Published in the Startup Insider Magazine

Startup Pudding ( March 2019 Edition)

Startup Pudding

Startup Pudding

By Engr. Muhammad Ahsen Mirza

The nation has to revisit the research, innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurship strategy in order to co-create a sustainable and scalable environment for startups, business incubators, researchers and industrialists.  A much-needed right path should be paved for product/service development and commercialization.

A recent study shows that more than 90% of the startups fail, so there must be one big common failure factor among all of them.  Providing abundant amount of funds and a lavish work environment just on the basis of an idea spoils both the dream and the dreamer.  The direct and indirect beneficiaries enjoy the ride until the funds are depleted.  The former then seek a new venture or a job for survival and later are reloaded by funding agencies for the next round.  Thus, a huge amount of tax payers’ money flows down the drain in the name of fancy terminologies.  Startups from such an environment put a dent of millions of Rupees on national economy.  The nation has not seen any remarkable results regardless of spending hundreds of millions of rupees so far and hopes alone prevail.  A few exceptions deserve appreciation!

A major strategic revamp is inevitable for sustainability, growth and development of the nation.  Entrepreneurs need to realize their own potential.  Looking at the others for help may cause one overlook all the blessings and resources that Allah (SWT) has granted to oneself.  According to the Effectuation theory the journey of entrepreneurship must start with the “Bird in hand”.     Once all the birds in hand are explored then it would be fine to look for external resources as well.  Relying only on external resources tends to cripple and sabotage the startup ventures.  The nation needs to aim at tangible goals rather than the imaginary and cheap ones.   Academicians and researchers must utilize their potentials and resources to launch a startup every other year.

Allah (SWT) has blessed this nation with agriculture land, four seasons, cattle and water; these are nation’s bird in hand!  Our research and development must largely be focused on agriculture, textile and dairy products may it be through IT, engineering or management.  If small countries like Holland and Denmark can boost their economies by selling dairy product to the world why can’t we?   A “Can do” attitude with available resources can pave the way for potential entrepreneurs and all the stakeholders.

A major brain drain for last many decades has left the nation in limbo.  Our researchers and academicians are busy in publishing their extensive and expensive work in exchange of impact factors.  Whereas, the smart ones commercialize these research works in line with industry and sell to the world in exchange of huge tangible benefits.  A person gets what he or she strives for!  Let’s quit the number game!

The future through the eyes of 3D printing - (July 2019 Edition)

The future through the eyes of 3D printing

The future through the eyes of 3D printing

By Engr. Usama Bin Mansoor

The history of mankind has been filled with advancements and developments. However, the real difference has been made over the last 250 or so years, starting from the first industrial revolution which started in the late 1700s and the second industrial revolution in the late 1800s. Better still the 1960s which was the era of the third industrial revolution and focused on digitization, further gave birth to a new phenomenon since the turn of the millennium, in what we officially call the Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution, where human beings are deeply focused on developing and integrating intelligent systems with advanced information technologies.

Additive manufacturing, is considered as a key component in this new movement. The modern era has increased the level of global competitiveness and a great emphasis is being placed on utilizing modern manufacturing skills with automation and artificial intelligence. The impact of additive manufacturing and in particular 3D printing is similar to that of World Wide Web (www.); it is supposed to change the way we manufacture things, alter processes and ease the burden placed on the current manufacturing methods.

Various successful methods have been developed for 3D printing, including selective laser sintering, metal sintering, fused deposition modelling and stereo lithography, which use various materials such as metal powder, nylon, ABS plastics, liquid resins etc. and are being used in industry and by technology enthusiasts as desktop sized systems. A standard 3D printing process prints three dimensional solid objects by extracting data (a component or a shape) from a digital file, that is created using CAD software. The printing process uses various resolutions to print the solid structure in a layer by layer manner until the object is complete. The main advantage is that, a complex structure can be made and less material is used as compared to subtractive manufacturing where material is wasted, thus providing a cost effective and sustainable solution.

