When Shaaban and Mansour first pitched Simplex to potential customers they were met with skepticism. Few people believed a small startup in Egypt could compete with major companies from Europe and China while providing the same quality they were used to; according to Mansour, clients “didn’t even take us seriously”.
Standing in their 3500m2 factory Shaaban and Mansour reminisce about the old days and the struggle they went through to get their first client. They recall working out of a 50m2 workshop, choosing between stable jobs and chasing their dreams, and the shift that happened when they got accepted into Flat6Labs Accelerator. They were dubbed “the startup of the 50’s” by the Flat6Labs team, a name they earned as a result of being the only entrepreneurs developing hardware at a time when most startups in the Egyptian ecosystem were focused on developing software.
Simplex is an industrial solutions company that manufactures industrial CNC machines for major clients in Egypt and the Middle East. It was established by Ahmed Shaaban and Mohamed Mansour, two young aspiring entrepreneurs making waves in Egypt’s startup scene. They are a good example of how entrepreneurial spirit can overcome even the greatest of challenges with the company producing over 700 machines since its founding in 2013.
CNC, or computer numerical control, are machines controlled by computers and used to make complex shapes. 3D printers are a popular example of CNC equipment used around the world. Along with building these machines, Simplex also offers installation, maintenance and technical services. They have clients in Egypt and export to twelve countries across the Middle East and Africa, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
“The hardest point starting out was convincing clients that we were selling Egyptian made machines. They didn’t take us seriously and questioned how we were planning on doing that.”Mohamed Mansour, Co-founder and CMO, Simplex
Tough Journey, Tougher Decisions
During Simplex’s early days, the company faced many hurdles related to the hardware industry. Shaaban had his doubts about leaving his engineering job and committing to Simplex full-time, even after receiving substantial investment offers. He describes how within the first week of operations he had already received a very lucrative job opportunity from Saudi Arabia. His family, uncertain if he had made the right decision, urged him to consider the offer.
Mansour recalls how, much like with any startup, everyone did a bit of everything. In the mornings he would work with the marketing and sales team and in the afternoon help out in the workshop, a tiny 50m² space where they would try and make as many machines as possible.
In 2013, a goldsmith requested a CNC machine from Simplex. It was their first order. “He poured all his savings into buying a machine from us […] we felt this was a huge responsibility,” recalls Mansour. The goldsmith still operates Simplex machinery. He bought an additional machine and has had his original one upgraded by Simplex when they revamped their product.
With the support of Flat6Labs, they were able to get operations up and running and Middle East industry furniture and appliance giants like Mobica and Hanimex played a key role in Simplex’s journey to success. What set Simplex apart from its international competitors was their customer service. The companies buying these machines were now able to receive customer service from technicians who could speak Arabic and respond immediately to repair requests, all at lower prices than their competitors. According to Mansour, international manufacturers can take weeks even months to fix broken machines, causing major disruption to production lines. Simplex, on the other hand, offers free 24-hour emergency maintenance on all their machines.
This and the fact that they were able to secure the rights to build CNC machines from industry veterans Schneider Electric and HSD Mechatronics allowed them to provide industry-leading technology to their clients, creating strong relationships with their customers that have lasted to this day. Mansour also attributes the company’s success to its large social media presence and being able to provide their clients with customized products.
Shaaban and Mansour both feel a sense of national pride as young Egyptian entrepreneurs. They want to support the local economy and encourage companies in Egypt to invest in Egyptian-made technology instead of relying on imports from Europe and China. Clients are keen to place orders when they see the important work Simplex is doing in the country. The road to success has been a difficult one but Shaaban and Mansour have shown that they can rise to any challenge along the way.
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