The saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This fact is proven right more times in any field than technology. What mainframes could do in a week, our smartphones can today do in seconds. There was a time when we struggled to find cabs on the road; today the trend of a shared economy has disrupted the ecosystem.. The industry goes through many a trend but its fundamentals rarely change.
Campus Connections held its ninth session at FAST. In attendance were returning panelist Saad Niazi (a former FASTian), COO Keenu, Talha Izhar COO and Co-founder Bakeware (another former FASTian) and Sophia Hasnain, Founder Linked-Things.
The conversation began with a mention of internships and their importance on a CV. Sophia plainly said that she looked for a list of projects a candidate had been involved in and their grasp of fundamental principles, “If you profess to know something, you should be able to go down to the basic level and explain it completely. Unfortunately that’s not very common.” Talha told the students to do the same and to approach Internships only after their junior year. Saad characteristically disagreed with the two and confessed he had never done an internship. He encouraged understanding core concepts much more. “You should be a master of one, not a Jack of all trades.”
The conversation shifted to the student’s Final Year Projects and a couple of them shared theirs at the panelist’s behest. One’s project concerned response-based personality detection while another’s catalogued behavioural data for senior students and extrapolated it to predict the grades of younger students. The panelists applauded their efforts but were most taken by one student who was developing a version of Google Newsstand for the blind. Saad, Talha and Sophia encouraged him to come to them with this technology to see if there was room for conflation with their own.
Talha delivered a word of caution to the students however, “Intellectual property rights are tricky when you’re involved in a Final Year Project. To my knowledge, it is all owned by the HEC, but there’s nothing stopping you from learning from it and implementing it somewhere else.” The Dean later corrected that the ownership is ‘loosely shared’ and as long as there isn’t a tangible investment made into the product by the university, FAST will happily support the startup idea. Saad complemented this with an approach to make one’s idea successful. “When pitching an idea, concentrate on the target market, the problem it solves, the capital required and the team involved.” He lamented that there weren’t enough good people working on ideas and that was a cause of failure for so many startups.
With that setup, entrepreneurship became the central topic of discussion. Sophia highlighted a key reason why many startups fail. “The focus is mostly marketing and sales rather than the development of the product itself. That is never conducive to a business.“ Talha suggested working in a company before pursuing a personal business because, “The heartbreak of a low increment teaches you how to treat your future employees.” According to him, ‘a period of appraisal’ was necessary before making the leap to entrepreneurship.
“Be wary of investors.”, said Sophia, highlighting another common aspect of startups. “They’ll give you 1-2 Lakhs and ask for 90% equity. That is nothing, it’s just $10,000. It’s a tremendous undervaluation of your idea.” Very few investors understood the potential of an idea according to her; they were more interested in the returns than building it into a viable business.
Talha echoed that sentiment and talked about his first two startups which failed. He identified the causes as the investors and a university colleague unwilling to work with him. Saad, taking a different approach, told the students to mess with investors’ heads and wow them with their idea so that they would be pushed to working with them. He described his personal experience of setting up Keenu and getting $5 million in funding.
As the session began winding down the panelists, particularly the alumni began dishing out some tough love to FASTians. Talha spoke of interviewing FASTians as well as students from other universities who came off as arrogant. “I actually removed myself from the interview process because I would anger easily at their prideful demeanour.” Saad agreed, “FASTians have unfortunately become drama queens today. And that’s unfortunate for a university that cultivates so many leaders and entrepreneurs.” Sophia added, “Whoever you are, arrogance doesn’t help you. Learn to be confident in your approach but understand that saying ‘I don’t know’ is perfectly OK. Do not disguise your ignorance with arrogance; that always comes off as ugly.”
To conclude the session, each panelist gave the students some advice. Saad told the students to inculcate a high emotional intelligence and master the basics of their subjects. Talha simply asked them to find purpose in their lives and Sophia implored them to find passions other than their career to mold themselves into well rounded human beings.