Grieve and Dance

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In the past couple of years, I found myself attracted to a genre of music that I’m yet to be capable of labeling. It’s sub genre of house music where there’s usually a sad instrument dominating the track, coupled with the fast paced beat you’d expect from house. The sadness often comes from a violin, oud, or even a piano minor scale. At times, it’s not even an instrument; it’s just a human voice speaking volumes of agony and pain.

Listening to such music generates a fusion of emotions. It moves you on one dimension to feel the sadness and sorrow transcending from the strings of the instruments, but then takes it away with a beat that flows through your body with its vibrations saying “life moves on”.

It is somehow humbling. Memories of good times and bad times flash before you. Then it’s all taken away with the pragmatism of the here and now brought by the beat. Nothing matters that much anyway. Just keep dancing.

What a trip.

Work Principles

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I jotted down some of the work principles I live by. I’ve learned some of these through experience, and many of them through books and mentors. This will act as a reference for me, those who work with me, and others. It’s still a work in progress.

  • Don’t take your job for granted.
    • Do your best to earn your place every day. This goes to everyone, from janitor to CEO.
  • Work hard in silence. Period.
    • Don’t even anticipate success to make the noise. Don’t crave the noise or recognition.
    • Gain gratification and satisfaction intrinsically, not extrinsically.
    • Press and fame are vain.
    • Be in love with the process, not the results.

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Going Live (& Alive)

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pulse

As a founder/creator, I often struggle with launching my products and ideas. It seems like the “launch” is this huge step where an idea makes a leap from 0 to 1. From nonexistence into a sudden loud existence, shocking everyone in the process, and hence generating lots of pressure.

This can be terribly crippling, however, since ideas and products feed off of usage and thrive on it. Depriving an idea from usage is like depriving it from oxygen. Therefore, one must put an idea out there as soon as possible, and avoid perfectionism at any cost.

To add to that, if my idea is deprived of feedback as a founder, I would suffer the consequences of low motivation. Usage and feedback give creators pulses of motivation towards their projects. An idea that is out there and public, even if it has 1 user, is much better than one that never sees light.Read More

Tension of Opposites

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There’s tranquility in between every two opposites, and both are needed. Good is meaningless if bad didn’t exist. Virtue is empty without vice.

For every two opposites, there’s some healthy balance in between. I call that the tension of opposites.

  • Working hard is good, but if not coupled with some leisure, burnout occurs.
  • Everyone wants to be happy, but without some suffering, life becomes miserable & meaningless.
  • Having a partner that’s similar to you is nice, but having no differences makes a relationship dull.

Nobody knows what the right balance of these opposites is. In fact, the balance is different for every person, time, place, and situation.

Knowing that some tension of opposites must exist, however, should make us a bit more adaptable, flexible, and tolerant.

Principles don’t always work, because in principle, nothing is absolute. Every rule has its exceptions, except this one.

On Money

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Here, I put down all my thoughts and principles around money.

These are principles I wish someone had taught me.

Money

  • Money is a resource; a made up one.
  • Money doesn’t exist in nature. It is a tool we developed to make it easier to transfer value while conducting trade.
  • Instead of trading items and services directly, we get to store, lend, divide, and transfer value in the form of money.
  • Money is a concept, and currency is its unit.

Market

  • The sum of trade transactions and their pricing is referred to as the market.
  • The market is a natural system. It came before money was invented, and is as old as two archaic men exchanging meat with fruit.
  • The market is decentralized and cannot be controlled by any single entity.
    • It can be influenced by regulation, both positively and negatively, but never controlled.
  • “The market always decides”; meaning that the nodes in the market collectively decide what happens to it with their economic activity.
    • The nodes in any market economy are based of supply and demand; sellers and buyers.
      • The buyer always sets the price. In theory, assuming no monopoly, if a seller doesn’t serve the buyer well, another better seller would emerge.
  • Central entities regulate their market by printing more cash when it’s needed, while ensuring the market isn’t flooded with cash.
    • If people have a lot of cash, pricing inflation happens in the market, and sellers charge higher prices because buyers can afford it.
      • Inflation almost helps no one in the long run, because every person will need more money to buy the same things, making the currency unit less valuable.

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On the Value of One’s Time

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Time value in money

Having been in the US for the past few months, I’ve been hearing arguments on hourly minimum wage and how it’s “not enough” for low-skill labor jobs. I found that to be quite an interesting argument considering that the average American is paid at least 10x of what their Asian or African counterparts are paid for doing the exact same job in a different geographic location. Of course, the value of money is relative to what it could buy you, and that’s why I put the “not enough” in quotation marks. But that got me thinking many questions, mainly; what constitutes the value of a human’s hour?

