Experience-sharing session on Entrepreneurship
The Entrepreneurship Seminar was put together very quickly by P@SHA and MITEFP because we wanted to capitalize on the presence of Idris Kothari and Faraz Hoodbhoy in Karachi.
Idris is a seasoned Silicon Valley entrepreneur and an active part of OPEN (Organisation of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America) and TiE (The Indus Entrepreneur). Faraz has years of experience in Silicon Valley having worked at Microsoft, NextBrick and Clickmarks and one of the Founders of PixSense. Our third panelist was Azhar Rizvi who has been a senior IT professional in Pakistan for two decades having worked with Unisys, NCR and THKS. Azhar is the current CEO of the Tech Angels Network.
Idris spent a bit of time telling us what he was presently involved in at Vertical Systems Inc which provides turnkey technology solutions for the hospitality industry. He also shared with us that the worldwide Call Center for this operation was based in Islamabad and he was totally satisfied with its operations.
Faraz took us through his PixSense experience, how/why PixSense had come into being, carefully pointing out for the benefit of the attendees the challenges that he and Adnan had faced especially in the early years. There were lessons to be learnt from what he said – what worked, what didn’t, the frustrations, the challenges, the highs, the lows.
Some of the key points that I picked up from the panelists, that I am sharing here, were the following:
1. Have family and friends that you can borrow from at the outset because you will need initial capital for the first 6 – 9 months simply to survive.
2. One cannot be an entrepreneur part-time. It has to be a full time occupation.
3. If you are married, you must ensure that your spouse is loving and understanding enough to put up with you working long hour days, seven days a week and travelling if need be.
4. Be sure you love what you are doing – otherwise you won’t be able to sustain it. So if you wake up one morning hating what you do, and this feeling persists for several days, then you are obviously not following your heart and it is best to quit.
5. Be strong enough for 77 out of 80 VC rejections (in the case of Faraz) and more in the case of Idris. Learn from them, don’t consider them failures – eventually you’ll get there.
6. Don’t let the external noise keep you from hearing the voice in your head and in your heart.
7. Find some good mentors who will guide you and be your sounding board, who will be brutal when they need to be so that you may continue on the road to achieving your goal, your dream.
8. A 100-page business plan is certainly not required but do put a lot of thought into your business model, into how you are going monetize your product, how you are going to build your team, how you are going to eat and live sustain your business. The more detail you are able to put on a couple of sheets of paper, the more likelihood that you will have actually thought it all through. This could be 3 Excel sheets, a two page document or a Mind Map.
9. The sooner you find your first customer, the better. If your first customer will be your guinea pig, you can afford to give him the product at cost. This will ensure that the product is workable and tested, and you will have a ready reference site to use for marketing to other customers.
10. Identify a problem/ a pain point for a potential customer, and then find a solution for that pain. Just developing something that you think is cool but for which there is no identified market, will result in failure and heartbreak.
There was some discussion surrounding Raghib Hussain who is known to both Idris and Faraz. For those who haven’t heard of Raghib, he got his BS from NED University Karachi, and an MS degree in Computer Engineering from San Jose State University.
He was recruited by Idris as Design Engineer for VPNet, an enterprise security company. At VPNet, he was a key contributor to the design of the first commercial IPSec based VPN (Virtual Private Network) gateway. In his early days at VPNet, Idris told the young Raghib that in 5 years he should be aiming to get to stage where he could replace Idris and in 10 years he should be able to hire Idris.
Well, the young man certainly took what Idris said to heart. He went on to work at Cadence Design Systems and Cisco Systems and he is currently the Vice President of Software Engineering & CTO of Cavium Networks which he co-founded. Cavium is a very successful company and is listed on Nasdaq. They have experience in developing high performance processors at DEC/Compaq and Sun. Cavium Networks software team has extensive experience in bringing to market leading security products at companies like Cisco, SonicWALL, VPNet & Nortel. Raghib has 19 pending or issued patents in the field of networking and security.
All in all it was a great knowledge-sharing session. Everyone left feeling that more such events should take place so as to enable a transfer of ideas.
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