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10 Powerful Lessons I've Learned From 2019

I have interviewed more than 200 entrepreneurs and professionals from different walks of life since we started Future Startup in 2011. At FS, we have so far published over 350 interviews. 

I have learned a tremendous amount from all these interactions. In fact, the experience has changed my worldview. 

Most of us have a linear approach to looking at the world. In reality, most things are not what they appear to be. Maintaining a healthy skepticism is necessary for seeing things for what they are. Question almost everything. 

Luck has a lot to do with where we end up in life when it comes to wealth and material success but living a good life is mostly about becoming and choice. 

The struggle is universal. Everyone suffers, from MTO to CEO. The nature and scale of suffering are different though. 

Life does not get any easier when you move up on any ladder. It is likely to get a lot busier though. 

Most intelligent people are after transcendence, knowingly or unknowingly. They want freedom from wants and needs and sufferings and burdens of being human. However, most don’t know which path will lead them there. Hence they get entangled with more burden of living and eventually end up in the parties of many kinds. 

One of the most important decisions you have to make is who are the people you want to spend your time with. There are all kinds of them. Choose the straight forward ones. Steer clear of the ones your gut does not approve of. 

When we started Future Startup, it was a passion project. I and my friends had a love for entrepreneurship and writing. Hence, we started a blog. However, it has been a long time and things have changed. 

In the past four years, I and my partner Nezam Uddin, have been trying to turn Future Startup into a sustainable business. The day I started working full-time at Future Startup in early 2016, I have come to find myself at an interesting intersection. We predominantly cover tech and startups in Dhaka and interview mostly founders. On the other hand, I’m trying to build a startup as well. 

It has been a fascinating run for me in the sense that I could see both: from a founder’s perspective - myself trying to grapple with the challenges of running an early-stage company. At the same time, from the perspective of founders and entrepreneurs whom we cover at Future Startup. 

2019 has particularly been a learning curve for me. At FS, it has been both a good and challenging year. We have grown as a business. Any growth is a challenge. Our website has grown both in terms of traffic, content, and subscribers. We have been able to build a steady business out of our branded content service, launched a few products such as jobs, courses, and research and interviewed a great number of founders. 

One of the lessons I have learned is that it is easier to see mistakes in other people than in us. That’s a limitation of being human. 

Here are 09 more lessons I have learned from building a startup myself and speaking with a great deal of founders and covering a large number of startups in Bangladesh and beyond. 

1. Make growth an integral part of your culture

One of the ideas we have tried at FS this year is growth hacking -  a systematic approach to growing your business through rapid ideation and execution. It worked well initially and then fell apart. The problem, which I realized later, was that we took growth hacking as a separate project. Growth should be a mindset. Be it in an organization or personally. 

Mid this year, I had a conversation with Mahmudul Hasan Sohag bhai of OnnoRokom Group which made the entire idea clear to me. Growth hacking is an idea that can be applied organization-wide. The basic tenet of growth hacking is an idea called the high-tempo framework where you generate ideas rapidly, select the best ones, execute, learn, stick with the ones that work and continue the cycle. If you pay attention, growth hacking is not a marketing-specific idea, you could apply the core idea of growth hacking across the organization. And it only works when you do so. Make growth part of your who you are as an organization. 

One of the important aspects of growth hacking is that you have to measure everything you,” says Mahmudul Hasan Sohag. “You generate ideas, test them and then measure their impact. For example, when we added the “look inside” feature, we realized the people who look inside a book have a higher tendency to make an order. But we found out that a majority of the visitors were not using the feature. After a little bit of research, we understood that most people do not even know that there is a feature like that at Rokomari.com

We then made some changes to the feature. We asked our users for a better name for the feature. We gave it a more prominent position. With that more people came to know about the feature and we also received some good names. Then after some modifications, we changed it to “Ekru Pore Dekhun (read a bit)” and received a 27% increase in the use of the feature. That’s a growth hack. We ran several tests and found something that worked.

We now do this in every area of our operation. We routinely make changes to our website, big and small, to see how people respond. We make these changes and then we see how it affects orders and other important metrics. We run tests with email marketing. We change font, color, headlines and try to see the impacts of each change in terms of conversion.

Growth hacking, broadly, is a model where you generate ideas, test them, measure results, learn from each test and continue the cycle. We don’t take the growth hacking as some sort of marketing tool, we have taken it as part of our culture.” 

Read more: The Enduring Edge Of Rokomari: An Interview With Mahmudul Hasan Sohag, Co-founder and Chairman, Onnorokom Group

2. If you want to do anything of consequence, be prepared for a lot of challenges 

“If you want to do anything of consequence, there will be challenges and difficulties. Be prepared for them and never lose hope.

