Rerelease on 27 September 2023. Originally published on 21 July 2022.
Ayman Sadiq is the founder and CEO of 10 Minute School, one of the largest edtech startups in Bangladesh. Ayman has received several awards for his work. In 2018, he received a Queen's Young Leaders Award for his work to improve access to education for young people in Bangladesh. The same year, he was named on Forbes Asia's 30 Under 30 list. Ayman is an original thinker and a wonderful human being.
10 Minute School started as a small bootstrapped operation in 2015. The company has since experienced phenomenal growth and become one of the most important online education technology companies in Bangladesh. Early in 2022, 10 Minute School raised its first external investment from Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program. How 10 Minute School has come this far is a fascinating story and offers invaluable insights into entrepreneurship and building things from scratch.
In this second and final installment of our interview with Ayman, we talked about the operational mechanics of 10 Minute School, how 10 Minute School functions as an organization, its culture, leadership, ambition of 10 Minute School, the future of edtech in Bangladesh, the upsides and burdens of fame, doing good work, what it takes to build a lasting organization, Ayman's production function, life lessons and much more.
This was a much longer interview, so we had to divide it into two parts. This is the final part of the interview, you can read part one here. The interview was originally conducted in April 2022. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the interview. Enjoy!
Ruhul: How do you make courses? Can you give us a brief understanding of the process? And what are some of the most popular 10 Minute School courses?
Ayman Saqid: The process is simple for the academic section. Our subject matter experts map a topic. Then subject matter experts and teachers work together to prepare the teaching materials. The design and infographics team makes slides and lecture sheets from the material. The lecture sheets are uploaded to our platform in PDF form. The slides are sent to the teacher. We also provide side notes for students. There are other technical steps like QC, SEO, listing, and distribution that respective teams take care of.
Skill development courses follow a different process. Academic courses usually have a fixed curriculum. In skill development courses, you don’t have such a fixed curriculum. We have to prepare a curriculum for each course. It makes the entire thing a bit challenging.
Before making a course on a specific skill, we do some market research. We upload free content on social media and youtube and run polls and surveys to gauge the demand. These experiments help us to understand the curriculum and the potential total addressable market (TAM). This is the difficult part. Once we are done with this step, the rest is similar to the academic courses.
In terms of popular courses, spoken English and the Quran Shikkha are two of the most popular language-learning courses. In skill development, Facebook Marketing, freelancing, and Excel and PowerPoint are some of the popular skill development courses. Leadership, Communication, and Presentation are some of the popular corporate courses. In the academic segment, our most popular courses are BCS, University Admission Test, HSC, and SSC courses.
Ruhul: You have started offering live classes. Can you give us an overview of the segment?
Ayman Sadiq: We’ve recently introduced live classes which are paid live courses. Live classes per subject cost BDT 750 per month. For example, if an HSC student wants to take physics live classes, he/she will have to pay 750 BDT per month. It includes 8-12 live classes, depending on the curriculum. We also provide lecture sheets, and slide notes, take exams, and provide other resource materials. We are serious about live class. We feel that it has significant scale potential.
All our pre-recorded courses are free except for a few small pre-recorded courses in the K-12 segment. For example, a test paper course where we provide questions with solutions and a few other similar pre-recorded courses. Other than those few, most of our 25,000 pre-recorded videos are free and will remain so.
Ruhul: That's interesting. What's the long-term plan with this pre-recorded content or do you see it as a good acquisition strategy?
Ayman Sadiq: It is a good acquisition strategy. More importantly, our goal has been to help students overcome geographical and economical barriers when it comes to access to quality education. It does not make sense for us if we fail to achieve that. We don’t want to put all our content under a paid tier. The basic contents should be free. People will pay for add-ons. This was our philosophy when we started and it will remain so. We want to provide the best quality free study materials to K-12 students who do not have access to quality teachers and quality study materials.
Our free-tier content is equally good. We put an equal effort into making both paid and free content. If a student works hard, he/she can get a GPA 5 by only studying our free materials.