The rest of the world has actively adopted 3D printing processes, not just at macro level, but on a micro level too. There has been phenomenal response with the development of techniques that are revolutionizing industries such as the construction industry where building structures are being ‘printed’, as best shown by ICON, a 3D printing company in the US who with the help of their very own Vulcan II printer, developed the first 3D printed home, a 350 square foot structure in 48 hours and the cost was around US $10 000. Further, the impact of additive manufacturing has reached the medical industry with research and development of 3D printed organs and structures, to help medical experts save time and determine the root cause, in particular hearts, where University College London have played a major role in finding ways to help people with congenital heart diseases. In addition, researchers from EHT Zurich successfully developed and tested the first prototype of a 3D printed heart using flexible material that will allow the material to integrate with human tissue.

Moreover, 3D printing has evolved the lifecycle of ‘tech’ startups and MSME’s, while also enhancing the learning capabilities of academic institutes by allowing them to create their own small components to integrate with full system prototypes, research and development, teaching and learning purposes. Innovative Small-Instruments Ltd.; a successful SME in UK has incorporated 3D printing to develop their very own 3D printed miniature spectrometers and integrating spheres with the same functions and results as the conventional systems but at a fraction of the cost.

By comparing the development and acceptance of new technologies globally, one starts to wonder why Pakistan, a country of ‘opportunity’ has failed to adapt and keep up with the advancements especially with all the problems we are facing as a nation. Some of the major issues include poor quality of living for an increasing population, health issues, unemployment, declining industry activity and lack of quality research in academia which relies heavily on theoretical work and not practical skills and knowledge development. It is easy to play the blame game and make excuses, but the reality is that each and every one of us must be held accountable for the lack of productivity and accept that we have gone a long way off track and forgotten our real purpose.

However, all is not lost as we have been given a new opportunity to inculcate a system and get back on track with the rise in additive manufacturing technology and it is time to seriously implement it and take steps forward towards a successful new era of growth and productivity, so we can join hands with the global community and be part of a positive change.

Building Strong Foundations - (August 2019 Edition)

Building Strong Foundations

Building strong foundations

By Engr. Usama Bin Mansoor

When we talk about an ecosystem, it is about executing ‘The right thought by the right people, in the right environment, at the right time and for the right reason’ which ultimately leads to the right result.  It is about instilling an enabling environment with a level playing field and a positive discipline that helps each and every individual realize their potential and their capacities to achieve objectives accordingly. That means providing each individual with the right knowledge, relevant skills and confidence to evaluate options and produce the best possible results.

Since Pakistan has become independent, the nation has seemingly failed to reach its potential which the great Quaid-e-Azam had dreamed of. One of the main reasons for that has been the constant interference in institutional development that has halted the progress of the eco-system and a think tank with a lack of productive thinking. Therefore, selection on merit has been overseen and people have been selected based on who they know and this has led to incompetent personnel holding positions they are not technically qualified for. Consequently, the more competent people are forced seek opportunities elsewhere, where their skills and talents are better utilized and moving to the West is the best example of this, which as lead to a major brain drain.

Overtime some people have begun to realize the impact of these strategies and certain steps have been made to overcome this. With the many problems currently faced, especially with an increasing influx in population and lack of utilization of resources and productivity, Entrepreneurship is considered as a major step in the right direction and work has begun to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem. However, the present day scenario is still full of complications and a system that is moving around in circles. Unfortunately majority of the think tank that is trying to ‘Solve the problems’ is doing so with the same mindset that was used to create these problems in the first place. Entrepreneurship to a certain extent is about initiating and running businesses, but what really makes it stand out is the positive impact it creates through non- conventional and innovative developments, value addition and creativity.

Therefore the first significant step that needs to be taken is to change the mindset and to undo habits that have made the nation’s output unproductive. For example, the current schooling system is more focused on minting money, while the parents are stuck in a societal bubble where they feel the more expensive the school is, the better education it provides. The reality check is that, allowing a lot of schools to be developed in areas made for houses is not beneficial. Firstly, it means that schools are operating predominantly as businesses rather than focusing on their purpose of providing quality basic education. Due to this, teachers with lack of skills are being hired. Students are given copious amount of homework which ‘burdens’ them theoretically and limits their learning but doesn’t develop their practical skills. Additionally, due to lack of space, opportunities for various extracurricular and sporting activities also become scarce which further hinders the parameters of their growth. This system ends up producing students who are bound within a narrow thought process and afraid to take calculated risks, where learning is deemed a burden and therefore they end up never developing the ‘out of the box’ and creative mindset. Similarly, higher education institutions implement learning methods that are theory based and therefore end up producing graduates with a job seeker mindset but not having the skills that are required in the evolving practical world. Since marks are given more importance than learning, students are focused on ‘cramming’ information that in reality they don’t understand. There is a bigger divide between the requirement of the industry and the quality of graduates being produced nationally and as a result, the effectiveness of the industry is unproductive with lack of value addition and behind the global competencies.

