Valentina Primo speaks to Yahia Kordy, an unusual entrepreneur who cycled across 2,500 km, toured around rural towns, and slept on beaches to get his job done: empowering youth to craft their own destiny.
There are entrepreneurs whose nifty ideas make millions. There are others whose grit and drive makes them fail over and over until they find a product market fit. And then there are others who do not think about product market fit, toss aside financial balances, and refrain from making decisions based on anything other than their sheer will to drive social change. Yahia Kordy is one of the latter.
At 27, the engineer quit his job, bought at bike, and cycled across 2,500 km to teach coding to young students in remote communities, spark innovation, and build open source communities that empower them to develop their own destiny.
His startup, OpenIT, trained 1,800 university students across 20 Egyptian governorates, from Damietta to Qena, and his trainings and workshops page is followed by 53,000 people on Facebook. He even garnered the attention of the UN, which approached him to collaborate on an educational project. But it’s hard to speak numbers with Kordy; the weight of his social mission is much heavier than his financial aims.
“Why is open source important?” he asks, looking at me as if the answer was obvious. “In this country we are suffering from everything; we are in a closed community where most people only think about eating, studying, working in a fixed job, marrying, having kids, and dying. So I wanted to create an open source thinking community, where people are independent and think outside of the box, get out of the routine,” he explains.
His restless mission started in 2008, while he was seeking a course he could attend on Linux, and found out the only options were as costly as 12,000 LE. “There are only two centres in Egypt and one in India teaching this, and the average salary at that time was between 500 and 1,000 LE, so I had to learn alone,” he recalls.
Having worked across different companies in the IT sector, he realised there was a huge need for professionals that could code; the problem is that they had nowhere to train. “So I tried doing it myself: I organised a training for one month and the 30 people who came to the training came out well prepared,” he says. “So I thought: I want to do this with the rest of Egypt”. Determined, driven, and resourceful, the entrepreneur bought a bike and went to Alexandria to create a training camp.
في ناس كتير مش عارفة قصتنا وبدأنا إزاي، و ناس أكتر فاكرة إننا بتوع لينكس بس! في الحقيقة الكلام ده غلط :Dطيب إيه الكلام الصح بقى؟ بعد دقيقة ونص بالظبط لما تخلص الفيديو هتعرف :)بس مطلوب من كل شخص يشوف الفيديو، يكتبلنا في كومنت إجابة السؤالين دول.. هو إحنا اسمنا إيه؟ ونفسك تحضر معانا إيه؟ :DPosted by Open It on Tuesday, July 7, 2015
From Alexandria, Kordy continued southward in a trip that turned into a three-month long journey across the country until Aswan, where he offered trainings at universities, training centres, and community centres – and even wedding salons – across 20 cities and villages. Each camp would last from three to seven days.
The purpose, he explains, was to set specific objectives and reach them so that they can apply the same system to their everyday life. “Schools teach students to just follow the rules without thinking. Open source is, for me, a tool to change people's way of thinking; I was using every single detail to show them that there are other ways to act and think outside the box,” he says.
Having contacted universities and training centres through Facebook messages and phone calls, the entrepreneur invested 26,000 LE in the journey, as different funding opportunities were halted by bureaucracy and conflicting funding agendas.
“When I started the trip, I sent a proposal to Vodafone to fund me, but the process of getting the money was so long that I started on my own. I posted on Facebook that I would do it anyway, and asked that if anyone would be able to host me, I would go teach there,” he recalls. Fourteen people across Egyptian villages and cities wrote to him, offering a place to sleep and a salon to teach. But even when there was no place, Kordy had no hesitatios about sleeping on the street. “The University of Port Said had called me to teach there, but once I arrived they couldn’t allow me to sleep at their camp for youth because my bike was not allowed in. So I slept for seven days on the beach,” he narrates.
The second trip, a shorter excursion with a more business-based approach, offered his courses for the price of 300 LE for each student – a price that would allow him to reap 15,000 LE in revenue. Confident on the more entrepreneurial approach, he got off the bike, set up an office at The Greek Campus, and offered one-week courses for an affordable price.
Ten months after his launch, however, he had to pause. “People just care about certifications, not the learning experience. In Egypt, there is something called group culture: they are not looking for the value of experience, they just want the certificate,” Kordy explains. Running on expenses of between 15,000 to 20,000 LE, the startup was hemorrhaging up to 10,000 LE per month. Ten months later, he decided it was time to shift strategy and move where funds seem to abound.
At the Forbes’ 30 under 30 conference, which is taking over these days in Tel Aviv, Shai Agassi, CEO of Better Place, said: “If you’re not willing to fail, you won’t succeed. The difference between failure and success is so minuscule you won't be able to tell the difference. Fail early, fail big, and fail gracefully. And then you take the next step and you’ll invariably succeed.” Yahia Kordy seems to have mastered this premise.
So now the entrepreneur is setting off to establish an IT business in Dubai, where he heads out to spread the open source culture. “We are heading over to Dubai, where the idea will take a different direction. I want to create solutions that generate money, such as ticketing systems and business intelligence, so that I can also run OpenIt. As long as this IT business runs, I can work on OpenIt and keep biking through different towns,” he cheerfully says.
“This model here requires a lot of money. The problem is that, in Egypt, investments go in a different direction, such as festivals and conferences, but not on education and cultural shift,” Kordy concludes.
Photography by @MO4Network #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Osama Selim.
Translation: Hanan Radwan