Ruhul: That's good for everybody. High-quality free content helps you attract more users. Students get access to quality education materials, which goes well with how people generally perceive education should be. To understand the dynamics of your business, what does your cost structure look like? What are some of the major cost centers and where do you make money? And what does your unit economics look like?
Ayman Sadiq: We started as a bootstrapped company. So we always maintained positive unit economics. The cost of goods sold is basically the content production cost. After the content production cost, you get the gross margin. Then come the sales and marketing costs, which can increase with each additional vertical. After that, it is general administration costs that include salaries, SaaS tools, server costs, office rent, admin costs, etc. Then there is CAPEX. We have a lot of PCs, laptops, DSLR cameras, digital boards, etc.
Unit economics is all about increasing revenue and reducing content production costs. For ed-tech companies, reducing the customer acquisition cost (CAC) is critical if you want to get positive unit economics. So the less the S&M cost, the better.
For us, it helps that we have 25,000 free videos, and 28 million social media subscribers, which gives us a significant mileage. We get a lot of new users through organic and direct searches. There is none at our scale in the industry. Given our scale, our CAC is still low compared to ed-tech companies in India or Indonesia. CAC is an interesting factor when you are thinking about unit economics.
Ruhul: Other than the things we have discussed in terms of PNL, what are the other factors? What is the science of the ed-tech business?
Ayman Sadiq: There are not a lot of options to optimize content development costs. The main game is all about CAC, which depends on a lot of things. Your NPS (Net Promoter Score), your direct search from the free channels, your organic search, and the number of subscribers on social media. If you can hack these few things, your CAC will be low.
On the revenue side, lifetime value is the most important metric where you need to see the renewal or retention rate. Since it is a subscription business, it is important to understand the renewal and repurchase of your customers.
In a nutshell, keep your CAC low by leveraging the free channels and increase the lifetime value by having good NPS, good renewal, and a higher repurchasing rate. If your company’s LTV/CAC ratio is 3 or greater than 3, it is a superb business.
Ruhul: You mentioned a couple of things that can help create a competitive moat and fuel your growth. Is there anything else or other nuances that can make a big difference when it comes to competitive moat?
Ayman Sadiq: Brand is an important factor. We have seen a lot of new ed-tech platforms post-pandemic. When there is clutter in the market, the brand helps you to cut through the noise. For instance, if there is a sudden increase in demand for spoken English courses, we know that more people will buy our spoken English course because of our brand equity.
I remember an interesting exchange with the CMO of Bombay Sweets about this phenomenon. I met him in a Bandwidth Competition, a wonderful person. At one point he mentioned this fascinating observation. He said: “You make all this OVC and TVC, but we do not worry much about it. When I asked the reason, he replied, “When a new chanachur company enters the market and makes OVC or TVC, we become happy. Because after watching those OVC or TVC, people go to buy chanachur, and they buy Bombay Sweets Chanachur.”
I completely get his point now. This is why the brand plays such an outsized role.
Ruhul: There are some fascinating insights there. What lessons have you learned in terms of branding, marketing, and messaging?
Ayman Sadiq: I have found that the inherently good intention of teaching people is an important factor. People can feel your intention. When people feel that your intention is pure, they gravitate toward you.
Many of our instructors at 10 Minute School have a larger social follower base than the official 10 Minute School social channels. For example, I have 5.4 million followers on Facebook, while 10 Minute School has 2.8 million. Our popular teacher Munzereen Shahid has some 4-5 million members in her different Facebook groups. There are other popular faces including Sadman Sakib, Sakib bin Rashid, etc.
A lot of people have been teaching since the beginning of 10 Minute School, both in academics and non-academics. Many of them are popular and people know them from the early days of online learning. People saw our intention from the beginning. People saw that these guys didn’t come for the money, but to teach people. They love teaching people. They did this for years and got followers. Now that the market has matured a bit, they are creating premium courses.
This trust factor, which takes years to build, has played a huge role. Since people trust you, it affords you certain market power. People see you as the representative of the industry. You can influence the vibe and the trajectory of the industry.
