The Myth of the Unique Idea – One

February 13, 2008 2:49 am 0 comments

Share this Article


This post was written by Jawwad Farid originally here – I am republishing to share it with everyone.

How important is it to start off with an idea that no one has ever
thought of before. Something absolutely unique, different and able to
stand up on its own. A concept that would win you grudging respect from
your friends, colleagues, class mates and neighbors. “That is one smart
dude” they’d whisper as they bowed their heads and paid respect to your
esteemed presence and your many varied accomplishments.

Shall we carry on dreaming (as in the British Carry on series)

Every once in a while, one of us will come with a new idea that will
rewire conventional thinking and reset the bench mark. The two key
words here are every once in a while and one
of us. And since there are quite a few of us, the probability of that
being you or me is quite low. But it will certainly be the one person
you despise the most and would have never thought capable of doing
anything half way decent. Such is fate.

Having said that, every now and then, quite a few of us, will take
an existing idea and tweak it for a new market or a new application and
find that the shortest path to success is actually through learning
from someone else’s mistake. Giving a new twist to an old idea is a lot
easier than building an entire industry from scratch.

So what’s a girl to do? Forget the unique idea?

Here is what I recommend

Take a personal inventory and pick two things that you can do for
the next 30 years without being bored. Be specific. I can read for the
next 30 years as long as I have a little bit of work. I can write for
the next 15 years as long as I am obscenely rich. I can teach as long
as I can read and write and be obscenely obnoxious. I can play with
numbers and excel sheets forever… There you have it – my personal
inventory – now build your own.

Once you have your personal inventory, think of the many (or any)
ways that you can actually get paid for doing stuff that you don’t get
bored with.

I am an actuary by profession but when I came back home conditions
weren’t exactly conducive for actuarial practice (another story,
another time). So I did the next best thing – the thirty year thing – I
did a little bit of work and I taught. I taught at local universities
(actuarial science and entrepreneurship) and ran custom workshops for
banking customers. The first led to friends like Adnan
(lootmaar), colleagues like Rabia (LUMS and then Mashreq) while the
second helped us build our products (Alchemy Risk Manager – ARM) and
lead to our current ARM customers.

It wasn’t that easy. With hindsight I sound like a genius, but in
May 2003, 5 months into doing my own thing, I was mildly upset.

Scratch that, I was very angry and equally depressed. Here I was, a
fellow Society of actuaries, with no insurance companies as customers.
Whatever little work was available was as exciting as reading a
dictionary. I wanted to change the world but the customers whose worlds
I wanted to change were in no mood to cooperate. In our first two years
of existence there were three instances where I came very close to
packing up and taking a job. Anywhere on this planet, including outside
Pakistan. Just so that I would get to finally real work for a change,
satisfy the burning professional itch inside me.

So be prepared for some trial and error. A spot of frustration and maybe a little bit more.

Was risk management this absolutely cutting edge, new new thing? The
unique idea whose time had come? An ode to our brilliance and street
smart tactical thinking… Here is another secret. It wasn’t even my
idea. A good friend who dropped by for lunch suggested that I should
take a look at the Basel II document. I did.

It wasn’t new or unique, brave or bold. It was at least two decades
old and three hundred companies were already on it. Still it wasn’t
exactly common and it wasn’t boring, which helped. And to get it you
had to go through not just the Basel document but do something that
traditionally technology companies have always had trouble doing. Put
business utility before geeky coolness.

Was this the only thing we did? Nope. In our first two years we
flirted with training, courted consulting engagements, pitched for some
HR work, and did some insurance advisory – if it paid the bills, it was
kosher. Mid 2004, 18 month down the road, it seemed as if a few things
were sticking more than others.

How did we measure stickiness? If it got easier to pitch and close
and if we could raise our prices every few months, it was sticky enough
for us. Risk training was sticky, HR work was not. Consulting and
advisory work was seasonal but far more importantly beyond a certain
price point stopped being sticky.

The next question was, how long could we count on risk training to
feed my little children. After about 12 workshops we had come close to
training the entire market. There was still work in the pipeline but
the initial excitement and participation from the market on risk
training was fading. In about 15 months we had covered basic
derivatives to advance interest rate modeling and if we kept the same
pace we would very quickly be out of topics as well as participants to

Lesson here… Keep your eyes open to harvesting your current product to build a better one.

A number of customers had indicated an interest in buying formal
modals for the material covered in our training workshops. We started
asking them about demand, price points, utility, key decision factors
and the one thing that would make the sale happen. Ten conversations
later it was getting obvious that there was a market. The only problem
was the competition. How does a itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny, rinky,
dinky, little company like ours, with no money or capital would compete
with Bloomberg, Reuters, SAP, Oracle and their numerous other rich and
successful cousins.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries”

And so went Shakespeare (Mark Antony, Julius Ceaser, 4.3.218)…
You could ignore the tide, hope for the best, carry on dragging
customers to yet more exotic training workshops and consulting
engagements but at some point the party had to end. We could end it
ourselves, here and now, on our terms or wait for it to end without

We opted to give the tide a shot.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Facebook comments:

Leave a Reply


Recent Posts

  • Events General Mobile Apps Container Run a continuation of politically motivated apps

    Container Run a continuation of politically motivated apps

    First we had Angry Imran which brought smiles and some short lived fun for us during the election campaign. Then came Gullu Butt following the incident of Model Town Lahore, which stayed on top of charts (Pakistan play store) for quite some while. Also Gullu Butt made an update with having the famous “Aam Khaiyga” quote form Aamir Liaqat in which a character resembling Aamir Liaqt throws mangoes and the Gullu Butt character tries to catch them. Gullu butt currently has more than 100,000 Installs

    And now during this extremely politically tense situation which had the whole nation on its toes on 14th August we have another app continuing the …

    Read more →
  • Announcements Featured Startup General aims to help student make better decision regarding their future. aims to help student make better decision regarding their future. aims to solve an age old problem for our students, where to go next?

