As an add-on to our opinions on why startups often fail, we talked to some of the up and coming entrepreneurs in Pakistan for their advice on the Do’s and Don’ts of being an entrepreneur in Pakistan. Here is what they had to say.
Maria Umar – WomensDigital League
1. If you don’t trust me, test me. That formula has always worked for me. The brain is an odd thing. You’ve the most amazing ideas and you get all excited but next moment you become full of self-doubt. When that happens tell yourself there is only one way to find out if that idea is workable or not and that’s to put it into action. If it is, awesome. If it’s not, that’s one thing you don’t have to add to your “what if?” list later on.
2. Fail fast and recover even faster. Most of you running startups are really young. Just out of college and in your 20s. You’ve all the time in the world to make mistakes. Go ahead and make them now. But make sure you have the strength to admit you made a mistake and quickly get back on your feet and do something different. Experiment. You are bound to find the right ingredients to your dream’s success.
3. Get a mentor. This is REALLY important. We tend to guard our ideas and not share them with people afraid they might steal them. But an idea is worth nothing if you can’t implement it. You need to trust someone. As I learned through my entrepreneurial journey, if your idea is so easy to steal then it’s not a good idea. Go to networking events. Meet people. Share ideas. Schedule at least 2 meetings a week even when you are sure they are not going to be of much use. This keeps you on your toes. When you find someone that you feel could help you don’t be shy. Reach out and tell them you want to meet. If its someone outside your country use social media especially LinkedIn to connect. Participate in business plan competitions. Pitch your idea. It takes one right person to really push your startup forward and make it a reality.
1. Network but don’t be selfish. Show interest in the person. I was seated next to a VC at a dinner. Had no idea who he was. While chatting about everything under the sun it came out he was an investor. Amazed I asked why he didn’t tell me that before and something he said has stuck with me. He said, “I am human first”. Show a genuine interest in the other person and his or her life. Networking isn’t just about sharing business cards and then bombarding those people with requests for favors. Its a two-way relationship. Before you ask for help, offer help.
2. You are not above your team. We make that mistake. Titles are taken way too seriously. I am the founder and CEO and I get to veto everyone else. Keep in mind you are nothing without your team.
3. Do not give up. Passion. Persistence. Diligence. These are the three qualities every startup entrepreneur needs. If I had given up every time someone said ‘No’ to me or told me how I needed to get a job I wouldn’t be where I am today. Keep your eye on the goal.
Usama Khan – MeriTaleem
1. Always have a well-defined and well-understood idea
Meet any experienced startup owner, businessman, entrepreneur, investor or even startup enthusiast. One thing that they all agree with is that, “ideas are a dime a dozen”. I used to believe otherwise when I started off and learnt it the hard way. Whatever idea you may be able to hit upon, however ground-breaking it may be, how much it revolutionizes your world, someone somewhere has already thought of it and may even be building it. This someone can be as close to you as your next door neighbor and as far from as the other corner of the world. But if he/she executes it before you do, you are screwed. Research, refine, implement. If you are really committed to your million dollars idea, you better get a move on building it up before someone else does.
2. Prepare a well-drafted, well-researched business plan document
Many tech startup owners think that having a business plan is just waste of their time and nothing more. This is not true. If you can’t sell your idea or product, the sole objective of starting up a venture fails. Make up a sound business plan as it would help you clear yourself of a lot of doubts, uncertainties and fears as well as help you answer yourself a lot of important questions like how would you roll it to the market, will the market pay you for it and most importantly, who is it that you are selling this product to. The business plan is also the fundamental document any investor/entrepreneur/businessman would ask you to present if he/she is remotely interested to know about your venture.
3. Sell, sell, sell
Any startup owner is a business owner. As a business owner, your first and foremost job is to run your business. A business runs on cash. Cash comes when you sell. Always be ready to sell. You should be able to sell even during your sleep. Master your elevator pitch, know your customer’s weaknesses, understand your market and competitors and strike the iron when it’s hot. Remember, you never get a second chance in the business world. So master your strengths and play them well. There is no reason for you to not be successful as long as you keep on selling more and more of your idea/product.
1. Think but don’t overthink
A classic mistake that all entrepreneurs make is to think a lot and do very little. You must always be ready to move forward and go with your gut feeling. Spend too little time thinking and planning what you should do: not a good move. Overthink and overspend your time on the same: you risk losing more than what you could gain from it. It has to be the adequate amount and as an entrepreneur, you have to take risks. If you keep on giving in to you inhibitions, you will eventually fail and lose all that you hoped to build.
