Riding The Right Wave

ahmedTime Out2 Comments

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

ahmedUncategorizedLeave a Comment

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.

On Productivity

ahmedUncategorizedLeave a Comment

The environment you’re in strongly dictates how productive you are.

You must control for:

  • Morning routine
    • what do you do when you wake up? building habits of doing things as simple as taking a shower and making breakfast could change your whole day due to its kick-start
    • do you have a thing you’re waking up for? you need to know what you’re doing in the morning before you wake up! (tip: commit to a meeting/workout with someone)
    • do you know what you’re wearing? this is less important for some, but in any case you should at least have clean and ready laundry. Running around preparing could -again- influence your whole day based on its kick-start
  • Work place
    • where do you work? your work spot has to be defined and comfortable. It must have everything you need (e.g. water, coffee, papers, outlet, etc…)
    • do you have your work station ready? if not, you should at least have your bag ready to go or to be ready in seconds
  • Work itself
    • what the heck are you working on? you should have a list of goals for the day, week, or month that you address. Or a to-do list as a breakdown of those goals if that works better for you
    • a very interesting habit to instill is to write the day’s goals as part of your morning routine, or by a certain hour
    • check the Rawi model for getting shit done that uses weekly checklists
  • Recreational activities
    • are you doing things other than work? Doing such activities (esp. sports) would motivate you to work more because you’d value time more, let alone feel refreshed and energized
    • do you have those planned in advance? even if a day before. You don’t have to fill your schedule, but put it in there
  • Meeting people
    • very strong tool to reflect through people & either feed off their energy, or use what you find negative to motivate yourself to work on bettering yourself
    • not to mention the benefit of seeing and catching up with your loved ones. It’s rejuvenating
    • tip: stay tf away from those who suck your energy and leave you drained
  • Evening routine
    • what you do before hitting the bed? it could strongly influence your kick-start for the next day. Did you do your errands? prepared your schedule and goals for the next day? Don’t sleep until that’s done
    • are you getting enough sleep? nobody in this day and age can dictate exactly when they go to bed and wake up with ruthless discipline unless they’re fine killing their social life (and occasionally some of their business prospects as well) BUT you should do your best to get in bed early enough to get 6-8 hours of sleep depending on what works best for you

I find my most productive days to be those which include every ingredient of this recipe. I wrote it here as a reference, mainly for myself, as well as others to revisit whenever one feels a lack of productivity. Not all of your days shall be productive, but if you can make most of them so, why the heck not?

Farewell.

Thought: Living Life with a Sense of Urgency

ahmedUncategorizedLeave a Comment

A year ago, I stumbled upon a thought provoking question that has had quite an impact on how I think:

What are your 10 year goals? How can you achieve them in 6 months?

The point here is not necessarily to end up achieving your 10 year goals in 6 months, but the exercise of thinking of an answer itself will be eye-opening.

Some of your long term goals can actually be achieved in a much shorter period of time. And if you realize you can do that, then why the hell not? Living one’s life with a sense of urgency to achieve will require more effort, but it certainly is more rewarding.

Granted, some things come with time (coupled with work), but perhaps the majority of our goals are just pending our disciplined action.

60 Years of Diaries: an Update

ahmedUncategorized11 Comments

diaries, grandmother

A couple of weeks ago, my sister visited my grandmothers’ house for the first time in about 20 years. She ended up finding a drawer full of her diaries from 1956 until present day, organized year by year. She sent me pictures and I was amazed. I tweeted about them, and the tweet sort of went viral.


Apparently, a bunch of people also found it to be pretty amazing. I was encouraged to explore the diaries further, archive them, translate them, etc…

A few journalists wrote pieces on the topic, reporters from CNN & Skynews got in touch for stories/documentaries, and the internet did its fair share of spreading the word on hundreds of pages for millions of people. It was overwhelming. People were very kind with their words and their feelings of awe.Read More

Principles

ahmedUncategorizedLeave a Comment

[this is work in progress]

I stumble upon numerous pieces of wisdom or philosophy every now and then that I end up applying on my everyday life. With time, however, I tend to forget some of them and feel like I’m re-learning some lessons when I find them again. Hence, inspired by my friend Fahad, I decided to jot down all the rules, principals, and pieces of wisdom that I wish to follow here so I can revisit them every few weeks. I’ll jot them down scattered down here, and perhaps organize them with time. This is mainly for my own reference, but I figured it might be helpful for others as well.


