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“.

End of An Era, And Start of A New One

My long time friend and Socialoholic’s co-founder, Saad, has decided to relocate outside of Pakistan. He calls this A/B testing. While he does quite well in Pakistan and enjoys the financial and location freedom, he feels that in order to grow further in life, a change like that may be necessary.

I feel that our company could see growth if one of the founders is to going to go through personal and professional growth. At the same time, there would be associated challenges with this move.

It is why, it is both; end of an era, and start of a new one.

How Hunger Drove Me & My Co-Founder To Success

Some of what I am going to write may feel insensitive to some readers. I apologize to them, but I will still write about it because it is the truth.

Yesterday someone called me to ask that he wanted to sell merch in the memory of Kobe, the basketball star. May his soul rest in peace. It reminded me of a story and that is what I’m going to write about today.

During the early stages of my work, I was trying really hard to make any kind of revenue but I failed year after year. My co-founder on the other hand, whom I didn’t know at that time, dropped out of college because he couldn’t afford it anymore. My family’s financial circumstances were better than his, so for me it was just the hunger to make it work. But for him, it was the actual hunger, that comes from not eating enough.

To fulfill my hunger to make it work, I used all kinds of opportunities to make money including trying to sell merchandise in the memory of celebrities who recently died. I tried all forms of click-bait for content that didn’t exist and then locked the content until user performed a certain action such as provide an email or phone or zip, for which I got paid. I did fake-news of all kinds. I did it all.

I feel no shame in writing about it today, because I think that’s what people do when they want it bad enough and it isn’t working. I won’t do most of that today because I don’t have to and I only want to work on good opportunities. But I probably would do all that again if I had to start over. Of course, I’ve always drawn a line. I don’t want to scam people out of their hard earned money, but I felt no shame in capturing their attention or wasting their time for money.

My co-founder on the other hand started his journey by scanning Pakistani magazines commonly known as digests in Pakistan; including Khawateen Digest, Suspense Digest etc and then published them online. Of course, an act of piracy, but he complied with the requests of the publishers, and only made them available for overseas Pakistanis. Eventually due to the pressure from publishers, he closed the website completely. He also feels no shame in this. He did what was meant to be done to be able to live and it got him the kickstart.

My co-founder was hungrier than I was. His hunger came from his drive to win as well as because it was a survival game for him. My hunger came from the drive to win only. He did twice as good as I did. Because he wanted it twice as much.

Today, we don’t have the same drive as we used to have. Despite having 15+ years of experience, we don’t perform on the same level as we used to do. We’re more knowledgable, highly skillful, more experienced, and less hungry. And we don’t do as good as we used to do. Hence, for me, hunger is the single biggest differentiator in killing it, or not.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

The Indian Comparison

My co-founder cross-questions a lot and assumes very little. Every time he is having a discussion with a Pakistani startup founder, he likes to compare the situation with a similar and often better startup in India.

The reason is that between the two markets, there are many similarities, and India is often slightly ahead in almost all markets. For example, in e-commerce the primary mode of payment in India is also COD just like in Pakistan. The advertising rates in India are just as low as the advertising rates in Pakistan. COD stays as the primary mode of payment despite that there are many payment gateways available and the credit card penetration is much higher.

When a Pakistani founder says that when X will happen in Pakistan, the company will grow very quickly. This is obviously an assumption. Saad then compares the situation with a similar startup in India where often the X has already occurred and more often than not the growth wasn’t seen as predicted or assumed by the Pakistani founder. This analogy helps avoiding the wrong assumptions.

Since India is running 5-10 years ahead in tech albeit having many market similarities, this comparison can frequently be used as a tool to project the future more accurately.

This Article Will Completely Change Your Life & I’m Not Click-baiting You

Do you know when a butterfly flaps its wings in South America, it can cause hurricane in North America. A butterfly can cause a major catastrophic event in a different continent. This is known as the butterfly effect. Although it is called the butterfly effect for a completely different reason, but the example narrated is real. And the takeaway is that tiny decisions you will make today will have huge consequences on your life.