Nations are developed on cohesive solution orientated approaches, which are enhanced through capacity building and teamwork. Right now, there are many stakeholders involved in trying to implement the paradigm shift towards an entrepreneurial ecosystem, which to the naked eye is a success but in reality has not produced the expected results. There has been an element of triumph in changing mindsets towards entrepreneurship, but the output of these budding entrepreneurs reaching the market with viable products and services does not meet the expectations.

The key question which must be asked is WHY has the nation not seen the results, despite a number of people putting their hands up to help rectify the problems? The answer lies in the fact that cut-throat competition still exists, and despite figuring out the importance of Entrepreneurship each stakeholder is consumed by their own thoughts of having the ‘perfect solution’ which ends up becoming a personal agenda and as a result the process of reaching cohesive solutions in never attained. At present, the current methods can be related to that of a building where we are emphasizing on constructing a costly and lavish multi-storied skyscraper, but have forgotten to strengthen the foundations.

Creativity - Seeking the unknown - (Oct- Nov 2019 Edition)

Creativity- Seeking the unknown

By Engr. Usama Bin Mansoor

Success; to most is a phenomena that is achieved by doing something extraordinary and one which will make us all famous. Success is basically achieving an objective, which for some is making money, getting promotion or getting an award, while for some it is just simply about avoiding hunger and thirst for one more day. What people fail to see is that success does not come overnight, it is the combination of multiple elements; the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, the long hours and constant efforts, the criticisms, overcoming the risks that appear every day etc. that lead to a certain person becoming ‘Successful’.

The question one must ask is, how do people become successful, especially if it is one of the hardest things to achieve? The answer to this lies in the quote of the famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, who stated that “To know yourself, is the beginning of all wisdom”. It is easy said than done, but it is a simple process of sitting down in a quiet place for a little while and then starting to self-evaluate, to really think who we are, to fine our purpose, the skills and knowledge we have gained overtime, where is that supposed to lead us, the people we have met and what they have taught us. It is about determining the next ‘correct’ step in life and to be able to do something that will not become a burden especially when tough times are around the corner. This requires devotion, personal development and teamwork. In our lives we will face many obstacles, have doubts about decisions, make mistakes and fail to achieve something the way we want to. Nevertheless, in order to develop we need instill a certain level of discipline to be consistent and to keep learning so that one day we may define who we really are. If we fail, then we need to keep our head held high and to remain motivated, because FAIL itself means ‘First Attempt In Learning’. It is important to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly and yet expect to gain something, instead we must try and look for new ways to reach our goals.

A recent research shows that human beings on average have between 12000 to 60000 thoughts per day, though majority of these thoughts are repetitive and we have had before. Nonetheless, it goes a step further suggesting that only 20% of these thoughts we have are positive. Then how do we gain motivation and lean towards positivity especially since only a fifth of our thoughts are positive?

It is all down to our attitude and how we perceive something. We as humans have three ways which will determine our mindsets; by having a CAN DO attitude, a can’t do attitude or a won’t do attitude. The latter two are the easiest options to follow as they are part of the 80% of the negative thoughts we have. However what really makes the difference is the first option; the can do attitude, which allows us to engage in a thought process that breaks the conventional methodical approach and supports the rise of creativity. A scientist’s research consists of endless procedures and trial and error tests until one procedure provides the solution. Similarly, an entrepreneur ‘scans the environment’, generates multiple ideas and determines which one is best suited to the environment he or she wishes to serve. Even a sportsperson is engaged in creativity. A footballer develops skills that have the ‘wow’ factor to please the crowd and trouble the opposition teams, a cricket player finds ways to make runs or outfox the batsman by bowling the perfect ball. Though the aforementioned are completely different roles, they have one common characteristic, be it the world changing new scientific theory, a new state of the art entrepreneurial solution or a sportsperson trying to win the game for their team, they all have a sense of purpose and thus place their efforts on creating an opportunity that will make the difference.

