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Thursday, 11 March 2021

My Morning / WFH Routine: Nour Shawky, CEO of Softec Technologies

Nour Shawky, CEO of Softec Technologies: Each week, my Morning / WFH Routine looks at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Nour Shawky, CEO of Softec Technologies (LinkedIn). Edited excerpts from our conversation:

My name is Nour Shawky, I'm co-founder and CEO of Softec Technologies. With my wife Heba Makhlouf, we have three children: Yusuf, Ismail and Fairuz. My company is specialized in developing command and control software. This means building software solutions for transportation, logistics, last-mile delivery services and public safety organizations. Our products help companies move on the ground by optimizing vehicle routes using AI to reach destinations as fast as possible while reducing costs. We also help keep an eye in real time on how vehicles are doing and if there are any issues with deliveries that need solving.

I oversee the whole process. I’m responsible for business development, local and regional expansion and product development. We currently have 5k customers across the Middle East, Southeast Asia and most recently, Western Europe. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are now our biggest markets.

I wake up at 6 am, check my phone and read the day’s news. I quickly scan my emails and WhatsApp messages to see if there's anything that requires urgent care — which specifically applies to issues that may arise with some of our mission-critical operations clients like ambulances, police and civil defense organizations. I also do a quick review of our customer software consumption and software performance, which is sent directly to my phone. Then it's on to my news intake for the day, which starts with Enterprise.

I’ve picked up a daily exercise routine for the first time in my life. I'm now preparing for a triathlon so I'm training in cycling, swimming and running. My mornings are usually spent running or swimming and the evenings are when I get the chance to cycle. By 9:00 am I’m at the office where I start my day with two power hours while I'm at my most productive in reading and writing. The most enjoyable part of my day is when I get to my weekly sync-up meetings with our different business units. Then it's more meetings and calls until 5:00 or 6:00 pm when I end my day at the office and head home.

Football in the evenings and deep sea fishing when I get the chance. I’m a Zamalek fan and — like most Egyptians — a big fan of Liverpool because of Mo Salah, so if there's a match on I’ll usually catch that in the evenings. I enjoy a weekend-long deep sea fishing trip in the Red Sea whenever the opportunity arises. It requires a lot of patience and endurance, so it can be quite meditative. I try to take my kids along with me as much as I can, to get them acquainted with nature. The whole process is as important as the catch itself so I’m going to start releasing more fish.

We were fully WFH for eight months after the first wave of the pandemic hit. We sent everyone home in early March of last year and gradually started going back to the office in October. Then we had another full lockdown during January 2021. We went back to working at 50% capacity four days a week at the start of February. We have around 85 people in our Egypt office, 25 people based in the UAE and 5 people working from Saudi Arabia.

It's important to see the faces behind the screen. For the spirit and morale of our team it's very important to be together. Health and safety come first, but we felt human contact was lacking. Face-to-face interactions are essential for the sake of better brainstorming and innovation.

I was quite pessimistic at the start of the pandemic. The future was looking very uncertain at that time so we decided to implement some aggressive cost cutting measures. Luckily, e-commerce grew substantially during the pandemic which meant more business in the logistics sector and more home deliveries. Companies started investing more in home delivery services which was great for our business. In a matter of three months we were back on track to meeting our targets which allowed us to reverse our cuts. All in all, 2020 was a good year for us and we remain optimistic for 2021.

A lot of people incorrectly use the term AI to describe advanced technologies. There are very technically specific areas that constitute what AI means. Artificial intelligence, to a large extent, has to do with the science of interpreting data, so when it comes to AI it's really important that solutions are designed to serve a very particular purpose for a specific industry. Behind every solution there needs to be knowledge of the industry, or the business, along with technically capable scientists who can design appropriate algorithms.

I’m now listening to Moby Dick by Herman Melville as an audiobook during my morning drive to the club and the office. Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim was game-changing for me, as was The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, which is a great book about how to nourish a healthy corporate culture. For IT companies I recommend the book Crossing the Chasm by Jeffery Moore, which is about successfully launching a product. When the pandemic first broke out I read The Plague by Albert Camus which, to me, drew interesting parallels between how people reacted to the outbreak of a plague then and now.

I really appreciate this quote taken from Moby Dick: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth… then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

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