Starting a business is the definition of taking a risk. It forces you to leave your comfort zone, learn new skills you wouldn’t otherwise approach, work long hours, deal with extreme disappointment and come out stronger. The few examples that come to mind are Steve Jobs being fired from Apple in 1985, Milton Hershey failing to run three candy companies and Jeff Bezos failing to build an online auction site. They all went on to become giant successes though, because they weren’t afraid to take risks.
Campus Connections held its sixth session at Iqra University. In attendance were Sana Khan Niazi, Founder and CEO Paimona, Faizan Laghari, Chief Futurist Flagship Group and Adil Moosajee, CEO of Ego. All three had a lot to say about taking chances, failure and the importance of accepting your flaws.
Adil mentioned his first venture, a restaurant called The East End which serves five course meals and served the top tier of society. Nobody understood his approach though while most said it wouldn’t succeed. “The idea was ‘out there’, so no one really believed in it.” However, right from the beginning, the idea was a success and for the first six months they were overbooked. Faizan mentioned similar hurdles he faced before setting up Forrun, an app-based courier service; people didn’t believe an idea like that would work in Pakistan. “And I kept asking why not? 90% of people didn’t have a real answer to that.” For Faizan, not getting an answer to his question meant he would keep at it.
Sana narrated her own experience of struggling as a theatre actor and graduating with an accounting degree. She wasn’t aptly positioned to start a furniture and design business with that background. So she went to a mentor and seek help. It was extremely tedious working with local craftsmen and bringing their designs to the market so she had to adapt to their needs. “It was a real pain working with them at first but I adapted.” In all aspects, she had to leave the comfort zone to pursue this business.
A lot of students questioned the panelists about getting funding or seed money, some of whom had already started businesses and were facing problems. Sana surprised the students with her answer. “I never did it. All the investors I went to, were interested in operational scalability and ROI.” The others nodded in unison. Adil explained, “People talked me out of asking investors in the beginning and I’m glad they did.” He implored the students to go to personal contacts for help or establish connections rather than approach large investors.
But what if an established business is facing losses and everyone is telling you to quit, asked a student? Adil shot back with advice and an example. “The lessons you’ve learned from failure will help you the next time you try. Learn from them and improve.” He described a business he opened near Forum Mall, behind which was a vacant lot. He bought the lot, partnered up with a friend to open a foot massage parlor like the ones in Thailand. Not knowing anything about the business, he invested in a trip to the country, using the money he had earned from his own business. Returning from the trip, he had gathered data on various massage parlours in Thailand and began the business with his friend.
All the panelists had multiple businesses and investments, and many businessmen abroad did too, was this a viable plan to have?
“It’s a drug. And I’m an addict.”, answered Faizan. Starting businesses was exciting, he elaborated. He would dive straight in to an opportunity and concentrate on it for 2-3 years, by then he’d know if the business was worth it or not and make his decision. “Don’t be afraid to fail, and fail as fast as possible so you can move on to success.”
A popular notion in Pakistan is, “What will people think?”, the source of all the shame that a student goes through if everything doesn’t turn out perfectly in his or her life after graduation. The panelists weighed in on what they thought of it. Sana expressed that it is the women in Pakistan who live with this burden everyday, although the men do suffer as well. Her response to the judgment of society was, don’t care about it. “In fact, increase your appetite for pressure.”
Adil and Faizan were both in agreement and told the students to pursue their ideas without fear of judgment. As Adil aptly put it, “Everything you love in life is risky, whether it is asking someone out on a date or trying new food. You never know how it’ll turn out if you don’t try.”
Faizan ended the session on a great quote, encouraging the attendees to let go of the fear of failure, “People today use the expression you only live once. Nonsense! You only die once yet you can live new experiences every single day of your life.”