    If you have just completed your primary school which college to pick, if you have completed your college which university to pick. There has always been lack of information or rather consolidated information regarding these questions. The best source till now has always been relatives and friends (mostly of your parents). So some uncle did CA and made a good living you should talk to him and decide, or daughter of my sister completed her medical and is practicing follow that career.

    The fact that online presence of our existing universities are limited and not …

    Read more →
  • General Mobile Apps Eccentria Technologies launches an app which shoots to the top of the charts

    Eccentria Technologies launches an app which shoots to the top of the charts

    Whoa!! this was quick so Eccentia technologies launched an app a few days ago called “Ajj Kia Pakaen” or what to cook today and today it has reached the top of charts for Pakistani Stores on iTunes and google play store.

    “Ajj Kia Pakaen” is the most common question asked at every house hold in the morning. The ladies of the family have a hard time deciding what to cook for the day. The app has a fun interface and is simple to use, you fire it up, and it gives you an option of what to cook for the day, if you like the option you can check the …

    Read more →
  • Coffee Session General Marketing/Adv Rise of facebook marketing in Pakistan

    Rise of facebook marketing in Pakistan


    Until a few years back we used to have closed groups and forums, which gathered the like minded people and anyone targeting the online audience would tap into that forum and market his/her services. So PakGamers , PakPassion initially even PakWheels used to be driven by members talking about what they loved, people used to create marketing and sales opportunities from within those discussions (so you could get a good router cheap or a gaming PC etc).
    The advent of facebook changed all that, most of the forum goers moved to the new social media. It also made a very attractive market place for some one who does not …

    Read more →
  • General Getting back

    Getting back

    I  have been out of blogging for a long long long time, a lot of things happening on personal front (including a little startup I have ben doing my self). However during my absence I met a lot of people who had followed GreenWhite at its peak, read the articles regularly.

    I had hope there would be some one else who would come ahead and cover everything going on and around us in the local tech world. There are some guys doing a great job, but for some reason I still could not find one source where I can go and read about everything, so my routine usually is to …

    Read more →
  • General Mobile Apps Software & I.T. GeniTeam launches official app for Pakistan Idol

    GeniTeam launches official app for Pakistan Idol

    GeniITeam has successfully launched an official app for PakistanIdol. This is one of the first collaboration between a reality game show and a local app development company. I am sure a lot more would follow. Previously we have seen seenreport becoming the basis of mostly all channels citizen reporting system (Like Geo Dost). This is a healthy sign and with the advent of 3G round the corner it should become a business generator for our local firms.

    App allows you to follow the contestants that you like, promote them, comment on live feedback on an episode. It offers official content from the show since it is developed with partnership with …

    Read more →
  • General 10Pearls and National Geographic Release A Geography Challenge App

    10Pearls and National Geographic Release A Geography Challenge App

    10Pearls, one of the leading Pakistani IT companies, has recently added another feather to its cap. This time, in partnership with National Geographic, 10Pearls has released the new and improved GeoBee Challenge App – an interactive app to challenge and grow the geographic knowledge of the users.

    Each year thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society. The competition is designed to encourage geography in the classroom, ignite student interest in the world around them, and increase public awareness about geography. Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging test …

    Read more →
  • General 10Pearls Spins Off Game Plan8

    10Pearls Spins Off Game Plan8

    It’s heartening to see that Pakistani IT companies have now started to diversify themselves into non traditional areas, and are competing with global players in areas such as gaming. We have received information that 10Pearls, one of the leading  mobile and enterprise web development services companies in Pakistan, has spun-off a separate entity focused solely on developing and publishing casual mobile games.  The new entity, Game Plan8, will focus on creating 2D and 3D games for the iOS, Google Android, Kindle, Facebook and other platforms. Details can be seen on the company’s official press release at


    Read more →
  • General Telecom CCP Gives Guidelines Against Telecom Companies’ Deceptive Marketing

    CCP Gives Guidelines Against Telecom Companies’ Deceptive Marketing

    If only were there two things when it comes to the law, firstly the fear of breaking it and by passing the legal authority, and secondly, implementation of the law given full dedication, there would have been less competency and dishonesty in business and society. However, keeping good faith, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has put forward “Deceptive Marketing Guidelines” which will maintain the Section 10 of the Competition Act, 2010. In order to enforce this part of the law and stop anti-competitive conduct on part of the telecom companies in advertising, the guidelines have been shared with Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and other concerned telecommunication sector members, in …

    Read more →