Amman Through The Eyes of Fouad Jeryes
Fouad is an early entrepreneur and technical consultant that has taken part in launching 4 ventures over the past 6 years. A business technologist by education, Fouad has played a key role in business intelligence, analytics, and data strategy projects and has worked with the likes of Verizon, Microsoft, Yahoo! & Google. Before moving onto pursuing his own projects, he was known as d1g.com’s Chief Rascal, and was part of the team that launched the Oasis500 accelerator program. Alongside, he initiated the creation of a high impact monthly forum called Amman Tech Tuesdays (AmmanTT) and has enjoyed dabbling into the media space with TechTech.ME, a blog and Arabic TV program that focuses on highlighting regional developments in the Technology industry. After hours, he enjoys playing his guitars just loud enough to make the neighborhood hear him!
Get in touch: @FouadJeryes
Fouad, you’ve been living in and out of Amman for 15 years, how have you seen Amman change over time? What is the single most important positive change you saw happen?
Amman’s infusion of character & culture. Surely, the city has always had wonderful flavors, places & people that we love, but recent years have mapped out our potential to evolve in some of the most colorful ways. Now it is our generation, the grass-root efforts, aspirations and overwhelming will to shape our corner of the world. That is what makes the Amman of 2020 so awesome. Whether in art, business or the merger of both, what excites me most is the Amman we’re constructing in our minds and all the people who are invested in painting the picture.
You have been involved in the tech scene and called the ‘tech guru’ by many, what does that mean to you?
“Guru”??...meh, I’m the farthest thing from it. We operate in a very fast paced industry, so you’re really only as good as your last “update”. Not only are such titles absolutely toxic when it comes to personal development in my opinion, they are empty and insignificant. There are people who thrive on staying current and ahead of their game, and perhaps a tad bit too many who misguidedly seem to “know it all”. I believe that I continue to apply myself, invest, and actively build on my own efforts in the local tech scene. The fact that this may resonate with people is flattering of course, but there is so much more to accomplish and there always will be.
Tell us a little bit about how Jordan is transforming in terms of the tech scene and if we really are the Silicon Valley of the Middle East.
We are all so fortunate. Without a doubt, we live in one of the most interesting times in terms of what the technology industry might mean to Jordan’s economy. However, I do think that the question to be asked here is whether or not we actually understand what Silicon Valley really is in the first place.
If we look, we’ll find that the Valley is an area with a 50-mile radius that encompasses some of the most sought after educational and research institutions in the world. That is what spurs innovations that create companies, attract funding, and builds a market. Merge that with an open and cooperative philosophy, and voilà! A healthy and sustainable eco-system emerges. That is what people pursue.
So, where are we? We’re in a very strategic spot. It is essential we remember that skill is universal, but opportunity is not. Although we pride ourselves with our education standards here in Jordan and have engineering talent that is at par with other places in the world, in reality it is just as such with almost every other place in the world. (Our talent pool is much smaller too) Undoubtedly, what sets Jordan apart from any other place in the world is our golden prospect to build a model eco-system and lead the way for other Arab nations. 1996 was the year things started booming for the Internet in established markets, now it’s our time to emerge and there’s no better place for you to be a part of it. - I just hope the PR doesn’t get to our heads.
What do you think the government should do to help the start-ups in Jordan?
Short answer: Let them play freely & hope for the best!
Long answer: The government, in all of its parts, needs to better understand the long-term worth of building and expanding the entrepreneurial class in Jordan. Nurturing a culture of entrepreneurship has to start early in a citizen’s lifecycle. It’s a blend of education, fair legislation, and intrinsic as well extrinsic benefits that lower the barriers just enough for anyone to give an idea a shot - at least without having to think more than twice about risk.
Humans are creatures of habit. Which means that trekking down unchartered paths is rather uncommon, especially when there are strong social stigmas of failure. For the government to help encourage people to startup, they can offer “approved” companies special tax exemptions or customs privileges for their first year or so of operation (particularly e-commerce companies). Beyond this, creating a hot bed for entrepreneurs in the Arab World is also essential and can be achieved by creating a “Startup Visa” program to promote Jordan as the go-to destination for bringing your venture to life.
Most importantly, government needs to realize that the building blocks of the world we live in have changed. Understanding it is key and embracing it is prime. We need to focus on education, but present it from the right angles. Ones that give rise to a “Super-Abled” population.
