Calling All Student Entrepreneurs: Tell Us About Your Startup

7 Practical Lessons From Markhor Founder On Building A Startup And How Not To Die As A Startup

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Nov 6, 2015

Waqas Ali is the co-founder of Markhor, a Lahore based luxury shoes brand without the middlemen. Markhor started off as a side project, helping craftsmen in Okara, Pakistan. The startup first came to world's attention when it exceeded their Kickstarter funding target by US$92,000, with pledges coming from 508 people in 32 different countries. Today Markhor is selling shoes in over 35 countries, having office both in Lahore and Mountain View and they just graduated from Y Combinator.

There is no shortcut to building a successful startup. Everyone has to go through the daily grind of making and building a company from the scratch. The story of Markhor is no different. Recently Waqas did a wonderful AMA on TIA platform which attracted more than 60 questions from founders and startup enthusiasts across the world. We took time to put together a precise version of his AMA answers with the permission from TIA. Here Waqas invites you to the journey of putting your best everyday to see your passion comes to life.

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1. On Building A Startup
"It doesn’t matter who you are and from where you’re starting and how strong is your skill set, network or bank account. If you start and keep building, you’ll eventually able to build a (shity) product and few customers will come, Waqas says." Building a startup is process. Nothing happens overnight. You have to work hard and work hard for a certain period of time. "Once that is achieved you’ll have much more than what you started with, now you should just focus on improving and growing", he adds, "this part is where most people start giving up because they anticipated it’d be huge after few customers – it doesn’t work this way. It takes years of persistence and energy to make it and it’d require you to change your habits and values along the way."

More often than not we become impatient. We don't want to wait and expect result right after working hard for few nights. But in generally startups take time to build. So be prepared to stay a bit longer on the game.

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2. Take care of yourself
One of the reasons people often fail to keep up or achieve a certain goal because often they burn themselves out by unnecessarily working hard. This is very common for startup founders. "I’d recommend everyone to pay attention to their health, says Waqas, "startups are hard and they can take some of the best years of your lives easily."

The thing is few all nighters are not going to make any difference unless you sustain the effort on a regular basis for a long period of time. But if you break yourself up by not taking care of your health, things would ultimately go stray.

Building a startup is process. Nothing happens overnight. You have to work hard and work hard for a certain period of time. "Once that is achieved you’ll have much more than what you started with, now you should just focus on improving and growing. This part is where most people start giving up because they anticipated it’d be huge after few customers – it doesn’t work this way. It takes years of persistence and energy to make it and it’d require you to change your habits and values along the way.

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3. You will always figure things out
We often consider ourselves most disadvantaged one. For many entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, who are specially working in Ecommerce space, payment is a huge problem and they often complain about it but it seems this is not a unique problem for us.

"When we started off, not having digital payment gateway in Pakistan and high shipping costs were biggest issues," says Waqas, "we still kept going, losing money and heart on many sales. But we still kept going because we believed if we’ll figure the business model out, we’ll take care of it. So the biggest learning is to not giving up when you see natural hurdles/challenges. One way or the other, you’ll learn to figure things out, almost everything."

You have to believe in something. There will be hurdles and roadblocks but that's what make the journey interesting.

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Markhor screenshot 11-6-15
Markhor screenshot 11-6-15

4. For online only brands experience is the key
"It is quite challenging to build an online only brand. We have never build an offline brand so don’t know how hard that this. I think we’re getting better and now understand what we know and what we don’t. The trend is definitely towards online, especially if you can give a great experience."

You will learn things by doing. You will learn things by making mistakes and doing it right the next time. But you have to give time.

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5. Do this to become a better entrepreneur
"My tip from my personal experience: read lot of books and essays, says Waqas, Make notes from them on a physical notebook, keep coming back to these notes. They’ll transform you in just few months."

Many early stage entrepreneurs say that they are too busy to read and spend time reflecting on what they are doing. This is often detrimental. As a founder you should take time off on a regular basis to read and to reflect and to make course correction.

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6. Everything worth doing is challenging
"Everything worth doing is a challenging, selling lot of shoes is at the top. I think for us to keeping the balance between growing as a startup and building a great brand at the same time."

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Markhor Founders
Markhor Founders by Dawn

7. Working with your spouse as a co-founder
Having your wife as co-founder is a great challenge to have, but is also a great support. On the morning of our wedding day, my wife went on to participate in a leather exhibition in the city, whilst I was speaking at a business event. Then I joined her at the leather exhibition, she left for the parlor and then I got the time to buy a watch (wedding gift) for her. :) We received a request from a Kickstarter backers who wanted ‘Cannabis Leaves’ and underneath ‘legalize it’ on his shoes sole. We completed the request.

It would be an understatement to say that the experience has improved a lot. We both care more about our relationship now than we ever had and same goes for our work. It of course changes the chemistry marrying your co-founder but you are in-control of what direction it goes to. I think you start respecting each other more with time and the calmness starts to to coming in the relationship. Hard to explain, perhaps will write a long post about this someday.

Everything worth doing is a challenging, selling lot of shoes is at the top. I think for us to keeping the balance between growing as a startup and building a great brand at the same time.

Markhor is doing a wonderful job and makes great shoes, check them out here.

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