When someone suddenly launches a new course, it starts as a business. People understand who intends to do business and who intends to teach people. It is important. Because people do not see the education business in a positive light in Bangladesh. People can stomach business and education separately. When education and business mix together, perception changes to negative. That’s why intention is so important.
Ruhul: It is an excellent point. Related to that, 10 Minute School was easily one of the largest bootstrapped edtech companies in Bangladesh, you were doing very well and then you decided to raise money. India has a similar company called Physics Wallah. They bootstrapped for years and just raised their first round at a valuation of $1 billion recently. Now as you mentioned, people see education as something pure and if you mix money with it, it gets a bad rep and the purity is lost. And people don't view it positively. I originally did not intend to ask this question in this context. But since you mentioned the importance of intention, I think this makes sense here. How did you arrive at the decision that this is the right time to raise funds? What kind of thinking went behind it? What changed that made you think that now we need to go for raising money and so on? Also, as you mentioned, people see 10 Minute School as a platform that is here to teach people. People could feel the purity of your intention. Now that you have raised money, do you think that perception will be challenged? Will you face challenges because people will now perceive you like every other institution that is in the education business?
Ayman Sadiq: I was fearful of this initially. A lot of people were telling me to raise funds for quite a while. How long would you run on a sponsorship model? Our partner was one of the largest telecommunication companies in Bangladesh. They suggested we launch a VAS service and charge a small fee for our product. We never did it. I felt that if Khan Academy could do it for free, so could we.
Our sponsorships dried up during the pandemic. Everyone was going through a cash crunch. Many of our partners could no longer sponsor us. Others were less interested in spending on CSR. There were times when I had to invest from my savings. At one point, I only had a few thousand taka in my bank account and had to take money from my father. We were in terrible financial condition. One more month, we would have to shut down or go into hibernation. That’s when I thought of introducing premium courses to keep us afloat.
After much deliberation, we decided to keep the K-12 free and instead, create a spoken English book. We organized a tech hackathon, built a platform, integrated the e-commerce plugin, and published a Spoken English book in 2 weeks. So Learn Spoken English From Home was our first book. We launched it on May 16th and that book sold more than 100,000 copies. We priced the book at BDT 75. And I was like, we earned an entire year's sponsorship worth of money from a PDF book.
That taught us that you don't need to monetize everything. That’s what companies usually do, they monetize 3-4% of their audience. Byju still monetizes only 2-3% of their users — the top tier. We decided to launch a paid course for 450 BDT. Again, we received tremendous responses. The course was sold more than 100,000 times. Then we published a book on ‘Spoken English’ in the Boi Mela 2021 and it became a bestseller and broke almost all the records.
Then we figured out that there is a need for good content in the market. People are happy to pay if your product is good. We figured out that we could grow faster by using a freemium model. We created 10,000 videos in one year when we pivoted to a freemium model. We created 15000 videos in 5 years when we ran on a sponsorship model. We could just make videos faster because we had a freemium leg attached to it. The growth allowed us to think about scaling up even faster.
We figured that one way to scale is to make more videos and launch more premium courses. But in that case, we will have to rely more on the freemium model and invest more in sales. And for sales, we would need a sales team. To build a product, we would need a product team, a customer support team to serve customers, and so on. You need all these setups. It was not there before. We did not need it either.
However, when we sold 100,000 copies of the book, there suddenly were a lot of problems. Before people were not paying us. So they did not bother when there was a problem with a product. But when people pay for a product, they expect service if there is a problem. That’s when we realized that to scale sustainably we need venture funds.
We started by studying the market. We came to learn that in Bangladesh the maximum cheque size was one crore taka. It was difficult to raise more than that at the time. But we needed more to create a sustainable engine and scale. We could earn an equal amount of revenue in a month or from a PDF book. So we started to reach out to international investors. Afeef bhai of ShopUp was in Surge cohort one. He is an IBA alumnus. They were raising money at the time. After learning about it, I thought it had to be Sequoia Capital. They not only invest in you, but they also groom you and make the best out of you. After much effort, we finally got in touch with them.