Here, I do not wish to address the sociopolitical history or reasons that made American’s minimum wage (and cost of living) much higher than what it is in Vietnam for example (story for another day maybe). My curiosity, however, led me to think of what constitutes the value of a human hour on a logical and economical level.

To do that, I always like to go back in history to observe how concepts such as that of a salary were forged. Technically speaking, a salary, just like money, is a made up concept by us Homo Sapiens. Going back a few hundred thousand years in the Savannah of Africa, the most basic forms of trade were between two humans. One who’s genetically strong hunts animals to feast on them, and another who’s more flexible climbs trees to catch fruits. Some days, the hunter wouldn’t manage to hunt a feast, and others, the gatherer saw no fruits in sight. That’s where and when the simplest forms of trade (and loans) had started. I like to refer to that as the Exchange of Labor.

Technically speaking in that example, the value of the hunter’s unit of time is completely dependent on whether or not he managed to hunt; accomplishing the valuable goal (nutrition resource). Some forecasting of how many kilos of meat a hunter could get can be made, an assumption on what others are willing to trade in return for a kilo of meat also could be made, and an approximated average on the value of a hunter’s hour is then possible to be calculated in a given day for example. But all of that goes to trash is the hunter fails to hunt. There is no inherent value of a human’s time, unless tied to an accomplished goal that is valuable to someone else.

This might be a big idea to tie one’s head around, but it’s true. As society grew, we moved in interesting directions. We invented companies to accomplish bigger goals that need people working together instead of a hunter working alone. Somewhere along the way, as group tasks became more complex and tasks’ outcomes became more difficult to quantify, approximations and hypotheses were put in place, giving birth to a fixed income concept. That was an interesting solution that helped ignore the problem of quantifying the value of an individual’s value of outcome, and focus on the overall group value of outcome. While unfair in some places, it saved a lot of time. I also don’t know whether the question of “what’s the minimum does this human need to eat, sleep, and buy clothes?” was a deciding factor in deciding one’s salary, but it certainly became so with time.

Either way, fast forward a few centuries, and the concept of a salary was engraved in our minds, giving us comfort and peace of mind at the expense of modern-day slavery and anxiety due to lack of productivity.

Point here is: an hour of my time driving is worth nothing. Null. Nada. None. An hour of me successfully reaching to destination X, delivering items Y, to human Z who deems this service of value is what’s valuable. Time itself is subjective and is worthless if the task was not accomplished. The value of that service is priced by the market; what human/customer Z would pay for it. That’s based on scarcity and cost of living essentially (also a story for another day?)

I think salaries have served a purpose, but I see a comeback for performance based income that has already unraveled in the form of “gig economy”. What’s funny is that in reality, gigs were the norm, and now they’re the exception. On a societal level, salaries introduced entitlement and complacency. With globalization, more and more products and services are being produced better and cheaper by those who lack entitlement and complacency, and those, as history proves time and time again, will always win.

Fitting One’s Narrative

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Missing jigsaw puzzle pieces in unfinished work concept. White pattern texture background.

If you’re doing anything in life, then you’re selling. Your work to a customer, your self to a partner, or your idea to an investor. In any case, I have come to believe that you can approach anyone in the world and sell them anything if you fit their narrative.

Everyone has a narrative; that is, the story of their life to this moment and everything that entails. If you want to convince this talented designer to join your new venture that has $0 in funding, your chances are much higher if they were an ambitious 20-something without much responsibility than if they had just given birth 2 months ago and have to pay off mortgage.

If you wanted to sell your art to a well-known collector, you’d fit their narrative much better if your art was addressing a problem they strongly identified with than one they didn’t feel as strongly about.

I have observed this by approaching certain people I look up to, wanting to sell them on something that didn’t fit their narrative well, and then at a later point selling them something else that fit their narrative perfectly.

Most of the time, it’s not about what you’re selling, but rather about how that piece fits the buyer’s half-done jigsaw puzzle, also known as their life.

This is of course assuming that you’re doing a good job explaining and selling whatever it is that you’re selling. But even that becomes less important since what you’re selling would resonate with me faster if it had fit my narrative.

Always think of what you’re selling from the buyer’s perspective. If it doesn’t work for them at this given moment, move on. There’s almost 8,000,000,000 people in the world.

Change who you’re selling to, or change what you’re selling.

On Mental Health & Suffering

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Out of all the problems I’ve been researching, mental health seems to be the single most complex problem to solve, and at the same time, in my opinion, the single most important one.

Mental Health describes the efficiency of the operating system that we run through. Just how your computer runs macOS, or Linux, your mental framework has to set values to what’s good and when you’re rewarded, what’s bad and when you’re punished, and most of all, it has to follow a meaningful goal.

