Being in the state of upheaval for over a decade now, it is unfortunate Afghanistan is so often associated with the terror of war, Taliban forces, and insecurity. Some of it is true, of course: we are bravely fighting the war against terrorist, but terror and the Taliban most certainly can't be tracked from our Afghani roots. We've always been a loving, peaceful nation - until the only recent emergency of terror groups who have undermined this part of our nature. But it's not just our success in fighting terrorism in collaboration with US troops that has given us hope that we're moving in the right direction, but also the development of Afghanistan's startup ecosystem. Today, I can proudly say we've moved another step towards peace and prosperity, with the launch of Startup Grind Kabul, Afghanistan.
Startup Grind is an international community that brings together entrepreneurs, educators and investors on one platform. It is powered by Google for Entrepreneurs. The launch of this program in Kabul, Afghanistan is truly a big step, showing Afghanistan has taken charge of its fate, and is back on the rise.
For an organization with chapters in dozens of other developing nations, Startup Grind Kabul has many lessons to offer friends, family, and community organizers in terms of building great things under adversity. Today, we have decided to celebrate and nurture this fact: Afghanistan has the talent, the skills, the people and the ideas to make our nation prosper again.
How Did Startup Grind Come to Afghanistan?
I vividly remember that day in August 2014: I first contacted Derek Andersen, the Founder and CEO of Startup Grind, about becoming a Director. Luckily, my application was accepted but at that time - but I didn’t take the opportunity that came my way, as I couldn’t decide whether this would work or not in our sometimes tense political and economic environment.
A year later, in September 2015, things were different: Derek and I reconnected, and this time, serious and proactive, I committed to building this community in Afghanistan. Reapplying and again luckily being accepted, Startup Grind Kabul was official. What this meant was the real work was about to begin.
Action Plan: The Big Step Forward
Bestowed with such a big responsibility, this became our chance to do help revive the business scene in Afghanistan. This was an opportunity for Afghanistan to create awareness among aspiring entrepreneurs, investors and the youth; and get them all united as one unit to nurture the startup ecosystem in our country.
To make this possible, I drafted out a winning action plan. Here's what we got done to kick things off:
Created a volunteer team
Developed a solid business plan
Launched the idea through Facebook which helped us attract 1,200 followers
Attended an exhibition through which we attracted 100 more followers on Facebook
Introduced Startup Grind during Tech Women Summit which gave us 100 more Facebook followers
It's impossible to build community without awareness. Getting the word out was the first step to our success, but this was just the beginning.
It's difficult to build something great, including a Startup Grind launch event, without the right partners - and that means financial backers. We focused on Afghanistan's telecom and banking sector. With some luck, and after long sponsorship discussions with several companies, Startup Grind Kabul's first sponsor, Etisalat joined on! Etisalat is the 12th largest company in the telecom sector in the world, and number 1 in Afghanistan.
The size of the deal, in 5 figures denominated in USD, was astonishing for my team and me. With the brand and energy, we managed to seal such a big sponsorship deal even before our first event took place.
Setting the Goal: Setting the Tone with Branding & Scale
The approach for the first event was to create a strong brand position of Startup Grind Kabul in our local community, showcasing it as the biggest - and perhaps only - platform that could connect entrepreneurs and investors in Afghanistan. Our team's goal was ambitious: 120 smart, ambitious, and helpful attendees.
Event Preparation: How to Streamline for Success
With a team of volunteers, I hustled to make the event a mega success. As a Director, my most important role is to get the best speaker, lock down the venue, and encourage our attendees - and of course, to take responsibility for anything else that inevitably falls on a Director's shoulders.
We did our research, too, and networked before kicking things off, by attending every event that took place in Kabul, making sure that everything was managed. The team got things done on Basecamp, at cafes - and at Mr. Cod, a food outlet that became our food sponsor for the event.
Every attendee enjoyed branded swag, from notebooks to folders and pens, all something to take home to keep Startup Grind close to top of mind.
Promoting the Event: Building the Audience
The event was promoted on our official website and social media. Entrance tickets were offered through our website. Since all the registration for the event was faster than we had imagined, we had to close registration 2 days before the event.
The 11th Hour: Setting Up the Venue
We made a major focus of our first event education, providing attendees with information on how to get startups financed, another on mentorship, and opportunities for incubation to turn a business idea into an actual company.
Another stand celebrated almost exclusively female-owned startups, aimed at motivating our audience to celebrate Afghanistan's women founders. We're all equally skilled, after all, and equally determined to contribute to the prosperity of our country.
We kicked off with an introduction to Startup Grind, complete with Global Conference highlights, and an explainer video created by the New Delhi Startup Grind chapter. Everyone was on the same page: we're here to be educated, inspired, and connected.
Sharing with the World: Getting Media Coverage
Our event was covered by local and international media which included channels like BBC, Aljazeera, Tolo TV, NBC and VOA. Catch the coverage in the video below:
The event was held at Kardan University - the largest and first private University in Afghanistan. Our first guest was Farshid Ghyasi, the founder of Afghanistan's first job portal. The crowd was captivated: over 150 people attended, with 20% female attendees - rare for Afghanistan. New graduates were connected with startups, and the startups with potential hires.
Overall, the event was a major success but more importantly, it gave aspiring and young entrepreneurs as well as investors a hope that they could launch and run successful businesses in Afghanistan.