They were impressed seeing our traction. We got a brand market fit way before we had a product market fit. We had several conversations. They gave us some goals and targets such as improving retention and so on. Again, just like before, it took us 8 months to get a term sheet for the first round of funding. Once we closed the round, we came to truly see the benefits of raising investments. We could do so many things that we only imagined before but could not do because of funds. It was a liberating feeling.
At the end of the day, it is helping more people. In the past, 100% of our content was free. Now 95% of our content is free. But the number of learners of this 95% free content is way bigger than the previous 100%. And we can produce more content.
We built a team, rented a proper office, created a structure and model, launched paid courses, etc. We have put everything in order.
We are now planning to raise our next round so that we can go even bigger.
I feel that the market is very big. I believe there will be at least one ed-tech unicorn in Bangladesh by 2025. Even after that, there will be room for a few more big players in ed-tech alone.
There are four industries where multiple unicorns can exist in Bangladesh: fintech, logistics, e-commerce, and ed-tech. There is already a unicorn in Fintech. If everything goes right, ShopUp will probably be the first logistics unicorn.
Best wishes to them. I believe next in line is ed-tech.
Ruhul: These are interesting observations. What are your takeaways and lessons from your experience of raising funds?
Ayman Sadiq: The first lesson is that it is difficult. We don’t know a lot of skills that are necessary to raise investment. Partly because only a few Bangladeshi startups managed to raise foreign funds. So reach out to people who have already raised investment from international investors. Since they already have walked the path, they are the right mentors to guide you through the process.
When you are looking to raise investment from international VCs, your competition is no longer local companies. You are trying for an international fund, so you are competing with international companies. There is an Indian company that is fighting for the same opportunity as you are. You have to compete with Indian teams that are naturally more experienced. You have to take your team to that level, which is very difficult in Bangladesh. You have to compete across product, experience, service, delivery, and pitch. Your pitch and your professionalism have to be of international standard. You have to start comparing yourself against an international standard across all these metrics.
Consult those who have already walked this path before you. It is incredibly useful to have mentors who can guide you in this journey.
Ruhul: You have millions of users on your platform. What are some strategies and tactics that have helped you to achieve this growth?
Ayman Sadiq: Content marketing has been tremendously useful for us. We provide a ton of high-quality content for free. We have done it across channels such as Facebook, Youtube, etc. On my own Youtube channel, there is no sponsored content. We have been doing this for the last 7 years. It has played a major role in building the brand.
As I said, we had a brand market fit way before we had a product-market fit. This is why our traction after launching a product surprises us. Because brand equity has played a major role in this.
Ruhul: Edtech has several players now. How do you see the competition?
Ayman Sadiq: I see competition as a positive development. It helps the market grow. I don’t think we should worry much about the competition before 2025. More players will help expand the industry.
There are a few types of competition. Consider the fragmented market. A lot of individual creators teach live classes on Facebook and Youtube. It is a fragmented market. It will always be there.
Then there are ed-tech companies with websites playing in various niches. These platforms can monetize up to a certain level in their early days. When they try to monetize beyond that, their CAC goes up and business becomes unsustainable. What a lot of companies do is, after monetizing the initial hot audience they start to think unit economics will work for them. But after a certain stage, when they overreach beyond their initial audience, their unit economics breaks apart.
That's the problem.
There will eventually be convergence. In every business, you have a lot of players in the early days. Gradually the market converges and you are left with 4-5 players. The surviving ones then fight for the market share.
Edtech companies have started raising investments in Bangladesh. It will change the landscape of the market. The speed and scale of a company that has raised funds will be different from a company that hasn’t. So the next breaking point will be funding. There will be 2-3 companies that will raise meaningful international funds and their growth trajectory will be much faster.
Ayman Sadiq: Once the competition intensifies, we all will face some challenges. CAC will rise as multiple companies will fight for the same users. The ad spend will increase and the return on ad spend will decrease. Apart from that competition is not an issue. The only downside is increased CAC. But the overall market will grow bigger.
Ruhul: Can you talk about your culture at 10 Minute School?
Ayman Sadiq: We have six core values that dictate our operation:
My favorites are the first and the second one. I have written a book on the second value which is: Never stop learning.
