Meet the OC alumni: Luqman Sedeeq – Maydan

Meet Luqman Sedeeq. He’s not just an agripreneur; he’s a wearer of many hats. From being a graduate of our inaugural Orange Corners x Forward·Inc Alumni Accelerator to serving as a mentor for startups at Orange Corners Erbil and a judge for pitch competitions, Luqman’s connections to Orange Corners are many. During his recent trip to the Netherlands, we had the privilege to sit down with Luqman and dive into his entrepreneurial journey with Maydan, his Alumni Accelerator experiences and his time in the NL.

Thanks for being with us here today! For those who don’t know you, could you introduce yourself?

Very excited to be here in the Netherlands! My name is Luqman and I come from the Kurdistan Region in the north of Iraq. I studied English and graduated in 2015. And like every other graduate, I had to go to a bigger city to look for work. Erbil, in my case. I started working with international and local NGOs. But when COVID-19 hit, everything went upside down and I lost my job. That’s when I started my own business, Maydan. We connect farmers to the market, providing digital marketing services to farmers around the country in three languages: Arabic and Kurdish – the main languages in Iraq – and also English, to expand to other markets in neighbouring countries. Or even the globe!

Luqman Sedeeq, founder and CEO of Maydan

While I was working with the international coalition forces, I lived on a farm with my family. To have other sources of income, I wanted to buy cows to start a small dairy project, to produce fresh milk for the people around us. As someone who’s into technology, the internet was the first place I thought of to buy them. But I couldn’t find anything. I had to drive around the city, go to different livestock auctions. And every time I was getting ripped off. And when I finally had my cows, I had problems finding a market for the fresh milk. No one seemed to buy anything online. So I started interviewing people around us, asking them what they’d think if we started a marketplace for farm products. I interviewed over 50 people and everybody said ‘yeah, that’s a great idea!’ So back in 2020, I started Maydan.

At first we were only selling our own products, but soon we were bombarded with messages from farmers from around the city, because everyone was stuck at home thanks to COVID. So it was the perfect timing. At first we just sold through our Facebook page, until our website was up and running. We tried to make the website as simple as possible, as most farmers haven’t had a lot of education. In 2021 I took part in my first acceleration programme, winning a grant of about $10,000. And in 2022, I was also able to raise cash from a local investor.

When you talk about ‘we’, who do you refer to? What does your team look like?

I started the business with two of my brothers! And since then, we’ve hired other people: sales people, content writers, video creators. We’re a team of seven now. We’re currently in the process of restructuring the business and redefining our business model. After some 3.5 years, we came to the conclusion that our marketplace isn’t bringing in a lot of revenue. So together with our investor, we decided to move to an e-commerce platform where we’ll be providing logistics to farmers and agricultural suppliers. Connect farmers and agricultural suppliers to the market, the retailers, restaurants, hotels, small shops. We’ll use our digital solution to cover that supply chain. Because right now, that supply chain is absolutely crazy. There’s at least two or three middlemen between the farmer and the end consumer right now.

Before changing your business model, how many people were already using Mayda

The cash we raised previously, we used some of that for marketing. We built a mobile app because we felt this was the easiest for farmers to use. This app was downloaded around 70,000 times. On a monthly basis, we had around 15,000 to 20,000 active users. But only 300 to 500 active buyers, which wasn’t enough from a scalability point of view. The digital mindset of the farmers, it’s not there yet. That’s why we had to come up with a better idea, which was also providing the logistics. The potential customer base is huge though, there are about five million people involved in agricultural activities in Iraq.

We’re currently working on a new MVP, that’ll be ready to be tested around October. Our aim is to bring it to the market early next year, the beginning of 2025. And until then, we’re looking for other investors to be onboarded. While developers are working on the mobile application, as a founder I’m using this time to raise the next round with some some local or international investors. So if anyone interested is reading this: I’m open to new investments. There’s a huge potential and opportunity for digital solutions in Iraq and the neighboring countries, so anyone willing to invest in the Iraqi market is welcome to reach out!

I’m open to new investments. There’s a huge potential and opportunity for digital solutions in Iraq and the neighboring countries, so anyone willing to invest in the Iraqi market is welcome to reach out!

Luqman Sedeeq, founder and CEO of Maydan

You mentioned that you’re currently already working with an investor who also acts as an advisor. What’s your secret: how did you acquire this investor?

