MSA Novo, a UAE-based multi-stage investment firm, specializes in channeling global best practices and institutional support to portfolio companies, facilitating their growth into regional powerhouses. The firm’s distinctive approach focuses on financial returns and fostering innovation and positive societal change.
In an exclusive interview with Asia Tech Daily’s Editor, Yazeed Al-Shammari, a pivotal figure at MSA Novo, shed light on the venture capital and Abu Dhabi startups. Discover the strategic approaches and impactful journey of Yazeed Al-Shammari as he navigates the intersection of innovation, investment, and societal progress of the UAE startup ecosystem.
In 2010, in China, Yazeed Al-Shammari, a Saudi entrepreneur, began his journey by navigating the startup ecosystems of Saudi Arabia and the region, forming a profound understanding of the critical intersection between innovation, investment, and societal progress driven by the region’s entrepreneurial landscape.
From angel investor to powerhouse builder, leading him to his current pivotal role at MSA Novo, a leading Global multi-stage investment firm. MSA Novo specializes in bringing global best practices and institutional support to its portfolio companies, propelling them into regional powerhouses. Unlike the conventional focus solely on financial returns, MSA Novo takes a distinctive approach, balancing strong financial performance with fostering innovation and driving positive societal change in SA, MENA, and globally.
Yazeed’s journey into the investment industry speaks of resilience and strategic insight. Starting with personal ventures, his initial involvement in tech entrepreneurship faced challenges that, despite ending in non-success, provided invaluable lessons. However, undeterred, he co-founded a second startup, Dalliance, which achieved success and a profitable exit.
Later, His unique combination of entrepreneurial experience and strategic role in the Ministry garnered the attention of MSA Novo, where he now guides investments towards startups, contributing to economic returns and societal advancements.
Spending 5 Years at the Ministry of Investment, Yazeed ignited Saudi Arabia’s entrepreneurial sector. Motivated by Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, his dedication nurtured the growth of More than 500 startups across diverse fields. Focus on startup investments in emerging markets stems from a profound belief in the transformative power of innovation.
Inspired by the dynamism and resilience of entrepreneurs in these markets, he seeks to bridge the gap between capital and innovation, contributing to global progress and empowerment, which laid the groundwork for his current role at MSA Novo. Now, he uses his expertise to guide investments towards innovative startups, driving both economic returns and positive societal change.
Yazeed’s investment career witnessed a bold step in 2019 when he invested in a fintech startup in Saudi Arabia. Beyond financial returns, this venture was key in advancing financial literacy and inclusion across the Kingdom, shaping his investment philosophy around innovation, societal benefit, and financial inclusion.
At a time when traditional banks dominated the country’s financial landscape, he identified a critical gap in digital payment solutions. This fintech startup aimed to simplify financial transactions and make them more accessible to the broader population. The success of this venture not only delivered impressive financial returns but also played a role in advancing financial literacy and inclusion across the Kingdom.
This early triumph in the fintech space was a defining moment for Yazeed and influenced his investment approach. It ingrained in him a philosophy that investments should be vehicles for innovation, societal benefit, and financial inclusion. Carrying these principles with him, Yazeed’s transition to a role at MSA Novo was marked by a commitment to seek out and support enterprises that were economically viable and capable of driving progressive change in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
When evaluating potential startup investments, Yazeed deploys specific strategies and methodologies, tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities presented by startups in diverse geographic regions. Essential criteria include market potential, product-market fit, the regulatory environment, local expertise, level of innovation, financial health, social impact, exit opportunities, and robust risk management.
MSA Novo distinguishes itself as an investment firm in emerging markets by its deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities these markets present. The firm is known for its:
Yazeed’s investment philosophy firmly aligns with MSA Novo’s broader ambitions – fostering innovation and driving positive change. His unwavering commitment to seeking ventures that marry economic viability with progressive impact is etched into the very fabric of their startup investment approach.
Reflecting on his journey, Yazeed shares a personal anecdote about an investment in a promising tech startup.
“Before joining MSA Novo, I had the opportunity to angel-invest in over 20 startups. While only a handful have survived, each one has imparted a valuable lesson. One particular anecdote that stands out is my investment in a promising tech startup that had all the makings of success: a passionate team, a great product, and a significant market need. However, they struggled with scaling their operations and ultimately couldn’t survive the competitive market.”
For aspiring investors, especially in emerging markets, Yazeed’s insights are invaluable. He emphasizes:
To further guide your journey, Yazeed recommends specific resources, including a curated list of five essential books, among them, Zero to One, by Peter Thiel. The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries.
Resource Management: Yazeed, seasoned in diverse environments, advises early-stage founders on navigating resource constraints with finesse. He emphasizes lean operations and prioritizing spending. Leveraging local knowledge, he recommends outsourcing non-core activities and strategic hiring, ensuring talent aligns with needs. Closely monitoring cash flow and iterative development are further cornerstones of his resource management framework.
Common Pitfalls and Fundraising Navigation: Drawing from his rich experience, Yazeed identifies common pitfalls entrepreneurs face during fundraising and equips them with practical strategies to avoid them. He emphasizes proper preparation as key, highlighting the importance of a clear and compelling pitch. His valuable insights provide actionable steps for founders to significantly enhance their fundraising success.
As a global investor, Yazeed Al-Shammari navigates diverse markets through a network of local contacts, gleaning cultural nuances, and interpreting real-time data that reveals promising trends. International forums buzz with fresh perspectives, further honing his insight. And firsthand interactions during on-site visits solidify his understanding, allowing MSA Novo to make decisive and informed investments.
When he’s not navigating the high-stakes world of venture capital, Yazeed finds joy in the opposite end of the technological spectrum: building and tinkering with drones. Although he jokingly admits his flights often end in “uncontrolled landings,” the process of repair and learning from each crash is a steppingstone to future triumphs. For a more grounded escape, Yazeed seeks refuge in the quietude of nature, where camping under the stars helps him recharge and rediscover serenity.