(Not by Chance, But by Choice)

19 years, Nine teen, 9 teens, whatever. Nineteen years is a long long long time and imagine meeting some folks when I was 23 and still having them & their families around, in my life. God is kind? Or they are kind? Or am I kind? Or people around are kind?

This is the story about me, my partners, Ashish D’Abreo, Ravi D’Abreo, Sreeram G, their families, people who have stuck with us, not stuck with us and the dream called Origami. This is the story of my entrepreneurship life and trust me it is beyond business and just transactions. The below is my attempt to capture the story of my life in 19 bullet points.

Flashback: Aug 15th, Year 2000.
This is when a bunch of college friends who loved partying and enjoyed solving things together decided to quit their jobs and start a business. Business? With less than one year experience? Instead of a fat salary cheque? Most of the people around including our parents thought we were mad and some still hold the same thought. We are ok and we agree that we are a little mad.

Enter: 2019. Aug 15th.
19 years has gone by and oh boy, what a journey this has been. The least I could say is that it has given me Naam, Shaan, Shyam as well as Jaan. Many people have come and gone as employees, consultants, suppliers, partners, but the story of the bird continues. And we are not done yet. I feel this is just the beginning of a new journey.

So, here goes the 19 bullet points;

  1. Have Guts – The only thing which stops you is you. So, don’t be afraid, be good to yourself and make that big decision, for yourself. Don’t fear about the unknown. Be fearless. The decision to be an entrepreneur has been one of the best decisions of my life.
  2. Take Risks – As an entrepreneur you have to take risks and yes, we have taken many a risk. Certainty and Uncertainty are 2 sides of the same coin and you don’t have a choice of any one or avoid any, in an entrepreneurial journey. But the idea is to be self-aware of your collective risk appetite and take those calculated risks. If you don’t have risk appetite, then don’t be an entrepreneur.
  3. Fail Fast – Oh, many people have told this. In 19 years, we have had our failures. A lot of them actually. Are we learning? Yes and No. It is very easy to say learn from your failures, fail fast and all that, but sometimes, as entrepreneurs we consciously decide to repeat the same mistakes with slight tweaks, in the hope that it will become a success, this time around. We do that because we are entrepreneurs, we love taking risks, for entrepreneurship sake. Otherwise, why are you an entrepreneur?
  4. Be Good – Life is all about being good and being truthful. Whether it is your clients or with your colleagues or your suppliers or with partners. Be good, do good and you will automatically see all the goodness come back to you in abundance. If you are not good, you cannot survive. If you are not good, you can’t build true relationships and if you can’t build relationships, what are you living for? I owe a lot of this trait to the genes of 2 of my hero’s, my dad, K Aboobacker and my grandad, BV Abdulla Koya, who used to be the longest serving parliamentarian of his time and also my good friend and partner Tej. Along with being good & truthful, comes the aspect of being diligent, disciplined, dedicated and determined.
  5. Dream Big – When we were kids, we used to have a lot of dreams. I wanted to become Pele and my son now wants to become Cristiano Ronaldo. But as we grow up, we find it tough to speak about our dreams. Like really tough. People as well as their pre-conceptions have made us like that. We are all living in an assumption led world. So, it is important to have a dream and another dream and another bigger one because dreams bring people together and without a dream, it is not worth doing anything.
  6. Start Small – We keep hearing that most successful companies start in a garage. I didn’t know about the same when we started in a garage. But the idea here is to start, be fearless and start. Size doesn’t really matter. Just start small. And nowadays, you don’t need a garage too. You have enough and more of great co-working spaces to help your case.
  7. Hard Work Pays – Business and entrepreneurship is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. And there are absolutely no short cuts to success. Only pure hard work. There were times when I thought it was only inspiration, but there is nothing to beat perspiration. And if you lack inspiration or haven’t found that 1% inspiration; you don’t need to go running around everywhere. Just Speak to the people around or the unhappy customers of existing brands in the market. There is a lot of inspiration there.
  8. It is a Marathon – I am still running and I am aware that i still have to. Entrepreneurship was a choice and who made that choice? You. Entrepreneurship is a marathon, longer than the Olympics kind and it is not a hundred meter race. So, stock up your slow burning carbo hydrates and most importantly, learn to manage your cash well. We have done a decent job till now, but some experiences over the last 2 years has taught me more about how to manage these carbo hydrates.
  9. Give & Seek Help – You are not god. You are human. You are not a master of everything and the same applies to others too. You will have limitations. So, show the courage to help others and ask for help too. Everybody is struggling with one aspect or other of their life and you can be of help to many. Trust me, there are so many people around you who will help you overcome your limitations, like a blink of an eye. Try and surround yourself with great people. Have a coffee with them. You can be a consultant, confidant, employee, partner to them and they too can come into your life in any of these avatars. I have learned a lot about seeking help during my tenure as the Chairperson of CII – Young Indians Bengaluru especially from leaders like Sandeep Maini & Kamal Bali who taught me the concept of Servant Leadership. And now, my next challenge is to do the same as President of The Ad Club Bangalore.
  10. Salaried V/s Entrepreneurship – Don’t treat your business as your monthly pay check. The minute you do that, your drive will come down and yes, my drive also had gone down in between and now I am in the process of solving the same, for myself as well as for the people around.
