“You must have the intention to serve people around you”: Q & A with ArchSociety Founder Mohammad Tauheed
Mohammad Tauheed, at a time, is a TED Senior Fellow, architect, designer, technology consultant, problem solver, traveler and the organizer of TEDxDhaka. He has founded ArchSociety, a global platform for architect to talk, connect, share and help each other, to solve his own problem at the first place! However, he managed to help other at a time so well that now ArchSociety has more than 3000 members around the world. Few days back our Chief Coordinator Ruhul Kader spoke to him to know more about ArchSociety, Entrepreneurship, his experiences and learning from his journey.
Tell us about yourself and your passion in life.
I’m an architect. I have the dream of designing socially responsible buildings. You can also call me a technology enthusiast. I used to spend much time into website designing and in technology stuffs and occasionally I also do some sort of painting and little bit of photography. So, I can live with a lot of things together. However, I’m still in the middle of triggering out whether I’ll ever choose one thing or I’ll carry on doing many things at a time. I love to do everything together. I love to deal with things that are painful, difficult, and challenging, then facing them and solving them. But I know doing everything together is like a big challenge. Although conventionally people say it’s not very healthy for your career, your life, or about getting settled. Still now I’m not looking forward to get settled.
Well, I’m passionate about art and architecture; I love to think of a piece of beautiful architectural work. Wherever I get the chance, wherever I go, I try to find out good piece of work of good architect and I try to understand what they did. I always go to exhibitions and look through different artists’ work here in Bangladesh and many other countries. In a word, I’m passionate about architecture.
Why have you chosen architecture? Because you’re a student of architecture, or there are some other reasons?
Well, when I was a kid I used to draw and paint and it became my loving place from then on. It’s not like that I suddenly came into architecture. I was dreaming of being in any creative profession, because I know that I’m good at it. I could be an artist, I could be a graphic designer, a branding consultant, a filmmaker, a painter, or an architect, but, somehow I became an architect.
It means your passion is doing something creative, doesn’t matter what it is, right? And architecture is a way of doing something creative for you.
I think for me architecture is the ultimate way of doing something creative.
I see myself as a problem solver. I have been experiencing lots of problems all over my life, and I always think of solving these problems. That’s how all these projects came up. Actually all the start-ups in the world work for solving problems.
I’m not from a very wealthy family. I graduated from a private university. It was difficult to pay my tuition fees and all other expenses for architectural education. The whole architectural education is extremely expensive, one of the most expensive discipline you can imagine, because we need to buy a lot of educational aid, manage technical things like model making materials, hardware tools and many other stuffs. All the books in architecture are like super expensive. We hardly could afford buying original books. So, the students here face a lot of problems in getting and accessing the necessary information and aid they need.
For example, if you try to develop a new design you need a lot of information. Sometimes someone gives you the assignment to design a restaurant or a place you’re sitting in, you need to know a lot of thing: say the intimate ambiance with two people sitting and talking to each other, the way we’re doing right now, what should be the optimum distance between you and me. For example you’re sitting two and a half feet away from me. The designer designs this breath distance. He needs to know a lot more things such as where the lights been come from, where the sounds been come from, what will be the ventilation and air circulation of the whole place, how many spaces you need to provide for all the waiters to roam around, how distant the tables should be from one another, and all about comfort. So even for this small restaurant it needs to be considered thousands of different parameters.
An architect gets a lot of different types of project. When he gets the project, he starts looking for the information, how people behave, how people react, what should be the optimum measurement of the furniture, the optimum width, and everything like social aspects. When you start a new design or project, it is very difficult to find the information available. That’s why it’s challenging and bring you more fun and satisfaction while overcoming these challenges. When I was a second year student,
I faced the problem of lack of information while doing an academic assignment on designing. I knew I’m not the only person who faced this project; somebody must have done this type of design before. From that thought, I came up with the idea of ArchSociety, where related information for designing would be available for the members for free.
