Lazy Portfolios; Simplest Way to Invest In Stocks

Stocks are often misunderstood, especially in Pakistan. I haven’t met many people who are comfortable investing in them. Stocks make Pakistanis so uncomfortable that less than 1% Pakistanis invest in stocks compared to over 50% Americans.

Personally, I also never understood stocks until recently when I realized how easily Americans are pouring in part of their earnings every month in stocks without having to pick and choose, re-balance, trade etc. They would simply build what is known as a “Lazy Portfolio”.

Lazy portfolio generally comprises of 2-3 funds. But it can even have as little as 1.

There are 2 reasons in my opinion why this kind of investment works.

Firstly, you pay close to nothing in management fee. Such funds have low operating costs as there is no human intervention and the fund only tracks a particular index such as the S&P500 Index. You buy one fund, and your money goes into 500 largest publicly traded US companies automatically in the same ratio as their market capitalization.

Secondly, since you’re not picking stocks yourself, you’re not exposed to the risk of each individual company. Instead your only bet is that collectively largest 500 publicly traded US companies will be larger in size tomorrow than they were yesterday.

To learn, what basket options you can buy, check out this. To learn more about investing in stocks, read this and this.

Disclaimer: The information provided is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice. To the maximum extent permitted by law, I disclaim any and all liability in the event any information, commentary, analysis, opinions, advice and/or recommendations prove to be inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable, or result in any investment or other losses.

Reverse Engineering Is Awesome

I am not joking when I say that I’ve learnt more from reverse engineering than spending 4 years getting my software engineering degree. Please note, I don’t bash degrees but personally it added very little value in my life. Perhaps, it adds value in the lives of people who seek employment.

Reverse engineering is the simple science of looking at a product and deconstructing it to find the process and the individual units that were brought together to make it.

I think it’s a great process because you can pick up successful products, apps, websites, or anything else, tear them apart and learn the science of how they were built.

You can identify the tools that are used by studying the product and the public source code, and by using other 3rd party reverse engineering tools. You can also study each iteration using the wayback machine to see how it improved over-time. You can learn what was kept in every iteration and what was skipped eventually and why. You can sign up and use the app to study work-flow of each feature. You can study their marketing campaign by checking Facebook Ad Library now that Facebook has made all ads by each page public to be more transparent. And by the end of this entire experiment, you’ll have a pretty fair idea of how this product made it big.

This puts you in a great position to copy and re-construct a similar product and business model. I think more often than not, it’s foolish to try to be super innovative or experimental. Picasso said, and Steve Jobs quoted.

Good artists copy, Great artists steal

Pablo Picasso

So go ahead and learn from people and products that came before you, and then innovate on top of their ideas to the point that it becomes your own.

What Early Retirement Means?

I’ve often worried thinking about this. What do you do with all newfound time if you’re going to retire early. How are you going to spend decades with no productive way to spend your time. What is early retirement and should one aim for it or not?

Since recently, I think I’ve started to get answers for this. Early retirement doesn’t mean that you have to stop working. It just means you don’t work for money anymore. You only work for happiness. You only work to get your adrenaline fix. And you only work because certain work milestones make you incredibly happy.

There’s a huge difference between getting to choose what to work on and going to work early in the morning everyday, even if you’re sick, to work on things that you don’t want to spend 1 second on.

I also feel, it is only after you’re mentally and financially free, you’re going to deliver your best work. You’re going to unleash your true self and potential. You need this kind of freedom to do your best thinking.

So by all means, plan your early retirement. And then set on a journey to do what matters the most to you.

The Criminal Digital Media Agencies of Pakistan

When I started this blog, I decided to write about all things positive. I wanted to encourage others to start their e-businesses and I wanted to motivate them and give them optimism. But it’d be unfair not to write about the other side. Because while running a startup, there’s no way you won’t go through the dark side.

Honestly, I didn’t want to write about this for as long as possible. At the same time, I knew I will write about this someday as it continues to bother me 6+ years later. But mainly, I decided to write about it as I spoke to someone yesterday, who is also a victim of these criminal digital agencies of Pakistan. And it’s just a reminder that nothing has changed in over 6 years.

Koolmuzone’s Closure

In 2013, I closed my first ever commercial project ‘Koolmuzone’. Since closure of operations, it has continued to serve content accumulating 15 million+ pageviews causing me ad revenue loss in the range of 10s of thousands of dollars. I did it because I was put into a difficult situation where I had to choose whether I will continue to conduct business with criminals, or move the heck on. I moved the heck on, and I’m happy that I did it. I was able to put my time into better projects where my business could flourish without having to deal with these agencies.

Why It Happened

Till 2013, I worked with one of the digital agencies that frequently advertised on my blog and represented clients from telecoms, consumer-goods, food & beverage etc. Delayed and unpaid dues was routine. The promised payment time was net-90 after the conclusion of campaign, which was already 60 days longer than the industry standard net-30. But unfortunately, they didn’t ever honor that either. The average delay was 18 months after the net-90.

