Author: Hasam Ahmed Khan
Last year I turned 25 and that was the time I found out the purpose of my life. It was the days of my university when I was in the last year of my bachelor’s degree in computer sciences. I had to think of an idea for my final year project. I always wanted to do something big. This was a golden opportunity for me to think of something great and start working on it. After a brainstorming session I thought of a huge problem faced by millions of people every year. I never took the final year project just to complete my degree but to invest my time making something which can make the lives of people better.
I started off working on my final year project which was Hajj Guider – a mobile application for facilitating Hajj pilgrims throughout their pilgrimage. Things turned out to be more complicated than I thought to be. I kept my focus and started exploring problems which pilgrims faced during their entire journey. I wanted to make a solution that the millions of pilgrims would love using. I interviewed travel agencies and pilgrims who had recently performed Hajj. For me elicitation was the first and foremost thing. This was the area where I spent all my energies in the start. As I researched more I found the top problems faced by pilgrims where to track their group members because of the presence of millions of pilgrims in a very restricted place. Second thing was navigation as in Hajj one has to travel from one place to another during the course of five days. I quickly realized that a lonely mobile application would not do the trick. Why the mobile application was not the complete solution was because of the limitations like internet / cellular connectivity, battery life of a smart-phone and availability of smart-phone among the pilgrims. In those days the apple watch was about to be released. I saw the mockup designs and I got inspired by it. I started exploring the wearable tech. My childhood school friend was already working in wearable tech with a startup based in USA. I shared the idea with him and he looked interested. Along with him two of my cousins who were running their companies liked the idea and started working with me. Both had experience running startups and managing large team. While I was making the core team I had just two things to search for, and that were to have honest partners and people who can have the same passion and vision. This was a stepping stone as making the best core team of founders was my highest priority. When building a team you want a group of people who are smarter and better than you. Once the core team was formed I had firm believe that we together can do wonders. As all our intentions are clear and that’s a very critical thing for entrepreneurs. Not a single co-founder is working just for the lust of money. Because when you just work for money there is no vision and enthusiasm. One has to believe in the idea and the success that will happen one day.
I started exploring the opportunities regarding funding and mentorship. I never considered any single opportunity to be small or useless. This is a golden era for all of us living in the global village where everything is connected. The first response was from Google for Entrepreneurs. They selected 21 startups from Pakistan and mine was one of them. This was a great motivation for me and my team. I feel having mentors is a very critical thing for an entrepreneur as they will guide you and teach you things which can be very vital for your business. It has helped me a lot to validate my idea and the product. I applied in almost every startup competition, incubators and accelerators. I got several rejections from many top incubators like Y Combinator. But this thing never damaged my passion but rather it made me do things which I was not capable of. As my startup was more focused towards MENA region I started exploring top incubators, accelerators, investors and other things which were linked with my startup. I got a positive response from the leading accelerator in the MENA region ‘Oasis500’. They selected my startup for a one week boot-camp in Amman, Jordan. I needed at least $1,000 to cover up my travel and living expense and I had nothing in my pocket. I lent the money from one of my close relative and told them that I will return them soon. I took the risk and took off for the journey along with my other co-founder. I said to myself this is a golden opportunity and if I am able to secure funding for my startup from Oasis500 that will be something really great. And it was not just the funding I was looking for but the value they had to add to my startup. And few months later we were able to secure seed funding. We were selected for some regional startup competitions as well as international competitions like Startup Turkey, ArabNet and Challenge Cup. We were also a part of a local incubator ‘Plan9’ in Lahore, Pakistan.
I along with other cofounders spent 4 months of incubation. Soon after that I joined the 3 months incubation at Oasis500. Each and every day was really important for me as meeting new people from all domains of work and getting useful piece of advice was priceless. You never know one good advice can change a lot of things. I believed in my team, in my idea and more importantly I believed in myself. Everything can be achieved if one’s intentions are clear, to have perseverance as hard as steel and never give up. Being proactive and planning things for the future has paid me off many times. I think an entrepreneur should have disruptive talent as individuals who think and act differently, innovate, challenges status quo, spot trends and see commercial opportunities. Living in this modern era things are transforming so quickly and if one is not sharp enough it will be too late. The key thing for me is to make people love my product. And diversity is one other important factor that should be in mind for future goals. I started off from mobile app and ended up working on wearable tech, now the same product has applications in many other industries. We are planning to diversify the product’s scope soon.
Entrepreneurship is as challenging as boxing. In boxing you always have to be on your toes. Every single move you take is very decisive. One great punch can make you a winner. But the beauty is even when you take a punch from your opponent and fall on the floor, it is about how well you rise and fight back. In my career of entrepreneurship there have been many ups and downs. And they all have taught me great lessons to learn. The key to avoid catastrophic mistakes is to make a series of smaller errors. One more important thing I learnt is to test ideas in low risk environments and gathering insights to determine whether the product or idea will take off. For me success is the ability to move from one failure to another with enthusiasm. I love taking risks and going after the things which make me feel happy. It’s not just about the money which attracted me to start my own company, rather making a big difference in other’s life. I always want to build new things and solve problems all the time. Recently I was selected by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) among 50 young entrepreneurs around the world for the entrepreneurship boot-camp. I feel great to be selected among them but the real success for me would be when I make this world a better place to live. This is just the beginning and the best is yet to come.
Author: Hasam Ahmed Khan
Founder of Hajj Guider