We discovered TURN8’s call for applications by “accident.” We didn't participate in the usual hackathon or “innov-a-thons.” Instead, a simple Google search for where to take our ideas popped up many accelerators accepting applications. Instinctively, we chose to apply to TURN8. There was something uniquely intriguing about the name. Two days after submitting an application, we got an email from TURN8 requesting a Skype interview between Swappaholics and Mohammed Hamdy, who was the Managing Director of the TURN8 program. “That escalated quickly,” I said to my co-founder Michael Ocansey.
The Skype interview lasted for about 30 minutes; questions relating to how we came up with the idea, what problem we sought to solve and how we planned on monetizing our application came in thick and fast. Hamdy was very precise and knew how to aim for the jugular with his intuitive and deep searching questions. One question that I termed the “shark attack” question was “are you ready to quit your full-time job and take up this venture?” At this point there was no turning back.
The interview ended with “you will hear from us soon.” A week later we were notified of our pre-selection. We were the first team to be selected for TURN8 Round 4. Due diligence stage commenced. Lots of paperwork; lots of emails were exchanged and we were officially confirmed. Dubai, here we come! We jetted out of Ghana on February 6, 2015, using Ethiopia Air. We missed the connecting flight and spent a day in Addis Ababa. It was a very cold experience and coming from a tropical country; we had to brace ourselves. We landed in Dubai on February 8 at approximately 4:00 AM local time.
First cultural shock. Checked into our prized room, what is locally referred to as a partition room. It was no bigger than a cubicle. We had to adapt fast. Then came the food. No African food in sight. Time we introduced our tongues and taste buds to different cuisines.
On February 9 it was time to head to The Cribb, where TURN8 teams work. Armed with a map and an RTA card we set off. Everyone gets lost once in a while in a new environment. We ended up at a different Al Qouz. You couldn't blame us. We hailed a cab and phoned the TURN8 Community Manager who gave the directions to the cab driver. One team (Cabit, now Paack) had arrived early for the start of the program. We exchanged pleasantries with them and settled in to work.
The program officially commenced and boy was it an exciting one, covering topics like business modeling, financials and other important knowledge entrepreneurs need to acquire to help them become better managers and steer the affairs of a startup. Passion alone cannot guarantee the success of your startup. Choosing mentors is one key pillar of the TURN8 program and it helps startups get invaluable knowledge and coaching from people with industry knowledge. Mentors, I term them as “rudders of a ship,” help steer a startup and avoid errors that have the potential of killing it.
From pitching events, barbecue parties, prototype building, etc., TURN8 has helped shaped our perspective in the startup business. TURN8 is more than an accelerator; it’s a family that is bent on making everyone succeed. You are chided if you go wrong, encouraged and praised if you do things right. You learn not to take anything personal but rather strive to improve who you are. Many of us came into the program with only passion as a tool, but we have acquired enormous knowledge that can last a lifetime. It’s been one heck of an amazing journey and we have no regrets for joining this beautiful experience.
Now all pumped up, psyched up and ready we await the Investor Demo Day on June 13, 2015. It’s going to be a celebration of handwork from these 120 acceleration days. The Arabian night is going to be lit by beautiful ideas. Join us as we make history.