Achieving Gender Equality In Tech

It is often statistically reported that women are paid lesser than men in most lines of work. In tech, specifically, it is said that women are paid 5-40% lesser than their male counterparts.

Another striking statistic that is often highlighted is that women make up only about 25% of the tech workers. This particular statistic doesn’t bother me because in comparison, healthcare industry employees 77% women. One gender could be more inclined towards working in a particular industry than the other and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.

Coming back to salaries, Fiverr, a freelance platform reported that on their platform women at average earn $96 against their male counterparts who earn $100. This represents a 4% difference and is by far one of the best reported figures I’ve read regarding the gender equality.

I’ve often written on this blog that freelancing, remote jobs or distributed companies have many advantages. I’ve often highlighted the location and time independence as the most major advantages. You could be anywhere at any time living the millionaire lifestyle.

But the data published by Fiverr has given me new reasons to celebrate the digital nomad lifestyle. You could be a man or a women. You could be a Muslim or Jew. You could be in Syria or Romania. You’ll get the equal opportunities and wages as everyone else on the platform.

Distributed companies, remote employment and freelancing is the answer to gender inequality. Not just gender inequality, it is also the answer to racial inequality or any other kind of inequality. Obviously in addition to granting you freedom and wealth.

How I Saved My Business With PHPMailer; But Eventually Still Lost It All

Two days ago, I wrote about the reason why I got introduced to PHPMailer. I finished my blog saying that I ended up using PHPMailer for a completely different reason. This blog is a continuation of that.

The Rocketship

In 2011, my music blog Koolmuzone was seeing growth faster than it had seen before. It was burning all the rocket fuel, breaking all its previous records. The kind of growth that made certain people uncomfortable.

One late February night became one of the most miserable nights for me. Days became weeks, and weeks became months, but the misery didn’t end. Someone clearly didn’t like me and so he found a way to take Koolmuzone’s Facebook page down.

The Crash

My page was taken down by a fake DMCA report. It took me many weeks to understand what happened, and I’m going to explain that below as clearly as I possibly can.

Most of the times when you get a DMCA report, it is for copyright infringement. But this one was different. It wasn’t a copyright report. You can see the copy of the claim below

Hello,

We have removed or disabled access to the following content that you have posted on Facebook because we received a notice from a third party that the content infringes or otherwise violates their rights:

[Page: www.koolmuzone.com]

We strongly encourage you to review the content you have posted to Facebook to make sure that you have not posted any other infringing content, as it is our policy to terminate the accounts of repeat infringers when appropriate.

If you believe that we have made a mistake in removing this content, then please visit http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=1108
for more information.

The Facebook Team

The fine line here was that the person who sent this report to Facebook didn’t say I was violating anyone’s copyrights. That there wasn’t any particular piece of content on my page that infringed someone else’s right. The report rather claimed that the ‘page name’ itself is infringing someone’s rights; a trademark claim.

I read that email everyday for many weeks until I found out what happened when I read the following line

[Page: www.koolmuzone.com]

This line made me realize that the content that infringes someone’s rights is the page name itself.

After I realized this is a bogus TM claim, I started seeking for the legal ways to acquire trademark for my brand which wasn’t trademarked at that time, neither by me nor by someone else. The TM didn’t exist in any country or jurisdiction. It was a bogus TM claim that Facebook asked me to resolve directly with the other party by providing his (fake) email address that no one responded to.

First Attempt of Recovery

So I went ahead and locally registered my company, acquired the relevant tax number for my business and obtained the relevant trademark. However, in the end I was still asked by Facebook that it doesn’t resolve any DMCA claims, instead I should directly resolve the matter with the claiming party or in a court of law. A party with a pseudonym and a fake email. I was stuck, and I was still devastated.

Second Attempt

After spending a few more weeks, sometime in April, I thought of something. I thought if Facebook can be as stupid as this with a fake trademark claim, it could be even more stupid than that.

