Starting anything takes a long time and is difficult, which is why many people never start anything or quit too early. We expect starting something to be easy. Our expectation frustrates our agency and we give up. Don’t expect things to be easy. When we operate with the understanding that things will be challenging, we are usually better prepared to handle setbacks.
In 2013, Nabila Nowrin, Co-founder and CEO of Moar, was attending a two-month program in Brazil as part of her Master's program on Design and Design Thinking at the Illinois Institute of Technology. There she first came across the idea of coworking while studying millennials for a project on the future of banking.
Nabila shared the story in a recent interview with Future Startup: "While working on this project, I found out that everyone was working out of co-working spaces. That’s how I first came to learn about the idea of coworking space and it got stuck into my head.” It was love at first sight. Every course, project, and business plan she worked on after that experience was about the concept of coworking space. She thought she could create a coworking space in Bangladesh and the idea of Moar was born. Until then, she never thought of starting her own coworking space business.
For those of you who may not know, Moar is a prominent coworking space in Bangladesh. The company has helped make the idea of coworking mainstream in the country.
Many credit Moar for offering a launch pad for starting their startups or remote careers, but the fascinating creation story of the coworking space itself offers valuable lessons on why we should doggedly pursue our ideas, how exposure can change our lives, and the benefits of expecting things to be difficult.
The first idea I want to draw out from Moar's story is that merely wanting something is not sufficient to manifest it. While Nabila wanted to start a coworking space in Bangladesh, it would take her another two years to finally start Moar.
Starting something takes a long time, which is why many people never start anything or they start it and give up. We expect starting something to be easy. Building something can be hard, we can accept that. But why should starting something be hard too? A reasonable expectation. And our expectation frustrates our agency and we give up.
However, people who eventually find a way to start and make their ideas happen understand this reality. They obsess over their idea. They can’t think of an alternative where their idea will not exist because they gave up. They understand you don't come up with an idea one fine morning and go on to execute it the next day, week, or even month. Instead, you come up with an idea, you try to start something around it, you face obstacles, you decide to pause or give up, you try again, and then finally, you manage to get it off the ground.
Consider the example of Moar. Nabila’s own father, like any good father, discouraged her. She was in the middle of her graduate program. She didn’t have the required capital or the skill to start a coworking space. But she knew she wanted to do it and decided to pursue it to the end.
“I started discussing with Nahid and Tauseef about starting a coworking space in 2013,” said Nabila in the same interview with FS. “In December 2013, I came to Bangladesh and we spoke to a landowner. We also pitched the idea to my father. After listening to us, he said that he would not give us money for this business because it would take 10 years to get it off the ground. He suggested we abandon the idea. But we wanted to do it. We thought we would take out a bank loan and proceed with it.”
While this setback did push back the execution of Moar by another two years, it didn’t kill the idea of Moar because she wanted to do it so badly.
After her graduation from Illinois Tech, Nabila returned to Bangladesh and joined a tech startup, while also looking for ways to start Moar. Working in a startup further reinforced her conviction in the idea. This was the early days of the tech ecosystem in Bangladesh and a trend of community events and entrepreneurship was slowly gathering pace. Nabila took note of these changes. In 2015, she convinced her co-founder Nahid to leave her full-time job to launch Moar.
“I saw that the startup culture and the software development industry were slowly picking up,” said Nabila. “People in these industries were organizing meetups and other events. That's when I felt confident that the idea of Moar might work. [...] In 2015, I convinced Nahid to leave her job.” [...] “We secured a space for Moar and started construction. We completed our construction in 17 days and launched our operations in June 2015.”
The fruit of our desire almost always lies on the other end of a dragged-out long and rough trail of action. However, our doggedness doesn’t make things any easier, it simply enables us to endure challenges to cross the chasm. Nabila still had to wait and work for another two years before finally putting everything together and launching Moar.
More importantly, launching Moar didn’t end the requirement for grit and perseverance for her and her team. The early days of Moar were not easy. The concept of coworking was new in Bangladesh and the tech and startup ecosystem was just getting started.
