A Conversation with Customer

If you follow Hometown, you might know that we write a handwritten personal note to each customer. Recently we ran our sale on Fab.com. Despite the fact we didn’t know who’ll be buying our shoes from there, I and my co-founder Sidra wrote handwritten letters and included them in the shoe boxes while shipping.

Letter to one of our early customer.

Letter to one of our early customers, Behroze Khan.

Some people replied back using email. Here is one of the conversations:

From: Felix K.
To: Waqas Ali
Subject: Reply to your letter

Dear Waqas Ali,

first of all i would like to say that i am very happy with my new shoes. You and your team did a very, very nice job! Thank you for your letter. It was very surprising to find a letter in the box. This gave the shoes a very personal touch. Even the fact that you take the time to write a letter (by hand) shows that you take care about your customers. I wish more manufactories like yours will combine perfect craftsmanship with current technologies. Keep it going, and thank you and your employees.

With best regards from Lake Constance, Germany

Felix J. Keller

My reply to Felix:

Dear Felix

I am very honoured and humbled to hear from you. And that, such a positive note. Thank you again for taking time to do this for us.

That is right that Hometown combines craftsmanship with technology and storytelling. Stories just like these.

I never knew that Lake Constance is a place in Germany, now I know that and may be sometime I shall come visit you. Your feedback is very valuable and we’ll make Hometown even a better place to buy from.

If it is okay with you, consider sharing a picture (or more) of yours with Hometown shoes. We would put this in our office.

And if we can help in any way, please write me here like a friend!

Best wishes from Lahore, Pakistan

Sincerely, Waqas Ali.

The purpose of sharing this conversation is, so that other can learn from our experience and use something out of it.

Cheap Global Shipping

Do you think FedEx or DHL are utilizing the most advance + cost effective technology to run their operations? I doubt.

I’m building a startup in Pakistan, and we sell / ship shoes around the globe. From here, DHL, UPS and FedEx charges $50-$70 to ship a pair of shoes in US / UK. So we depend on a small local company which buys bulk space from big logistics companies and sell to businesses like mine at a cheaper rate.

From my tiny personal experience of working with logistics companies, I realize one thing. Like many other industries out there, logistics companies are far behind in using the innovative technology. They must do it for efficiency, to save money and time. If they do so, it is treat for us and for them too.

Technology has enabled us to communicate from any corner of the earth and beyond. And we are doing it. I* You can make payment anywhere in the world, and buy or sell too. But shipping, it is still expensive, risky and not fun. It badly needs to be changed at earliest.

And I believe a company like Google will do it, or may be Amazon, or Yours (why not?!).

To firm my belief, I read this today on Think Quarterly. See line 5 of paragraph 6 here.

Fireside Chat with Sanjeev Bikhchandani of Naukri.com — #TiECon Lahore

“Waqas don’t lose money on sales. E-commerce is more about commerce and less about ‘E’ thing.”

This is the first thing I learned yesterday from Sanjeev Bikhchandani, while he handed over me his business card. He is founder of naukri.com a company he founded in March 1997, now he serves as the founder and executive vice chairman of InfoEdge India, a traded Internet company valued at $700 Million.

I and Sidra, were especially interested in his story of building a company from scratch. And we learned quite a lot.

Today he was talking to young (& some old) entrepreneurs, at an event by TiECon Lahore. This was actually a conversation between Sanjeev and Monis Rehaman (CEO of Rozee.pk). The conversation was very interesting and thoughtful, that is what you expect when two leaders of recruitment portal sit together. Sanjeev shares his experiences and lessons to entrepreneurs distilled from his experience of building naukri.com and other startups where he advises and invest.

