Founder and CEO Salah Khalil featured in The Times talking about his educational experience and how it has informed his critical thinking journey
Salah Khalil started Macat, an educational tech company that he hopes will be worth $1 billion
PETER TARRY FOR THE TIMES
Hannah Prevett | Wednesday October 27 2020 | The Times
Salah Khalil, 55, was born and educated in Egypt until he started boarding at Gordonstoun, the private school that has also educated many of the royal family, including Prince Philip and Prince Charles. Returning to Egypt, Khalil worked at the family paint business before entering politics. He moved to London in 2005 to study at the London School of Economics and then started Macat, an edtech company, which he hopes will become a billion-dollar business.
My Parents bought a house in Buckinghamshire when I was 12
We would come from Egypt to spend the summers there until my mum got sick with breast cancer. What she wanted was for me to become as independent as possible and the people we bought the house from advised my father to send me to Gordonstoun. They said that the best way for him to get proper English character, a good education, independence and confidence.
I started there when I was 14, and went straight into the fourth form. My father had told me it was the school where English royalty does and I thought, "I'm going to have butlers, I'm going to have the life". Little did I know.
I got a complete shock. I came from Egypt straight to Scotland where it was cold. We had cold showers, morning runs- things I was never used to doing. I was a bit of a spoiled brat.
A senior threw his shoes at me on my first day in school and said, Polish my shoes, I want them back by the morning". So I took the shoes and threw them back at him, and said, "Clean your own shoes". We had a fight and then that night the seniors came to my bed and said, "You cannot talk to a senior like this". It was all very hierarchical and the first few weeks were very hard. I cried every day.
I went to school with Prince Edward
He was a senior when I was a junior and was always with a bodyguard. I remember being in a rush once and skipping the lunch queue and the bodyguard lifted me off the ground and put me at the back of the queue. He said: "You shouldn't be doing this". I never did it again.
I started to enjoy it more in the second and third years as I became a senior and people are more respectful. Academically, I did very well. In the lower sixth I was studying business, economics, politics and maths and I scored higher than the upper six in business.
When I was 17my father snatched me and took me to the US to start university early. He said: "We need to get you graduating very quickly" so I just left everything behind. I never even packed my stuff. My uncle was, at that time, ambassador for Egypt to the US, so he told my father to send me to [the University of] South Carolina where he know the president.
I learnt a lot about critical thinking during my time at Gordonstoun because it's basically like walking around with talking mirrors that tell you how things are. The ego- one of the biggest barriers to critical thinking- is completely crushed. The other, bias, is then crushed at university and the thinking process becomes a lot more clear.
The family business was in paint
It turned over between $2 million and $3 million and was my main focus from 1989 to 2002, at which point I left it to my sisters to run. I then joined the National Democratic Party in Egypt in a secretariat responsible for the business sector's relationship to the political parties.
I came to London in 2005 to do a master's at the London School of Economics in political sociology then went to work at the Westminster Foundation for Democracy as a strategy consultant. I stayed for three years working on the corporate business plan and raised them £20 million.
All of these experiences gave me the insight and impetus to start Macat in 2009, which is around the value of content and the value of education. I started to think about how I could replicate the experience of someone going to Harvard or Yale or Cambridge or Oxford by giving access to seminal literature to the masses.
The idea of Macat was based on a model of looking at a seminal work through a lens system. You look at it in terms of who is this author, what is this book about and why is it important? Then you look at influences, so you get the background as to what school of thought the author is from, then the ideas and impact of the book. It's a 360-degree view of the book in audio, video, text and interactive formats that increase critical thinking. It's not a summary, it's an analysis.
We are going after a global customer
We have contracts in Egypt to measure and develop the critical thinking of one and a half million students over the next five years. We also have contracts in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and we're moving into Ghana, Kenya, China, Korea and Japan.
Since 2011 we've been focused on building a library of 220 titles in multiple languages. We did a three-year student with the University of Cambridge on the library and they found that it improves critical thinking by up to 12 per cent per day. This all requires significant investment. We've raised £22 million in total from friends and family so far and are gearing up for a series A fundraise later this year. If we raise the month we need I have great confidence we can become a unicorn [a business worth more than $1 billion] in five years.