'm a huge admirer of Kiva. I think they've just changed the game in the way that we, in the world, can think about engagement. What is the essence of them so much is that I have a real stake in the thing where I'm putting my money. I can actually see the project, I can see it comes back, I get money back to me 97% of the time, or whatever it is, I can put it back in, unbelievable. Love Kickstarter, and all of a sudden creative people and interesting people just need a few thousand dollars can find that ways at knocking on the door will drive you crazy and all and, so, I think there's a lot of opportunity that we're just in the earliest days of. When you invest in a company, you're really trying to raise $50,000, maybe in the Middle East up to $100,000 or more, this whole sense of mentor-ship, a sense of connective-ness, a little bit of due diligence about the people that you trust because you want them, not just for the capital, but you want to have a sense of engagement in different kinds of terms and all. At one level, I could make an argument with you that that old angel model is just dying to be disrupted by the crowds and I would be excited. I think it'd be interesting. At the same time, I do think that there's nuances and complexities in it, that may not lend itself as easily as a micro-finance or even a Kickstarter sort of a thing, but I wouldn't bet against it. I know the people are beginning to experiment in it and maybe it will be a great leap frog opportunity. At the end of the day, if you can help women in an emerging market with a few dollars with a micro-loan to get that loan paid back; what's the leap between that and putting some equity into a company? Early days and some things that are unique about it, I don't know, even as I listen to myself talk about it, I'm kind of intrigued.

Basel Kilany: Let's talk about the other side of the coin. We mentioned fundraising. Let's talk about money generation, in terms of revenues. What do you think the best ways to monetize content in the Middle East market. Do you think it's advertising? Do you think it's inclusive membership, or anything else?

Chris Schroeder: I think a lot of it depends on what the product is and what the service is, that type of a thing. Even in the United States, almost anyone whoever pitches me anything, consumer facing has got an ad model. The fear is if you make audience large enough you'll be able to figure out a way to monetize it in the great cacophony that some great startups trying to figure out how to get around and all the different add exchanges, and trying to figure out how to get to it. We're in such early days of this that I think that the essence of it overall ,in turn, the Middle East and second, but I think the essence of it overall is you can get a valuable proposition in front of the right person at the right time. So that person actually feels that your ad or marketing proposition, or whatever, is really content, is really is engaging, is valuable to them and not noise and annoyance, something exciting is going to come with this capability to know peoples behaviors and know what they want and give them relevant things over time. The challenge always has been how can you do massive specificity, massive targeting. That's always been kind of hard, and even Facebook and others who know more about me than I know about me still show me ads all the time which drive me crazy. It's still a process figuring out, the products that you're still figuring out and this is true in the western markets. But, at the same time, if you look at the trajectory of the dollars, it just tells you, of course, more and more people are there and people will be creative in finding this out. Obviously, the Middle East is not as mature as an advertising proposition or an ad. But, like everything else you've been talking about, it's changing. What ends up happening here is what ended up happening in the United States. All of a sudden, some very courageous marketers who can say "this is where my audiences are, I want to engage them, I'm really excited about it, and it's going to work, and I'm going to be involved in it" and then, I think, that becomes a big part of it. In terms of what you can charge for it, again, it comes back to my criteria of just building great product. If you have something that is just so fantastic that people want it, and they can't afford not to have it, they'll pay you something for it. But I think the more important phenomena which has happened across the world that I expect is going to happen even faster in places like the Middle East is, I think that Apple has trained us to become very comfortable with the transactional pain. All of a sudden we need to get an upgrade of one of our apps, it's another $1.99, we just don't think about it. I think that ability to have that kind of flexibility eased by which you can get access to content, even on a border subscription basis or by the drink, the friction is becoming so low that if you add to that higher and higher trust, I'm very excited that there will be other business models, whether they're here or elsewhere in the world.

Basel Kilany: So, Chris, you're an adviser to many startups and help them grow. How can Arab startups enter the global market, given that the ambition of scalability knowing that there are many challenges facing our entrepreneurs, like regulations, monetization and so on.

