UAE-based investment banking veteran sets up a real estate tech start-up: Here’s why, how

“At 13, if I wasn’t studying or training, I was working, and my summer jobs in Dubai were in the construction field,” recalled Lebanese-Palestinian expat Walid Shihabi, 46. He inherited that work ethic from his father, who had moved to Dubai in 1964 to build roads, schools, hospitals and housing in the fledgling city.

Shihabi did not see the jobs he did in his teens as a punishment, but as an opportunity. “I started my first business at age 14, outsourcing maintenance work, and then spent the next six years on the income I had accumulated from this business.”

I had learned that opportunities were always present if you were open to acquiring them. “The experiences helped me build knowledge from scratch, understand what everyone is doing and why, and listen and learn before I speak.”

Shihabi has over 15 years of investment banking experience in Dubai and the broader Middle East, primarily as managing director of asset manager SHUAA Capital and CEO of investment bank SHUAA Securities.

He played a role in raising funds for some of the most prominent listed companies in the Middle East, including DP World, Air Arabia, Emaar Properties, Royal Jordanian and Petrofac, among many others, while also disseminating data and research on the capital. region of. markets.

At 13, if I wasn’t studying or training, I was working

-Walid Shihabi

This is how his journey into entrepreneurship began.

Shihabi exited the investment banking industry in 2012 to set up a Dubai-based real estate fund and property and hotel management company. Over the next ten years, he gained an understanding of how real estate works as an asset class in the UAE, including measuring investment parameters, operating points, and core technology and data requirements.

It was then that Shihabi gradually transitioned from a user of real estate investment technology to an innovator in the space, leading him to co-found a new real estate technology company with experienced business partners Silvia Eldawi and Omar Abu Innab.

Shihabi startup ‘Keyper’ aims to improve the way a UAE-based real estate investor manages his portfolio by enabling him to monitor and act on digital payments, rental renewals, occupancy rates, real-time monitoring of portfolio valuation, cash flow, and expense reports while maintaining a library of digital documents, applications, and statements, all within one app.

“In today’s on-demand world, technology is essential to interacting with proprietary investors in a new data-driven way. Eliminating any superfluous processes and repetitive tasks that once made up a substantial part of an property management is now automated. Owners and property management teams can ensure their assets remain competitive,” Shihabi said.

Why were they the main cost to the business?

Shihabi said that as a technology start-up with an operating contingent in real estate, its main pre-operational costs related to operating licenses and company structure.

Other main expenses related to the search and hiring of qualified talent in technology and product development, commercial and operational staff, data and systems acquisitions and office set-up, it added.

“Builder and startup incubator WeBuild Ventures contributed seed capital for the pre-operational stage,” Shihabi said. (What do you mean by incubators in entrepreneurship? A business incubator is a workspace created to give start-ups and new businesses access to the resources they need.)

Walid Shihabi, with business partners Silvia Eldawi and Omar Abu Innab
Image Credit: Supplied

Shihabi shares two business tips from her experiences.

Tip #1: Learn to deal with abrupt and disruptive changes, whether in a situational or regulatory framework.

Shihabi has observed that the startup ecosystem in Dubai has evolved tremendously since his first company, with access to capital, government infrastructure and general support and maturity of an ecosystem; therefore, the participants are in a much better place today.

“They say you have to be a little eccentric to make the leap from a stable and secure career to starting a business. I introduced a simple discipline to my life. Be informed, recognize a changing environment, and establish a clear decision path regarding new information.” . .”

Find answers to questions like: “How does it affect our current business and roadmap? What exactly are the material effects? Where exactly is the threat and what may be the opportunity associated with the change? Does it require no answer, a tactics?, or a complete change of strategy?

“Engage with the right internal and external resources to formulate the associated plan, then implement, monitor, and adjust. With this discipline, you’ll find that 75% of the information you find and process is noise, about 20% will require tactical adjustment (for example, in operational processes or messaging) and only about 5 percent warrant strategic consideration. Learning to identify the 5 percent can mean the difference between a successful business and one that fails.”

You have to be a bit eccentric to take the step from a stable and secure career to starting a business.

-Walid Shihabi

Tip #2: There are no shortcuts to success; deep knowledge is always needed to prosper.

Investigate, learn and learn again, said Shihabi, who suggested that one should build a structure of beliefs and knowledge, then tear it down and start again. Simply go after the next big thing without spending the time and effort to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and why; it is improper, he added.

He recalled starting a career in the investment segment; after graduating from university, “the UAE did not have a stock exchange… My first task was to build a history of stock prices in the market and then build a stock index for the UAE market to begin to understand trends in the market.” market, returns, public company market values ​​and historical performance.

“A local newspaper had been publishing indicative share prices of public companies for several years, but there was no central historical record. So, I went every day for two months to the library of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce in Dubai Creek, which I had a file on that newspaper going back several years. I took a bag of coins to the coin-operated photocopier and photocopied the price list every day for four years, and then took the copies and entered the figures into a spreadsheet.

“Then, over the next two months, I started visiting the offices of public companies in each country, demanding copies of their financial statements and annual reports and reading them cover to cover. At the end of those four months, I was probably the person with world’s most knowledgeable about historical price trends and performance of public companies in the UAE at the age of 21.”


Shihabi recommended making early-stage investments in real estate, investing based on its merit as an investment asset class.

Where do you prefer to invest your savings?

Shihabi said that real estate is a perennial asset class that is finite, will always have utility, value and generate income. My father used to say, ”’Real estate can get sick, but it never dies.’ It may be disrupted, but it is the foundation of family wealth and the ultimate haven for savings. However, you also need nurturing and knowledge; you can overpay, mismanage or lose money, and it tends to have a very high emotional contingent.”

Therefore, it recommended making early-stage investments in real estate, investing based on its merit as an investment asset class. “Suppose you can invest the accrued income in retaining and increasing the value of your property and building a complementary portfolio. In that case, this will stand you in good stead over time,” he added.

He said that it is essential to have a diversified portfolio for savings; An allocation of 40 percent of savings in an index-based allocation method to global equities, debt, and commodities tends to average and perform positively over time.

He has also trained his children (11 and 13) to save and learn investing discipline and research simultaneously. “My children have a stock trading account, into which I contribute Dh1000 per month. They can buy and hold any stock as long as they make their investment case convincingly.”

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