My wife and I were in Cairo about 8 months ago, serving on an Endeavor international selection panel. For those who don’t know about Endeavor, you should, it’s a fantastic organization. They work in developing economies to identify and provide services to high impact entrepreneurs. As a result of being there with Endeavor, we were surrounded by the most talented business people in Egypt, most particularly those who are breaking with convention to start high growth businesses. After nearly a week of this, I was very charged up about Egypt’s future and was basically ready to plant the Village Ventures flag and start doing deal right then and there.
My wife Jess, who is even more entrepreneurship-obsessed than I am (hence her NPR show From Scratch), was in this case far less sanguine, for an interesting reason. The photo at the top begins to capture some of her concern. Put simply, Cairo has the worst traffic in the world. You can look at various surveys that will disagree with that claim, and I’m sure there are cities with quantitatively more cars per square foot or whatever, but trust me, Cairo is qualitatively worse, for two reasons. The first is that the infrastructure is pathetic. Roads are pitted with potholes, bridges are rickety, lanes are routinely closed for repairs that never happen, etc. The second, and worse, factor is that the rule of law is entirely absent. Lanes are merely abstract concepts, accidents not involving fatalities are barely worth slowing down for and there are no policeman to be found anywhere. This kind of disregard for the traffic system shows how little organization and respect the government has for its people.
Jess’s take was that a country whose social contract was this broken would have a hard time ever getting its act together. And she was right. My own view is that this revolution, though it will be as messy as revolutions always are, will lay the groundwork for building a society where entrepreneurs can in fact do their thing. Let’s hope that this turmoil doesn’t drive away the talent and capital required for real growth.