Chris Schroeder: I'm working through this. A lot of I am thinking about because on different days you might catch me thinking about a little bit differently, right? One of the great moments that I had was I was a judge in a startup competition in Egypt a year and a half ago, and this young man from Alexandria was pitching really interesting app business. and I thought, "Oh, my word," and I opened up my iPad, I had the app! It never dawned on me that it was six guys from Alexandria, it was weather HD, and it was a beautiful weather app and it was the company that was called [Vemoth]. They were the largest paid download app company in the world at that time. It was 300,000 or 400,000 downloads, now they have 5 million. So, they became global almost, I don't want to say by accident, but just by the nature of the Internet. I think that what's going to happen is that there will be a word of mouth effect, particularly in the consumer space, where it's not going to matter where it comes from, it's just going to matter is it going to be good and does it catch on. I've seen some very sophisticated technologies in different parts of data management, very sophisticated technologies in health care and all. They require a sense of business development, a connection to other kinds of markets, and those take time and, the fact is, that so many of these other markets are so incredibly competitive, that it's going to be tough. Some days, I think do everything you can to win as big as you can within your market and your region and success will breed success. But the fact is you're one click away in the world. So I just think it takes some flexibility to understand your market, it's not trying to get unfocused. I know young people who have moved to Silicon Valley at least not planning to stay there forever, but they just want to hold a toe-hold; sometimes that's worked. I think the Rupert [SP] guys are doing some really interesting things with that; other guys had to go back home. I don't think there's one right answer. You just have to think about what is the core of what you're offering, what is the best market where you can win first and, again, with everything being one click away, I think a lot of companies are going to find themselves international companies, almost despite what it is that they want to do to begin with.

Basel Kilany: You mentioned a few successful startups in the Arab market. Say I'm an entrepreneur and I'm raising funds, I know you're active in that space. Are you accepting inquiries in Arab startups in terms of investments, and what kind of qualities, if so, you would look for those companies?

Chris Schroeder: I, personally, am not investing in the region right now because I'm doing this writing, and I think it's important for me that I dis-aggregate from that and to do this separately. I like being a mentor, I like connecting with the young people without people feeling there are strings attached or I have much of an agenda about it; and I think that will be right. But I will tell you, I miss running a company and, one day, I've got some ideas about what I'll do after this book and I have no doubt that I'm going to be looking for talent in the Middle East based on what I've said. So, I should confess that, I suppose, up front. Looking at the ecosystem for Angel Capital is small but it's growing. You look at Oasis 500 in Jordan, obviously, and [flaxis] labs in Cairo, and there's several now growing elsewhere and some of the stuff that your guys do and it's just phenomenal in their ecosystem of it. I think one of the things that we're running into an interesting bump, which is more young people than ever before are getting that first $10,000, $25,000, $50,000, or whatever it takes to get up and running, and then they risk falling into this dead capital area where they're not quite an SME yet, you can't even raise a million dollars yet but you're almost at pseudo post-Angel round and the market is only beginning to develop for what you do with this great talent, women and men, once they sort of prove the proof of concept. This goes back to what I said earlier before, great ideas get funded. They just do, great ideas will get funded and success will breed success. You know, Basit, much better than I will ever fully appreciate that the tradition of the risk capital that comes with tech startups is not part in parcel as much of a culture in the Middle East. I know lots of people who some of these angle investments are beyond rounding [error] in their wealth but at the end of the day they like real estate projects and no other kind of stuff, and they don't like to ... you turn to them and say, "I can tell you that this is an angel investor and investor in venture fund. It can't turn to money very easily in lots of corners of the world. By the way, you'll probably lose 70% of your companies won't work, but the other 30% will more than make up." That's a hard thing to get over versus other opportunities. I think people realize this is where the economy is going, jobs are going to be created this way, opportunities will be this way. To me, it's a matter of time, it's not a matter of anything else.

Basel Kilany: We've talked about mobile several times throughout the interview. I'd like to get your feedback on what sort of verticals are worth pursuing for Arab startups in general. You mentioned a few companies that are doing globally phenomenally well. What do you think are some of the verticals or some opportunities that Arab entrepreneurs capitalize on?

