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Life’s Work: An Interview With Tazin Shadid

Welcome to another episode of our Life’s Work interview. 

In this episode, I interview YY Ventures CEO and a life-long builder Tazin Shadid. A former Microsofties, Mr. Tazin is also the co-founder of a long-list of critical ventures, including Spreeha Foundation, a non-profit working in the areas of healthcare, education and skills, Amarlab, an on-demand healthcare services startup, Neofarmers, a safe food company, and Spider Digital, a fintech startup. He now brings his passion for solving social problems to YY Ventures to help new generation entrepreneurs in Bangladesh to tackle pressing problems of our society through entrepreneurship. 

In this conversation, Mr. Tazin reflects on his early life and his journey to becoming who he is today, impact of attending St. Joseph High School and working at Microsoft on his work and life, talks about his passion for solving problems and his work at Spreeha Bangladesh, Amarlab, Spider Digital, and YY Ventures, how YY Ventures operates and works with entrepreneurs, and how he deals with his work and life and his framework for designing an optimal life, how people close and far have shaped his view on world and life and changed his life, shares his thoughts on the most important lessons he has learned in life and why it takes us so long to truly learn a lesson in life, discusses how he operates, prioritizes and organizes his time, his favorite books and we discuss how he is dealing with the challenges of going through a pandemic personally and then we take a deep dive into how the pandemic is going to change our society or not in the coming years and more. 

Brief show notes: 

1.45 - I feel like I like solving problems. Everything I see around me, if it's a social problem that can be solved, then I like designing solutions for them along with the team that I work with. That's pretty much a one-line summary of why I’m involved in all these activities right now. 

2:26 - It has been a little over 4 years since I have been in Bangladesh. Spreeha actually started in the US. It is an US-based non-profit organization. And later on we started Spreeha Bangladesh which is focused on the work that we do in Bangladesh. Although the name is similar, they are technically two different organizations. Spreeha Bangladesh works on a bunch of programs and activities in the areas of Healthcare, Education, and Skills. 

3:10: I moved back mostly focusing on Spreeha, which had about 70 people working for the organization at the time, and I wanted to grow it. It was doing some good work at the time. 

3:20: When I finally moved back, I came to realize that there are other problems that need to be solved. 

3:56: Amarlab came out because we wanted to make a difference in the healthcare space. Amarlab is a combination of Spreeha’s expertise, I was there, Dr. Zahid was there, and my friends at Zanala Bangladesh, they came together. So we came together to solve a problem which is how do you do medical tests and exams when you are at home, or you are elderly or you are physically challenged, or you have some other kind of challenges or you are just busy. 

05:18 The same is with all other ventures I'm involved with. Neofarmers. The idea came from my best friend Spondon, who is the Managing Director of Zanala Bangladesh. He said that we need to do something to ensure safe food for our children. That's when we started talking about the fact that we are all fathers now and we are all worried about food safety and all the news about formalin and other things. We're thinking of doing something for our kids. Again we knew that everyone was equally worried about food safety. That's how Neofarmers came into being. 

06:05 That also brings me to why I'm at YY Ventures. I have been working with quite a few startups. Helping them with launching their products. I have been working with YY and Shazeeb for a while. That's how I came to think that this is a platform where I could help startups think about products, launching it, scaling it up and that's where I can also bring in my expertise from Microsoft. 

06:44 Now if I go back a little bit to my days at Microsoft. Because when you talk about Microsoft, everyone thinks you are a programmer, especially since I also have a computer science degree. But my role at Microsoft was very different. I was part of the user experience design team. The later part of my career was mostly focusing on upcoming products we would launch, understand user behavior, what are the things that are changing because of the shift in technology, in business and how do we figure out from that understanding what are the products we need to build, how can we solve a customer's problem better by understanding them better. The group, I worked with, was consisted of designers, anthropologists, psychologists, technologists. It was a very interesting group of people doing some amazing work. I have always been focused on that and building new products that people would love. I want to use that expertise and help startups in Bangladesh to build great products and businesses in Bangladesh. 

08:30 The story of upbringing is an interesting one. My parents were in Chittagong. And I was sent to Dhaka when I was in first grade because they really wanted me to go to St. Joseph School and College in Dhaka. They had only one school in mind. You have to get into St. Joseph. Otherwise, you go back to Chittagong. So I did not have an option there. 

08:43 I lived with my grandfather. My grandparents pretty much raised me. My grandfather has been a great influence in my life. He prepared me for who I'm today and in many ways shaped my worldview as a young kid. 

1:56:06 I have always been a workaholic. But having an active kid changes that. I now spend a lot of time with my family. In fact, I've been working on my life for a while now. (showing a graphic) Four quadrants I have here. In the first quadrant, I have all my personal things like exercise, family time, meditation, book, etc. It is all about taking care of myself and my family. The next part is the career. This is where I focus on my work. The third part is investments. This is more about the future. The fourth quadrant is my giving back to the community. This is my volunteering activity. Now I know how to balance my time and energy. Every time something comes in here, something else has to go out. Then I have figured, okay, I want to give 30% time to the personal thing, 30% time to career, then 20% to investments and then 20% to giving back to society. That's kind of the framework I'm developing and I'm pretty close to putting together all the pieces. Everything needs to be in there and if something is not there I'm not gonna attend to that. 

2:11:55 There are two things - what I hope and what might really happen. I think the world would be the same, forget everything and go back to what it was. Every time something big happens people expect things to change. After the 2008 recession, people were like, the banking sector would change, finance would change and so on. But we are in the same problem again where the big corporations again need bailout. Obviously, they did not learn anything from it. Neither did a lot of other institutions. And I feel like people will be resilient and go back to how things were. However, my hope is we take a look at where we are right now, how we ended up here so that next time this happens which can be any day, we can be better prepared. 

2:19:37 People change our life. Some of the lessons really happened in the later stage. When I was in Graduate School my department chair mentioned once that my family is my first job. I think now almost after 20 years I'm connecting to that. She said that and I have always that in mind but I have always been a work focused person. Now I understand what she meant. It really takes a long time to learn a lesson. 

Books mentioned: 

  • Lean Startup 
  • Delivering Happiness 
  • Change by design 
  • Hit Refresh 
  • Leaving Microsoft to change the world 

Organizations mentioned: 

  • Future Startup 
  • Spreeha Bangladesh 
  • Amarlab 
  • YY Ventures 
  • Neofarmers 
  • Spider Digital 
  • Room to read 
  • Microsoft 
  • St. Joseph High School 
  • University of North Texas
  • A2i 

People mentioned: 

Learn more about Mr. Tazin

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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