  11. Learn. Share. Re-learn. Repeat – A principle which I knew but I never practiced it, to the full. Till my good friend Francisco Santolo & Scalabl came & inspired me again. In business, the first mover advantage is applicable only when no one is allowed to follow. So, learning is a fundamental aspect of being an entrepreneur. You need to keep learning, sharing it with your people and raise the bar every time. Otherwise, first movers become causalities very fast. You have great tools like Design Thinking and Blue Ocean Strategy at your disposal. With Internet and a smart phone by your side, learning is so easy nowadays. Read up about the above topics, take an online course and I am sure it will help you stay ahead.
  12. Create True Value – Creating value for customers is everything. If you offer a better product at a lower price in a user friendly manner, consumers will find you. You can create value by focusing on a niche, charging them a premium and provide them with a great experience too. This is what we do with Flying Squirrel – India’s Only Truly Artisan Coffee. I really admire the way PC Musthafa & ID Foods create value for their customers too and it is destined to become a great brand. So figure your niche and figure how to create value for your stakeholders. Forget finding a customer, finding anyone and anything is a lot easier nowadays with Google, Facebook and Instagram helping your cause. Use these new age channels smartly so consumers can find you easily.
  13. Focus on Purpose – In my earlier days as an entrepreneur, it was about vision & mission. Then slowly, these vision statements became a small board hung on a board near the reception area. And then came Simon Sinek (www.simonsinek.com) with his talk about purpose in the recent past. Yes, Purpose. The reason for your existence. Why do you do what you do? Why do you exist? Why do you exist as a business brand? The new age consumers, especially the millennial’s, are looking for businesses with a strong purpose. Whether it is to buy from you or to join the firm even. If you have not figured what your purpose is; find the same out soon. Purpose is defining the new age business brands and it also helps you to stay rooted, focused and not deviate. Purpose literally helps in bringing focus to every little function of your business. We have been helping people as well as their brands find their purpose for more than a decade through our consulting firm, Bloombox Brand Engineers.
  14. So called Balance – Does balance exist? What is the meaning of balance? It makes me wonder whether what is balance because what balance is to me is not necessarily what balance is to the other. But yes, balance exists and you need to learn the art of balance. Balance between you and your business partners. Balance between you and your life partner. Your kids. Balance between your ego and others ego. And you also need to be self-aware that this balance is not really 50/50 always. This balance is the balance which you think is the right balance for you. So, then does balance exist? Some aspect of balance is getting covered in my book which i am co-authoring with Frank Moffatt. Did i tell you about it? No? Ok, let me spill the beans. Here’s the work in progress website (http://yourtimeisnow.in/). Let me know what you think.
  15. Progress – This is one of my most loved words. Life as well as entrepreneurship is all about progress. The goal and the goal post keeps changing according to the changing market conditions, consumer needs as well as the employee demands. It has to be this way, otherwise you are not owning your dream and proactively thinking for your business. But the main point here is to have a dream, a big one and have clear measurable goals. Dreams without goals will not allow you to progress.
  16. Laugh out Loud (LOL) – Entrepreneurship is a pressure cooker journey. But you need to learn to laugh out loud. Don’t take life too serious and learn to laugh out some of these critical challenges what you face. I have been fortunate to have some great people around me and in my business who live by the same philosophy and we do laugh out a lot of these problems, in the right spirit. But, yes, laughing out doesn’t mean that you don’t care. It is just encouraging yourself to be light hearted, sport a smile and then solve the challenge in style.
  17. Collaborate – This is going to be key word of the future. Collaborate with like-minded people. Collaborate with competition. The fundamental aspect of collaboration is that, it is a win win deal. There is a limit to what you can do on your own and with collaboration, you can achieve many a dream much faster. So, if you have a dream, write to me, I might be able to help. Or for all you know, you can possibly become part of my dream too. One such recent collaboration of mine is with the great Frank Moffatt. Frank & me, accidentally met in a flight and after having known each other for a while now, we have put a book ‘Your Time is Now’ together. The book will be out soon and has a lot of aspects with regard to financial principles, overcoming limiting beliefs and living a purposeful life. Please do follow us and support us on our fb page.
  18. Love, Love, Love – Love your work. Love your family. Love your people. Love your friends. Love, love, love and keep loving, unconditionally. Love Passionately. Please don’t stop loving. Love being a kid. Love being curious. Love what you do. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. If you don’t love it, find what you love. Love defines everything. Love is all you need.
  19. Lastly, never kill an idea – A great idea can emerge out of anyone, anywhere and anytime. The junior most person in your office might share his/her ideas, but don’t discourage him/her. Try to do a ‘Yes and’ on every stupid idea and you will slowly start seeing magic emerge and you will see what a great team you have built.

So, that’s the 19 big learnings from my entrepreneurial life and i sincerely hope there is something which you can learn from it. Feel free to connect, if you want to chat on any of your dream or have a nonsensical meet-up over coffee. Just Google ‘Laeeq Ali’ to find me. I have done my SEO well. 🙂 And as Frank says Keep Smiling! Thanks.

Image headline credits >> Francisco Santolo

Quoting some people who have been a great source of inspiration for me, whether they knowing: Tej Thammaiah, Sandeep Maini, Kamal Bali, Debarati Sen, Rahul Chawda, Dr. Kaushik Murali, Jacob Joy, Ahmed Rayees, Ameer Ahamed