Founder of Fedshi and the new $15 million EQIQ VC fund and venture studio, Mohammed Al-Hakim is one of the leading catalysts for Iraq’s digital transformation.
Mohammed’s family left Iraq in 1998, and from a young age, he wanted to be financially independent. At age fourteen, he worked different jobs at a supermarket and newspaper. Later, he started exploring dropshipping, which would help inspire his future Iraqi business, Fedshi.
Even though Mohammed was stable abroad, he felt a strong bond with his home country. In 2014, he made an important choice to go back to Iraq. Equipped with an economics degree from London and lots of investment and business knowledge, his return brought valuable knowledge to contribute to the development of Iraq.
Acknowledging obstacles like stringent regulations in Iraq’s slowly evolving banking sector, in 2016 Mohammed aimed to digitise financial services by co-founding Zain Islamic Bank. Where Iraqi banks would prioritise the reduction of costs for short-term profit rather than investing in viable sectors like technology, Zain Islamic Bank emphasised payment services over credit loans to facilitate aspiring entrepreneurs.
Through Zain Islamic Bank, Mohammed aimed to implement online banking and e-wallets despite profits being initially elusive. When asked about founding an authentic Iraqi bank, he acknowledged the learning curve required and the need for determination to achieve such a vision:
“We didn’t return to Iraq for quick profits through opportunistic ventures,” he added. “Our goal was to help build the economic landscape in Iraq, as we’re currently doing through our EQIQ VC fund.”
Unfortunately, Zain Islamic Bank was unsuccessful and Mohammed acknowledges that this venture required patience and substantial investment, with immediate profit not being feasible.
Mohammed’s Journey With Careem
Mohammed believes Careem, the popular ride-hailing app in which he held a managerial role, positioned Iraq for investors and major companies. Despite facing obstacles like the pandemic and unstable political environments, in 2019, Iraq became the fastest-growing market in Careem’s history.
“We set high standards for service provision, be it to customers, captains, or employees,” he explained. “We also shifted marketing approaches to be less formal and more down-to-earth.”
Despite all the positives, Mohammed mentions some negatives. For starters, Careem’s main product is the app itself, which was developed outside of Iraq. Hence, the intellectual property wasn’t for Iraq, despite the marketing and operations taking place here. This resulted in limited capacity for building and creating a founder mindset among Careem Iraq staff because although Careem in Iraq is a startup, it is a startup on steroids. Iraq was the 15th country where Careem launched, so they had the experience of 14 other countries to build upon, on top of a team of a thousand employees assisting them in managing this product.
“With Careem, we did not gain the knowledge of starting a company from scratch… we’ve created a generation of excellent managers, not a generation of excellent founders.”
The Launch Of A VC Fund in Iraq
Recently, Mohammed has launched EQIQ, a $15 million VC fund and Iraq’s first venture studio, focused on Iraqi startups. The fund underscored his dedication to furthering local startups and challenging notions that foreign products outshine Iraqi innovations. Beyond investing, EQIQ’s goal is to nurture and establish these companies within and beyond Iraq, starting with Fedshi, and soon, three other companies.
Given the limitations and low number of investments in Iraqi startups compared to the rest of the region, EQIQ is well positioned to take a leading role. One of the biggest challenges for Iraqi startups has been convincing international and regional investors that Iraq is a market to be taken seriously. As the first locally-founded VC fund, Mohammed is well-positioned to provide support with a deep understanding of the local market.
The Story of Fedshi
Originally an e-commerce site in 2015, Fedshi is a social commerce platform enabling dropshipping at wholesale prices when relaunched in 2020. Mohammed highlighted the fragmentation of the online shopping sector in Iraq, stating that around 500,000 to 600,000 orders are made daily but are scattered among tens of thousands of players.
The aim of Fedshi isn’t to change consumer behaviour but to provide services for sellers, including products at wholesale prices, delivery, handling transactions, and guidance on marketing and increasing profit. “Focusing on one to three products builds better campaigns”.
Mohammed’s wide range of experiences, from founding a digital bank to pioneering Careem’s expansion to Iraq, shapes his adaptive and resilient mindset crucial for shepherding Iraq’s burgeoning technology scene. He remains firmly rooted in his homeland despite years abroad, leveraging global expertise to cultivate local innovation. Mohammed is also a testament to the power of the Iraqi diaspora when they return and leverage their skills and knowledge.
When reflecting on his journey, Mohammed highlights the importance of learning from past experiences, adapting fearlessly, and remaining firmly rooted in one’s homeland. “Although Iraq falls behind in many fields, it remains a fertile land of opportunity,” Mohammed noted. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you can learn from the experiences of those who have gone before you.”
In Mohammed’s view, progress requires uplifting local companies to create indigenous success stories, rather than relying on foreign brands. By uplifting local entrepreneurs through platforms like EQIQ and Fedshi, he aims to nurture Iraq’s technology and business ecosystem, shaping a brighter future fueled by homegrown innovation.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Tajarib, giving you a written overview of the podcast’s latest episode every week for those of you who prefer reading over listening. Tajarib is supported by iQ, Iraq’s leading fiber-optic network.