Chris Schroeder: What I could do is talk a little about the kinds of categories that I've been seeing now and then, and again a little bit more about what other places are going to be to focus on overall. I think there's incredible [hay] to be made and effectively Arabizing that which has been successful elsewhere. And, by the way, to our conversation about the investment ecosystem, it doesn't help a lot of investors anywhere in the world who are conservative, love analogies. I actually get nervous around analogies, but people love them, and your ability to say I'm a four square of whatever. At least people can get their mind around it. There's just lots of reasons why that early part of it is going to be very, very profound tied around Arab language, culture and market. I am incredibly moved and excited. I'm moved sort of spiritually, but I'm excited as an investor. There are a number of people who are stepping up, sort of forgetting the government's ever going to do it but effectively just solving problems in the region. I've seen some incredibly innovative businesses about recycling computers which are now laying foul in the streets, because nobody knows how to get rid of them or strip them or actually make poor profit businesses around them. You know the stories better than I do about people wrestling different aspects of being able to find a taxi cab in Cairo or traffic in Cairo. Some of these video companies in education to either help people compliment the education that they're getting right now or, in some cases, offer some people training that they've never been able to do before. Again, I just call these folks who are looking at problems in society and looking at them as huge opportunities, not only to build effective businesses because so many people need to touch them, but, at the same time, I think that moving things forward, I think, is very, very powerful. Again, the third category are people who are doing things, like in e-commerce. I guess it falls a little bit in the first category but it's really a thing unto its own that are really, I think, becoming ecosystem builders and success will breed success, in terms of the region and input that they have. From there it's not a far step to people who are thinking global. I think I told you about [Vemoth]. I love Hind Hobeika, who won the MIT Enterprise Forum Competition who has created these sports goggles so that you can actually have your heart rate right there in your eye, none of the hassles of things going [inaudible 00:30:27]. Nike should be licensing that thing; there's nothing local about that. You'll see more and more of that. You started this conversation talking a little bit about new technologies and mobile, again, I think is just a great leapfrog opportunity, and I've talked a little bit about the others. I think sometimes people get too hung up about mobile as a thing and, the fact of the matter is, what it really is at its essence is computing capability on your person. To the degree, the people are not so hyped up about MMM, but they're just thinking about human behaviors. What can I do with this thing, because it's on my person now that I could never do before and think of problem solving that way. Impact's going to be huge. Okay, it is a computing device, Chris, you're right, but it's a very small screen so there think about those sensitivities that's right. You start thinking about geo-location. You start thinking about those kinds of dynamics that's around what's fundamentally computing around our person, I think it's going to be very exciting. It's already exciting around the world, and there's no reason on earth it's not going to be exciting in places like the Middle East.

Basel Kilany: I guess we've come to the closing question. Let's talk about the tips and pointers that you would like to give to those entrepreneurs in the Arab region. What tools or things that you think are worth pursuing, to pretty much make it big?

Chris Schroeder: I think that, on one level, there's a very, there's almost a paradox which is in order to get big, you have to think big. If you think about building a $500,000 business, you may build a $450,000 business if you really think that you can change the world or change the game or something society, there's a bigger chance of doing it. It sounds kind of trite and soft, but it actually, I think, proves itself everywhere in the world. I think it's a very important thing. With that, though, has to come, and this is where it's kind of paradox, it's kind of a sense of modesty. I have to tell you I've met entrepreneurs around the world who just saw the "Social Network" and they've decided that they're the hip new person, they're going to throw big parties and do all sorts of kinds of stuff and they're more style over substance people. When you meet a guy like Amir Ramadan from [Vemoth], you know, this guy gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night thinking about execution. If you need [Renaldo] at Soup.com, this guy is getting up in the morning and going to bed at night thinking execution. You also know that they're thinking about building the biggest e-commerce presence in the Arab world. Where they're going to go beyond it, you don't know. It is the sense of humility, the sense that tomorrow it could all go away, I got to listen to other people, I got to learn from other people, I do not have all the answers because none of us have all the answers ever, and all of us have made tremendous mistakes is profound, which leads me to my third observation and if you and I had this conversation I think it would be one of the harder things two years ago and I think it's opening up in very important ways, which is just finding good mentors. Mentors can be investors but the fact is there are a lot of people in the Middle East who built incredible companies in different fields and they've been through a lot of experiences. One entrepreneur, I had this experience when I had my startups, it's simple, you just get so locked up with all the gremlins in your head about what's going on, you become so convinced of certain logic to what you're doing that you need someone to pull you out to even question the premise so that you're then able to do what's probably the most important thing in entrepreneurship, which is separate the wheat from the chafe. In some respects, I used to say that a great entrepreneur is someone who is dropping balls every day. As long as you know why you've dropped them, you're making priority shifts, there's nothing wrong with making a mistake, you can go back. I used to say to my board a hundred times, they'd ask me why the hell did I do something and I'll say, "I knew it was an option. I thought about it, I chose this instead, I was wrong, I'm back on track." Nothing wrong with that but you got only 24 hours in a day and usually not a lot of capital in a growingly competitive market in the case of, obviously the Middle East, or other dynamics that are going on that add complexity. So, having that sense of focus and motion and activity and having people around you and then can help you clear your head but not get in your way either with this combined sense of thinking big and having humility is, I think, an incredible powerful recipe. I can usually pick off these entrepreneurs within ten minutes of their presentation. I almost know within ten minutes that I've got a woman or man that's sort of got that framework going with whatever great product they're building.

