Nothing could stand in the way of Abdallah Absi. At the fresh age of 22, he has already founded six companies, including Rifflex and Zoomaal, the Arab world’s leading crowdfunding platform to support creativity. On the side, he also runs an NGO that supports student entrepreners in Lebanon and has “70 other projects waiting in line.” During his presentation at the Rise Up Summit in Cairo, we sat with him for some tales, tips and inspiration.
You define yourself as a college dropout. How did you make your career choices?
I was studying computer science and at the same time running a site called Rifflex, which I founded in high school, so I dropped out for one semester. I realized that I had to make a choice, because I couldn’t make it a million-dollar company as I dreamed if I spent 70% of my time in college.
I have to stop you here. How does a high-school student already think about that? Did you have a mentor?
There were no mentors back then. When I first started I was out of the scene, but I always used to fantasize a lot; why don’t we have a Mark Zuckerberg or a Steve Jobs in the Arab world? Why do they all come from the US, if we have the talent and the funding we need?
It must take a lot of persevering. How do you defeat the “I will never make it” kind of thoughts?
It’s actually a challenge. Most successful entrepreneurs are where they are because somebody told them ‘you cannot do it’, so you kind of have the encouragement to prove that person wrong.
So how did it go after quitting college?
I started 6 companies, but all of them were not funded, so I began an internship in a venture company because I wanted to know how they think when they look at a startup. I was very interested in the entrepreneur scene, so I took the chance and presented Zoomaal, but it was probably the crappiest presentation ever. Still, I was very passionate about this, I sent it to 4 VCs in the region and in four minutes they all said yes, making our first funding $75,000.
How do you manage now, how do you juggle multiple companies?
Entrepreneurs usually get bored easily and keep creating new things. But there is something very important that I had to learn the hard way: to focus on one thing at a time.
Did you have any free time?
I didn’t have much of a social life in high school, I started 3 or 4 startups with friends and we would work in the summer instead of going on holidays. But it’s much more fun than just hanging out and wasting a summer, believe me. I really advise young people to build their careers from the beginning, as soon as they can start thinking where they want to be. Otherwise, they will start a job and it’s very hard to get out of the status-quo.
In the end, did you ever finish university?
The first VCs that funded us did so on the condition that I continued, but in the in end, I had to drop out again to make my business a success.
Were you inspired by this story? Do you know any other young entrepreneurs in the Middle East? Tell us in the comments below!