See the points below, I am just putting them in bullets:

  • The best way to build a company is: find an unsolved problem and build a business around it. That is the best way.
  • Don’t start startup just for the sake of big valuations to raise maximum funding. It’ll lead you to nothing, instead focus on building a pure business first.
  • Great companies are built out of competitions.
  • For the first 6 months of naukri.com I hadn’t any computer. I was doing a job at 5k and a computer was priced at 100k those days, so I was using this computer of my friend. And he would let me use it from 10pm till 4am.
  • I was fortunate to have customer insight of the business I was starting, so it was a big advantage at then. If you get to have a customer insight, then you don’t have to spend lot of time and energy on market research.
  • Avail the opportunity to max. Example: I had data of the HR managers of 100s of companies, so we built a mailing list and started writing them why naukri.com is right channel for them. It worked!
  • Know the value of money, spend it wisely in business. We rejected an investor who was encouraging us to spend all his investment in advertising, and that too within 6 months. So we instead, found out someone who had approach like us and accepted their investment.
  • I learned how hard it was to raise the revenue through Internet, in early days.
  • When the company was expending, we hired really good guys. Things didn’t end there, I accept the reality that I shouldn’t be the only one to make all decision, as I was doing for past few years. We gave this new talent the decision power and supported within company. This all lead to progress.
  • I approached to a guy who could build a software for us, it was his first time to make such a software to integrate with our site, and I had no money to pay him. So instead of spending time on raising money, I shared equity with him. It worked very well.
  •  I was approaching to the right kind of people at right time. Like, when I needed a programmer: I did not go for any big name or someone working at large company. They wouldn’t work for me at that time, so I went to people who were working from home office. They did the job.
  • Along side, I am engaged in building a first of its kind university in India, which is focused on Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and it offers students a 4 year baccalaureate program and lets students choose their final subjects after two years of study.
  • Entrepreneur is about making choices and then working hard to make your dreams come true, if I would been doing the first job I did. I couldn’t afford the kind of education for my daughter, what I’m providing now.
  • I make milestones for myself. In 5 years, I’ll be at that stage of business and life, and in next 5 I’ll be somewhere better, and so on. That’s how I see it all.

Wow! Thank you Sanjeev and Monis, that was quite a learning + inspiring session. Fellow participants, if I missed anything, please include that in comments below.

Personal Note for my blog readers: This post might come as a surprise. I’m doing fine and HOMETOWN is making remarkable achievements. I’ll be making my remarks later this week. 🙂 Thank you.

You Are Either Problem Solver, Or Not Entrepreneur At All

First time entrepreneurs or young one like me, or most of us often ask this question to themselves, and people we meet around.

In the picture above is ‘Sharo‘ who for the first time is going to start her company.

And when she puts her questions before people who claim to have good experience in business. They answer it like this.

Or worse, here she is again:

Everyone is answering entirely from his/her own experience.

In this picture, she wants to learn what possible challenges, opportunities, and environment she will encounter on the road of entrepreneurship. Or in other words what advice you have for someone who’s thinking to cross the wall.

For answers, she goes to Tom, Ravi and David, all three of them have some experience in their fields.

Their answers are: TREES, MOUNTAINS and WATER.

Which means, Tom thinks she should learn how to survive in forests.

While Ravi believes, she must learn mountain climbing and how to survive in extreme hot and cold temprature.

And David recommends to focus on swimming and boating, which can help her to cross streams and rivers on her way.

What you think? What should she learn? Three of these skills, or every possible thing she can learn?

Here is what I think.

As a human or more specifically as an entrepreneur, we never know what challenges we shall have behind the wall of our comfortzone. And successful people have this one habit, they go behind the wall with a problem solving mindset and face everything on the way.

They do not assume specific environment, conditions, or challenges. Though each of them is jack of some trades, and master of one or two.

But this is their mindset which matters the most.

Today, I briefly talked with my team that, do not assume that all the challenges and opportunties will be the same as we percieve them now. Things are changing all the time, so does the challenges and opportunities which it brings.

Just make sure, you’ve allingned yourself well with the changes and you have this confidence that you shall solve every problem which would come between you and your destination.

Got it! Have problem solving mind? Oh WOW!

Want to Fix Problems? Learn or Find Learner

Making something from scratch ain’t easy, but it is never boring. I love working on Hometown.