2. Don’t put your feet in too many boats
A classical entrepreneurial quote goes like, “don’t put your eggs in one basket”. This roughly means that you should always have multiple plans and multiple ways to cover yourself and protect your assets. In startups however, the reverse is true. Unless and until you put your eggs (your efforts) in one basket (your million dollar idea), you risk losing everything. If you are 100% sure of your idea to be rock-solid to make you millions, don’t exhaust yourself by overcommitting yourself with other things. Focus all your energies on your startup and you’ll find your way to success. However soon or late you get it is all up to fate, but at least you will get there.
3. Don’t expect anyone to help you
Man is born alone and man dies alone. Always remember this when you are running your startup. When you are starting your startup, you need a lot of help. Be sure to look for it. But don’t count on it. An entrepreneur is essentially a problem solver. You’ll encounter problems on a daily basis and will have to deal with them all by yourself. If you are lucky enough, you will find kind people helping you on your way. But like I said, don’t expect them to do everything for you. You’ll need to produce your own resources, put in your own efforts and just be yourself to achieve success.
Faizan Aslam – Bookme.pk
1. Learn to speak truth with you.
2. Set a goal where you want to be ultimately.
3. Always hire people smarter than you.
1. Never think your idea can be stolen, tell people what you are doing and get feedback on your product.
2. Never lose your focus, as focus is the key in startups.
3. Dont stick to one idea for too long if it’s not generating revenue or solving problems the way you thought.
Shayaan Tahir – HomeShopping.Pk
1. Maintain a checklist or a To Do list : Everyday at work the first thing I do is to create a list of all the things I need to achieve today in order to reach my goal in the bigger picture so I plan and time myself and manage to focus to finish all my decided tasks for the day. Use a Task management tool to deal with projects happening within a company.
2. Adopt new technologies at your workplace which makes sense to you not because that is how it has been happening for ages. Things like cloud based accounting and google for business tools should be adopted in our day to day workings.
3. Be the first one to walk into your office and the last one to leave for the first 5 years at least set a example as others follow it.
1. Don’t be looking for investment right at the infancy stage of your company unless your model really requires it. Bootstrapping is a difficult process but it indeed brings out the true entrepreneur in oneself so enjoy that till you can and once you have a fully developed model which could be scaled up you can then start looking into your options.
2. Don’t leave Pakistan for other countries thinking Pakistan has nothing to offer. You might not realize but you are actually leaving behind a gold mine which has so much room of growth.
3. Don’t be worried to much of what your competitors are up to. Do your own thing and let people follow your footsteps .
Faisal Khan – Peshawar 2.0
1. Share your idea: Bounce your idea off people – experts and others who are in the field – and put it to the test early on. Every feedback you get is valuable and will help you validate your idea or otherwise. Its better to kill it now before executing it, marketing it and bringing it into the market only to fail. And for those of you who think someone is going to steal it, remember what Edison said ‘Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’. Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s the execution which matters.
2. Be productive: Manage your energy and not your time. Use any tool or App that you like, or a pencil and that paper from your favorite notepad. Its liberating to remove the to-do lists from your mind and free up all the space for some creative thought.
3. Find the right cofounder: From my experience, your best friend is not your best cofounder. Cofounders are people with complementary skillsets compared to yours and have a few personality traits that make you like them. It’s from here that you build a professional relationship and start working on a project together and evolve as great co-founders. One best way I have learned when making a team is to be apolitical and in many instances areligious.
1. Just do it: Don’t wait for that best name and logo to brand your startup. Be happy with something basic and minimal to help you get started. Your brand is going to evolve as you grow regardless.
2. Once again, just do it: Don’t wait for the perfect product: You will have to iterate again and again based on customer feedback anyways, so what’s the point coming up with the fully-functional product which you like based on your assumptions without any market validation. All of this if you still have not heard of the Lean Startup and the MVP.
3. Don’t oversell: This applies to everything – your product, your startup and yourself. Its always great to be yourself. Startups are all about ecosystems, and for you to have a good name, originality always helps. You don’t want to be labeled as someone terrible just for a few small things very early on, at the expense of your long term personal brand. I think you know what I am saying!
Now that you’ve read what the entrepreneurs have to say, what do you think? What are some do’s and don’t of starting a business in Pakistan?