Frankly, I did not have high hopes for Startup Insiders 6 @ LUMS, after the disappointing experience at previous Startup Insiders#3 (as it was restricted to very basic things). But the gathering was exactly what it should have been. An informal, bi-directional, moderated and mature discussion.
Since I did not note down anything, I have to rely on my memory. So I will definitely miss things and might misquote. Also I will only be covering the best (IMO) points by each panelist. (See the video for details)
Jehan Ara and Jawad Farid introduced the panel and the format.
* Jehan Ara
* Jawad Farid
* Dr. Umar Saif
* Faisal Qureshi
* Zia Imran
* Fahad Bangish
* Zafar Khan
* Nadeem Malik
Each panelist was given 2 minutes to answer the question (or face the consequences :)). The audience could interrupt the speaker at any time and direct the question to anyone/all panelists.
The Yellow Cards
But the best feature was, ‘The Yellow Cards’. Some people (including yours truely :)), were given yellow cards. If someone felt that the discussion was going off topic, he/she would raise the card and stop the conversation.
This minute change turned out to be the best thing. As with the previous event, a lot of people tried to jump in with whining and complaints. Though most of them were answered comprehensively by the panelist but we also made good use of the yellow cards. This moderation mechanism was one of those things that kept this discussion on track.
It started off slowly, Jawad showed a series of advertisements including the ads for Apple’s 1984 Mac, Mastang, Lexus and FedEx. He explained the concept behind each individual ad and how it targetted a specific audience. The core thing out of that 30 minutes was,
You must be able to specify the attributes of your product in 30 seconds. Identify the qualities of your product and relate them to the customer needs such that it makes the customer ask for your card
After that it was primarily Q&A with the panelists with following highlights,
An entrepreneur does not complain but solves problems. This is critical as your customer does not care if its raining, your building is on fire or there are strikes. Buy generators to cover electricity shortage, dig holes and put tube wells to get water. Solve the problems you face, do not complain.
Know your customer, know his pain. Identify the points that are most painful and then convince him that your solution solves these pains better than any other exisitng solution. You can make the best product in latest technology but if you can not convince your customer to use it, its not worth anything to him.
These points convey the essence of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not about making money, its not about having a huge company. It is about solving problems, creating value and converting that value into money. Jawad was spot on with the details on how he got his first customer and how his company ended up having the business they are doing right now.
Jehan Ara was the anchor for most of the time and she sure did not make anyone sleepy. She added to almost every question but particularly to the questions pertaining to the ‘impossibilities’ of starting the business.
There are lot of problems with working in Pakistan.
* resource dependency
* lack of infrastructure
* bad image of Pakistan
However, we must face these problems and try to solve them. Complaining will not help. Our universities need to produce good people, our people need to imporve our image by working hard and being honet. The image is not just built by government, but by the people. Companies in India face lack of infrastructure, poverty and bomb blasts at a much higher scale than Pakistan but still they manage to overcome these problems.
Frankly, I think the questions like ‘It is not possible to work in Pakistan’ should not be answered anymore. Entrepreneurship starts with annoying passion and belief in your idea. If you do not have faith in yourself, do all of us a favor and dont become an entrepreneur.
Dr. Umar Saif
Dr. Umar (looking fine and dandy as usual) spent a lot of time listening. But he added some valuable thoughts when it mattered.
One thing common in all these people is commitment and hard work. These people worked really hard at whatever they did, whether it were studies or business. Withouth hard work, you are bound to fail even in a job, let alone your own company.
Faisal Qureshi undoubtedly dominated the whole session with his all round personality. He was surrounded by no less than 15 people during the refreshment and at the ending. I am sure he could have easily won the NA elections today :).
I dont care WHY I dont use your product. The bottom line is that i DONT. I should be using it but I dont. Now figure out how can you make me use it. You only get 30 seconds before I leave your product and the image I have will stay with me.
Find your ‘Mamoon Akbar’
You have to find a link to your first customer. A customer probably gets 100 phone calls today for business and listens to 1% with some seriousness. But if his ‘Mamoon Akbar’ calls him and tells him about you, he will listen to you. Find that ‘Mamoon Akbar’. This will open the door for you. After that its your job to ‘con’ him into buying from you (he later explained it as con from CONvince not from CONvict).
Before the customer buys your product, he decides if he wants to have a relation with you. Every thing matters in this regard. Dress up nicely, talk nicely and be honest. You have to look like in control. Do not let anyone else dress up and look better than you and take the center stage. If you cant do that, hire someone who can.
I guess I wont be showing up in the next gathering in slippers 😛
MBA degree neither makes you a better human being nor a better business man, it only opens up doors for you that might not be opened otherwise.
You are responsible for the two square feet you occupy. You destroy it when you trash the city, when you make a personal attack, when you lie or cheat. At the end of the day, be responsible.
You should aim to absorb and keep growing yourself, help others because that help will definitely come back to you.
Faisal’s thoughts about innovation, impact, responsibility and success were just extraordinary.
Some other good questions were,
Q: Three things you now have and wish you had when you started?
Faisal Qureshi: People management
Nadeem Malik: If I had what I have now, I would not have been what I am now
Fahad: More money
After that, the discussion went off topic
Q: How to balance your team?
A: Find people who can complement your skills. If you cant implement a tech idea, find someone who can. If you cant sell, find someone who can sell.
Q: How to target a wide range of customers? (the long tail)
A: You should divide your customers in categories. Then build your strategy around each category. Each category has different buying power, needs and problems. Identify them and sell to them according to their needs.
Some lame questions/comments were,
-Give us some practical advice (meaning shortcut to success)
-We should not follow the examples of Yahoo! and Google (I ll be blogging about this later)
-How can we work in these awful conditions? (some more whining)
-You have to be experienced to start a company
I feel that 50% of the audience was the wrong type of audience. This event is for entrepreneurs, since not everyone can be an entrepreneur, not everyone should be in it. Currently, it is mainly advertised to the university students who treat it as a workshop for career making and even worse, a shortcut to making money.
The session started with me at a very low energy level, expecting not much. But as the session picked up the pace, it became more and more engaging. The penalists did not talk about WHAT they have accomplished, rather HOW they accomplished it. There were times when the discussion went off topic but was never derailed (we had lots of yellow cards to make sure). At the end of the session, I had a high energy level and motivation (despite getting only one sprite). I am sure the discussions with Jawad and Faisal Qureshi will provide me food for thought for a long time.