Let me explain this further. I became a tech entrepreneur by accident. I encourage you to read how that happened. Had I not landed on a random web page that day which happened completely out of accident, I might not even be in this industry at all. If I weren’t in this industry at all, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. And if I didn’t write this blog, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

Because you’re reading this right now, the outcome of your life has already changed. If you weren’t reading this, you could have been doing something else, that would have had a different outcome on your life. But this article has already changed your life and when I said I wasn’t click-baiting you, I meant it.

I can remember many examples of how small actions had massive affects on my life. I’m going to share another one below.

In 2013, our Adsense account was disabled. We lost so much money there, I don’t even have the right expressions to describe it. In 2018, someone launched a class-action lawsuit against Google inviting all other parties to file their claims. Who could have thought a simple form that my co-founder filled in under 3 minutes would mean we’ll be getting paid for everything that was held 6 years ago. That we’ll be winning a case against Google. Without ever hiring a lawyer or ever thinking to file a lawsuit against them. By simply filling a form digitally.

A simple digital form and a huge amount of money. It sounds unreal, even to me, but it isn’t. It happened because of a small action that had a major impact on our lives. And so if you’re not taking actions, you are playing with the outcomes of your life.

So go ahead and make the decisions that you want to make because down the line they will not only change your life, but those of thousands of others.

Life seems chaotic. But chaos has order. Chaos is deterministic but it’s also very unpredictable. It’s unpredictable because often we don’t know the initial conditions and actions. But if we did the unpredictable chaos becomes very deterministic. And so if you take the right initial actions today, you are quite likely to have a deterministic future, no matter how chaotic life may feel.

Why Shane Used Two Identical Laptops For Work

In 2013, I and my co-founder Saad, travelled to NYC to meet a native-ad company we worked with. We were one of the largest publishers for the native-ad company at that point, and they took a lot of interest in our business. They wanted to learn more about us and our work and so we were invited to their office to deliver a keynote, where we also met one of our relationship managers, Shane.

We also met Shane a few days later on a cold December night, while he hosted us for a mouthwatering steak. Later he invited us to his place which over-saw the breathtaking Hudson river. An unrelated but interesting event, he invited over another friend who smoked weed at his apartment which I saw happen for the first time in my life. On his bed, I saw two MacBook Pros, identical to each other with the same specs and colors. I was surprised and I wondered why would someone buy two identical laptops. And so I took the liberty to ask.

I was shocked with the answer I got. Shane had two MacBooks because one of them was given to him by his employer – the native ad company while the other one was his private property. I learnt that Shane also gives out freelance consulting on the side and doesn’t do it on his employer’s MacBook.

The reason why he doesn’t do it is because of “conflict of interest” which is roughly defined at Wikipedia as a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests, financial or otherwise, and serving one interest could involve working against another.

And by Shane’s definition of conflict of interest, using his employer’s MacBook to generate freelance consulting revenue on the side is a violation of trust put in him by his employer.

Since then, I’ve taken conflict of interest very seriously. I have kept it close to my heart. I’ve avoided it as much as practically possible for me. I’ve encouraged others to do the same and I hope and expect that Pakistani entrepreneurs will start to avoid or mitigate conflict of interest seriously.

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.

Should You Always Have a Co-Founder?

If you’ve read a few posts on this blog before, you’ve probably already heard of my co-founder multiple times. I have worked with him for about a decade now and while sometimes it has been a challenging and bumpy ride, it has been rewarding in the end.

I’ve mentioned him quite a few times here because my stories would be incomplete without mentioning him. Because he had a role to play in every one of those stories and in building each one of those businesses with me.

Startups are hard and exhausting. Sometimes you’re gonna hate yourself for even wanting to try to run one and you’re always going to need someone who can take control while you’re going through the burn-out phase.

Each individual founder also brings unique skills and vision to the company which can be great.

YC funds less than 10% companies with solo-founders. They encourage you to have co-founders and even often offer matchmaking. I believe in the power of co-founders.

