First Round loves to travel, and so it was with much glee that it travelled to Dubai last month for an industry conference and the chance to meet some of the Gulf region's brightest private equity minds. In a luxury salon at a five-star hotel near the Jumeirah beachfront, First Round sipped lemon tea and chewed dates with many a private equity professional.
The emirate is the ultimate venture capital success story, as one local market source explained. When ruler Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum staked his name (not to mention the livelihood of his entire emirate) on building the port of Jebel Ali based on a loan from oil-rich neighbour Abu Dhabi in the 1970s, many thought he was mad. Back then the area was largely sand and the highways and stratosphere-touching skyscrapers a distant fantasy.
But stake it he did, and the bet paid off in what First Round can only say was the deal of the century. Today, Dubai is an international city and host to more than three dozen private equity firms, as well as international players such as Blackstone, Carlyle and KKR who have set up shop in the desert city.
First Round was intrigued to hear several of the city's PE expats have taken up residence at the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago in the shape of a palm tree. First Round didn't have time for any island wining and dining but it did strike up conversation with one private equity professional who resides there. Let's just say it's not quite the calm oasis it may seem – it apparently gets so windy out there it causes havoc on everything and anything.
“I often come home to find the deck chairs blown into the neighbour's pool,” the PE professional said. “You can't grow anything – our palm trees just die from the salt in the wind.”
First Round wishes its own life problems revolved around retrieving furniture from the family next door's pool and trying to find the right saline levels for tropical plants. Inshallah, perhaps in another life.