Be patient. There are things that you can’t fix overnight. For example, if you break a limb of your body, you have to give it enough time to heal. There is nothing you could do to fix it overnight. It would take time to heal no matter how much treatment and medicine you take. Life is like that. Everything takes time. Everything heals with time. If you hit a wall and can’t do anything about it, give it some time. It will heal. Sometimes I may feel that the problem at hand needs to be solved immediately. But it can’t be done that way. An even better way is to wait and let it go,”- Mohammad Rassel 

Read more: The Rise Of Evaly: An Interview with Mohammad Rassel, CEO, Evaly

3. Know what is important to you and prioritize it 

For many of us, a large part of life gets lost in the search for what is most important to us. 

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives, recorded their dying epiphanies which she later published as a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying where she wrote most people regret not being courageous enough to be themselves and not spending enough time with their loved ones and friends. 

Often our priorities in life are misplaced. This is often the biggest source of dissatisfaction for many of us. The lack of contemplative practices in our society due to continuous pressure from materialistic demands has caused great harm to our society. Spend time with yourself. Reflect. Find out things that you really value and then dedicate your life to that. 

“Never lose sight of what’s important – family, friends, health, life experiences, and well-being. Make time for them. Have fun and laugh a lot,”- Ravid Chowdhury. 

Read more: On The Inner Workings Of Venture Capital And Startup Funding With Ravid Chowdhury, Partner, RC Ventures

4. In life and business, there is no place for complacency 

“Firstly, never be complacent. It is easy to get comfortable when things settle down, but know that it is a dangerous thing to do. Never give in to the idea that you are in a good position. Always be competitive. Keep pushing forward. Keep talking to your customers. Keep delivering your best possible services,” - Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

Read more: Zanala Bangladesh, Digital Communication, And Entrepreneurship With Tamzid Siddiq Spondon, Managing Director, Zanala Bangladesh

5. You are always operating at your 10%, you could do more 

You seldom are aware of your full potential and ability until you push yourself beyond your limit. Parkinson’s Law says "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. If you allocate 5 hours for a project, it would get done with that period of time. If you allocate one hour for the same project, it would also get done. It only a matter of urgency and exerting your ability. 

If you see you are falling behind or you are not making progress, it is probably time to check your productivity pulse and check at what rate you are operating. There is always room for improvement. 

6. Practice presence 

Most of us live in a state of half-awake. We are sleepwalking through life and we don’t know that we are doing so. 

In 2020, observing yourself intently make a priority. Observe how you operate, what you do, why you do certain things and why you avoid certain other things. Most importantly, pay attention to yourself. 

Attention defines our reality. Often we go by without paying much attention to anything because we tend to live in our heads most of the time. 

7. Speed often reduces costs. Never put things off for tomorrow what you can do today

Seneca wrote in his timeless treatise The Shortness of Life, “putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. ... The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” 

In practical terms, if you linger a project that can be accomplished in a week for a month, it will increase your cost, deplete your enthusiasm, and reduce the overall impact. 

Live with a sense of urgency. Set short and demanding deadlines. Don’t put things off for tomorrow. 

8. Be wary of prosperity for it makes us complacent 

Historically stable societies become complacent, less innovative and less productive. Be wary of the calm period and the time of relative ease. Be vigilant for your own sense of complacency. 

9. Ask for help 

There is a saying, “if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” It is true. If you are in need of something, ask for it. Don’t assume a negative or positive response. You are an agent for the task and your job is to ask. Do your part. 

“Don’t shy away from reaching out to people. I’m relentless in following up with people who offer introductions or help.  And I think you have to be if you want to build a business. Because this is something that requires so much more of everything you need than what you can imagine. And many people genuinely want to help someone who is doing something worthwhile. If you reach out to people, most of them would like to support,” - Sylvana Quader Sinha

Read more: Praava Health Founder and CEO Sylvana Quader Sinha On Her Inspiration To Become A Healthcare Entrepreneur, Art Of Fundraising, And Entrepreneurship

10. Avoid decision fatigue 

Always be making decisions. Never put a decision off for tomorrow or a later date. If you have to make a decision, the earlier you make the better. Often, decision is progress. 

“A sub-optimal decision is often better than no-decision. You must decide after taking into account the information that is available. Army people are good at making decisions because they cannot afford to overthink. I usually consult with a few people, who may be affected, and people who understand the situation. It is often more important to make the decision rather than wasting time on collecting more information,”- Waseem Alim

Read more: On Becoming A Better Founder With Waseem Alim, Founder and CEO, Chaldal

Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based writer, researcher, and entrepreneur. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and the author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about entrepreneurship, business, strategy, technology, and culture. He can be reached at [email protected]

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