The first value — stop complaining, start fixing, is why I’ve decided to stay in Bangladesh instead of going abroad. We as a country have many challenges. You can see this as an opportunity to contribute and do something meaningful. Or you can complain about it. It all is about perspective. I suggest this to everyone on my team. When you find a problem, stop complaining and start fixing it. Nowadays when I have sessions with new hires, I do not talk about all the six values. Instead, I focus on this one value: stop complaining, and start fixing.
Then I talk about speed and scale. This year the most important value for 10 Minute School is Speed and Scale. These are the values that power our culture.
Ruhul: When your team is small it is easy to lead and make sure that everyone practices the values. However, as the organizations grow, I assume it gets challenging to maintain the culture and keep everyone on the same page. How do you deal with this challenge? How do you ensure that culture remains intact and everyone owns the values?
Ayman Sadiq: We have developed an approach to reduce the distance between the management and the team. We ensure a smooth flow of information across the company. We share our plan and strategy company-wide. We reward the best employees to encourage good behavior.
For instance, we have recently introduced an employee town hall. Our team has grown significantly in the last few months which has made it difficult to communicate individually. These town halls serve the purpose of bringing everyone in the company on the same page.
We regularly organize sessions and celebrate small wins. For example, #workload became famous during our fundraising as everyone went through extreme pressure. We were working almost all the time. Everyone worked hard. So after signing the term sheet, I said ‘let’s have a #workload Gaaner Shondha’. So we invited our favorite bands and everyone had a good time. And after closing the deal, we booked an entire campus to celebrate our small victory. We had various indoor and outdoor games such as pinball, pool, football, etc. We are a team of mostly young people. They make the trends. We go with it.
Ruhul: You mentioned that your focus for this year is speed and scale. To that end, if you draw the growth equation of 10 Minute School today, what are the three major variables?
Ayman Sadiq: Our scale decision comes after achieving positive unit economics. It is a priority for us across verticals. You can grow by burning cash. But that will not take you anywhere. The key to unit economics is LTV/CAC. The lifetime value of a customer has to be at least three times that of the customer acquisition cost.
In the verticals where we can not achieve the target ratio of LTV/CAC, we first fix the issues and then scale up. Because that’s how it makes sense to us. Once we get to the expected LTV/CAC ratio, we try to achieve a non-linear relationship between the growth and marketing expenditure. We try to ensure a stable marketing expenditure regardless of the growth. Once we achieve our target in both of these areas for a product, we scale up that product really fast.
Ayman Sadiq: We have a social subscriber base of 28 million. We capitalize on that. Since our students are mostly young people, we are always updated on new trends in the market. Many of our instructors have hundreds of groups with over 100,000 members in each. This is an incredible advantage and how we scale things up. We have teams who monitor and manage these groups and upload content regularly.
These groups are one important part. This is one Facebook marketing model that we have been able to crack. When we talk about brand market fit, we refer to this. Now any newcomers in the market will have to invest a lot of money to get this level of visibility which we get for almost free through these channels.
Second, the value we provide through our free tier is on a different scale and we receive a huge mileage from that as well. Content marketing is simple. Give people enough value so that you won’t have to tell them to buy your courses. If they like it, they will do it eventually. So our goal is simple. We do not want to sell our courses. We want to give our users enough value through free content so that they come back.
Ruhul: What are the challenges and risks for 10 Minute School now?
Ayman Sadiq: The journey from 0 to 1 was difficult. We are now working to reach from 1 to 10 and hopefully, we will achieve our goal. After that, the journey from 10 to 100 will be different, and then from 100 to 1000.
All these different journeys demand different experiences, expertise, and mindsets. To grow a company 10X, you also have to grow your mindset 10X as a team and leader. At my age, it is difficult but I have been working hard on it. So you need the right people who have the capability to pursue 10X growth.
To take us from 10 to 100, we will need people who have the expertise and experience to do that. I believe as a CEO my job is to set the visions and strategy, manage stakeholders, set the internal goals and metrics, and raise funds. If we can put the right people in the right place, things will automatically work out.