This raises some key questions, what is creativity? How does one become creative? And why are creative people successful?

The answer to this lies in the empowerment paradigm; seeking the unknown, having true contact with reality, developing a sense of empathy, being resourceful and finally, being organized. These traits provide the basis of creativity. Incorporating them in our lives allow us to think, explore multiple options, evaluate their requirements, embrace ambiguity and connect the unconnected. Put simply, the empowerment paradigm helps us think, collect, create, correct and finally connect. Additionally, by applying a can do attitude and keeping ethical values in check, we can overcome the status quo and indigenously solve multiple problems, innovate and bring about advancements that will support development of the social, cultural and environmental norms sustainably, through acquisition of real time information, providing value addition, knowledge development and forming strong networks.

Therefore it can be said that the true secret to seeking the unknown is in the looking, not the finding. Creativity is the journey that looks for what is unknown and discover new possibilities. The best way to get started is to stop procrastinating and start doing and the ideal time is today!

The end of ‘Look busy, do nothing’ era - (Dec- Jan 2020 Edition)

The end of ‘Look busy, do nothing’ era

By Engr. Usama Bin Mansoor 

A very famous story told by Stephen Covey, author of the book ‘The 7 Habits of highly effective people’, provides a valuable lesson about life. One day a man was strolling through a forest when he came across a lumberjack who seemed extremely irritated. Upon conversing, it was discovered that the lumberjack was trying to cut down the tree but due to the blunt saw his efforts were unfruitful. When the man simply asked the lumberjack, why he didn’t sharpen the saw and came back to cut the tree, the lumberjack replied “I don’t have time to stop!” This story perfectly portrays the scenario most of us, in particular the youth, face today, where we are focused on being busy, rather than being productive and are so engulfed by the not so important aspects of life that when it throws something valuable back us we are unable to handle the responsibility.

The big question is, how did we ever manage to reach this stage? The main reason for this directionless adventure is firstly because of absence of channelised discipline and secondly, lack of productivity. It is easier to put the blame on LUCK or lack of it, but the truth is we are chasing the ‘dream’ others are living, looking for the easy life but not wanting to put in any effort and finally basing our judgments and decisions on what others in society are doing. We consider luck as some kind of miracle, however as Roman philosopher Seneca famously said “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Now as human beings we have developed two major modes through which we operate; a reactive mode and a proactive mode. I recently learnt a very valuable lesson from my mentor and friend Engr. Muhammad Ahsen Mirza that being reactive leads to highly ineffective outputs because we are learning without knowing, while operating in a proactive state means that we are aware of what we are learning and actively connecting the dots. You see luck itself gives us two options; natural selection and a choice. Through natural selection we were born into our current family tree, but we have been given the choice of what legacy we want to leave behind. By taking the proactive path we are able to imbue a disciplined life and enhance our level of productivity.

Productivity is a concept that people today fail to understand properly. We associate productivity with macro and micro trends through which the society as a whole is being run. With the rapid advancements 21st century equipped us with, we are no longer supposed to be ‘operators’, but ‘skilled knowledge workers’ with the ability to manage ourselves. This means the first and foremost thing we should be focusing on is ourselves and our value i.e. how ‘I’ as an individual can provide a relevant output which ‘we’ as a team can convert into a relevant outcome.

Over recent times the most common thing I have overheard people say is; ‘everyone talks about the various skills we need and urgency in acquiring them but no one really explains how we acquire them’. Since we are talking about productivity, I will take it as the basis for my explanation. Taking that very first step is always the most difficult thing because we are uncertain of the path we are treading onto. However that ‘shadow’ of uncertainty that looms over us gets eliminated as soon as we start to incorporate certain characteristics in our life i.e. integrity, maturity, abundance mentality and interdependency. Through these we are able to enhance productivity and develop skills. And as difficult as it may seem, there is no rocket science involved, all we have to do is add a few rules into the mix and we end up with a recipe that is bound to give our life a discipline we were truly searching for.