But here is a problem/opportunity I am encountering every single day.

For the past 4 years I have been learning about internet tools, doing business and what not. Yes I was taking help from all the gurus, resources and my experience. So what is the problem?

Problem is very simple. All the problems I am facing are totally new for me, I have never encountered anything like that. I have never talked with VCs or worked on business plan.

And when I look back at what I learned. It doesn’t help very much, so every time to fix a problem I have to learn the solution. Thankfully I am proudly one of the best known learner I have ever met.

This girl is learning and solving a problem at the same time.

Got the point?

Time has been changing all the time, this time changes are faster. Everything has changed, and it’ll keep changing. So who can help you to address changes.

As we have talked earlier, a person with ‘15 years of experience‘ is not gonna help. Instead we need a learner, who can learn faster. Who is eager to learn from success, average results and from failure the most.

Take a deep breath. <– Please do it.

Give some thoughts to whom you are hiring, or going to work with. Is she a good learner.

Same idea applies in relationships. Thankfully no one is perfect, in the life, everyone of us faces new problems and challenges. For example, I shall have a a wife, and some kids. Some in-laws too. <– Every problem shall be new. I am ready. 😉

Best is the one who keeps learning. Rather than living life based on past experience.

I recently learned from Robin Dickinson, who said this:

The past is not the future.

OMG! It is not. It is not at all.

It is all good to live in present and more importantly looking into future.

I love being learner, and working with great learners.

Be a learner! Surround yourself with learners!

100th Post – Big Day

NEWS: I got funding for my business project. Read below to know more. 😀

Earlier this year on Jan 28 (which is my birthday), I shared what I have in mind for 23rd year of life.

“This year is gonna be the most important phase of my life. I especially love having all of you on this journey, through blogging, social media and phone calls and yes in person. I’m looking forward to execute number of projects in business and of my life.”

Here is what happened so far, instead of getting more business I started disbelieving in what I was doing. I started feeling unhappy about myself. <– I think it happens with everyone of us at sometimes.

But writing this blog made me focused again, I kept going with learning, making more genuine friends. I started loving and believing in myself.

In 2010 I was having a conversation with a group of people in my hometown. Who were talking about how things are in Pakistan and how west is involved in all this. A 51 years old guy named Mohd. Hussain (who is now my friend) told about a text message stating how Facebook is hurting muslims by promoting blasphamious content.

Then I interrupted the discussion and told them what is true and what really is social media. Later me and Hussain had a long conversation where he told me about his business. He and his small team, makes 100% hand-stitched leather shoes.

Because of very limited resources, they were compelled to sell them to some big brands. Which makes money from him, and he doesn’t as much.

I shall be working with these guys, who do such an awesome work.

I asked him, why don’t we sell them online, I offered him my help. But we couldn’t get started because both of us couldn’t arrange extra money for that.

I kept trying, asked to some of my rich friends but resulted nothing. Then I started looking for funding, we applied at P@SHA ‘s Social Innovation Fund, and yes we made it.

Out of 370 ideas which were submitted, we made in the first 3. You can see first round winners by clicking on the image in left.

I appreciate P@SHA, sponsors and judges who encourage my idea, and providing financial and consultancy support. Me and my team is genuinely thankful to them for believe in us and what we aim to do. It’ll be fun and the work we will love to do.

And I believe coming days are far brighter and full of learning. Thanks to each and everyone of you, who visit and encourage me. I’m happy to surround myself with people who lift me. And I look forward to kill what I eat.

One more thing.. There is also another interesting and big project I’m working on with some of the best folks I know. Stay here.. Right here and we’ll make it.

I’m so happy, this’s post which is also 100th post on this blog is a truly special. I believe no need to outline today’s learning, just keep learning, relearning and unlearning. Change your actions to achieve different result and you’ll change world for you. Thank you again very much, I’m full of gratitude now. Happy!

Have something to say? Would love to see you in comments.