Luckily for them, Moar founders were not bothered by it. Instead, they focused on doing the work. Everything about Moar was meticulously planned. They worked hard to create awareness about the idea of coworking space by giving anyone who visits Moar a tour of the space and also inviting entrepreneurs and tech communities to host events at Moar.
After a few months into operation, Moar started to gain some slow attention. The Moar team also made extended attempts to bring networks and groups to Moar to host their events, and gatherings to take the word out. “At the very beginning, Sisterhood, a Facebook-based group of women entrepreneurs and professionals, hosted their foundation day party at Moar,” recalled Nabila. [...] “We hosted numerous networking events and sponsored various gatherings.”
The active perseverance helped Moar survive the early difficult days while gradually accelerating traction. By early 2016, after a year of launch, Moar was flourishing. In 2017, Moar moved to its current Banani 11 location and did a grand launch, gaining mainstream attention. In 2019, Moar opened its branch in Dhanmondi. It opened a 3rd location in Gulshan Link Road in 2021.
Today, Moar has more than 15,000 square feet of coworking space in operation, a tremendous feat given the size of the tech and startup ecosystem and the cultural awareness of coworking in Bangladesh.
Moar’s story offers an excellent template for us to approach any new start. Here are 04 takeaways from the story:
Seek new experiences. Every encounter has the potential to change the trajectory of our lives. If you consider the story of Moar, it might not have happened without Nabila going to Brazil as part of her master’s project work. That’s such an extraordinary way to look at life and work. The lesson here is that our chance encounters can change our lives. That we should always seek opportunities beyond who we are now and be open to new experiences. Moar apparently is an outcome of a chance experience in Brazil that led to a life-changing decision.
My journey with Future Startup is a similar story of how exposure can alter the trajectory of our lives. When I was a second-year student at university, I met a group of students who were into building social enterprises. Seeing them, I thought I could do the same and started Future Startup to build an online knowledge platform in Bangladesh, even though I didn't have a personal computer or smartphone at the time. I was so naive and deeply motivated that I didn’t realize it was a huge challenge until much later. Instead, I used my friends' computers (thank you Jack, Munna, and Ashik) and my university's computer lab to write and publish in those early days as if it didn’t matter.
Starting something takes a long time. Consider that starting something will take a long time. Don’t expect things to be easy. Don’t get frustrated when you encounter your first obstacle. When you operate with the understanding that things will be challenging and will not happen easily, you are usually better prepared to handle setbacks. For me, this comes rather naturally because of my experience with poverty and difficult life experiences in my early years. I take difficulties as a norm and don’t expect things to be easy. This is one of the reasons I would say I didn’t quit Future Startup in the first few years of trying it full-time.
You can start small and expand gradually. Grand starts are all good. But you don’t always have to feel down because you are not ready to start in a grand way. You can start small, calibrate, and expand gradually. Moar didn’t even start as a formal business. It started as a side project and part of another business. Once they found some traction, they decided to expand it.
Commit to success and then do the work. One challenge I personally face is that I sometimes don’t commit to succeed. I try things casually and accept failure too easily. I think part of the reason is because it is so much easier psychologically. While accepting failure and having a high tolerance for rejection is important, giving yourself a free pass to fail is not a good strategy either. I think we should work hard and try as hard as we can not to fail. If you fail after trying your best, that’s alright. Accept that failure and move on by all means. But never operate with a tacit acknowledgment that I’ll try but I’ll probably fail. Instead, go all in. As I mentioned earlier, I have a high tolerance for difficulties due to my early life experiences. The downside of that experience is that it also made me conservative. I accept failure rather too easily and pretend unbothered by it as a coping mechanism. About two years ago, I realized that this mindset was not serving me well and that consciousness triggered a slow internal change and a journey of self-discovery through a long list of literature, self-CBT, and other interventions to change my approach to goals and ambition.
Today, I would say I almost take offense when I don’t commit to achieving the best outcome. I find stories like Moar's so inspiring precisely because of this reason. It tells me that it is not enough to have grit and a high tolerance for failure but it is equally important to have a deep desire to succeed. We must not only endure, but we must also not accept failure too easily.
Thanks to Alissa Mears for reading a draft of this and offering invaluable feedback.