I realized that there could be a potential solution to this problem and the solution could be PHPMailer. The thing about PHPMailer, or any mailer for that matter, is that you can send email “from” anyone’s email address “to” anyone’s email address. This might be difficult for some people to understand but the way the email protocol works is that you can send an email from an email address that you don’t own or have no access to.

The only thing different about such emails are the “email headers” that are commonly used to verify the real origin of such an email. The email headers mention the real domain name / server IP from where the email originated from and can be helpful in detecting spoof emails.

Because Facebook took a page down on a fake TM claim, I wondered if it would restore the page if the fake email address took the fake TM claim back, without verifying the email headers. And so I sent out that email.

The next morning, my page was restored.

I was hurt, very very hurt. I buckled up and got back to work. I had wasted over 2 months because someone wasn’t happy with the progress we were making.

Looking Back

Over the years, I’ve tried to understand the psychology of people who do that. They think there are two ways to win the race. The first way is to run faster, so you can really get ahead. This, in my opinion, is the only way to actually win and make progress. The second way, however, is to hurt your competition, so you can get ahead of him.

The problem with the second approach is that although you get ahead of your competition, you don’t really move farther in the true sense. You’re still standing right there, only with weapons. And if you think about it; what good does it do to you? If you win a race by eliminating your competition, how does that benefit you?

Sure, you’ll get the winner’s medal but without actually moving forward. You’re not going to have any more visitors coming in or you won’t be generating any more revenue. Why would you do all of this for a fucking medal. If, the person who hurt me, is reading this; think about it.

The Second & Third Crash

Two years later, in 2013, I lost access to my Facebook page again. This time through a completely different way. In the same year, a large part of my advertising revenue was also kept from me. And in the same year, I closed down Koolmuzone.

Closing Thoughts

Since then, in the past 7 years, I’ve never worked in the Pakistani industry. It was toxic and I wonder if anything has changed so far. Even if things have changed, I’ve never really mustered courage to ever work here again.

To all the people who have stood by me during this tough time, I owe everything to all of you. To everyone who were the reason for my pain, I forgive you, although I’ll be surprised if you were seeking forgiveness at all.

Creating New Revenue Sources In Your Existing Business

One of the things that we frequently do as a startup is that while solving many problems within our own startup, we often come up with solutions that we feel can be also be provided to other startups.

We obviously do not make all solutions available to other startups, especially the core solutions that keep us competitive. But we don’t shy away from offering services that do not affect our core competitiveness.

Today, I wanted to share a story of how we ended up creating an ad network, despite having nothing to do with wanting to run an ad network in general.

One of the problems that all content websites want to solve is maximizing the juice out of their pageviews and visits without affecting usability and user experience. Since our websites heavily depended on driving traffic out of influencers, it made our primary audience acquisition a paid source. And our survival game was to maximize the revenue per each visit to be able to stay competitive for the paid audience acquisition.

During the process, we ended up testing 100s of different advertising partners, networks, RTB platforms etc. In the end we were able to create our own advertising waterfalls that out-performed most independent exchange bidding solutions.

Doing that not only increased our RPMs but also prepared us in offering this advertising solution to other publishers. Many of our publishers saw significant increase in their revenue, and we also created a significant side revenue stream without doing additional work.

As a bootstrapped startup, it is the responsibility of founders to explore all additional revenue sources like the one explained to create a sustainable growing business.

Making a Million Dollar Out of Thin Air

It sounds surreal. A million dollar out of thin air? How can you create money out of nothing. You can’t. But you can create money without having any money. Like you do in an employment. Although, you probably can’t make a million dollar with employment. Then how can you make a million dollar without investing any money. Only a few people can imagine something like that. Let me assure you, it’s possible. Not just possible, I personally know dozens of people who have done it.