After I lost my job in the COVID period, I went to work at an international food delivery app that had just expanded into the Iraqi market – just to understand how they’re operating. How to acquire customers, how they use technology. This helped me understand how these digital solutions are entering new markets. And then a recruitment agency called me for an interview with another company. The third stage was with the company owner himself, who’s very well-known. I knew he’s an investor. So when he asked me to tell something about myself, I immediately told him I also have a startup. And after I told him my idea, he was like ‘let’s forget about the job and focus on the details of this startup!’ So after doing our due diligence, we were able to raise the first round with this investor. And he’s not just an investor, it’s a strategic partnership. He’s also helping us with software development, with marketing, and so on.

We’re here today because you participated in our Orange Corners x Forward·Inc Alumni Accelerator in particular. How’s that experience been?

I was lucky to be the only Iraqi startup selected to participate in the Alumni Accelerator programme. It was virtual, but it was almost equal to in-person. I’m forever thankful for the people who worked very hard to make it happen. They brought in very good people, entrepreneurs and trainers from around the globe. People who have experience raising cash, because this is what you need in an acceleration programme. We already participated in the incubation programme, so we were more than ready to raise cash from other investors!

The Alumni Accelerator was a great opportunity to get to know trainers and entrepreneurs who raised millions of dollars, and learn from them how to position and distinguish our startups. This was super, super helpful – from doing due diligence with investors and raising cash to doing different rounds of investment. And it was so nice to be among all these great entrepreneurial minds, from the participants and the trainers to the people managing the whole programme. We made international connections, we had the opportunity to meet people from Africa, other Middle Eastern countries, and even from the Netherlands!

The Alumni Accelerator was a great opportunity to get to know trainers and entrepreneurs who raised millions of dollars, and learn from them how to position and distinguish our startups.

Luqman Sedeeq, Maydan

Did you feel it had added value to meet entrepreneurs from other countries, instead of only being with Iraqi entrepreneurs?

Definitely! Because when we come from a local place, we know that context very well. But getting to know all these people from different countries, different cultures, that’s a great opportunity to learn how things can also be done completely different. Not just because the business is different, but sometimes also simply because of the culture or the mindset, that things need to be done in another way. And maybe we believe that this isn’t gonna work, but everybody has their own way to get things done.

During the Alumni Accelerator, we were interacting on a weekly basis. Doing pictures, doing presentations. And everybody was doing it differently. This was a great opportunity to ask each other questions: “How would you do that?”, “How would you you scale your business?”, “How would that work in your context?” This was a great opportunity to learn about other markets, even for future expansion. Especially neighbouring countries. We had people from everywhere. Palestine, Ghana, Nigeria. We still keep in touch via WhatsApp.

Did you also work with a mentor from the Netherlands?

Not yet, but I did become a mentor for the last two cohorts of the Orange Corners incubation programme in Erbil. I mentored two startups from two different cohorts. One was an agricultural startup, the other wasn’t. I’ve also been a judge for the pitch competition a couple of times. I’ve had a longer entrepreneurial journey already, and I was very excited to share the knowledge I gained!

Ansar Omar, the Orange Corners Erbil programme manager, is the one who saw the potential of Maydan. He recommended us to different events and occasions. He was also the one who chose me to be a judge for pitch competitions and to be a mentor for new businesses. That’s not to mention, he’s always been there and available helping Maydan outside of what Orange Corners offered, helping us with documentation and finance papers, for example. 

To round it off.. how did you like your stay in the NL?

I’m here for a few weeks to do a short course. And everything has been very, very fascinating for me. People are so nice here. Like when I when got off the plane, I had to go to Maastricht, which is like three hours away from Amsterdam. I had forgotten to buy internet beforehand, so I struggled to get there. I had to ask everything, where to buy a ticket, how to find my place.. everything. I think I asked around seven people for help, and not a single person refused to help me. And the education is very good, the university and professors were great! I’ve been travelling around the country a bit, you see the infrastructure and the economy are very developed, very digital-based. Of course every country has their own problems, but everything seems very systematic here. I think the only struggle I’ve had was the food! Food is a very big deal for us, but here people could just survive on snacks! I look forward to coming back next year. When you get here once, you just want to be part of everything!

I’m very grateful for all the help I’ve received from the Netherlands government. The opportunity to participate in the Orange Corners incubation programme and then the Alumni Accelerator programme afterwards. And I also got a Nuffic scholarship, which allowed me to come study here and to improve my personal skills – to become a more strategic leader for my startup. The Netherlands is also working on a lot of sustainability projects back home, which has positively affected the region where I’m from. So I’m forever thankful for everything that Netherlands government and people have provided us with!

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