Basel Kilany: So, Chris, all I say is "Wow", this has been great. Actually, I think it's one of the best interviews we've ever had on TechSparks. Amazingly, inspired and I respect and appreciate your enthusiasm and energy for the Arab market. I would love to have you again on this show, many times over.

Chris Schroeder: Thanks. I just want to wrap up, hey, anything that I can do to be helpful. I just admire so much what you guys are doing. I am hopeful because, I know when I get fired up I can sound like it's all a no-brainer. There are huge, huge challenges that I know these great entrepreneurs are facing and all we have to do is read the news to know about twentieth century outlooks that could fall with a twenty-first century outcome. If, in fact, people are focused on a twenty-first century outcome, and we have to work through the bumps that will come because bumps will come at a societal level, they'll come at a country level and will come at a business level, but if you keep muscling forward, this is clearly the right side of history, clearly the right side of history. I am very, very hopeful, I will say.

Basel Kilany: Chris, thank you again and we appreciate you being with us on the show today.

Chris Schroeder: Thanks for thinking of me.

About the Guest:

Christopher M. Schroeder is an American entrepreneur, advisor and investor in interactive technologies and social communications. Christopher served as the CEO of HealthCentral; a website focused on helping people find and share real-life experiences related to their health needs.

Back in year 2000 Christopher served as the CEO of The Washington Post newsweek interactive for 3 years.

Christopher is a public and motivational speaker, and he loves to inspire startups. He has also recently been engaged in exploring more global trends towards entrepreneurship, with a special focus on the developing world and the Middle East.

Christopher got his BA degree in Diplomatic History from Harvard university and got his MBA with honors from harvard Business School.


Interview Segments:


What Instigated the Idea of HealthCentral Creation


How Did Christopher Schroeder Grow HealthCentral Community


Exit Strategy: How Should Entrepreneurs and Startups Founders Think of it


Arabic Content on the Web, Hottest Trends in the Digital Content Space


The Social Media Challenge, Leveraging the Power of Social Media


The Startup Scene in the Arab World


Innovation in the Arab World


Opportunities in Arab Region


Winning Business Models in the Arab Market


CopyCats: Should Arab Startups Clone Successful Global Business Models


Crowd Funding: Changing the Game of Startups Fund Raising


Product Monetization: How to Monazite Your Product


How Can Arab Startups Scale and Enter the Global Market


What Kind of Qualities Christopher Schroeder Look for in Any Arab Startup


Hottest Trends in the Technology Space by Christopher Schroeder


Must Know Tips and Pointers for Entrepreneurs by Christopher Schroeder


Comment on the Interview:




Christopher Schroeder Founder & CEO of HealthCentral

Christopher Schroeder the CEO of HealthCentral; a website focused on helping people find and share real-life experiences related to their health needs, will share his entrepreneurial insights with Arab entrepreneurs.


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