You start with doing work that has no associated cost. The only cost would be your time and effort. Like starting a YouTube channel with your phone. Just like my friend ZSM did. Or you could work as a freelancer on UpWork / Fiverr and build your way up to becoming an agency or creating a product. Or you could just write a blog. Or create a following on Instagram or Facebook to be an influencer. Or you could sell arts and crafts, or T-shirts and hoodies on Etsy, or TeeSpring or Printful. If you’re a developer, you could be selling services on Fiverr and eventually start making plugins, apps and themes for WordPress and Shopify creating a product and a value-asset.

Let me assure you, I’m only scratching the surface here. If there are 99 ways to make money online without investment, I only know of 1. And I’ve written about what I know here. My brother recommended me this channel. May be you’ll find a lot more options to kick-start your internet journey there.

In summary though, there are hundreds of ways to make a living on the internet. Hundreds of things that need no capital to start. And hundreds of them that can eventually make you a million dollars. Sure, you’d most likely need to pivot at some point, but you can most certainly get there. Let me talk a bit more about the pivots below.

Suppose you start as a T-shirt designer on Fiverr. You sell time and skill to make money. Eventually you pivot and also start selling your designs on Etsy and use a print on demand to fulfil your orders. Once you get the hang of it, you now want to hit a larger audience or a global market. You pivot again and you take your designs to Shopify. You now invest a lot of money that you have made thus far in audience acquisition using ads on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest etc. You find more print on demand services in different countries so you can locally fulfil your orders. Eventually, you’re doing hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. You have created a million dollar value-asset. All with sheer hardwork and no external funding or investment. You have successfully turned $1 into $1,000,000.

I don’t want to mention names here for the sake of privacy, but I know at least one millionaire in Pakistan from each of those categories: an influencer, a designer, a blogger and a developer.

The question is do you just like reading articles with a million dollar in the title, or are you gonna take actions.

Circumventing The Visa Restrictions of the Internet

Yesterday I wrote a bit about the limitations of trying to run an internet business from the under-developed and developing countries. The global online services treat different people differently based on their country of residence. Hence running an online business from Pakistan is clearly far more difficult.

But you can always circumvent the limitations and find ways to get the many benefits that the developed world offers.

Although, you’re restricted from using certain features based on the country of your residence, your company could be based anywhere in the world. And as long as your company is based in US for example, you’ll be treated like a US entity and you’d have similar features available to you as to anyone in US. I’ve only used US as an example here, your business could be registered anywhere in the world. It can be in UK or Singapore or Estonia.

You can have a virtual address & a virtual phone number anywhere in the world. You can have a virtual bank account using services like Payoneer, TransferWise & others. You could also register your company anywhere in the world right from the internet without ever leaving your country.

I’m not kidding but you can create your company, phone, address, bank etc all under $100.

Some businesses and services require that in order to unlock all features, you need to be physically present inside a particular country such as US or UK. This can be solved too. While most people would think VPN here, a better, safer alternate is to rent a server in the country of your choice and use it with remote access.

In the end, it’s still going to be more difficult than physically being in a better geo-location, but I just want you to know that all of this is possible even if you live in a village of Pakistan and have no money to start your business with.

So, what’s your excuse again?

You Always Have Two Options; Retention Vs Acquisition

I feel a lot of founders, especially when they are running their first company, don’t have their priorities straight when growing a company.

Let me start with an example. When losing weight, you create a calorie deficit. You have two options to do it; you can either burn more calories or intake lesser calories. For wealth generation, you can increase your earnings or reduce your expenses. And for your business growth, you can increase your users, or reduce the number by which they are leaving your business.

Most first-time founders focus on increasing the user-base as a way to grow their business. It shouldn’t always be the top priority. In fact, I believe the top priority should be to reduce churn. Let me give you another example to explain what I mean.

Suppose your business generates $100,000 in annual recurring revenue and your churn rate is 50%. It means every year your business will need to replace $50,000 worth of customers in order to achieve the growth rate of 0%.