Ruhul: What is your take on the edtech market in Bangladesh? How big is the market and what are the challenges and opportunities? Where is the market heading?
Ayman Sadiq: The opportunity is huge. This is a largely untapped market. Moreover, the market will keep growing for the next five to ten years at a very high rate. The TAM will grow and the variety of TAM will increase.
More foreign investments will happen. Recently, China has changed its edtech policy. India is the next frontier in terms of foreign investment in the ed-tech industry. But India already has several big names in ed-tech. So the funds will seek new markets and Indonesia and Bangladesh are going to be the new destinations.
One challenge will be that a lot of players will see this market as lucrative and will jump in without understanding the nuances of the industry. Many of these players will not be able to survive as they try to scale. The optimization will reach a level that the fragmented market will not be able to sustain itself due to intense market pressure.
When the market eventually stabilizes, which is far from now, the CAC will increase as multiple companies will try to get the same customer. So this is going to be another challenge.
Finally, it is still hard to find tech and product managers in Bangladesh. Although you can find tech managers now, it is still hard to find product managers. We need to train local talents to create more product managers.
Ayman Sadiq: Before the pandemic, while students were fans of our work, parents did not know much about us. The pandemic has changed that. Parents now know about online education. They have seen their kids study online. This awareness has happened. The pandemic has accelerated the growth of online education and pushed the industry a few years ahead.
Now both the consumers (students) and customers (parents) are aware of online education. You can say that almost half of Bangladesh knows about ed-tech or at least has an idea about online education.
There are predictable macroeconomic variables such as internet and smartphone penetration. Our growth at times depends on these macroeconomic trends, which we can influence very little. For example, smartphone penetration is at 40% today and is expected to reach 60% by 2025. To serve the rest 60% of the population, we will have to wait.
The good thing is that the trajectory is moving fast.
Several ed-tech companies have raised meaningful capital from international investors. Many of these companies can now go for paid acquisitions which will push the market forward. All these forces are going to transform the ed-tech market in the coming days.
Ruhul: It appears to be a common challenge in Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, companies are investing to create their product managers. Do you see any opportunity there to create courses?
Ayman Sadiq: We have plans for that. But as the TAM remains minuscule, we haven’t launched any courses on product management yet. We are relying on foreign courses and mentor-based solutions for now.
Ruhul: There are various perceptions about online education. Some people are super bullish and others are equally bearish. What are some of the overlooked aspects of the ed-tech market? What general people don’t understand about edtech?
Ayman Sadiq: People will learn online. That is not a question to be entertained anymore. The real question is what percentage of people will learn online. Asking if a learner would benefit from online education is pointless. The question should be how much benefit one can get from online education. I think we should stop entertaining these questions altogether. Because these questions are blanket statements that are binary. In real life, things are not binary.
The main challenge now is to show people the impact and usefulness of online education. Now is the time to ask that question. Now is the time to ask how much hybridization we can do in this sector. Even our government has come forward to implement hybrid models in education. Now is the time to ask how we can add two things together and get the synergy out of it.
Eventually, consolidation will happen. So eventually there will be acquisitions and mergers. We do not yet have large ed-tech companies that can do that. In India, we have seen several such acquisitions in the past years. When I went to meet Unacademy, they were planning to acquire a few local players. In a mature market, you will see this kind of acquisition and synergies.
We overlook the advantages of online education. For example, traffic in Dhaka is unbearable. Students waste a lot of time on up-and-down trips to coaching centers, which online learning can easily eliminate. This will get even more prominent as the value of time of people increases. As the value of time increases people will be more inclined to faster solutions and faster deliveries. This is the reason why companies like FoodPanda, Chaldal, etc. are scaling up. Now grocery delivery within 30 minutes is available. People were happy even with delivery within 24 hours. But now delivery within 30 minutes is a thing as the value of time is increasing. This is one of the overlooked aspects we should consider.
Ruhul: That was spot on. What are some of the lessons that you have learned from your journey so far?