Because I was in the middle of that problem, I wanted to make a platform through which, by helping each other everyone can learn from each other. But it was very difficult for me to hire a web designer or buy a server space to start a website at that time. Then I thought why not I learn how to design a website? Then I started going to cyber cafes, started learning how to design a website, how to maintain a server. I started reading all these things in the internet and I found a couple of discussion forum at that time where I’ve got help from many other web designers and one of them gave me a free hosting space at that time. Now we have several different sections in the website those were not available in the very beginning. I’ve continuously developed and changed the whole system and I did it all way myself.
Lots of people want to start but often fail, I don’t know why. What do you think, what it takes to start something?
In a word, it is the “passion to solve a problem”, that’s the only thing I had. Problems or disadvantages sometimes lead to good thing. I experienced that a lot of people were in trouble. Then I thought, if I could make this, it would help the students of architecture throughout the world, and it’s really working. So the only thing in my mind was to get these people connected and let them help each other. I didn’t any fund to develop the site and this problem led me to become a web-designer too. I actually learned web designing to solve the problem of developing the website for ArchSociety not to earn money. I actually tried to solve the problem by ArchSociety that results more than three thousand members from one hundred and twenty countries. People are using it and getting help. So, I believe it’s passion that makes one to start something than anything else.
Obstacles are common for the people who take initiative and I guess you are no exception. Would you like to tell us a few of the biggest obstacles you faced to date and the way you outperformed them?
The biggest obstacle of doing something nonprofit is money. I was used to spend at least three to four hours per day at the beginning. And for me the biggest obstacle was that, I was not paying anyone. So, someone must believe what I believe, someone must have the same passion, same drive of helping people or solving the problem, and getting the feelings- WOW, my writing is in Google Search result.
It happens in start-ups that you feel alone. It’s frustrating to see that nobody is helping you, nobody believes in your dream and passion. So it’s very difficult to move on if you set a big target. At the beginning I never thought that ArchSociety will be the network of my university or my community, or even Bangladesh. Actually my target was like why not ArchSociety would be an international venture and why not we be the best in the world, isn’t it possible? Can’t we follow that quality or that level of standard in our work or writing or in everything? So that target helped me to continue doing it. At that time I tried all our writings and posts in a way so that we get immediate help from all those things and those contents may be counted in search engines like Google or Yahoo. It was during pre-Facebook era. At that time there was no Facebook or no social network available to promote things. So all I could do is to making contents relevant to search engines. That’s how the beginning was. Google picked up many of our contents in the search results and people came to ArchSociety.
Besides, I have some very dedicated group of friends who work for ArchSociety for nothing, I mean they don’t get paid, neither they are going to be famous because of ArchSociety, they just help ArchSociety, because they think it as a good venture with a feeling like, “We should help people and if it’s a good movement we should be with it. So I’ve got some really good hands to help me in the long journey of ArchSociety. They are still helping me and ArchSociety as well. I was lucky to get them; some of them are not from even Bangladesh. In ArcSociety they started writing, talking or helping, and somehow they got connected with the main team of ArchSociety editorial section.
Working with a start-up and making it to stand and sustain is a lot work and undoubtedly you have done it quite beautifully. Please tell us some of your experiences and learning from your journey .
Well, as I said I’m more a designer than an entrepreneur, I don’t claim myself as a successful entrepreneur or manager or even an administrative guy. I don’t indulge myself into those things. But, whatever I felt and experienced is you must have the intention to serve the people around you. That’s the key of success. You’ve to find out the problems to solve. So if you can do it you don’t need a big marketing wing to promote your work. People will come to get help, to get your service if you have an idea and a unique way to solve a problem.
I think, all the start-ups should have a unique idea and ability to solve your target peoples’ problem. You can think of all the great ventures, what they did, for example Google actually solved the problem of finding information. I claim they still haven’t done it better. It means you can introduce a new search engine tomorrow better than Google. If you can make it of course you can beat Google. I still don’t find many things in Google, so if someone can make a better search engine tomorrow, then I’ll definitely divorce Google and go to them. At the end it’s all about how you’re serving people. So, if you can emerge with a good idea, with a better way of solving problems, your venture will be successful, no doubt. And you don’t need anything else.
What interests you most: money, fame or anything else?
I love to meet interesting people and I love to go to interesting places. Money and fame are the resultants of your good works those are never the targets.