Rule number one, wake up early. Being an early bird gives us the necessary kick start for the day ahead. In addition to more hours, studies have suggested that a person who wakes early has better decision making power, is more energetic and requires less time to complete a task. Rule number two, cherish time. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of Paypal, Tesla inc. and SpaceX considered the ‘ninja’ of time management and known for his 100 hour work weeks uses every minute at his disposal to set out tasks according to estimated time. Rule number three, start using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix to help prioritise tasks (figure 1).

Figure 1

Rule number four, break down tasks into smaller pieces so that if we do make a mistake the loss is easier to bear and can be corrected without extra effort. Rule number five, ‘learn’ not study. Researching allows us to learn new ways to understand things and overcome the single sided bias, thus making us more proactive. Finally, the most important of all, Rule number six, DO NOT look busy and do nothing, prepare yourself for the opportunity that is just around the corner and grasp it before it is gone.

Entrepreneurship- from a habit to a lifestyle - (February 2020 Edition)

Entrepreneurship- a habit to a lifestyle

By Engr. Usama Bin Mansoor

Entrepreneurship; a buzz word floating around globally and considered an ultimate goal of life in the modern era, bringing fame, a legacy and the motivation to lead. In the modern context, the word entrepreneur is derived from the word ‘Entreprendre’ which means to undertake and to launch. It is the action of undertaking innovations that create value through development of solutions to problems and therefore bringing majority of people on-board.

Despite this, there is still a small misconception that is passing on from one mind to another, i.e. a businessman and an entrepreneur are the same and though to some extent this is true, there are major differences that differentiates an entrepreneur from a conventional businessman. Let’s take a food vendor for example who is selling mangoes on a hot summer day. Every day he goes to the wholesale fruit and vegetable market to buy two ten kilo cartons of mangoes, which cost him PKR 700 per carton. Upon his return to his small place of business he sell those mangoes for PKR 110 per kilo thus selling all his mangoes for PKR 2200 and making a profit of PKR 800. On the other hand another fruit vendor having similar amount of money and going to the same wholesale market starts feeling a little under the sun and wants something to quench his thirst. He has an idea and instead of buying two cartons of mangoes he gets one and with the remaining amount he buys a small juicer. He returns to his place of business and starts making mango juice. Now let’s suppose there are 15 mangoes in the carton and he sells a glass of juice for PKR 120, that means he make sales of PKR 1800 thus making PKR 1100 profit. By converting a simple mango into juice, the latter has brought innovation, added value and full filled a need of the (thirsty) consumers. And though his initial investment could be a bit higher than the former, the value addition he has brought into his business will ensure he has greater sales.

Let’s move forward towards the other end of the scale. The world’s most successful entrepreneurs have developed a phenomenal résumé and most people dream of one day becoming like them. However, what we see as the multi-billion dollar lifestyle began with humble beginnings and that journey from start till the present day has never been a smooth one and filled with a roller coaster ride. However, the common thing among these successful entrepreneurs was that they possessed a ‘think big, start small’ mindset, which ensured that they developed their ventures sustainably and turned them into global leaders they are today. To explain this further we can use the iceberg illusion model. When we look at an iceberg what we see is always the top bit which is a small chunk i.e. the success of an entrepreneur; but what we don’t see is the major chunk of the iceberg that lies below the surface. And it is this major chuck that makes the biggest difference. For an entrepreneur to be successful they have to face many things including sacrifice, rejection, stress, failure and disappointments etc. What makes them attain a high level is best explained by 8 D’s which through practice becomes a habit and in the end characteristics which drive their lifestyle.

First and foremost, entrepreneurs are Dreamers i.e. their experiences and self-belief allow them to develop a long term vision regarding their future and how it will impact the society as a whole.

This also means that they are Decisive. They consider time is the most precious tool one can have and this is what makes entrepreneurs excel, i.e. timing of their decisions. They eliminate the element of procrastination therefore allowing swift decision-making. Based on decision making and setting an action plan entrepreneurs jump into action by implementing their goals (Doers). They are Determined to make sure their cause is successful and are therefore fully committed to it. Another element that makes an Entrepreneur successful is Dedication. They love what they do and it is this habit that keeps them moving forward, especially when tough and challenging situations arise.

