Meet the Mentor Pair: Muataz and Mike

Mentorship is a key component of the Five One Labs incubator model. In this blog series, we interviewed the entrepreneurs from our first incubator cohort and their mentors to hear about their experience over the course of our three-month program!

First up are Muataz Aziz, founder of AlMadrassa, and his mentor, Mike Guirguis, Head of Operations and Business Development at Yup, who worked together during our pilot program in the spring of 2017!

Muataz talking to customers during Five One Labs’ February 2018 Demo Day.

Muataz talking to customers during Five One Labs’ February 2018 Demo Day.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Mike: I work at Yup, an education technology startup providing students with 1:1 tutoring support, 24/7 over a mobile app. I am in charge of partnering with schools and districts and running tutor operations. Prior to working in technology, I was a management consultant in the Middle East. I am also really interested in economic policy.

Muataz: I am Muataz Aziz, CEO, and Founder of Almadrasa (which means "school" in Arabic). I have always been interested in education, and because of conflicts I was displaced multiple times and I had to study in four different universities in four different cities and countries until I obtained my bachelor's degree. I am an architectural engineer, software developer, and graphic designer. I started my journey with entrepreneurship in Startup Weekend Erbil 2016 when my idea won a jury prize.

What brought you into the world of entrepreneurship?

Mike: My first experience in entrepreneurship was during my senior year of college. I co-founded an website that let students buy and trade items from each other through a secure, e-commerce portal restricted to university communities for safety. After working as a consultant I realized that there is nothing more motivating for me than having complete ownership and accountability of my work and nothing more exciting than getting to chose the problems you dedicate your life to solving.

What insight did your mentor give you into the world of entrepreneurship?

Muataz: Back to the beginning of 2017, it had not been too long for my start in the entrepreneurial world. I just had won in late 2016 in Startup Weekend Erbil. So, it was a great opportunity to talk to a successful entrepreneur to convey his mature experience in a market full of competition and challenges to me and help me refine my vision, plan, and strategy in implementing my idea in a challenging market.

Why do you think entrepreneurship is important in today’s world?

Mike: Entrepreneurship is about solving problems for yourself and for others. Established organizations have already chosen to solve a set of problems and have their own set of stakeholders to satisfy. I believe entrepreneurship is one of the best ways for communities to solve problems while also inspiring the next generation of youth.

How do you think entrepreneurship has had an impact in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI)?

Muataz: Indeed, the concept of entrepreneurship and startups in Kurdistan and Iraq, in general, is not fully mature. However, we have seen many young people starting their startups or at least starting to think about setting up their own businesses, especially after they found it difficult to be employed in the public sector.

Entrepreneurship provided a significant number of jobs for young people and offered many services, but in general, there are not too many startups offering products and we hope to see that shift soon.

Muataz pitching during the Five One Labs Demo Day in February 2018.

Muataz pitching during the Five One Labs Demo Day in February 2018.

What attracted you to becoming a mentor at Five One Labs?

Mike: I went to college with Alice, the co-founder and Executive Director of Five One Labs, and have always found her to be an inspirational person. Motivated, passionate and thoughtful. When she described the mission of Five One Labs I immediately knew I wanted to be involved so that I could help this community of entrepreneurs get their organizations off the ground. I knew this program and these entrepreneurs would be successful if they were working with Alice and Patricia, and I wanted to be a part of that.

What did you benefit from having a mentor by your side during the program?

Muataz: Actually, Michael is a smart, kind, humble, and successful person. Basically, I was feeling very confident that what I was doing was going on the right track. I was asking him about anything I needed after I could not find the right answer. Sometimes, he was forwarding my technical queries to specialists and then came back to me with the best answers. He was explaining practically how businesses grow. He helped me make the best decision when I was hesitant. benefits are really big, bigger than words.

What was your favorite aspect of being a mentor?

Mike: My favorite aspect of being a mentor was seeing the progress my mentee made every time we spoke. He was extremely motivated and dedicated to his mission and I felt lucky to be able to support him even a bit.

What has stuck with you from any advice your mentor gave you?

Muataz: It’s not about an advice stuck with me. It’s about the business mindset that he helped me to adopt. As my mentor and I went through all the steps of my business, he was always advising me about specific details. I still remember our discussions and his advice on the importance of segmentation, MVP, pricing, and setting up alternative plans.

What advice would you give to anyone breaking into the business world?

Mike: The only way to know if your product or service can grow as a business and sustain itself is if you can find paying customers. Entrepreneurs are always tempted to offer their service for free until people show interest, but people do not know how to value free products/services. Charge early for your services even if it is a symbolic amount.

What was your favorite part of the Five One Labs program?

Muataz: Everything was amazing, it was a coherent program that takes ideas from ideation to the light. It’s difficult to mention one favorite part; the interactive nature, the valuable information, the permanent follow up, mentorship and so many other parts make Five One Labs my favorite program.

What would you say to anyone considering applying as a participant to the Five One Labs program?

Mike: The best ideas are the ones that you can't stop thinking about and can't sleep at night because you want them to exist. Be thoughtful with your application and be even more thoughtful about the problem you want to solve and the idea you want to dedicate yourself to. The more clarity and passion you have on the problem, the better your solution will be.