Personal News: I am joining GoEuro

Few months ago I wanted to book a train from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf. I heard of a new startup that was hiring Egyptian engineers. So I decided to check out their website.

I went, did my search, got a lot of results from different providers, picked one of them which took me to Deutsche Bahn (DB) website. I was on mobile. DB website didn’t have a mobile friendly version. It was in German which I couldn’t understand.

I said wow! There is so much to do here. This could be big. I want to be part of it. So I decided to apply.

Now I am here. Let’s see how can we take this forward.

BTW now you can book Deutsche Bahn trains directly on GoEuro.

We are hiring. Apply on the website or contact me if you want a referral (Terms & Conditions apply :P).

Uber Cash: Collect Fare vs End Trip Confusion

Another Uber blog post. This is the final one in the current series as I am moving to Europe tomorrow and will stop using the app for a while. Public transportation/autonomous cars ftw.

If you use an Uber cash trip, the driver will have two options on his screen after starting the trip: Collect fare, and end trip.

The trip screen on the partner app with the two options. The copy above the button says “Collect Fare in cash: At the end of the trip”. The copy on the big button says “End Trip”.

I was with a driver in a trip that just started. He accidentally tapped the “collect fare” button. A big green screen showed saying I should pay the minimum fare which is 10 EGP.

The collect fare screen. The copy on the button says “money that was collected in cash”.

We thought by doing this he accidentally stopped the trip. I said no problem, I will do a new request, just accept it and we can start over. However, something weird happened.

When he closed the “collect fare” screen shown above, we found the trip is still active, on our both phones. He still had the same two options but the “end trip” button became red meaning it is tappable.

The trip screen after closing the “collect fare” screen.

We both thought the trip is still active, so we continued the trip normally. Upon arrival he tapped the “collect fare” again to find it is still at the 10 EGP mark which isn’t right.

This is very confusing.

Why don’t we go to the “end trip” screen (the one where the driver rates the passenger) directly after we “collect fare”? 

And since the driver has the ability to get back to the trip and not end it right away, why can’t we recalculate the fare based on the new distance/time given the fact we still didn’t end the trip?

Maybe there is something I don’t know. Yet, it is still confusing.

Egyptian Real Estate Bubble

I am not an economist, but I tend to believe there is a real estate bubble in Egypt. 

This bubble is mainly driven by the fact that buyers pay the down payment, few installments, sell the house at a higher price for someone who will finish the installments, repeat.

When the real estate bubble happened in US in 2008, some people could predict it by looking into the individual loans (mortgages) that people took and compared latency, and default rates to the great depression in 1920s.

The Egyptian situation is more complicated. The devaluation of the Egyptian pound is raising prices anyway.

Yet, I believe the crazy increase in prices isn’t only a result of what’s happening with the Egyptian pound.

The problem is there is no data to back my claim.

There is no data on default rates for real estate loans.

There is no data on occupancy rates of sold units. What’s the ℅ of buyers who actually live in the house?

There is no data on the average length of ownership. How long before a new house owner sells it?

Are there any indicators of sellers who had to lower the price to find a buyer?

This could be a great topic for investigative journalism. Someone who goes after real estate development companies, banks, buyers, sellers, and tries to find what’s going on.

Until this happens or the bubble burst, I will be the bubble boy.

Bonus: this post explains the mechanics of the current bubble (Arabic).


The Dutch complain about the weather all the time. 

The problem with the Dutch weather isn’t that it is too cold or too hot. It is totally unpredictable. 

You can literally see the four seasons in one hour. In one hour it could be hailing, sunny, rain showers, cloudy, then sunny again before it is back to cloudy cold.

One of the main drivers of uncertainty is the rain. You don’t know whether it is gonna rain or not, and for how long? If it is small drops now, will it get worse? Or stops? You don’t know.

The Dutch has a solution: Buienalarm

This app tracks your location and if it feels it is going to rain heavily where you are, it notifies you at least 30 minutes in advance.

If you go out at this peak you will get wet as if you just came out of the pool. Knowing this in advance is a life saver.

I still can’t figure out how it works and where it is getting the data from. The app can only predict 60-90 minutes in advance. Probably this is the reason it is this accurate.

It was only working in the Netherlands and Belgium, and recently it launched for Germany under the name “Drops”.

It is totally free which I don’t understand. There is no other app I know of that solves this problem with this accuracy. I would pay to use it.

Anyways, thank you Buienalarm, and welcome Drops. Hope you are as accurate as your father.

November Alpha Tango Oscar

Not being a native English speaker, sometimes it is hard to tell people your name specially over the phone. I ran into this problem few times now and it becomes a mess trying to connect every letter with a known English word.

I watched many episodes of National Geographic’s program about plane accidents. I heard how the pilots consistently use specific words to describe the letters of the flight.

I decided to find out what they use and it came to be the “NATO Phonetic Alphabet”. It is a phonetic alphabet where every letter is represented using a word.