 When a person develops a long term vision and implements action plans it is vital to have the key information to ensure that the journey one embarks on is done so with calculated risk and this is where entrepreneurs are extremely focused; they pay attention to critical Details, which include self-development, through reading books, practicing various skills, evaluating their weaknesses and working on improving them. In addition they are always ‘Scanning the Environment’ to look for opportunities, problems that need to be solved, threats they may face in the present or in the future and requirements of the society. Since Entrepreneurs are ‘Trend setters’ they need to be proactive and vigilant.

They possess a growth mindset, which means they are masters of their own Destiny and that of the society as a whole. They want to be change makers but want the independence to be able to drive that change.

Though they are independent, the growth mindset means they are strong believers of collective community development and strive towards win-win situation through Distribution of knowledge, collaborations and teamwork that has a positive impact on the society. This leadership trait develops a high level of trust and belief and allow people to raise their hands and take ownership of the tasks and activities.

The most common examples of well renowned and globally recognized entrepreneurs include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and J.K. Rowling etc. Even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, a famous wrestler turned actor, turned his fortunes around and has become one of the most famous and well liked personality today.

However, in this instance we are going to focus on the local examples and how their journey brought them to where they are today. The late Junaid Jamshed, founder of J. went through a lot of struggles. After leaving the music industry as one of the most recognized singers, Junaid Jamshed changed his path and turned towards religion. During his new journey, he faced many hardships and at one point he was only left with PKR 100. Though in a hopeless situation, he had an idea in his mind that if the west exports jeans and shirts to Pakistan, why can’t Pakistan through its traditional norms, develop a contemporary clothes brand that can reach out to the rest of the world. He met a guy in his local mosque, who later became his partner and they agreed to start that brand, but the condition was that both were to invest equal amount of money i.e. PKR 2.5 million each. Now the real struggle was to arrange that amount of money and Junaid Jamshed felt under extreme pressure. He got little support from his close one and in desperation had to sell some of his major assets to get the money. Eventually the money was arranged and both partners invested it all and bought a variety of cloths and since the holy month of Ramadan was coming, it provided them with a great opportunity to get started. However the hurdles didn’t stop there, as when they were cutting multiple patterns all of them came out in wrong size. With both partners demoralized and lost, an opportunity which most people would consider a ‘miracle’ arose. They got introduced to a person who proposed to them that a large amount of readymade Shalwar kameez were required in Bangladesh, however it was requested that the pattern sizes should be smaller than usual. They had luck on their side, but if we really think about it, they were prepared for the opportunity, though the opportunity were to arrive from a different source and not what they had planned for. In the end, what they were supposed to sell in one month got sold in a matter of two days.

With success early on they visited a well-known religious scholar to seek his guidance on how to ensure that their business is successful in the long run. The scholar gave them the most valuable advice which they implemented and turned J. into a worldwide brand. The first advice was to critically evaluate the scenarios which would cause their business to go in loss. The second advice was to make sure that both partners would stay honest with each other and not break the element of trust. Finally the third and most importantly they were advised to think about how their business would not only create value but would be used to help people and develop the community. In the end, their business created almost ten thousand jobs, by bringing back the dying art of making khaddar cloth, a hand-woven method that brings out a rough textured fiber, which is high in quality. From there on J. brand never looked back and developed a legacy which will last generations by contributing towards giving an identity to the Pakistani market. If we analyse this story closely we can relate to the 8 D’s that were mentioned earlier and how multiple struggles, failures and challenging situations provided a learning curve to develop a new sense of motivation and mindset that lead to successful brand development.

The lesson for us in this matter is that, Entrepreneurs are no different to rest of the human beings, but where they do have an upper hand is the fact that they are extremely disciplined, goal orientated, habitual in their routine, keen learners and team builders and these traits help them develop a lifestyle which has made them global leaders and personalities that most people ‘dream’ of becoming. For most of us the first step has already been taken, it is now time to become the ‘Pilots of our plane’, be decisive and implement that dream so that it becomes a reality.