A lot of businesses continue to focus to add more users. They would focus to add 50% more users every year. They would spend a lot of money for this much customer acquisition and in the end achieve a 0% growth rate.

The right, easier and cost-free strategy requires working on cutting down the churn rate. If you’re able to bring the churn rate down to 25%, you only need to add 30% more users in order to see a 5% growth. You would spend lesser money on customer acquisition and will eventually achieve a steady growth rate.

We always have two options, and we often focus on the wrong one.

Here’s How You Can Validate a Business Idea In Under $5

I see a lot of people waste tens of thousands of dollars trying to setup their businesses. In the end, I often hear that it didn’t work out as intended. I understand that. I more than appreciate their efforts. Failures happen whether you like them or not and I’ve failed plenty of times myself. But I’ve a fundamental problem with those who don’t do some pre-launch research.

Some just don’t know that its a thing; pre-launch market research. And others, just don’t know the right or cheap way to do it. As co-founder of multiple start ups, I have tried and tested hundreds of different business ideas and as a company, we have developed a very solid strategy for testing them before launch. I’m going to write about the easy and cheap part from our strategy below.

Often this strategy costs us $20 or less. Sometimes as little as $5 depending on the target market. And this strategy works for both online and offline businesses. Some of you might hate me for making you wait, because it’s pretty simple but I guarantee you it works. Even if you’re setting up a huge business, this will help.

Run an ad. Yes. Whether you want to sell a product or a service, run a Facebook ad before you create the product. Before you invest in your brand. Set up a dummy page. Call it a name using this tool. Create a free logo; head over to this tool, click click click, and you have your logo. Decide your target market. You can target different age groups, interests etc and spend $5 per ad-set, or more if you need more data or if your target market lives where ads are expensive.

In a day or two, you’ll have some sort of sales, leads, or whatever was your end-goal. Apologize to your customers because you’re out of stock and delete your dummy business. If it works, awesome. If not, either you don’t know your target market well enough, or your business product or service is not needed as you expected. Make changes, try again.

Let me know your thoughts if you think it’s a good idea, or if you think it’s just stupid! We’ve had great success using it. In fact, my co-founder built a large offline business using this strategy in addition to all the online businesses that we build, and I’m pursuing him to write about his experience. I think he’ll just do that very soon. It’s a very exciting story.

Squeezing The Juice

I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I’ve never raised any amount of money and was able to build a sustainable, highly profitable large scale business that was self funded. As mentioned earlier, I started my online business with free domain and hosting. Although I regret not upgrading to a paid plan sooner, I’m still very proud that I’ve injected ZERO Dollars in to the business from outside funding till this date.

After I generated a few hundred dollars on free domain and hosting plan, I was able to buy a domain and a shared hosting plan with that money. I was able to sustain my business on shared hosting for about a year but eventually had to move to a Virtual Private Server to provide consistent uptime and faster load times.

Moving to a VPS was very tricky for me. My website had a large amount of Pakistani audience which generated very little revenue and required a larger server so I didn’t have a lot of budget for my VPS without hurting my positive cashflow. In the end, I had to make a decision that I wasn’t very happy with but couldn’t avoid. I had to rent an unmanaged VPS. For those who don’t know what that means, I was given a machine somewhere in US with no Operating System on it. I had to set up the server from scratch remotely and I had absolutely zero knowledge on how to do it. Since I was tight on budget I had to learn how to do it on Google.

In the end, I was finally able to set the server myself after 4 days of work. This opened new opportunities for me as I had finally learnt a new skill which I offered as a service to everyone I knew who paid twice the money for a managed hosting plan. I moved them to unmanaged hosting, managed it for them and charged them a one time fee of $50 instead of $50 a month that they were already paying. This not only helped me save recurring costs in on my own business but also provided me with a few hundred dollars quick capital that I could inject in my actual business.

When you’re bootstrapping, you’ve to find innovative methods, often outside of the main product or service your business is selling, to generate cash flow so the business can continue to get funded.