Mental Health is the most complex problem because the factors that influence it are almost infinite. From the piece of land you were born in, to the religion you were raised on, and all the way to the job you ended up doing. Every single interaction in your everyday life, whether with yourself or with others does influence and affect that framework.

The most successful people I have met always have their mental framework running at maximum efficiency. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that they work harder or longer hours. It just means that they value some things more than others. Their value systems are more objective. They define what a ‘virtue’ is and practice what they preach to themselves before others.

My generation specifically -Millennials-, and the successor Gen Z, suffer greatly from unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression. I tried to look into why that is, and how to fix it. Because if the framework in which one does things is broken, then whatever results come out of it will not be expected to be of any good. And if no one fixes these mental framework severe issues, then literally nothing else matters.Read More

Riding The Right Wave

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Recently, I stepped down as CEO of my company that I started 3 years ago. It was tough, but had to be done. Business was doing well, but my heart was no longer in it. A lot has went right; we processed +$5M in revenue, signed up +200K app users, and hundreds of B2B customers, all in a niche market nobody thought existed. Plenty has gone south as well, and along the way, many lessons were learned. Here, I explain the main takeaway from my journey.

When you start a company, you’re committing to it indefinitely. Especially if you get customers, employees, and investors on board. So make sure that either the market you’re in is fertile and on the rise, or that you’re so in love with the market that you don’t mind spending the next few years of your life trying to hack it, even if it doesn’t pay off fast, or possibly at all.
Another lesson I also learned is that it is ok to fail. It’s not awesome to fail. It really sucks. But it’s ok. As a founder, you’re attempting something that has a high level of uncertainty, and hence you’re allowed to fail. As a matter of fact, you will probably fail, multiple times, and for different reasons. But that’s how you learn to surf; by falling. The best thing you can do is attempt to accelerate such failures.
We went through a lot of hardship along the way, and if anything, I fed off those challenges. While bootstarpping Malaeb I lived through some of the toughest financial crises in my short-lived life. Initially, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Then it became not because I wanted to, but because I had to. And at some point, that no longer made sense for the company’s progress or my health. So after living through a couple of months of depression and not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, I knew I wasn’t helping anyone and things had to be addressed.
In that period, there were 2 questions that were pinning me down:
  • These people gave me their money because they trusted me. What am I supposed to tell them now?
  • These people quit what they were doing to come work for the vision I sold them. How am I going to address them?

I went and spoke to our lead investors in what turned to be an honest, emotional +3 hours long talk. The result of that was that it’s best for me to step down and support the team as an adviser. I’m lucky to have a dependable co-founder, a strong team, and an active board that allowed me to step down while the rocket ship continues rising.

“It doesn’t matter how amazing your product is, or how fast you ship features. The market you’re in will determine most of your growth.” – Sahil Lavingia
This is part of Sahil’s blog post Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company, which I highly recommend.
I believe the team and I have put fantastic efforts in making the startup a success. And arguably, we did succeed, but at a much slower pace than I had expected.
In the grand scheme of things however, it didn’t matter how much effort we put in. It didn’t matter how sexy the product was, or even how much of a hassle we solved. It didn’t matter how much optimization we did and how much growth hacking we tried. It did help of course, but again, it didn’t exactly make us take off 🚀
All that didn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that 1) the industry we chose wasn’t on the rise at the time, and 2) the geographic market we chose wasn’t exactly ready for take off (online payments still an issue, regulation just taking place, etc…).
Another example could be Talabat, the food ordering app. When Talabat first launched in 2004, it was also a time where the market was not entirely hungry or prepared for the concept. But when Mohammed Jaffar acquired it in 2010, it was exactly the right wave. Smartphones started getting in fashion and Blackberries went out of fashion. With the rise of social media, namely Instagram, everyone started posting photos of their food. And last but not least, as a result, the F&B market flourished like never before, new restaurants started popping up everywhere, and people’s spend on takeaway food quadrupled in the region.
Talabat from 2010 till 2015 when it got acquired rode the right wave (and even more after the acquisition). Both industry wise, and geography wise. Right time, right place.
Had Talabat launched in Europe, it would’ve rode the wrong wave. Too late; wave’s already finished. Africa? Too early; wave’s too small.
Did Talabat do everything well? Heck no. Lots of mistakes were made. The user experience was mediocre. Customer support was arguably terrible. But it didn’t matter much; it worked. And all they had to do was keep riding the wave, which they managed to do very well.
Before branching into something, you should extensively think about the market. You must prepare well for your surf, making sure you’re about to ride the right wave. And while this might sound very intuitive, it’s incredibly easy to forget once you get immersed in an idea.
Note that every founder’s wave of choice is different. Some will prefer to do something they love even if it doesn’t grow as fast, and others will prefer to feed off the thrill of a fast growth startup, while being virtually industry-agnostic. There’s no right wave for everyone.
If you have a mix of those 2 factors however, then you’re in the founder sweet spot. If things work, they work well. If shit hits the fan, you have the passion to endure until things work.
If you’re looking to build a fast growth startup, then you need to make sure you’re riding the right wave. Sometimes, it pays off to ride a wave super early so that you have the “first mover” advantage when the uptick happens. But again, that requires tremendous patience, mostly gained from love for the industry or market.
The moral here is the following: you must research an opportunity well before you branch into it, at least to know an estimation of how long it would take you to see it through. You’ll probably still be wrong about a few things, but it’ll help you to have a somewhat realistic idea on where you’re going before you start.
If you prepare mentally for a marathon, you won’t do well at a sprint. If you prepare for a sprint, you won’t finish a marathon.

