Walid Shihabi

UAE-based investment banking veteran creates real estate tech startup: Here’s why, how

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

Shihabi did not view the jobs he had in his teens as a punishment but rather as an opportunity. “I started my first business when I was 14, contracting out maintenance work, and then spent the next six years on the income I had accrued from that business.”

He had learned that opportunities were always present if you were open to acquiring them. “The experiences helped me learn 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 Greater Middle East, primarily as Managing Director of asset manager SHUAA Capital and Managing Director (CEO) of Investment Banking SHUAA Securities.

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

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

– Walid Shihabi

Here’s how his journey to entrepreneurship began.

Shihabi left the investment banking industry in 2012 to establish 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, which included assessing investment parameters, operating points and technology and master data requirements.

It was then that Shihabi gradually transformed from a user of real estate investment technology to an innovator in the field, and led him to co-found a real estate technology start-up with experienced business partners Silvia Eldawi and Omar Abu. Innab.

Shihabi’s ‘Keyper’ startup aims to improve the way a UAE-based real estate investor manages their portfolio by allowing them to monitor and act on digital payments, rent renewals, occupancy rates, Real-time tracking of portfolio valuation, cash flow, and expense reports while maintaining a library of digital documents, requests, and statuses, all in one app.

“In today’s on-demand world, technology is key to interacting with investor owners in a new, data-driven way. Eliminating all superfluous processes and repetitive tasks that were once a important part of a property manager’s day is now automated Owners and property management teams can ensure their assets remain competitive,” Shihabi said.

Why was the main cost to the business?

Shihabi said that as a tech start-up with an operating contingent in real estate, its main pre-operating costs were for operating licenses and corporate structure.

Other major expenditures were for sourcing and recruiting skilled talent in technology and product development, commercial and operations staffing, data and systems acquisitions and office fit-outs, he added. .

“Startup builder and incubator WeBuild Ventures provided seed capital for the pre-operations phase,” Shihabi said. (What are entrepreneurship incubators? resources they need.)

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

Shihabi shares two entrepreneurial tips from his experiences.

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

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

“They say you have to be a bit quirky to go from a stable and secure career to building a business. I’ve introduced a simple discipline into my life. Be informed, recognize a changing environment, and set a path clear decision-making regarding new information.”

Find answers to questions like, “How does this affect our current business and roadmap? What precisely are the material effects? Where exactly is the threat and what may be the opportunity associated with the change?” Does it require no response, a tactical response?, or a change in strategy in its own right?

“Engage with the right internal and external resources to formulate the associated plan, then implement, monitor and adjust. will require tactical adjustment (e.g. in business processes or messaging) and only about 5% warrants strategic consideration. Learning to identify the 5% can be the difference between a successful business and a failing business.”

You need to be a bit eccentric to go from a stable and secure career to starting a business

– Walid Shihabi

Tip #2: There is no shortcut to success; deep knowledge is always needed to thrive.

Seek, learn and relearn, said Shihabi, who suggested building a structure of beliefs and knowledge, then tearing it down and starting over. Simply go after the next big thing without spending the time and effort to grasp what you are trying to achieve and why; is inappropriate, he added.

He remembers starting a career in the investment industry; after graduating from university, “The United Arab Emirates did not have a stock exchange…. My first task was to build a history of stock prices in the market, and then to create a stock market index for the United Arab Emirates market in order to begin to understand market trends, returns, public company market values ​​and historical performance.

“A local newspaper had published indicative prices for shares 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 Chamber of Commerce from Dubai on Dubai creek which had archives of this newspaper going back several years I brought with me a bag of coins for the coin operated photocopier and photocopied the price list for each day going back four years and then I took the copies and wrote the numbers on a spreadsheet.

“Then, for the next two months, I started visiting the offices of state-owned companies in every country, demanding copies of their financial statements and annual reports and reading them cover to cover. these four months, I was probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on historical price trends and the performance of public companies in the UAE at the age of 21.”


Shihabi recommended undertaking 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 real estate is an evergreen asset class that is finite, will always have utility, value and generate income. My father often said, “Real estate can get sick, but it never dies. It can be disturbed, but it is the foundation of family wealth and the ultimate refuge for savings. However, he also needs education and knowledge; you can overpay, mismanage or lose money, and it tends to have a very high emotional contingent.

He therefore recommended undertaking real estate investments at an early stage, investing based on its merit as an investment asset class. “Suppose you can invest the accrued income in retaining and creating value in your property and building a complementary portfolio. In that case, it will keep you in a great position over time,” he said. -he adds.

He said it is essential to have a diversified portfolio for savings; a 40% allocation of savings in an index allocation method for global equities, debt and commodities tends to balance out and behave positively over time.

He also trained his children (11 and 13 years old) in savings and the simultaneous learning of the discipline of investment and research. “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 present their investment case convincingly.”

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