Ayman Sadiq: The key lesson I would say is to stop complaining and start fixing. Problems will always be there. Challenges will be there. But if you only rant about them, it will not do you any good. To move forward, you have to stop ranting and try to find solutions. It is more so for an entrepreneur in Bangladesh. We are a fast-growing economy. We have a lot of sectors in Bangladesh that are still growing. So there will be problems and so the moral of my story: stop complaining, start fixing.
I can tell from my experience that when you start looking for a solution, people will come forward to help you. I call it the power of asking. When you ask, people will help you. Throughout my journey over these last 7 years, I have asked for help from a lot of people. In 80%-90% of cases, I received the help every time. Some may say that it is because of my popularity. But when I was just a young graduate and no one knew me, back in those days Robi helped me. Even before that, when I was nobody, people came to work with 10 Minute School voluntarily. When we started the live classes, people around me shared those live classes. So people have always helped me.
If you ask people for help with good intentions, people will come forward to help you. Do not take that 10%-20% of the cases where you asked for help and people didn’t help you. Rejections and NOs will be there. But far more people will help you than otherwise.
Ruhul: What do your typical days look like? How do you stay productive?
Ayman Sadiq: I pray five times a day. It sets the tone and structure for my days. My days are more structured compared to many people since my days are organized around prayer. I have some anchoring habits, and one of them is Salat. I usually wake up early for my prayer. During summer, I take a short nap after my morning prayer. But usually in winter, when the morning prayer time stretches till 6:30 am, I start working after the Fajr prayer.
After prayer, the first thing I do is clean up my work chat. My WorkChat is always 0. I never keep my team waiting for more than an hour.
Then I set the needle-moving achievements for the team. Needle-moving achievements are achievements that will make an impact. In the past, I used to micromanage. But I no longer do that. Instead, I give my teams specific goals that we want to achieve. Then at the end of the day or end of the week, they report to me their progress.
I have a journal where I write down my daily tasks and cross each task off when it is done. I try to schedule my longer meetings in the morning.
I work out of our Mohakhali office 3 days a week. The rest of the week, I usually go to our Mirpur office.
After work, I try to play outdoor games such as football, badminton, etc. It is like a must-to-do thing for me. I get an insane amount of happiness when I play outdoor games. When I’m playing I do not think about anything else apart from playing.
Nowadays I try to have dinner by 10 pm so that I can have two hours in between my dinner and my sleep time. By 12:00 a.m. I go to bed and by 1:00 a.m. I’m asleep. Although sometimes I fail to go to bed before 1:00 a.m., I try to follow this sleep schedule.
Ruhul: You mentioned your personal growth is imperative for the growth of your company. What is your approach to your personal growth?
Ayman Sadiq: I study people who have gone through the same journey before me. For instance, I have just finished reading Ben Horowitz’s excellent book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. In the book, the author suggests taking the difficult calls. One lesson from the book is that building a business is not easy. You have to make difficult calls and impossible decisions.
As a leader, I’m more of a mentoring leader. Some of the people I work with, I got them at a very early stage of their careers. I mentored them, taught them, and got them to a certain stage. But at this stage of my company, I don’t have that much time to invest in people. Now I need people who already know how to work.
So now my leadership style is changing. Now I give my team needle-moving achievements and they report to me the progress.
Now that my leadership style is changing, it is hard for me. Because I used to enjoy the previous one. Though I don’t enjoy my current style of leadership, I have had to change my leadership style because of the needs of my company. This is something I try to learn.
Leadership is often time and context-specific. You have to change your leadership style according to the demand of the time. I try to learn it by reading about other leaders. I watch videos and talk. Read books. Talk to people. Seek mentorship.
It is a constant battle between me and the effort to sync my leadership style with the needs of the company. Although I don’t enjoy this process, this is how I need to navigate it. There was a point when the company operated according to my style. Now I try to put my company’s needs above my preferences.
Ruhul: You have earned fame at quite a young age. Fame can be a double-edged sword. You can do a lot of good things with fame. But it also comes with a lot of responsibilities. It also opens you up to criticism of people. Do you have any fear of being judged for your opinions? How do you navigate many different shades of fame?
