Day 240, Calling It Quits

I have written for 240 days now. In hindsight, I think I could have taken the weekends off instead of writing everyday. But I’ve always been indisciplined like that. Or disciplined, I’m not so sure. Indisciplined because I never have a balance in my life. And too disciplined to always focus on a singular goal.

I remember when I worked full-time, I couldn’t have gone through a single day without achieving something. Almost addicted to progress like a substance user. Over time, I thought I stopped doing that. I thought I stopped running after singular goals and giving everything to them. But I was wrong.

I started to write for therapeutic reasons. But by setting a streak, I fell into my old habits before I even began. I was still serving my old self that couldn’t have gone through a single day without progress. I was still doing it to feed my ego. Sure, I wanted to prove by example how progress is made. I felt that It’s great to help others and lead by example. But when you satisfy your ego along the way, you’ve already lost the plot. I honestly can’t say that along the way, I didn’t hope for readership, distribution and appreciation.

I read this wonderful piece on New York times. I read it again and again and many times over to fully absorb it. Despite being a small article, I found it be way more enlightening than many books I had read.

It’s about the two mountains some people climb. And what these mountains represent. The valley in between. And what the valley can do to you, or what you should do while in the valley.

I encourage you to read the original piece. Although every sentence resonated with me, here are some of my favorite excerpts.

The first mountain is about acquisition, the second mountain is about contribution. The first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second is about shedding the ego

And the following just hit me like nothing has hit me in a really long time.

Freedom is not an ocean you want to swim in; it is a river you want to cross so that you can plant yourself on the other side.

I know that I’m in the valley right now. In between the mountains. Or the ocean that I’ve been swimming in for a long while.

Life could only be meaningful with a second mountain. Or by crossing the river and being on the other side.

On the first mountain we shoot for happiness, but on the second mountain we are rewarded with joy. What’s the difference? Happiness involves a victory for the self.

Thank you for reading. I will be writing again, but not on a regular basis.

Social Media Is A Lie, Here’s The Truth.

The social media is often used to put out your best self. Since you get to pick and choose what the people see from your life, you only put out the best things that you’ve done or the best things that have happened to you. In addition, you also get a chance to enhance those already best experiences of your life using filters, music and what not. In short, you lie on the social media to look better than your peers.

I tried not to write this post for a long while. I’ve been thinking about it for quite sometime. It is natural for me to put here the best things I’ve done so far and my opinions on things I’m knowledgeable about. It makes me look accomplished and intelligent. Here’s the other side though.

I spent most of the past 10-15 years trying to build a business from scratch. Like many other tech entrepreneurs in Pakistan who work at the eastern time, I have also been a 100% night owl since 2008. For 12 years, I have only slept after 6 in the morning. I was able to build a company that I always wanted. I was able to save and invest like I wanted. And I bought myself financial freedom that I wanted. So I could stop one day and be free. Free to do whatever I like. I could just read books, or travel, or do anything I wanted.

It is only when I got free, I realized, I fucked up. I realized that I’ve gotten obese in the process. That my spine doesn’t work the same way as before. That I may have to live with the constant sciatic pain for a long while, if not most of my life. That I can no longer sleep at night even if I wanted. That my personal grooming went down the gutters for spending most of this time working from home. That I can’t wake up for anything that has to be done early in the morning or noon so I don’t sleep at all instead.

On the papers I felt successful just as the world described successful. In real life, I didn’t feel successful at all. Having free time and not the right health to enjoy it is very unsuccessful.

I feel obligatory to write this truth. So if you decide to be “successful”, you don’t give up everything else in the process and feel unsuccessful in the end.

Toxicity, In Hindsight.

I knew a really really toxic person back when I was involved in running KoolMuzone, a Pakistani music blog. He did everything in his power to destroy my business including using illicit means just because he couldn’t see me do better. Everything that he did kept haunting me for years. But, in hindsight, he gave me 2 beautiful things in the process. I only realized that after my good friend and colleague Faizan Shoaib made me realize.

Firstly, he gave me a lot of knowledge. As I learnt more about the tactics that were used, I also learnt about the remedy as well as the defense. I became an over-all more experienced digital marketer. I pushed my limits and became a better version of myself. All companies should grow like that. E.g PayPal or Facebook are safe because hundreds of thousands of hackers & scammers have tried exploiting the loopholes. They only learnt the remedy as well as the defense to make a better version of their product afterwards.

Secondly, he eventually made me realize that the juice in my business is just not worth the squeeze. He made business so terrible for me, that I had to look for more viable business options with over-all better outlook. He helped me set on to do many businesses that I did afterwards which worked out much better for me.