So I decided to memorize my NATO Phonetic Name. Here it is:


  • Mike
  • Oscar
  • Sierra
  • Tango
  • Alpha
  • Foxtrot
  • Alpha


  • November
  • Alpha
  • Golf
  • Uniform
  • India
  • Bravo

This is more handy. You can find the whole alphabet here.

Finite State Machine

The first lecture I attended in computer science was about finite state machines.

finite-state machine (FSM) or finite-state automaton (FSA, plural: automata), or simply a state machine, is a mathematical model of computation used to design both computer programs and sequential logic circuits. It is conceived as an abstract machine that can be in one of a finite number of states. The machine is in only one state at a time; the state it is in at any given time is called thecurrent state. It can change from one state to another when initiated by a triggering event or condition; this is called a transition. – Wikipedia

I met someone who is building a new app. The app is supposed to have different states depending on which action the user has taken. It is not a typical funnel overview although you can still see it as a funnel.

Looking at the screenshots I asked him, did you ever hear of FSM? Do you have a diagram for the different states of the app and the transitions between them?

I tried to draw an Uber FSM. Uber simplifies the experience by making the system on one state at a time, giving user the ability to take one action/trigger at a time to transition the system from one state to another.

This is what I came up with. It is not accurate as some of the states should be triggers like set location which after you do, you are still on the initial state.

You get the idea.

That’s the beauty of computational thinking. It is this ability to abstract concepts to the bare minimum, paving the way for clear thinking.

Sometimes I miss being an engineer.

Uber vs Careem Deep Pocket War

Bloomberg reported that Uber’s middle east rival Careem is raising $500m round at $1 billion post money.

Few weeks ago I listened to this recode podcast with Bill Gurley of benchmark capital. Bill is on the Uber’s board of directors and they invested in Uber’s A round.

Reading the Bloomberg report reminded me of this part from Bill’s interview. The bold lines are the host’s words.

When is it going public?

You know, I don’t think that we’re going to be going public anytime in the near future because of all the issues that we just talked about. We have a large number of competitors, even with the deal done.

Well done, by the way.

Thank you. [Competitors] who are very deep pocketed, who have decided that their primary form of competition is not going to be like building a different app or a differentiated service or a different level, it’s just price. And so there are intense subsidy battles going on.

All over the world.

All over the world. And those companies, when they approach investors, tell them, “Uber is going to go public, and then they’re going to have to be profitable, and then we’re really going to sneak up on them with these discounts.” While that’s the game on the field, and it’s one that I find to be remarkably messy and ugly, I don’t think it would be in our best interest.

So raising more money is the way to go.

I don’t know if we need to. We have $9 billion in the bank and $2 billion of debt, which is the most any private company has ever raised.

It is clearly a massive subsidy war. Uber strategy is to end this war by introducing autonomous vehicles and replace all drivers. While this is happening in US, it won’t work in many other regions including the middle east, where Careem is operating.

I used to believe that Careem couldn’t do anything against Uber. Now I have some doubts.

Uber has great advantage when it comes to the tech. It is way better than Careem’s and Careem needs quite some time to reach a stable state.

Uber also has great advantage when it comes to the model’s efficiency. There is no call center, there is no direct interaction from Uber with the drivers beyond background checks and training. The Cairo office is being run by less than 10 people, putting most of the work on the car rental companies who give the drivers the license to operate legally for a fee.

Doing a back of the envelope calculation on Uber, I currently think they are profitable or reaching profitability very soon in Egypt. Due to

  • There is a massive growth in number of drivers and rides.
  • They are also cutting driver subsidies significantly (their biggest cost) & the current model only rewards very hard workers. Drivers who are doing 60-90 rides per week. I expect that most of the drivers are doing less than that making them pay the rewards for the 10-20% (personally estimated) who reach the bonus threshold (60-90 rides per week).

On the other side, Careem’s competitive edge used to be in accepting cash payments, which now Uber has.

If Careem succeeded in raising the above mentioned round, they might have a chance to play the long game against Uber, however I believe for Careem to win they should differentiate themselves on the following:

  • Tech: The tech has to “just works” all the time. The app should be localized and catered for the region instead of just following whatever Uber is doing.
  • CS: They should have an A class customer service. Uber is doing big changes to their customer service flow making it harder for users to reach them. Careem can differentiate on this if they managed to provide an Amazon level customer service while reducing the chances of issues happening.
  • Driver incentives: Uber is cutting driver incentives significantly making many drivers unhappy. Can Careem provide a better model? A model where drivers switch from Uber to Careem? While Careem pricing is more expensive, I think Uber drivers make more money because they get more rides due to the bigger user base.
  • Loyalty: Uber’s customer loyalty is coming from the quality of the service. Careem is doing some trials to make their customers more loyal by offering free credit/rides for the frequent ones. So far the rules for this isn’t clear. I think it could be another differentiation if done right.

Can Careem do all of this and be profitable?

Will one of them win? Who is it gonna be? Is it gonna be a massive “subsidy battle” as Bill Gurley said?

Will they coexist?

Will see.

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