Ayman Sadiq: I didn’t want to be famous. All I wanted was to teach people. The fame came as a byproduct. I have been doing this for the last seven years. I didn’t think that fame would be a double-edged sword. I had a few mentors. People I used to look up to mostly lived in other countries. I couldn’t see their situation since they were in other countries and I did not have a direct connection with them. Then when I got hit by fame, suddenly everything collapsed.
Since 2017, every year I have faced at least one PR disaster. Every time I face anything like this, I promise myself that I’ll be meticulous from now on. But the same thing would happen again. Sometimes I face these challenges without even doing anything.
It has made me more reserved. I wouldn’t say that my fame has taken away my freedom from me. I’m a privileged person. Besides, my life's motto is: stop complaining, start fixing. But now I’m more cautious about expressing my opinions. I try not to take risks easily.
Although I do not check my social media account often, even these days when people tag me or mention me I get tensed wondering what has gone wrong. However, I have started to become more tolerant of criticism. You eventually grow and mature.
I would suggest to young people: don’t let your fame get to you. Fame has consequences. So it’s better to be aware of it from the very beginning. I wish I had a mentor who would tell me this. I had to learn from experience.
Ruhul: Social media is a medium of extreme. Nuances are often lost in translation. Since extreme views get the most attention, people tend to gravitate towards skewed views. Does it affect your peace and your ability to operate optimally?
Ayman Sadiq: Yes. It does. So far, I have faced 3 to 4 major PR disasters. They came suddenly and were hard to maneuver. They not only affected me, but they also affected my parents. When you see your parents are worried for your safety and losing their sleep for you, things can get complicated.
Every one of those events was tough for me. For the first 3-5 days, I would go numb. I couldn’t eat or sleep and would constantly think about how to get out of the rut. The first few days are particularly difficult. After that, recovery begins. Since it has happened several times, I now know what the recovery stage looks like.
After those hard times, you come back stronger, and people accept you again. Usually, after the initial shock, I try to understand what is happening and respond to it with calm and maturity. I try not to give up. Instead, I try to be open and communicate. It has, however, become normal for me over the years.
Ruhul: What is the biggest fear of Ayman Sadiq?
Ayman Sadiq: Losing interest in what I am doing now. I love what I have been doing for the last seven years. There are a few minimalist things that I enjoy outside of my work such as playing outdoor games.
My goal is to be happy regardless of money or fame. I enjoy my work. I get satisfaction from what I do. So my biggest fear is what if suddenly my cost of happiness increases and I no longer enjoy doing the things that I love doing.
Ruhul: How can one be happy? Life continuously throws struggles and trials at you.
Ayman Sadiq: I don’t know who said this, but the quote goes like this “I wish I could make everyone around the world-famous to make them understand that you do not become happy after you become famous”.
There is a quote by Naval Ravikant: “I ask my millionaire and billionaire friends ‘If you are so smart, why aren’t you happy?’” Earning a lot of money doesn’t guarantee you happiness.
I am not saying that I am rich or famous. But whatever money or fame I have been blessed with, I have realized this is not the ultimate path to happiness. It’s neither money nor fame. It’s something else. My Northstar metric is not fame or money. It’s happiness.
Ruhul: How do you see life?
Ayman Sadiq: Life is not about destinations or achievements. It’s all about the journey. Even calling it a journey is misleading. Because every journey has a destination and often that is the whole point of a journey. Alan Watts has an interesting saying, “Treat life as dancing.”.
When you dance or sing, you do not wait for the ending. You simply enjoy dancing or singing. Life is like that. You do not need to reach a certain stage to enjoy it. You enjoy it throughout the process. Enjoy the process and you will live a happy life. Do not treat life based on achievements. Enjoy it like dancing and do not wait for it to end. Just be.
We suffer because we don’t live in the present. We live in our heads. We imagine things. Like Seneca said, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”. Sadhguru also said something similar, “Human beings suffer their own memory and imagination; that is they suffer that which does not exist.”
Rerelease on 27 September 2023. Originally published on 21 July 2022.