Startups are often cash-strapped & cash is everything to a startup. And a delay of 18 months translates into a slow death for a company. One of the days, after following up with them for months, I had an argument with the then manager of the company. After exchange of hot words, I was given the ultimatum that forget delayed payments, I will never get paid.

On hearing this, I was left with no option but to reach out directly to the client that advertised on my blog. After speaking to the designated employees in the company, I was told that I’ve no business speaking to the client. Because client doesn’t work with me. They work with the agency, and agency works with me.

I don’t want to get into details of what happened next, but after reaching out senior executives in the company, I got paid at one condition: no future business. I said my goodbyes and moved on.

Other Instances

It wasn’t just one digital agency. There are others that contributed to this criminal cause. Another agency that represented an ISP, declined to respond or make payments altogether. After speaking to client, I was offered a dinner to make up for it which I declined.

Yet another agency that represented a multi-national restaurant brand declined to make payment and stopped responding altogether.

Another agency that represented a local snack brand did the same. I was neither paid, nor given a response.

I fought for the larger payments and was able to get those by reaching out to clients. But small clients and small campaigns stayed unpaid forever.

It Affects Everyone

I’m not the only one affected by these agencies. Almost every independent publishing company in Pakistan has to go through the same process. If you’re not big enough to have legal teams to challenge big agencies and even bigger clients, just keep your head low and move on.

Yesterday, I spoke to someone who has not been paid over 5 million Rs in ad revenue for months by these same agencies.

The Bigger Picture

While it may sound like a story of only bad business practice, there’s a much larger impact happening. Just like traditional employment “brain drain”, where talent exits the country in order to find better employment opportunities, similar thing is happening for entrepreneurs too.

It’s already less profitable to choose to work in a singular market like Pakistan instead of reaching global markets, and that coupled with these practices make business nearly impossible in Pakistan. As a result, entrepreneurs exit local markets and make products that serve global audience where the revenues are higher, and payments are instant.

Even for e-commerce, those serving global markets have a 3-day payment cycle. While those working in Pakistan on cash-on-delivery and local gateways, have to wait for weeks if not months to get their cash.

Conclusion

These agencies are startup killers. They killed my startup and will continue to damage and destroy many other indie publishing companies in Pakistan. I want to conclude this with a popular quote by the founder of Seagate who said

It is important to remember when starting and growing a new company that cashflow is more important than your mother

Alan Shugart

and everyone knows mothers are really really really important.

1 Month Streak – The Power of Streaks

I started this blog on 7th of November. I promised myself to write here at least once everyday. And I’ve done that so far. Today marks 1 month of me doing that. With that, I wanted to showcase something very important: streaks.

If you want to do anything in your life, anything, its unlikely that you’ll be able to do it if you’re not consistent. Many businesses are not rocket science. In fact most businesses are not. Most businesses require that you run them just long enough, and everyday, to bear the fruits. And streaks, set the perfect stage for that.

Writing here daily is more important for me than it is for you. I think not even a single reader of this blog has read all of what I’ve written so far. But I’ve still written daily because if I don’t, then I may just stop writing at all. Streaks aren’t just helpful in businesses, but in anything you want to do in life.

My brother lost 20 KGs in last 2 years. He didn’t go on a crash diet. He didn’t starve himself, but he went on a streak. He counted calories using MyFitnessPal everyday for 2 years and in the end he got desired results. Had he taken just 1 day off after 6 months, there was a very high probability of him stopping altogether.

And so I highly recommend to you that you introduce streaks in your life.

Internet Is Centralized & Contaminated

I love internet. I have always loved it and I’ve always thought of it as a friend of a common man. It is an equalizer for sure. It makes the boundaries thinner, reduces some of those “visa restrictions” we have to participate in a global world. But internet is still far from perfect. And that’s okay. But I feel it’s also not moving in the right direction. And that isn’t okay.

Internet was meant to be decentralized. It put the power in everyone’s hands. Until we started to see a few corporations taking more and more control making it centralized again.

As a marketer, I was always told by other better marketers that email lock-in with your customer is everything. I was told that Facebook will lure you into buying likes and then change algorithms. Twitter will do the same and Google will mess with your SERPs too. But email is forever. You reach out to your users on 1-1 basis with nothing between you and your users.

Unfortunately, with Gmail powering roughly 50% of all email addresses in the world, that is changing too. Emails are now controlled the same way Facebook controls your pages, and Google controls your SERPs.

Gmail categorizing emails as Primary, Social, Promotions & Updates reducing distribution, readership and snoozing notifications.

Think of it like this; email address is no different than your physical address. Imagine if the post office decided for you which mail should reach you, and which should they keep. It’s messed up, isn’t it? I think it is. And I’m against centralized control like that, especially on lower level protocols.

Other email providers are also categorizing emails, snoozing notifications and reducing readership in the similar manner as Google.

From the user’s point of view, may be it helps reduce the noise. But as a business owner, the inability to communicate 1-1 with the customers, who opt in for this communication, is not just unfortunate, its unethical on Google’s part.

How Can You Be Wealthy?

