Nuqtah: At the Cross-Section of Saudi’s Creative and Digital Economies
Nuqtah Founder on Launching a Web3.0 Startup before She Thought She Was “Ready”
Prior to embarking on her own startup idea, Salwa Radwi had been immersed in Saudi’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for the past five years, working as the operations and community director for one of the largest entrepreneurial hubs in the Kingdom. I was intrigued to meet Salwa, as I had been introduced to her by one of her investors with a story about how Salwa had to be convinced to accept financing and start her business. “All I had was a pitch deck, which was a thesis I developed as part of my Master’s application to study at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) in Canada,” explains 27 year-old Salwa, “I didn’t think I was ready yet.”
This seems to be an all too common response when speaking to women founders and ‘wantrepreneurs’. “Many women founders spend too much time planning, and waste precious time in getting started - which is where the real learning-by-doing starts,” says one of Nuqtah’s early believers and investors. Salwa was convinced by investors to start Nuqtah in December 2021, and she moved to Riyadh and entered the 500 Global accelerator program in January 2022. Today she’s successfully raised pre-seed capital from 500 Global and Dubai-based Shorouq Partners, and leads a team of 14 industry experts, of which 95% are Saudi. Whether it be Wajd, an ex-Careemer leading Ops at Nuqtah, or Majid spearheading strategy, gleaning from his past experience leading crypto syndicates in the UK – there seems to be no shortage of talent. Salwa beams, “I didn’t have to put out one job description. Youth are gravitating towards entrepreneurship, startups and new technologies like web3.0.”
She also credits being loud and making noise, even before an MVP was available. “I think founders of web3.0 companies are often less face forward. We’ve been loud and proud, and it’s worked to our advantage.” The beta version of itsnuqtah.com was launched in September 2022, hosting hundreds of live NFTs and with 3000+ users on a waitlist. “We’re onboarding our users slowly, releasing access to 10% of our waitlist at a time right now, so as not to lose the power of curation.”
Something creative seemed to be in the stars for Salwa. In 2013, she exhibited her own artwork at the British Museum under an initiative to educate Saudi youth on the role of culture and the creative economy. She then received a visual communications degree in her undergraduate studies. After working at the start-up hub in Jeddah for a few years, she felt called to merge her entrepreneurial and creative sides together. “I wanted to do it for the creatives in Saudi. I kept asking myself why there were genius artists in Saudi working accounting jobs from 9 to 5 when the Ministry of Culture and Monsha’at were both investing heavily in creative and entrepreneurial ecosystems. It just made sense to me that a safe creative space like an NFT marketplace that protected artists rights would work.”
She also felt that Nuqtah had to be local, in order to succeed in Saudi. “It’s not just about localization of language or cultural nuances,” she explains, “it’s about understanding user behavior that is extremely different in Saudi versus the rest of the world. Take user journeys for example, Saudi customers require localized payment methods, this world should be accessible to our Kingdom as easily as the rest of the world. Saudi users also expect to see me as the founder to be face-forward, and more accessible, which is unusual with the general crypto-punk population out there.”
How Saudi Arabia's Entrepreneurship Scene is Helping Nuqtah Build the Future of Web3.0 in the Kingdom
Salwa also comments on how supportive the startup ecosystem in Saudi Arabia is today, and how valuable that has been for her and her team. She recalls getting calls from numerous leaders from the entrepreneurship scene in Saudi to congratulate her on getting accepted into the accelerator, and to reach out if she ever needed anything. “I truly get the sense that everyone in Saudi is working hard to help each other succeed.”
Nuqtah’s beta may only be a few weeks old, but plans for the startup are nothing short of big, hairy, and audaciously ambitious. “Nuqtah is one of twelve startups selected to be apart of the Kingdom’s Unicorn Program,” Salwa beams. “We’re so excited about this, because this means that Nuqtah can work hand-in-hand with the government sandboxes to help build out and regulate the web3.0 space.”
It seems Nuqtah is also planning on being much more than just an NFT marketplace. “We’re positioning ourselves to become an infrastructure builder, with our own accelerator programs so that Nuqtah can help create other web3.0 applications and start-ups, to be built upon our own platform and blockchain technology,” explains Salwa. This is an interesting play perhaps inspired by global success stories such as Dapper Labs, a blockchain-based NFT and web3.0 infrastructure player launched in 2018, with a current valuation of US $7.6 billion. The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) “Top Shot” NFT Marketplace was built on top of Dapper Labs’ flow blockchain, due to its fast transaction speeds and low fees (gas prices). In the month of February 2021 alone, NBA’s Top Shot processed over US$224 million in basketball-related NFT sales volume, with over 80,000 unique buyers.
Nuqtah’s team are getting ready to raise their seed round in Q4 2022, and from the sounds of it, they’ll be raising a large round to feed into their creator-first economy ambitions.
“Many women founders spend too much time planning, and waste precious time in getting started - which is where the real learning-by-doing starts.”
Learn more about the successful and the emerging Saudi’s startup and its ecosystem, in the most comprehensive report on the topic to date, The Evolution of Saudi Arabia's Start-Up Ecosystem 2010-2022.