That said, there are many successful companies built by solo founders. One of the largest companies in the world, Amazon, was founded by solo founder Jeff Bezos. It’s also how he became the richest man in the world by having higher equity in the business. So going solo can make you really wealthy if you’re smart like Jeff.

But to be Jeff, or any other solo founder like him, you need to have super powers, which if you believe you don’t have, I encourage you to find a co-founder.

Just make sure your co-founder has these three attributes

Intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.

Warren Buffett

How Can You Be Good At Internet Marketing

Internet marketing is a blend of two things; social science and technology. I think I do a better job at understanding the technology, but may be not so much at understanding the social science.

Think of SEO; you need to have certain technical knowledge. You need to know about XML sitemaps. You have to focus on reducing time taken to load the site and the techniques used to do so such as caching, CDN, Ajax, SSL, minifying JS and CSS, etc. You may need to learn about link juice, focus keywords and how that works. By the way I’m not the best resource for SEO. So, I recommend you to read the techniques from an actual SEO blog.

For social media, you may need to learn about the techniques used to have a higher reach and distribution in the newsfeed and other areas such as using the right hashtags/location tags. You’ll need to learn about different ways to post such as photos, videos, stories etc. You may have to compare their distribution insights and learn what to post where and when and how many times a day etc. You may have to reverse engineer the exact method by looking at your virals to have your content appear more often in watch tab, newsfeed etc. In other words, this may require time, experience, data and technical knowledge.

The other side of internet marketing is social science, and I can’t stress enough its importance. Point is, no matter how much you get the technology part right, if you’re unable to understand the human behavior and psychology, you’re unlikely to do well. This is especially true for social media. Viral marketers often train themselves in to producing and recognizing content that is going to break all barriers, and is going to spread like wild fire. You’ll find infinite examples of how people have made viral content, repeatedly, without having enough seed views, influence or followers. They also didn’t follow any traditional SEO/SMM strategies. They are able to do that because they get the social science right. Our ISI case study was certainly about getting the social science right. I learnt this from my friend Zeeshan Shafquat who does an incredible job at understanding human behavior and psychology.

So if you’re going to venture in to internet marketing or already do it, I highly recommend that one of the co-founders need to understand human behavior and social science better, while the other focuses more on technology.

Entrepreneurs Jump Off A Cliff And Assemble A Plane On The Way Down

I didn’t say this. Reid Hoffman did, who is the co-founder of LinkedIn. When I first read it, I thought that he’s totally glamourising entrepreneurs or probably making them sound like super heroes. But over time I’ve learnt to understand the true deep meaning that it meant to convey. And that reminds of a similar story that happened within our company a few years ago.

In December 2012, our company was once presented with a great opportunity by a private ad-network for one of our content websites but there were 2 caveats. They only wanted to roll-out invites to companies or individuals from within UK. And there was a first come first serve sign up that would only last for 24 hours.

Looking at the opportunity, we immediately decided to sign up as promised revenues looked incredible. Soon after that we received the ad codes, ran the campaigns and generated a ton of ad-revenue.

For payments, we spoke to someone and produced documents such as proof of address from within UK, but the ad-network declined to pay. We were told that the payments will only be made to individual name or company name used as part of the on-boarding process, and only to a bank account in UK. At that point, we knew we messed up.

In the next 3 months, I spoke to the banks, prepared my documents to apply for UK visa so I can complete the compliance, set up the company, and eventually by end of March we got PAID!

In hindsight, messing up would have been not signing up because we appeared ineligible. It is what most people do, and they completely miss out on big opportunities. Whats the worst that could have happened? Not getting paid after running campaign? Wouldn’t that be the outcome of not signing up at all as well?

This isn’t just my story. Over the past many years, I’ve met hundreds of freelancers & entrepreneurs who just dive in, arrange PayPal, virtual bank accounts in various countries powered by companies like Payoneer and TransferWise but what they don’t do is miss an opportunity. And so if you ever want to make it big, don’t miss an opportunity. Instead, jump off a cliff and assemble a plane on the way down.