Startup School: It's that time of the year again. Lets launch a business in January

6 mins read

To great stories – That sound movielandish – but aren’t.

Some stories are meant to be told. Because if you don’t hear it from me directly, you would never believe that it happened. And if I don’t put it down tonight, I don’t think I will believe it happened either, come Friday morning. A complex tapestry of events and characters; chance meetings, Far Eastern locations and outlandish proposals. Sort of like Serendipity (the movie, not the fable) or Love Actually; only this time featuring entrepreneurs rather than the charming Mr. Grant.

And that is how good stories go. A mishmash of random encounters; a sprinkling of intersecting paths; a twist of fate or destiny; maybe even a happy ending or two; perhaps a brush of heart break. Something that you could write home about – saw a movie last night and thought of you

This one should fit the bill.

If this really was a movie I would start somewhere in the middle or the very beginning and you could tell. Unfortunately I have already written a book about the beginning and thinking about the middle still gives me a headache. Let’s jump straight to the end, which is nicer, simpler and much more pleasant… Also more recent (earlier this evening.)

The end

At 7 pm today, Thursday, 2nd February 2012, I post two links in an email and send them out to a small group of friends and family.

The apps are live, it said. Download, comment and spread the word, said a smaller postscript.

And pray, said I, clicking send.

11 years earlier, just about to the day and change.

Movielandish indeed. Remember I warned you. Hang on to your seatbelts and take notes if you get lost as we jump back and forth between timelines without any notice. Bring your motion sickness pills.

I am at my Sister’s wedding in Karachi but getting ready to head back to Southern California. Broke and wondering what am I doing with my life. The e-learning start up I have spent the last two years is on its last legs but unfortunately forgot to drop me a note about its early demise. Ironic that a business dedicated to teaching rocket science to the world just ran out of fuel on the launch pad. Trust a Finance major to use up all available cash just before the exact moment a down payment is required on what had promised to be a bright future.

I wonder if this expensive education will ever come in handy. I wonder if I will ever put enough distance and write a book. I wonder if Amex will take a promise for cash against a check. I wonder the going rate for exchanging promises into hard dollars.

A year later I tell Shane one day I will get back to teaching and be happy again. Two year after the Shane conversation I am teaching full time. A decade after the teaching encounter, Shane drops by and looks through our ALM and Financial Modeling courses. He likes what he sees and uses it to supplement his class on ALM in NC.

Teaching brings me to SP Jain and my entrepreneurship crash course with 20 twenty odd batches of EMBA students in Dubai. The road to SP Jain drives me to down town Abu Dhabi and a conversation with a client who asks if I have any material online that they could take a look at. They ironically suggest exploring the online learning model.

Ha ha, go I inside…

Somewhere in between the 11 years and the end: China, the Middle Kingdom.

On a road trip to Hangzhou, I make friends with three people who will change my life. Wilson Tan, a tall, young at heart, silver haired, Singaporean adviser to growing companies and the Chairperson of ASSOCIO; Bill Liu, an investor and mentor representing one of the largest wealth funds in the region; And Somkiat, who will become a partner, a mentor and finally family in Thailand. Somkiat will also show me the power point presentation that will make me ditch competing at APICTA as a nominee and apply to become a judge. Between Wilson, Bill and Somkiat the trip to China sets the stage for the next five years. Judging the APICTA Awards does the rest.

Thailand (Somkiat) and Singapore (Wilson and Bill) lead to the Middle East and Malaysia. The Middle East leads to MEFTEC and Yusuf. Somehow the twisted trail ends up on the doorknob of the Global selling workshop run by Ken Morse in Karachi. Ken and MIT conspire to bring Zafar Khan and us in the same room at the Business Acceleration Plan competition. Zafar wins with a handsome margin and drops a cryptic remark about generating money in his sleep that neither registers nor makes sense for the next two years. While mulling over Zafar’s comment, Jehan and I get busy with taking everything we have learnt about not winning at APICTA and turning that into a preparatory program for our companies in Pakistan.

November 2011, 3 months ago.

I meet Saad Hussain and Mah-e-Zehra from as a mentor for their APICTA Pitch in Lahore. I like what I see. Saad takes our feedback and puts his heart out pitching in Pattaya. He doesn’t win the award but wins the rest of the delegation over to his side. Sort of like us and Bill and Wilson in China.

A month later when Yusuf suggests I do something with the financial training video content I had been putting together after my Zafar encounter, the first name that come to my mind is Saad and Three calls and an email and we have a contract. Twenty days later we have an app.  I understand how Pepper does what it does; 5 top blackberry applications in as many years.  We work together to get them their and our first winner on the iphone and the android market place.

Forty Five days in total and we have a business that is generating cash. Not as much as we needed, but still cash. A personal best in term of going from zero to 800 US$ a month.  Last time we clocked the same milestone at 8 months.

