Thirteen takeaways for graduation – Faisal Khan.

5 mins read

The one and only Faisal Khan was in town to attend a family wedding. When we found out that this time his transit in Karachi on his way to Istanbul was going to extend beyond a few days we shamelessly asked him to come speak to our class on Entrepreneurship. The class has a mix of students all the way from juniors to graduating seniors and having Faisal Khan speak to them would be one of the best graduation gift we could give them.

Faisal has done many interesting things in the last three decades. Trader, Author, Mentor, Teacher, Builder, Founder, Speaker and avid Traveler. We first ran into each other when Faisal ran a technology services company in Karachi and our paths crossed on the PASHA platform. We kept on running into each other when it came to policy discussions, sorting out infrastructure especially pipes and bandwidth, on working with the government, on managing the public image of the technology industry and on tracking data and numbers for the industry. Over the year we became good friends and sounding boards for each other and our mentees. On hacking conferences, on work life balance, on raising funding as well as children and staying in touch with friends.

Faisal became the go to person for payments in the region as the word about his expertise spread.  He was on the Bitcoin wagon way before the technology community in Pakistan or the region were even aware of existence of crypto currencies. Same story with medium and Quora.  To his credit he tried he best to get me interested in all three. Going to the extent of sending consulting clients my way. Medium and Quora stuck. Bitcoin slipped away. Sometimes I wonder if I had only listened more carefully to him, I could have retired by now.

As Faisal network of consulting clients, speaking engagements and key notes grew he moved to Istanbul last year to be closer to his customers base in Europe and MENA region.

To me personally his most amazing feat was his ability to pick the Quora writer of the year award, year after year. 2013 to 2018. 6 years in a row.  Something that only 72 people on the entire planet have been able to do. I must admit that every now and then I would feel this teeny, weeny bit of envy on how Faisal gets the time and the energy to write answer after answer on payments, technology and productivity hacks, when I have difficult writing one blog post every alternate month.

The very best thing about Faisal that I love and will always admire is that he never says no to a request to see him or borrow a few minutes of his time. Doesn’t matter how busy he is or which part of the planet he is travelling through, Faisal always gets back to you with a response. This time was no exception. I dropped him an email with a request to check if he would have the time to come and speak to my class at Habib during his visit to Karachi and we had a confirmed slot a few minutes later.

Faisal spoke for an hour about things he felt had to be said and remembered. Especially for a group that was about to leave academia and step out in the real world. Things that made a big difference in his life, things that he had learnt at great personal expense. Here are the few points that Faisal touched upon during his chat.

  1. Learn to say no. Don’t get pushed into doing things that you don’t want to do. Don’t rush into hasty decisions. Sleep over on the big ones. No one is running away. If they are really serious they will wait for a day or two. So take your time before saying yes.
  2. Stop feeling sorry for your self. Self-pity. Get rid of it. Move on. Get up, dust yourself and get going. It’s not a nice place to be in for a more than a few hours.
  3. Never let history repeat itself. Don’t let people take advantage of you. Learn from your mistakes and make sure that the next time the same scenario occurs you apply the lessons learnt from your last experience.
  4. Work on your language. If the words you utter were to be tattooed on your body, would you still be beautiful? Vocabulary. Vernacular. Accent. Pick up the language of the people you are going to work with. Expression marks the measure of a man (or woman).
  5. Choose your battles carefully. Pick your fights. Don’t get involved in every single argument. You are not going to win all of them. Not all of them are worth fighting for.
  6. Travel. When life brings stagnation, of any kind, it is then time to Travel. Sometimes travel is the best thing you can do as it changes the governing variables around you – and makes things happen. Nothing ever grows in the shade.
  7. Be wary of comfort zones. Always be learning. You need to upgrade your skill set and your expertise every few years. If you have picked up an area of expertise, make sure that you stay current and updated. Don’t get out of touch. An easy way to do that is to Read. Put aside a few hours in your day, every day, where you do nothing but read. No phones, no internet just reading. Make it a habit.
  8. Difficult times are a part of life. Difficult times are for those, so that when the good times come, you can feel the essence of the goodness coming your way.
  9. Retool. Every 8 to 10 years the economic advantages we have been living off get leveled down to zero. Everyone gets a reset and reboots from the beginning. You have to train yourself to retool, acquire new skillsets and upgrade your existing tools once a decade. If you can do that you can stay relevant. If you don’t competition, which will mostly be the leaner, meaner, better trained younger lot will leave you behind.
  10. Purpose in Life. What is your purpose in life. Ask yourself this question every single day? Find your purpose in life. Every life has a meaning. What is yours?
  11. Consistency. People see the end result. They see the pictures, the speaking engagements, the key notes. They don’t see the 16 hour days that we put in for decades to get where we are. A bit of luck and right choices can get you so far. But if you add consistent hard work to the mix you can go much farther.
  12. Be the lucky break. Speaking of luck. Every now and then a friend or a colleague or a random stranger will hold out his hand and pull you higher than you would have ever been able to reach on your own. The only way to pay that back is to pay if forward. Be the lucky break that you want to receive.
  13. People rise up to your expectations. They really do.
  14. Groom yourself. Pay attention to how you present yourself and how you are perceived. Especially your communication skills.

Based on my recollection and notes from Faisal Khan’s chat with the graduating class. Any mistakes as always are mine.