Here is the full text of ‘Hasoub’ founder Hasan Abo-Shally’s talk titled “Why I slept behind a fridge for two years” at TEDxTechnion conference.
Hasan Abo-Shally – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
I’ve been always fascinated by inventions and inspired by creators. Back in school, my dream was to have a lab at our school where we could invent, experiment, and create things.
But growing up in Ar’ara, a marginalized village in the northern triangle, and having this beautiful old building as my school, my dream seemed a bit too ambitious.
Back then, I found my outlet in front of our family computer in the basement. It was back then when I first was exposed to coding and graphic design. And despite my ADHD, I was spending hours upon hours in the basement creating web pages and graphic designs.
The ability and sensation of creating something new of my own was magical. My mom, she thought I was spending too much time in front of the screen, but she would still bring me tea and za’atar everyday to the basement.
In high school, I continued to learn online and create computer programs. I was so happy and proud of my creations, especially when my school decided to buy and use one of them. And again, I was thrilled that I could create something that brings value to people.
After high school, I continued here, to the computer science department at the Technion. But I ended up dropping out, and paving my own alternative way into the high-tech industry.
I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours taking online and offline courses. I was attending tens and tens of meetups, conferences, and tech events, especially in Tel Aviv.
And at one of those events, I met an entrepreneur who had just raised money for his startup, and after some chatting, he offered me a job, and I moved to Tel Aviv.
Moving to Tel Aviv was a truly transformative experience for me. Besides developing my technical skills, being among the very first employees of a startup taught me a lot about business and entrepreneurship.
In addition, I was spending almost every evening attending nearby technological and innovation events, widening my horizons, and expanding my network.
But eventually, I started to realize something inside this tech scene of Tel Aviv: that besides being the only Arab at the company I was in, I was almost the only Arab in the room at every event I was attending.
I was also the only one fasting in Ramadan and the one looking for a room to pray in, while others enjoyed their lunch.
And with this realization, a question inside me started to form: “Do I belong?”
On the weekends, I was going back to my village, and there, nothing related to tech or entrepreneurship was happening. And just to give you a sense of how big the gap is, here is a snapshot of the ecosystem in Tel Aviv back in 2013.
So each blue circle here indicates the number of startups or tech entities on that same street or corner. Hundreds of them.
And here, how it looked in Wadi Ara where I come from, and where my village is. You hear this? It’s nothing. And that’s exactly what we had.
And now, the question inside me started to be: Do we belong? Why don’t we have more Arab tech entrepreneurs? And why do we lack the daring and chutzpah of creating and bringing something new to the world? Especially that as Arabs and Muslims, we have a proven record of bringing life-changing inventions, back in the golden ages.
Triggered by this, my friend Omar and I decided to actually do something. We were both working in Tel Aviv back then and decided to start meeting on the weekends, back in the basement, and to create our own app.
After dozens of meetings, and months of hard work, we eventually failed and gave up on our app. But what came out of this was bigger than the two of us, and the real startup was born.
What happened is that we posted this photo on Facebook. A friend from the village who saw it asked if he could sit beside us and learn app development.
So the next week, he came. And the week after, two more friends joined. And in two more weeks, we got this.
So my dad, he had to take some walls off so we could all fit in and my mom, she was now making za’atar in mass production. So they were really our true angel investors.
A couple of weeks later, a group of passionate women wanted to join, but they were uncomfortable coming on Fridays and staying overnight. It was very important for us to create a space that’s welcoming for all, so we moved our meetings to Saturdays.
And now, in the same basement I used to sit in and create alone, there are now many of us. And this transition between the “I and Me” to the “Us and We” gave us all a sense of belonging and a community started to form.
Sitting there, learning, coding, and creating together, and discussing technology and entrepreneurship in Arabic, felt like we’d finally created a space that combined our passions and our identity. We called that space “Hasoub,” which in Arabic means “a computer.”
Dozens of people were joining every week, some even had to travel a couple of hours to get to the weekly meetings. Friendships, job opportunities, and even families were born out of these meetings, including my wife Sujud and I from two months ago.
But the more we met, the more we started to realize that it’s not enough for us to meet and develop ourselves as a closed group, but we should rather be taking this from the basement up to the streets of our society.
In January 2015, we organized our first public event, in Umm al-Fahm, and we had a full house of people from our society, eager to hear more about tech and innovation, in Arabic.
And from Umm al-Fahm, we continued to Nazareth, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Shefa-‘Amr, and many others. We have been to Arab towns and villages, from Arraba in the north to Rahat in the south.
We were also organizing events for Arab students on the campuses, including 20 hack nights here at the Technion. We even did events in Tel Aviv, the heart of the “startup nation,” and now at those events, I wasn’t the only Arab in the room.
Back then, we didn’t really have a plan, but we all shared the same pain of exclusion and the same hope of prosperity. And we all believed in our role as the young generation to lead change from within, to impact our own economy, and to bring more people from our society to the tech industry and to new industries as students, engineers, and most importantly, as entrepreneurs.
We were all volunteers, a true grassroots movement. And thanks to all of these volunteers, thousands of people in our society got the opportunity to engage with tech and innovation. To me, this all was a true blessing.
But with Hasoub growing and having to lead bigger and bigger activities and events, it started to consume much more time than I could afford. I was still working at a startup, and I was just back to complete a degree at IDC in Herzliya. And it felt like this small space of passions and identity that I’d created had turned into a burden.
And I collapsed. I found myself at the junction of hard choices, having to make a choice between my personal career path and the job I love, and Hasoub, that I had created, believe in, and feel responsible for. And I left my job.