After a seven-day business trip, Amr Elgbaly, VoxEra founder and CEO, incurred over $500 of roaming charges. As necessity is the mother of invention, Elgbaly did not stop at paying his bill. Instead, he decided to exploit his seven years of experience in VoIP technologies to come up with a new technology. After some tests and experiments, the new solution saw the light and emerged as a new startup, raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign.
Elgbaly does not intend to stop there. Investors are lined up to pour money into the new solution. He expects to collect $1m this round to scale up the company. Within three years, Elgbaly told Daily News Egypt, he plans to list the company on the Egyptian Exchange.
When it was launched, VoxEra was strongly criticised by one of the experts in this domain, Wael Fakhrany (currently the vice president and general manager for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at Incorta). Despite that criticism, you still have a determination to succeed. Please explain how you can turn the criticism to elements that will eventually help you succeed?
We strongly believe that each initiative, when starting, should be criticised. If not, then you have a problem. People can’t understand and accept new things, ideas, and changes too fast. They should criticise and this is the first generator of your success, as you made something that deserves their criticism. But here comes the second side of the coin; you as an entrepreneur should not feel disappointed or let down, but on the contrary, you should try to understand why you are criticised, how you can gain lessons for yourself, what is the core meaning of this criticism, and when you accept and filter healthy suggestions and criticism, your way up will be ensured. This is what happened to us, of course you cannot be wise from the start, but you learn during your path and this is great.
How do you describe your company’s prospects of reaching a $1bn value?
This is our target. As the market is so huge, at $48bn and growing rapidly, because of the raising number of travellers, we have the chance to become a $1bn valuation company very soon. The basics and fundamental of each startup is its team; we believe we gathered the right specialists to be part of the team and this is our main value.
We would like you to take us through the ideation process of VoxEra, ie how you came up with the idea, what was the trigger, etc. Moreover, what were the first steps you took to implement it?
The idea came naturally as we felt the pain of paying high roaming charges. After a seven-day business trip in October 2015, I paid more than $500 for using voice roaming. At first, we decided to do some research to find alternatives, but we did not find anything except SkypeOut, Viber Out, and some roaming apps, which did not solve the problem. With over seven years of experience in VoIP technologies, I conducted a few experiments and made the first prototype of VoxEra, which I successfully tested on a few trips of my own. With a seemingly good minimum viable product, we decided to survey our friends who regularly rely on mobile roaming services, and after positive results, we arrived at a decision to convert our idea to a startup.
How are you planning to attract investments for your startup?
We already have offers from investors who are very interested in VoxEra. Our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign helped us a lot with raising awareness about VoxEra. Now we are working on acquiring the right investments from people who have domain expertise in telecom in the MENA region, the US, the EU, and China. We are contacting investors through various platforms, like f6s or angel.co, and use different tips to attract them. The most important thing in this process is that the investor should be interested in this field and should have an idea about the market and technology.
What is the value of investments that you are aiming to attract?
In this round we are seeking $1m in investments. We have 1,000 customers and now we need funds to attract more customers and to enter new markets.
How would you describe your upcoming participation in the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition?
In fact, it is a pleasure and responsibility to be a part of one of the most influential events not only in the MENA region, but in the whole entrepreneurship ecosystem. We believe MIT will open new doors and opportunities for us. We are so motivated to join this competition and we are sure we will establish important connections during the event.
What are your upcoming plans for VoxEra?
In two weeks we will deliver the product and will step into a fully functioning mode. We will start to sell it through our website, distributor network, partner GigSky, and we will expand our team, hiring more people.
What are the main challenges you have faced so far? How did you overcome them?
The most difficult challenge for us was hardware design, as we changed it a lot, to provide good functionality and high-quality voice. Before you start, everything seems so easy: you will get funds, you will manufacture and ship, and that is it. But believe me, it is not easy at all, especially with a hardware startup, as very small components can destroy all your plans and consume thousands of dollars, nerves, and time. Finally, we passed this stage and we started manufacturing the product.
Do you expect VoxEra to be the first Egyptian company to have a market value equivalent to $1bn?
We will do our best to reach that target.
When will you start selling/providing your solutions to the market/clients?
In two weeks we will ship the device to backers and will start to sell through VoxEra.com and partners.
Are you currently coordinating with telecom operators to improve your solutions?
Until now no, but we grabbed the attention of many telecom operators.
Do you have any plans to list your company on the stock market?
Yes, we hope we can do this within three years.
Do you believe that you will have to resort to Silicon Valley to get funds?
We, like every startup, dream to enter Silicon Valley…and we believe we can grow from there.