This evening we go live on iTunes and the Android Market place while I struggle with inflamed sinuses, a blocked throat and a sprained back. To be young and old at the same time.  It only hurts when I laugh…

December 2009, the part in the middle (the one with the headaches).

I have to stop killing the businesses I love. What we have built together over six years has turned to dust. Noman Shaikh walks in to hold my hand and get me out of my dark mood. We chat about the case filled with dollars he is going to smuggle one of these days for me and then the tall lanky guy with the beard he brought with him speaks. I hear Zafar’s words but in a different language.   Perhaps the fact that we are both students, while Zafar is a master helps. I poke some more, he answers.

We play the last game of table tennis in the basement before the table is locked away forever with too many painful memories. As they beat the living day lights out of me in the game I can see shades of Zafar’s conversation coming together. Not a complete picture but a hazy image just out of my reach. It is not a check nor a suitcase filled with dollars but still…A tinge of outlandish hope, like shades on the outer rim of sunsets; something that may still be saved…

Learning Corporate Finance comes into the world as a result of an hour long conversation over Chinese spins, backhand smashes and a vague belief that perhaps there is something in the ruins of my last adventure that needs to be picked up, polished, nourished and built up again.

January 2012.

Arbab joins. Table Tennis rackets are out. You can hear the sound of the orange balls zooming around again. We have just turned the plug on the new site.

Its January again. Cookaracha, Avicena, Achello, Alchemy, Technologies and now FourQuants.

Six businesses, all born in January, five buried in December.

This one is the one that will get away. And it will get away because there a just too many chance encounters behind it for it to be anything else but destiny at work.

Jehan, Yusuf, Zafar, Bill, Wilson, Somkiat, Noman, Saad, Shah Jehan, Arbab, Agnes, Uzma and Fawzia. And many others who will remain nameless on their request.

Time to give it a spin.

Psss. Hey, you there. Help us get the word out about our apps and our channels.

See what the fuss is all about.

About the Author

Jawwad Farid is a serial entrepreneur, an MITEF business acceleration plan (MIT BAP) runner up, an Asia Pacific ICT Award finalist and a PASHA ICT Award Winner. He has also served as a judge at the Asia Pacific ICT Awards in Macau, Singapore, Jakarta, Kula Lumpur & Pattaya as well as at PASHA ICT Award in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2011 and as a mentor to startup teams at the MITEF BAP competitions, the P@SHA Launch Pad Competition and the P@SHA Social Innovation Fund.

Jawwad is the founder and CEO of Alchemy Technologies, an enterprise risk practice that builds and deploys risk, treasury, market and credit risk platforms. He is the author of Reboot, Understanding Commodities Risk, and Risk Application and Frameworks, an actuary by profession, a computer scientist by training, and a Columbia Business School MBA. Jawwad blogs about boot strapping, failure and starting up at Startup Insights and teaches week long crash courses on entrepreneurship and risk management at the SP Jain campuses in Dubai and Singapore as well as on his free online corporate finance learning resource

Jawwad has worked directly as a founder, mentor or advisor at multiple startups including two green field life insurance companies, multiple technology product businesses, financial services consulting operations, product focused distribution as well as micro insurance, micro pensions and micro finance startups.

The ones he remembers the most are his failures.

3 thoughts on “Startup School: It's that time of the year again. Lets launch a business in January”

  1. This story brought back those flashes from the past – the trip to China, your first meeting with Wilson, Bill and Somkiat, you guys all preparing for BAP & Zafar running away with that remark about making money while he sleeps … the APICTA years & how much we have all achieved and learned … and now these two apps both of which I have downloaded on my iPhone 4s and my Google Android Nexus S. Great job – Saad & Mahe. This will be your year my friend. After those 5 failed attempts (although I would not call the Alchemy venture a failed one no matter how it ended) this one’s got the right formula. And when you make it big, don’t forget ‘your agent’! Good luck my friend. We will all rooting for you!

  2. Hi Jawwad,I am an attendee from Startup Insiders Islamabad siseson. It was really nice to be there. I am also planning to launch a startup. And I came up with an idea: why not let people showcase/launch their new startup at Startup Insiders! I have posted this in Osama’s and Jehan Ara’s blog too. I hope you people will consider it.I was thinking may be in the last hour of Startup Insiders siseson, you can provide an opportunity for new startups to showcase their work? Like giving 10-15 minutes to each startup to describe their work. By new startups I mean those who are planning to launch a startup and have their product ready and want to showcase it to other peers and industry leaders to get advise and comments (and also possible investment.)I have seen such events happening in other countries like the infamous TechCrunch40 event:The format is simple: Forty of the hottest new startups from around the world will announce and demo their products over a two day period at TechCrunch40. And they don’t pay a cent to do this. They will be selected to participate based on merit alone.

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