5 critical lessons I learned as a young Pakistani entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur is one of the riskiest of undertakings. Thankfully, owing to the inherent nature of the risk-return spectrum, such high risks often come with a potential for insanely huge rewards. For recent graduates, becoming an entrepreneur means a chance to experience spectacular personal and financial growth at the potential cost of losing several years of dependable, stable job growth.

However, I believe these two paths don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If you have the willpower or are at least open to strengthening it, you can actually combine them!

Yes, I work at two companies. In the morning, I work for someone else while on evenings, nights and weekends, I work on PriceOye.pk – my price comparison startup where we help online consumers find the best prices in Pakistan. It makes for a manic daily routine, but it enables one to enjoy the advantages of both the traditional “9-to-5 life”, and the “startup life.”

In fact, I’ve been working this way my whole life, combining a conventional, socially-accepted role with a passion project in my free time.

A decade ago, I would tout myself as a high school student by day, and an IT services consultant by night. Later, this turned into being an undergrad student by day, and a professional blogger by night.

I hope one day it will become Bruce Wayne by day, and Batman by night but that appears to be ways off.

Anyway, thanks to this relatively unique lifestyle choice, I’ve learned many critical lessons as a young entrepreneur which I’ll share today in the hopes it will help you become a better person and professional. I’ve divided these lessons into “Dos” and “Don’ts” to make them easier to read. Let’s get started!

The Dos for an Entrepreneur

Be patient: Startups are the “in” thing in Pakistan these days which is why you’ll hear a lot of people starting up and closing down within the space of a few months. In my own observation, most youth-led startups don’t even make it beyond the end of their incubator’s four-month cycle.

The reality is you need a significant time commitment to see your startup through to business success, or failure. You have to keep building your core product, keep learning from your customers and keep finding ways to grow your company.

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs I know have spent up to a decade patiently growing their company. Their patience and persistence have paid off. Society now recognizes them as an “overnight success.”

Take calculated risks: Entrepreneurs have to live outside their comfort zone to grow their companies consistently. In this particular area, they take risks in the hopes of 10x growth.

Owing to their very nature, the majority of risks will simply not pan out. One learns profoundly important lessons having taken them. The risks that do work out will be what you remember down the road as the ones that took your startup to the next level.

Do launch when you’re not ready: Too often, I see entrepreneurs become dangerous perfectionists. They spend years building their product – waiting for just the “right time” to launch it publicly.

The truth is there is often no perfect time to launch a product. It is far better to start an imperfect product early, learn from customer feedback, and iterate faster towards product-market fit rather than launching what you feel is a perfect product into a market that has already moved on.

The “Do Nots” for an Entrepreneur

Don’t avoid people or their feedback: There is a tendency for entrepreneurs – especially young ones – to operate in lonely silos. They work quietly out of their home or office, silently building a product based on a narrow vision owing to their inexperience. It’s a poor habit to have because one misses out on incredible opportunities this way.

I know this because I was exactly as described above back in college. Now – while I remain introverted – I make an effort to get out of my comfort zone, and regularly meet a wide variety of people, mainly target customers for PriceOye.pk. They are my greatest source of learning.

Meeting people – particularly new ones – is a powerful experience. I would go as much to say it is roughly equal to traveling to a new country in terms of how the experience transforms you. It’s a great way to expose yourself to new ideas, points of view, and to learn lessons from other people’s life experiences. It makes you a wiser and more knowledgeable founder which directly, and positively affects your startup.

… But also don’t care what certain people say: Ours is a society averse to entrepreneurship. You’ll hear the same thing from aunties, uncles, phuphos and mamoos alike. They’ll keep pushing you to ditch your “software ka business” and join some multinational company they see on TV between commercial breaks.

You should pay no heed to these folks.

Firstly because they simply don’t understand entrepreneurship and its exciting potential; after all, they were born in an entirely different era. Secondly, because such people often end up being the same folks who show-off their relation to you when, several years from now, you succeed at a much grander scale than anyone working a 9-to-5.

This doesn’t mean you lose the support of close family and friends, however. You should actively work to nurture their support for you, as it can make or break your startup.

Fellow entrepreneurs, you have taken the path less traveled. Startups are tough, but you are tougher – or you will be when everything’s said and done. I believe there really is no downside to this lifestyle. If you succeed, you’ll have built a multi-million dollar business. If you fail, you’ll have gained skills that will take you far in life anyway!

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