Each person looks at this term differently. Probably for some, it means being able to afford Lamborghinis without a second thought. Or being able to stay in presidential suite in Las Vegas. Not for me. I don’t think of wealth like that. Because if you do think of it like that, then there’s always going to be someone ahead of you, there are always going to be things you can’t afford and this is a never ending cycle.

I define wealthy differently. For me, it’s the ability to pay all your bills on an automated basis, without working. In bills I generally include the unavoidable bills including rent, utilities, grocery, school, medical etc and some leeway for vacations, gifts, shopping etc.

I recommend you to find this numerical figure. It’s extremely important to do so. For example, you have calculated that your annual expense end to end is Rs 2 million. This means Rs 165,000 per month or approximately $1079 per month. If you can create a way to generate Rs 165,000 a month without working, you’re wealthy. You are financially free. You can actually retire, regardless of your age.

The second step is finding a way to acquire assets that generate $1079 a month. The mistake that most people make is they don’t wait to spend on luxuries. I want to spend on luxuries too, and I feel everyone should be able to do it. But not without following the right framework.

The right framework requires earning money, saving it, acquiring assets, generating income and spending that income. What most people do is earn money and spend it. Doing what most people do is a perfect way to work until you die. Doing what I recommend you to do is a perfect setup to retire between 5-15 years.

To generate $1079 per month, you can acquire (or build) SaaS/Blog/App for $32,370 (at 30X monthly multiple). If you’re more into “real assets” you can acquire property that does 5% per year for $258,960 or you could invest in stocks that generate annualized average 8% per year by investing $161,850 in stocks. Or you could do a mix of these things by diversifying and invest a total of $100,000 to generate $1079 per month.

It may sound tough, but it really isn’t. Especially if you’re young and have the ability to save more. All you have to do is have a clear goal: A) the numerical figure that you need every month, and B) the numerical figure required to invest to generate ‘A’ every month. Once you have these numbers, you need to see how much can you save each month, and calculate the number of months it’s going to take you to save until you’ve hit ‘B’. By doing so, you’ll have a set date for you to become wealthy.

I recommend you to read the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. It’s not the best finance book to read, but it is the best first finance book you should read.

One Psychological Trick That Boosted Our Revenues by 38%

One of our content websites was a gallery website featuring images as “top 10 this” and “top 20 that”. It was an interesting website because bounce rates were super low ( below 20%) due to pagination in galleries and average page-views per user were over 8.

But we were always looking for ways to increase the page-views even higher. This was a website where quantity mattered more as the site had little text and the ad-rates were generally lower, so our focus was on increasing the page-views.

Website layout showing a gallery image 1 of 23

We ran A/B tests and decided to change the pagination heading from “1 of 23” to “1 of 24” adding an increment of 1 to the actual size of galleries. The idea was to trick the user into thinking there is one more photo in the gallery. But on clicking next, the user would end up on the next gallery eventually creating an infinite gallery loop for the user.

The following day, we saw 38% increase in our revenue and our PV/user went from 8 to 12. It’s not an example that I’m very proud of, but it showcases the power of A/B testing and psychological changes you can make to exponentially boost your revenues.

I Learnt Something From Chinese, And I’ve Never Been To China

During our dropshipping business, we engaged with many Chinese vendors while trying to source our products. During the early phase, we simply placed orders on AliExpress directly for our customers. That seemed to become impossible once we started selling at scale, and so we decided to engage a few vendors for long-term order fulfillment.

My co-founder started engaging them on WeChat to discuss details of manufacturing, pricing, quality etc. After signing up a few vendors, we started the fulfillment process.

During one of the video calls with our vendor who was packing orders to ship at the time of call, I saw something that left me in complete disbelief. I saw that her 4 year old daughter was also packing orders in the background in her house, while the vendor attended our call.

At that point I realized how the Chinese are eating the world and that’s because of sheer hard work and no other reason. If you have a problem with the Chinese doing that, you need to work harder than them. And if you can’t, then you need to stop complaining.

The Power of Compounding When Investing

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about importance of investing. I showed the returns of S&P 500 Index for 10 years from Jan 2009, to Jan 2019. I mentioned that your returns would be over 200% in 10 years in USD. I further mentioned, that if you re-invest your dividends, you would have a return of 270% in the same period. See the additional 70%? This is where all the magic happens.

Let me explain this with an example. Suppose you receive a sum of Rs 100,000 at your graduation at the age of 22. You invest this money at an average rate of return of 10% per year and you keep this money invested for 40 years until your retirement at 62. During this investment, you have two options; you can either withdraw your returns every year at Rs 10,000 per year or you could re-invest your profit. Let’s discuss in detail what happens in both cases.

If you withdraw profits every year, after 40 years you would have Rs 400,000 (40 x 10,000) profit and Rs 100,000 principal. Giving you a total of Rs 500,000 after 40 years. Not so interesting, is it?

But if you re-invested Rs 10,000 profit every year, you would have Rs 4,525,925 after 40 years. A bit more interesting, isn’t it?

You invested the same amount of money, your rate of return was identical, and with the first option your capital stood at 5X while with the second option it stands at a whooping 45X. Here’s a compounding calculator for you to test all sorts of cases.