The Lean Startup With Aamir Attaa

A lot of times I like to remember my humble beginnings. I feel that it’s important for me to do that. They help me remember the original lean startup vision. When your resources are limited, you can naturally grow your business the lean way. But as your business grows, you generally forget a lot of lean principles because you can afford to live without optimizations. A reminder of some of the principles could be great to continue to keep the structure lean wherever possible but most importantly for your future businesses.

This blog is about two humble beginnings, the other one involving Aamir Attaa, founder of ProPakistani, whom I learnt a great deal from. He ended up being one of the most successful and celebrated bloggers who curated content for Pakistani audience. But in 2010, we discussed completely different things. One of them involved how we could save $60 each every month. And here’s an excerpt of that conversation.

His thesis was that since my blog SmashingLists which served the US audience gets majority of it’s traffic at a completely different timezone (9-12 hour difference) than ProPakistani which was targeting Pakistani audience, we could actually upgrade our servers, have higher resources each, host both sites together, and still save $60 each per month.

We went ahead and did that (and continued doing it while it worked). This was a great lesson back then, and a great reminder today.

My “BBC X SmashingLists” Moment

In 2010, I received an email from BBC about a possible collaboration with my blog SmashingLists. My blog was uniquely positioned in the industry as far as the branding was concerned because it frequently made it to the then front-page of the internet; Digg’s frontpage. Because of that, I started to receive brand inquiries that were way above my pay-scale.

BBC had just launched BBC Earth and were looking for partners for distribution of their content to get visibility. They got in touch so I could publish their stories on my blog as they didn’t have a blog at that time and were just looking for ways to build their brand.

They were hoping that I would then push this story on Digg and get their brand eye-balls.

Guess what did I bill them for this?

Nothing. Yeap. I thought that I’m getting free content from BBC and that probably is great in itself.

I also completely failed to capitalize my future relationship with them.

This is what happens when you give influence to a Pakistani boy who has no idea whatsoever about the billing structure of the west and is happy to take home; nothing.

Paying In T-Shirts

In 2010, when I was focusing all my energies on a top 10 lists blog, I met someone on the internet who was very good with viral content creation. He lived in the bay area and ran many high volume sites.

While he didn’t really have any interest in wanting to work with me because he was doing quite well, he agreed to write a few posts for my blog on a rev-share basis because of our friendship. I assured him that I will make my best efforts to market the posts on digg and reddit but failed to get his articles viral. In the end, I ended up owing him some pocket-change with no way to pay the money to him because of unavailability of PayPal.

I was up and coming in the business, still trying to learn my way through it. I didn’t know many people. I had a friend who would receive PayPal payments for me in the UK, but he maintained no balance for me at that time and I didn’t receive any payments in the following weeks either.

While my friend didn’t really need the pocket-change, he did mention once or twice that there’s still nothing in his PayPal.

After I was let down by the likes of Western Union which didn’t allow sending money to anyone with a non-Pakistani name, I concluded that the most cost effective way of sending $15 to US is by shipping him a T-Shirt from the US and paying for it with my debit card.

I went to Threadless.com, and shipped him a cheesy T-Shirt.

My Mother Made Me Financially Educated Before I Became A Teen

I was reading this wonderful article by MMM and it reminded me how almost everything I know today was taught to me sublimely way before I was a teen.

Like many other kids, I received a small amount of money every month from my parents. It started with 100 Rs a month and grew to 500 Rs a month over the years. I stopped receiving this amount completely when I turned 18.

My mother encouraged me every month that I don’t spend all the money that she was giving me. She further encouraged me that if I am able to save 1000 Rs, I can give the money to her and she will give me an additional 10 Rs a month or roughly 12% gains per year.

Before I became a teenager, I was able to save up to 5000 Rs from the pocket money, Eidi and other cash gifts I received from my relatives. For handing this over to my mother, she gave me an additional 50 Rs every month in pocket money.

In hindsight, if you think about it, I wouldn’t have saved more than $100-$200 through-out my childhood. In addition, I wouldn’t have generated more than $100-$200 in compounded interest. Despite making no significant amount of money, I learnt the number 1 way of getting wealthy. I learnt how the money can do the work for you. That each dollar is an employee that works non-stop 24/7 to get you more employees every day. It’s even better than a pyramid scheme.

This, I think, is the single biggest differentiator between people who are able to get wealthy and those who do not. How much wealth you’ll accumulate over your life is never determined by how much income you make. I’ve known enough broke people in my life who make over $10,000 each month and still struggle to do well financially.

They do every thing in their power to make contributions in the form of “sweat equity” but make no progress whatsoever to make contributions in the form of “financial equity”. Sweat equity can get you a lot of income, but it’s often the financial equity that buys you the financial freedom.