On Knowledge

  • No matter how much you know, you know little.
  • Knowledge is a great thing, only if put in a phenomenal application. You’ll need to learn a lot however before you’re able to apply some of that knowledge.
  • You are incredibly lucky to be alive in this day & age. Access to information has NEVER been easier. Utilize it. Learn in every means you can and from every channel possible. Learn about what you’re interested in and what matters to you. Learn about what we learned from the past and what’s important for the future.
  • We tend to place things into boxes, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. We’re animals of pattern. Patterns and boxes help us understand things better by making them more predictable, and that’s how we can build on them. Every while though, these boxes become outdated, and you must be open enough to take things out of that box, figure them out, and put them in a new updated one.
  • Documentation of knowledge and wisdom has been extremely beneficial for the human race.

On Wisdom

Read More

Maybe

ahmedUncategorized1 Comment

Maybe the secret to living a happy life is in not taking things too seriously. Maybe it’s also the secret to succeeding at whatever goal you desire, as it makes you less uptight and more likable. Maybe it’s ok to accept mediocrity every now and then, because life is like that. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, and has mediocrity all over it. Maybe it’s ok to admit that life is shit sometimes and not live with so many made up rules that make you uptight and pretentious. Maybe start truly accepting that shit happens and that people’s well-being is more important than any other arguably meaningless goal. Technically, all human goals should contribute to elevating the state of humans, and if whatever goal you pursue is built on the acceptance of hurting someone’s well-being then that defies the whole purpose. Maybe being “type A” gets you somewhere fast, but also kills you -and your relationships with people- fast. Maybe.. Just maybe.

Funny enough I think this was triggered by this Cafe I’m sitting at in Amsterdam that had so many imperfections which somehow made it so fucking beautiful.

Old man on a ladder fixing a light in the middle of the Cafe at noon because it needed to be fixed for him to go home and see his family later. Waitress takes a long time to respond to you because she’s busy serving others. Chef leaves the kitchen every now and then to take a walk because he’s bored. Waiter grabs a fry and munches on it as he delivers the tray to the right table because he’s hungry. Why the fuck not.

Maybe.. Just maybe.

The Rawi Model for Getting Shit Done

ahmedUncategorized1 Comment

Over the past few years, I have tested many task management tools, read about plenty of methodologies, and experimented with different approaches and routines in the pursuit of productivity. Let’s just say that I didn’t stick to any one of them for a good reason: they didn’t work well. The main reasons for their failure, I believe, are the following:

  • Triggers: I tend to forget about my task management tool (where I wrote down what I need to do basically). My tasks need to be top of mind so I would actually do them.
  • Distractions: We get interrupted a dozen times a minute in this day and age, especially in a fast paced work environment. That does you no favor to focus on the task at hand to finish it with quality in a timely manner.
  • Prioritization: Which tasks are more important?
  • Rewards: There’s usually little motivation/incentive for me to get all the things on my list done

The reason why I’m calling this the Rawi model is because, well, it’s my last name. Deal with it.

So, here’s how it goes in a nutshell. I’ll explain the steps in the process, then I’ll dive deeper into each step.

  1. Write down the tasks
  2. Estimate the time that each task will take
  3. Assign the priority for each task
  4. Record the time you actually spend on each
  5. Update your list

Sounds simple enough, huh? Here’s what makes this different than everything you’ve been doing.

Step 1: Write

Read More

Life is a Piano Piece

ahmedUncategorized1 Comment

The beauty in any piano piece mainly lies in 3 variables. It lies in having each note that plays to be slightly different from the one before it; not too similar, not too different (variance). It lies in having the piece shift between the fast and the slow pace to form the perceived harmony right in the middle (speed). It lies in having the pitch of these notes interchange between the happy and the sad (balance).

Without variance between people, life would be dull. We need people who are different from us just as much as we need people who are similar to us, and the best people for us are those in the middle; not too similar, not too different.

Without speed changes in life pace, life would be boring. We will have fast-paced days where we can barely catch up, and we will have days where we’re taking a step back, slowing down, reflecting and relaxing; both are necessary for each other.

Without balance between good and bad, life would be meaningless. We must have bad days to have good ones. If there was nothing wrong, then there’d be nothing right; both have to coexist.

How Do You Inspire Yourself?

ahmedUncategorizedLeave a Comment

I got into a conversation with an intellectual person from my circle recently, and after discussing my answer to “What Inspires You?” she asked me the following question.

One more question if I may

How do you inspire yourself? It’s like we wait for inspiration to come through books or people or something like a muse but how do you find it now? How do you know what book to read or who to talk to? Knowing that you are stuck and you need to be inspired like you’ve been before that will lead the way, how do you inspire yourself?

First of all, I love the question, and I salute her for her curious mind that took her to the extent of thinking about it and asking it. Most knowledge -I believe- comes from great questions.

I have never thought about how to trigger or regenerate inspiration. It has always been a thing that happens if I’m lucky. But I do believe that everything can be analyzed to an extent, and you can manage to form an idea on how it works. My answer for now though will certainly be raw and incomplete. Here, I discuss 2 factors that I believe help me personally get inspired.Read More