My Morning Routine: Omar Khashaba, partner in Algebra Ventures Fund II
Omar Khashaba, partner in Algebra Ventures Fund II: 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 Omar Khashaba, partner in Algebra Ventures Fund II (LinkedIn).
I'm Omar Khashaba, newly-appointed partner in Algebra Ventures Fund II. I joined the firm as an associate in early 2018 when we had only four companies in our portfolio, and I was fortunate enough to work with people who gave me the space to take on ever increasing levels of responsibility. Before joining Algebra as an investor, I was an entrepreneur with a background in law. I co-founded peer-to-peer tutoring marketplace Tutorama and later held an executive role at digital pharmacy startup Yodawy.
As an associate I worked alongside a partner and was responsible for activities in both the investment and portfolio management side of the business. My promotion to principal in 2020 effectively empowered me to run investments autonomously, to take companies to the investment committee and prepare the case independently. As a partner I’ll be doing more of that along with continuing to sit on the boards of companies and work with founders. I think the key difference will be in that I’ll have a seat on the investment committee and help make investment calls in the fund.
Our USD 90 mn fund II is targeting a first close in 3Q2021 and it's going to continue focusing on Egypt but we have some allocations for sub-Saharan Africa. That's where we see a lot of growth happening. They’ve proven to be great markets for portfolio companies to expand into and we’re increasingly seeing companies in those markets looking to expand to Egypt.
Series A is where we look to make the bulk of our investment. We have a number of sectors that we’ve benchmarked based on our assessment of structurally similar EMs in southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Looking at those markets provides an interesting foray for things we end up seeing here.
The pandemic took everyone by surprise but the impact it had varied. For some companies it's been the greatest accelerant they could've asked for. For others it's been painful. So our approach has been tailored to each company’s specific needs. We provided some additional cash runway to those that bore the brunt of the pandemic so that they were able to respond adequately to this new world. Having said that, I think the pandemic has obviously been difficult to cope with for all of us both on a personal and professional level.
The ability to work remotely has by far been the best thing that came out of it. Working remotely might have been an interesting thought experiment before but people were sort of culturally conditioned to having to be co-located out of an office. Even before the pandemic hit I would often do important work that required intense focus at home, and that's just a preference for the kind of environment I personally thrive in.
Having said that, I think work is a bundle and part of that is building relationships with your colleagues which is one of those things that has suffered over the past year. There are also other contexts in which you want a group of people in the same space, like brainstorming or having group discussions. The right balance would be mostly remote work with one or two days working from the office, which we’ve experimented with at Algebra and has so far worked very well.
For critics of WFH who think people aren't actually working from home, that means there was a problem there to begin with. If you, as a manager, need to be over your employees’ shoulder to make sure they’re working I would argue there are bigger problems that need to be dealt with. When you have great people around, you really don't need to be so concerned with the way in which they make decisions in a remote setting.
I wake up between 5 and 6 am, drink some coffee and start reading. I tend to set personal learning objectives every six to 12 months where I engage with a diverse range of topics. These days I'm really into 20th century world history, so I'll spend about an hour in the morning going through some reading. After that, I go for a run. It sets up the day in a way that gives me energy and helps me think clearly. Running is absolutely essential for me. During that time I'm either listening to podcasts or audiobooks.
I’ll come back at 8:30 am, take a shower, grab another shot of coffee and spend some time with my wife. I'm fortunate to live in a building with my extended family so I’ll also usually spend some time with my father and my brother too. At 9 am that's when I'll check my work email. I make a point to not check email before that, just so I can maintain a fresh mind. Between 9:15 to 9:45 I spend some time going through VC-related thought leadership and then at 9:45 I’ll join our Algebra daily stand up call. Once that’s done I'll get into my actual day. I make sure to audit my calendar and be very deliberate about scheduling. One of the hardest things about VCs is that you have to context switch all the time. So I like to schedule my calls in a cluster and schedule two hour chunks to work on a single task. I try to think about the outputs I need to provide and audit my calendar accordingly to help make sure I'm not falling into the business trap of being busy all day without getting anything done.
Unless it's crunch time and we’re getting ready to prepare for an IC, I try to wrap up my day at 8 pm. That's when I'll spend time with my wife, have dinner, watch Netflix and catch up on the day. I deleted the mail app from my phone and I generally set all the apps to no notifications. It's really hard to be present when you have constant pop-ups on your screen
As far as personal books go my recommendation would be the German classic Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It's a book I initially read in high school that has had a profound impact on me. It speaks to an innate part of the human condition and the struggle to transcend the limitations that life imposes.
In terms of VC or business-related book recommendations: I’d have to pick Reed Hastings’ No Rules Rules. It's a book about how you create the right culture in an organization. Netflix is a company that achieved an incredible feat, and much of that is due to very deliberate decisions about how to recruit and build culture.
Another book I found incredibly helpful was Seven Powers by Hamilton Wright Helmer. It's mainly about business strategy but it takes a lot of mainstream thinking and strategy and boils it down to seven frameworks for developing a competitive advantage. You want to make sure you have the conceptual tools and the intellectual framework on hand to be able to identify companies that are likely to succeed in a repeatable manner.
My role model in life has always been my mother, Dr. Hala Hamza, a pediatric cardiologist, who spent her entire life dedicated to the tens of thousands of children she helped and treated over the course of her career. She was someone who was unwavering in her commitment to doing the right thing no matter the consequences. I try to live by her example everyday, doing the right thing because it's the right thing, no matter the consequence.