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.
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.
And a week later, as I’m still trying to figure out how to pay my rent, I received a notice from school that I’ve lost my excellence scholarship, and I had no way to come up with IDC’s 40,000 shekels tuition.
So here I was, 23 years old, jobless, financially broken, and about to drop out of university, again. Not being able to afford an apartment back then, I moved to live at my friends’ place in Tel Aviv.
They were four friends sharing a small apartment near Tel Aviv University, and they were generous enough to give me a room. I mean, not exactly a room, but we made some space between their fridge and the wall of the kitchen, and that space became my room, for the next two years.
And what made it even more challenging is that from the outside, all people were seeing is me attending and organizing big conferences, meeting important people, and receiving awards and recognitions.
So for instance, this photo of me receiving the “Forbes Under 30” award was all over my social network, but the one of me having dinner in my room two hours later stayed on my desktop.
The dissonance was so big, I once received an email from a Jordanian entrepreneur asking if I would invest in his company. I was about to invite him over for dinner.
But back then, and despite everything, and with every activity we did at Hasoub, I felt a stronger sense of meaning and fulfillment, and deep inside, I believed that with good intentions and hard work, the world would work out. And it did.
Three days before the school started, I gave it one more shot and sent an email to Prof. Noam, the dean of my communications school at IDC. He was aware of our work at Hasoub, and he lent me a hand. And I ended up receiving a full scholarship, even much better than the one I originally had.
And one day, I remember being at Herzliya, and all I could think of was a 4000 shekels debt on my credit card. And all of a sudden, I see a sign for a virtual reality hackathon. So I went in, participated, and won the first prize.
And yes, that’s how I looked after hackathons. The prize was a brand new phone with a VR headset, and back in the village that weekend, someone who tried them bought them on the spot. For how much? The same 4000 shekels I was looking for.
So yes, I was lucky.
But in most of the cases, I had to make an effort and to work to meet my luck, and in other cases, I had to create my own opportunity. For example, I couldn’t find a job flexible enough to balance with Hasoub and my studies.
So I ended up creating my own social business in 2016, which helped me pay my bills. And at Hasoub, more and more volunteers were taking charge now, helping with operations and logistics. Especially one diligent volunteer, Rabea Zioud, who’s now our CEO at Hasoub.
Today, five years into Hasoub’s journey, we have organized over 300 events and activities, engaging 12,000 participants. But numbers are just numbers, and what really matters is the people behind them.
So among the Hasoubers, we had Reda, who joined us back when he was in high school, and he is today on the dean’s list of the Technion. We had Amru, a graduate of our pre-acceleration program, who has just raised over a million dollars, a seed round for his startup. Lina, who’s now doing her master’s in computer engineering. Rami, who is today a 20-year-old engineer at IBM research.
And Shadi, who joined us back in the basement as a kid in the middle school and today works as a full-stack web developer. And many others.
And today, one of our projects at Hasoub is taking me way back to a childhood dream of mine, and exactly to this beautiful old building of my school. Today, the building is abandoned, and we’re converting this building into the first tech and innovation center in our area, paving the way for our technologists and entrepreneurs and empowering them with whatever they need to thrive.
And also, giving the kids in our village the opportunity we didn’t have. And with this, we will be the ones putting ourselves on the map.
And I will leave you with one final thing. It’s something I use now whenever I’m faced with a new adventure, journey, or entrepreneurial initiative. I ask myself: would I sleep behind a fridge for this? Is it worth pursuing?
Because the pursuit is the reward. And our world is full of missing pieces, waiting for all of us to create and fill them up.
So, what would you create?
Resources for Further Reading:
- Best Inspirational Quotes by TD Jakes That Will Help You During This Lockdown
- Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Lauren Weinstein (Full Transcript)
- How I Help People Understand Vitiligo: Lee Thomas (Transcript)
- Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech 2009 (Full Transcript)
- Lisa Nichols on Abundance Now: Amplify Your Life & Achieve Prosperity Today (Transcript)