I was lucky to be taught this way early in my life. It breaks my heart to meet people who make it to the top percentile as far as income is concerned, yet fail to buy themselves financial freedom. I hope I’m able to pass the same learnings to the readers of this blog as well as to my child.

180 Days Streak – And An Update On My Life

I have been writing now for over 180 days. There are many things that aren’t great about life right now. But in comparison, there will always be more things that are right and less that aren’t and that means we need to always be grateful and keep moving forward.

Mental Health

The COVID-19 situation has surrounded us for too long and this will probably stay around for much longer. I have not been able to see the few friends I have in a really long time which was the best part of my day everyday and one of the biggest advantages of the freedom given by online businesses. I miss that and it’s affecting my already feeble emotional health.

There are other things affecting me too. I had an insanely good business a few years ago, which over the years isn’t as good as before. There are many friends and colleagues who weren’t there for me during this time. For this, I’ve learnt to realize that everything is my own problem and no one owes me anything. If anyone offers support, I need to be grateful. If someone doesn’t, that’s okay.

During this time I have also had colleagues whom I offered a lot of support to, but they have deprived me of both business and happiness. I’m trying to learn to deal with this too and hopefully I will.

Blogging

Some of the days I didn’t want to write at all. Somedays I’ve done it just because I had to do it to keep the challenge going on and somedays I’ve put my heart and mind into writing this blog.

There are many reasons that I continue to keep this challenge alive. Some of them concern me, and some of them concern you.

For the reason that concerns you, I have continued writing despite being down many days, on a holiday somewhere in between, and not having enough time many days, is because I want to showcase the # 1 most important thing about life and businesses to stay afloat: consistency.

Whether you’re building a business or just trying to stay alive, you gotta try every single day. You can’t take a single day off. I hope my year long effort can showcase that to the readers with my own example.

Appreciation

I can not appreciate my wife enough during this time of COVID-19, emotional crisis, professional crisis & more. She has stood by me, which she has always done. But not just that, she’s working many extra hours because our daughter is home-schooled by her now as schools are closed. Our domestic help is on leave because of COVID-19, and she has taken care of most of the household responsibilities in addition to many that she already had.

Like me, she also works online and is a freelance graphic designer. She has also given up on her work which not only affects her income, but also her future prospects of work, as well as her rankings on many freelance platforms. She has been the mother and the wife I hoped for. Thank you.

How Me And My Co-Founder Ended Up Doing Hajj

I planned to perform Hajj with my wife in 2014. Two weeks before we had to fly, we found out that we were expecting our daughter. After consulting doctors, we were advised that my wife shouldn’t be commencing this journey. I had paid $15,000 for the two of us and our travel agency had already made all bookings. They couldn’t issue a refund for her at this point in time.

I called Saad and told him about the situation. I told him that there’s no refund for my wife so may be if he ever considered Hajj, he might want to join instead. The best part about his reply was that he didn’t say that he will call me back or he will let me know or that he needs time to think. He said “sure, just let me know what to do”.

There are three takeaways for me from this.

  1. Like they say Hajj is destined for each individual, I started believing that. He was meant to do it and he was meant to do it at that time.
  2. That for him a sacrifice of $7500 both for his Allah and his co-founder didn’t mean a thing.
  3. If my co-founder hung together with me during a time like that, there’s nothing he can do more to prove that he’s worthy of being a good co-founder.

Often in life, someone may present you with opportunities that seem great. They may appear instantly rewarding and they might even make you very wealthy but “If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, don’t work with them for a day. – Naval Ravikant“.

My First $500+ Paycheck

As mentioned earlier on this blog, my music blog Koolmuzone was started without a TLD in 2002. I received my first paycheck by 2004 but it wasn’t until 2009, that I bought my first .com domain.

I purchased Koolmuzone.com in January 2009. By the end of 2009, I had built some kind of traffic as well some kind of authority in the Pakistani music space; but I was still not making anything more than a pocket change. Part of the reason why that happened was because you didn’t really get paid anything for Pakistani traffic. People can relate to that even today. I mean if in 2020 you make significantly less on a Pakistani traffic compared to the US traffic, you can imagine how bad it was in 2009.

Ten months into my efforts to make this work, I still hadn’t generated more than $200. In October of 2009, Telenor announced a blogging competition. Bloggers were supposed to generate maximum outbound traffic from their blogs to Telenor Weblounge Portal. Because I had significant traffic, but no means to monetize, I placed Telenor banners on my blog (for free). A month later, Telenor published the stats and Koolmuzone had won the competition.

By November, I received a Blackberry Bold phone as a prize for the competition. After receiving it, I drove straight to blue area and sold it for $500 so I could use it to fund the future growth of my business.