You started up Amman Tech Tuesdays (AmmanTT), tell us a little bit about it.
Innovation comes from open knowledge exchange, and not hoarding it. That is the underlying philosophy behind AmmanTT, which is a non-for-profit effort that organizes local tech forums on the first Tuesday of every month in a casual and open setting that is free to the public. Since founding in May of 2010, AmmanTT has arranged 30 events, hosted over 25,000 attendees, 160 speakers from all around the world, to become the largest and most frequent gathering of engineers, students, entrepreneurs, business individuals, investors and enthusiasts in the Arab world.
The idea came about on my most recent return to live in Amman about 3 years ago. It was clear that regional tech events were few and far in between. Moreover, attending any of these forums was very expensive and out of the reach of curious everyday engineers or aspiring business people. It was only logical that we could create our own platform in a pro-bono fashion and show the rest what the Jordanian eco-system was really all about and where invention and improvement would really come from.
AmmanTT filled a much-needed gap and offered valuable connections and networking opportunities, but the true success of this project has nothing to do with technology. The success we’ve been realizing is the result of a group of very different individuals who were willing to see past their dissimilar values, ideas, worldviews, and push through for the sake of change & growth within the sector. That’s where we found achievement.
What is your favorite memory growing up in Amman?
My late grandmother, Loris “Lou-lou” Jeryes, owned a very well known clothing store on Rainbow St., to the right of the British Council, called “My Baby”. I have the most vivid childhood memories of when my family and I used to visit Amman during the summers. Teta Loulou would give me 1 JD and my cousin and I would spend our days roaming the street like mischievous kings. We’d buy goodies from Rainbow supermarket, waste hours playing arcades at Abu’l Dahab, rent out Bruce-lee videos from a local shop, and then end everyday with a falafel sandwich from Al-Quds on our way back home.
I really cherish those times and now that she has passed they mean so much more. The store had to be sold, but in honor of her life, I vowed to buy it back one day.
Who is your local inspiration in the tech field?
That’s a tough one because I look up to different people in different respects. In my opinion, I’ve been privileged with the opportunity of working very closely with some of the most accomplished and forward thinking individuals in the industry. I’ve spent the past few years working with Dr. Usama Fayyad in a number of ventures locally and abroad, a scientist whose research in the field of “data mining” and discovery has blown my mind. Working side by side with the man who practically wrote the book on the subject has been invaluable, and I value our friendship just as much.
I find inspiration in people like Kefah Issa (BlueKangaroo.com) for his strong technical discipline, Majied Qasem (d1g.com) for his artistic negotiation skills, Fadi Ghandour (MENA Ventures) for his open approach to investments, Ali Al-Asmar (Run2Sport.com) for his transparent & inviting style towards the e-commerce industry, Zafer Younis (The Online Project) for his sincerity, Ala’ Alsallal (Jamalon.com) for his determination, Wa’el Attili (kharabeesh.com) for his opinions on how new media can advance our nation, and so many more…you can learn from anyone.
What services do you feel your city needs that you would like to pressure Greater Amman Municipality & the Government to implement?
An “Open-Source” schema. There are certain values that are embedded in Open Source software that can be imported into just about any system and enable it in ways that we can only imagine. These are principles of citizen participation, collective action, public consideration of ideas and crowd sourcing to name a few. In a public/private partnership, we could use some of the data feeds from the government & GAM to build applications and public resources that can be useful to citizens. From being informed about laws studied in the government to notifying GAM of areas in the city that need a trash pickup. All we need is a program to attract technical talent that is interested in making our city a much better place. We all have to be a part of the process.
We must ask, what are your thoughts on the BRT?
Just another reminder that we need to build systems that work in Jordan and the project must go back on track. A modern city requires modern methods of public transport. On a lighter note, despite the project’s history, I have been hearing positive news and it looks like it may be 2 years away – fingers crossed.
Give us three tips for a tourist visiting Amman for the first time?
- PLAN IN ADVANCE! There are thousands of sites to see and things to do throughout Jordan, especially the city. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
- Experience Mansaf and eat it properly. (With your hand)
- Get ready for good weather, great people, and an unforgettable experience.
Favorite hang out in Amman?
I enjoy Strada Caffe on Rainbow, but you’ll find me anywhere between the 1st & 3rd Circles.
Favorite quick bite?
Hashem Al-Balad :)