How many times have you bought a couch and found out it didn’t match your carpet when it got delivered? We speak to Reham El-Masry, the entrepreneur creating virtual realities for people to see their revamped homes through her startup, Furnwish.
On a breezy Ramadan afternoon, a few minutes before the sun set, a decorated felouca swam away through the River Nile's gentle ripples. The wooden boat carried young entrepreneurs, as well as the mentors who supported them across the journey they shared to Silicon Valley, in the last edition of Injaz's tour to the startup hub. On May 29th, Injaz Egypt gathered fresh faces, some of whom have already started their second startup, for an Iftar get-together to share their thoughts and reflections on the trip and how it affected both their startups and their personal growth.
On the boat, we met Reham El-Masry, CEO and co-founder of Furnwish, a startup that has also recently won a spot at Womentum's first cohort and will soon be off to Berlin and Dubai with Womena's brand new female-focused accelerator. Established on December 2016, Furnwish is a home-furnishing platform enabling home owners to discover, visualise and interact with furniture using immersive Augmented Reality experiences and technologies. Creating tools to empower retailers and design professionals in better showcasing their products and services, soon getting machine learning onboard.
El-Masry, 24, was happy with her career in corporate. She never dreamed of starting a business. "I didn’t even know that a startup ecosystem exists, or anything about entrepreneurship," she tells Startup Scene ME. "But my father was diagnosed with a very rare disease, so he needed to come back from abroad to stay with us." However, the only way he could actually come back and rest at home was if hat El-Masry got enough income to support her family.
"So, I became obsessed for six months with coming up with some kind of business that gave me extra cash but I didn’t know anything about sustaining a business," she says. "Then, by chance, I found a post on Facebook for Injaz Egypt's incubation programme, saying: 'if you’re a woman between 21 and 27 and you have a business idea, come and we’ll teach you everything.' I didn’t have a business idea, it was two hours before the deadline, and I had to come up with an idea from thin air. And that’s exactly what happened."
I didn’t have a business idea, it was two hours before the deadline, and I had to come up with an idea from thin air. And that’s exactly what happened.
She came up with a "crazy" idea; at first, it was a wedding registry. El-Masry's team got accepted and won the competition. "During the incubation, we made some experiments and started to talk to the couples who were about to get married, go to events, understand the market better," she says. They found that people who were actually struggling to get married weren't worried about the gifts they wanted to include in the registry as much as they were struggling with the furnishing process. "We kept hearing the same comments, over and over again, “I can’t visualise my house, I can’t put stuff together, everything is very expensive,” and then we started creating a solution that could fix that," she elaborates.
They thought of augmented reality and decided to utilise it to produce their product. "We struggled so hard in the beginning to find someone that could actually work with the new technology, because it fits with some mobiles and doesn’t fit others," she says. But, as she set off to join the trip to Silicon Valley as part of the programme, she encountered her future CTO: Ahmed Amin, Epic VR's co-founder and CEO, fit like a missing puzzle piece. So the entrepreneur joined Furnwish as CTO.
"We thought it would be a good partnership, since they are business oriented, and I am technically deep in this field," Amin tells Startup Scene ME. "We clicked, I became a CTO and started developing the MVP. We're currently working on the actual product." Amin runs Epic VR as an entertainment product provider. "VR is more used currently in entertainment, but I believe that Augmented Reality has infinite business needs in the future. So I found that idea as a breakthrough using this technology, especially in the MENA region and in such a big industry as furniture."
VR is currently more used in entertainment, but I believe that Augmented Reality has infinite business needs in the future.
After their return from Silicon Valley trip, the entrepreneurs met their mentor, a Microsoft engineer who works with AR. "With his help, we actually came up with the solution of getting 3D scanners, so we can 3D-scan the products from the stores and add them with AR and now we can work with all the other places," El-Masry recalls. "Basically, we pivoted because of people’s feedback."
Reminiscing the Silicon Valley trip, both entrepreneurs agreed that the tech hub felt like home. "I never thought that I could go to some place and feel like it’s the place I want to live and be happy in," El-Masry says. "When you go to Silicon Valley, you feel there’s something about the city, you can’t pinpoint it, but it’s just amazing. You feel like you’re one of the locals, and you can feel the passion that people have there. There’s the reason why startups succeed in Silicon Valley more than anywhere else in the world; because they have the right support system."
It was an "eye-opening" experience to Amin. "It's a totally different culture, in terms of people's mentality towards startups," he says; adding that most of the people there are entrepreneurs, so you don't feel awkward - as opposed to Egypt, where most people are employees immersed in the stable corporate world. "The common theme here in Egypt is that you go to college, graduate, find a job in the corporate world. Having a dream which you fight for is frowned upon."
The common theme here in Egypt is that you go to college, graduate, find a job in the corporate world. Having a dream which you fight for is frowned upon.
El-Masry found herself surrounded by many who are willing to support her. "Whether they're groups or someone that you meet on the street," she says. "Anywhere you turn, there’s a huge entity that can help." This was nothing like what she had in mind. In fact, El-Masry had very low expectations about er trip. "We met with all the big players, like Facebook and Google and all those people you kind of look up to and listen to their success stories. We met some of the bigger management there and we were pitching in front of everyone we met.
"I had a nervous breakdown just a few minutes before I get on stage, trying to remember my lines and somehow I got to say my pitch exactly like I wanted," she remembers. "After I went off stage, every person from those big entities came and congratulated me on the “amazing job” I did on stage." The first person who congratulated El-Masry was an investor, he got her in touch with a technical entity at Silicon Valley that helped her out and had her stay for eight months to work together on her product.
Now, El-Masry looking forward to her entering the Womentum acceleration programme, and the trip to Berlin, kicking off in early July. "We started to assess the things that we’ll need, the technical and business challenges, and for us to go to the next level, which is machine learning," she concludes.
Photography: @MO4Network's #Mo4Productions.
Photographer: Mohamed El-Khatib
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