Immersion

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Immersion

Have you been so immersed in something that you lost sense of time? Dipped in an idea so deep that you see nothing else? Driven in a world full of potential that you don’t know which end to pursue first? Well, I’ve been there too, at multiple stops in my life. And I, my friend, am a sucker for immersion.

Once upon a time, I used to wake up and rise straight out of bed with excitement. Every single day. I was eager to get back to what I was doing the night before. I was even dreaming of it in my sleep, waking up several times to the ecstasy of achieving these goals. I would then spend most of my waking hours facing the screen religiously (literally unless I had to eat, use the bathroom, or sleep). Finally, I’d get to bed when I could no longer keep my eyes open, and repeat.

I wasn’t possessed, nor was I crazy (although my family would beg to differ).

I was immersed.
And maybe a little bit cuckoo.

At the time, I wasn’t exactly doing anything important. I was just your next door awkward gamer kid immersed in my own world playing my MMORPG (massively multi-played online role playing game).

My life in the game wasn’t any perfect. In fact, it was its imperfections and problems that made me immersed by continuously striving to fix them. I had in-game money problems, so I was looking for ways to make money. Slaying green dragons made me 200K gold pieces per hour. Cutting Yew logs made me 180K gp/hr, but required less effort. Slaying blue dragons makes a bit more, but I didn’t have a high enough slaying level to slaughter them, so that was another problem for me to solve. I had skill problems. So I was looking for ways on how to gain experience points and levels. And so on…

I was so immersed that any moment I wasn’t playing was a complete waste of my time. Possessed with so many thoughts, I would rush out of bed because I knew time spent sleeping could be time spent gaining XP and GP. I gained gratification by solving these problems. I felt accomplished. And I wanted more.

I reflect back on these times and recall a similar time of my life later. When I was starting my first startup. I wanted to wake up so fast in the morning to get the work done. I had money problems, so I was looking for ways to make money. Doing direct sales made me $X/hr. Paid ads on social media made me $Y/hr, but were easier. Partnerships made me a bit more, but I didn’t have enough experience to hire & manage a team to forge these partnerships, so that was another problem for me to solve. I had skill problems. So I was looking for ways on how to gain experience and know-how. Reading a book on hiring, asking a mentor for advice, and so on…

I also had lots of sleepless nights. Also barely left the sight of work unless I had to eat, use the bathroom, or sleep. And most importantly, I also rose out of bed with energy that I still wonder how I managed to gather to this day. I was a machine. I woke up at 5 and went to bed at midnight. Then repeated every day.

You have to realize that I didn’t do this because I had to. I did it because I wanted to. I was too blind to even think of why I was doing it. I was just high on passion. Doing it was a no-brainer. Not questionable. I was inspired. I was driven.

I saw this again when I started working on my second startup. I was so carried away that I lost sense of time. Pushed social settings away. Postponed travel & leisure. And here’s the thing: I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

As an ambitious person, you crave these feelings and miss those times. You feed off accomplishing virtuous goals. You become so productive that no one can stop you. You become a machine. And I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing. Yes, balance is nice, but so is the feeling of accomplishment. Yes, taking care of your health is important, but living longer while not fulfilled never made anyone happy.

Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man’s power to live long. —Seneca

So what I’m saying is: here’s to the crazy ones who live for the thrill of getting out of bed every morning to face life’s challenges head-on. Here’s to never losing that spark. Here’s to doing less of what doesn’t excite you, and doing more of what does excite you.

We all have responsibilities that aren’t necessarily fun. We all do shit that we would really rather not do. And I’m not suggesting to stop doing so. I’m not promoting a life of leisure. But that suffering is in the micro, and that suffering is part of the journey. Take a step back and look at the macro, and if it looks like in the grand scheme of things, you’re getting where you want to go, then keep hustling. If not, then it’s time to pick another form of suffering.

Do what sets your soul on fire.