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Some lessons on building companies

People make all the difference.

“Having the right people and the right friends around you is incredibly important. The reason we were able to raise investments for the company in the early days was that people supported us and made important introductions.

We reached out to a lot of people who helped us make the business successful. This has been a critical lesson for me. People make all the difference.”-- Hussain M. Elius 


Life is all about people. No matter how you look at it or think about it, people are the ultimate source of happiness, success, luck, and all the good things in life and vice versa. 

Building a company is often about building it with a bunch of people you enjoy working with. So it is hard to overstate the importance of having the right co-founders and teammates you enjoy working with and trust and respect. 

The second aspect of this is that you have to be careful about the people you spend time with and associate with because they will eventually define your reality. There is a famous saying that we are an average of five people we spend the most time with. To that end, it is incredibly important to choose your companion. 

The other aspect of this is that people bring luck and opportunities. As Elius says above, it is impossible to overstate the importance of meeting and knowing people. It is almost always who you know than what you know. Founders should spend a meaningful amount of time reaching out to people relevant to their work. 

Now, meeting new people could be a challenge if you are a young person and don’t know many people. One approach that almost always work is putting your work online. Internet is fascinating. When you put your work online, it will inevitably attract people who are interested in things that you are. So in order to increase your chance to meet interesting people, consider putting your work online. 

Being able to see the future ahead of others separates great founders from others.

“Good entrepreneurs are visionaries. They can look into the future. Because the world is never static, it gives them a huge advantage. The methods of doing business are not always the same. Let's take a retail distribution. Now it's mom-and-pop stores. In the Western world, it is organized retail. Whether it's Mom and Pop or organized, the internet has huge implications for all the players that are working there. People who are entrepreneurs and visionaries can catch these inflection points. They catch the inflection point and can sometimes go in early, and influence the policymaking to an extent that that reality comes in earlier.” - Asif Khan


I think a lot of the time, young startup founders today sometimes fail to see this. They tend to rely too much on the trends and what’s happening in other markets and so on. As a result, these days we see a lot of startups that are basically copies of some ideas that worked in some other markets contextualized to Bangladesh. 

I would not say this approach does not work. It works. But not always. Most importantly, it is hard to build generational companies following this script. Enduring companies are different. They always have a uniqueness to them. This is where vision and being able to see the future comes in. When you are being able to look ahead and start from that foundation, you are essentially starting from the first principle. It is something unique. 

The advantages of this approach are so much more obvious. If you can see the trend ahead of others, you are already ahead of the market. You can always outsmart the competition. You are always ahead of the market. As Asif Khan said in that interview, this is one of the common traits of exceptional founders. 

Take this quote from Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson from his autobiography Little Black Stretchy Pants

“I was looking for a panacea for my pain when I saw a poster on a telephone pole, advertising a form of exercise called yoga. A short time later, I found myself in Fiona Stang’s yoga class, feeling an undeniable creative impulse once again. Besides the instructor and me, there were five other people in the class — all females between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight. I was forty-two and trying yoga for the first time. The class was taking place not in a dedicated studio, but at one end of a chilly, air-conditioned gym. 

[...] This was Kitsilano in 1998. “Kits” was Canada’s version of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury during the seventies. It was a mecca for the post-university, not-yet-married, athletic crowd. [...] 

At that time, yoga was a hippie concept in the same vein as meditation and the wellness communes that sprinkled the greater Vancouver area. [...] 

I loved yoga from the first time I tried it. 

As I watched the class grow from six to thirty students in one month, I anticipated that yoga would be as strong a social-athletic movement as the surf-skate-snowboard business before it. I understood technical apparel and I knew there was a much better solution than the sweaty, baggy, binding cotton the other students were wearing.”

This is about being able to see the future and act on it. 

The second takeaway is that being able to see the future ahead of others puts you in a different category. You can catch on trends and ideas that people are not being able to see. It means you can take advantage of changes and shifts in the market. As I have written before, lasting companies are built on the changing landscape. 

The third takeaway is that when you can see the future, it makes for a much more exciting story for both your team and your potential investors. Building a company is not only selling to yourself a better future but also selling that future to other people, your stakeholders, your teams, and everyone else, and when you can see and think ahead, it makes it easier to show a bold vision to everyone involved. 

Entrepreneurship is all about learning. Learning from your practical actions and also from other people who have walked the path before you. We have built a repository of knowledge and insights for the founders looking to build consequential companies in Bangladesh. Read our collections of interviews with founders and operations from diverse walks of life here and here and hone your ability to see the future ahead of others. 

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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