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Reboot. Advice from a failure

Hunting the great white shark deep in the barrier reef, bare handed, is not a common hobby. It is just as common as starting up organically, bootstrapping, working for yourself, and taking crazy risks not just with your life but with your entire family’s future.

Yet we all dream of it when fate brings us to the cross roads between opportunities that only we can see and conventional wisdom sponsored by the rest of the world. The road not taken versus being a conformist, uncertainty versus a guaranteed paycheck!

In the summer of ’99, six thousand miles away from home, I had my first brush with this insanity; some may call it unrestricted enthusiasm or as Robert Shiller put it, Irrational Exuberance. I put rationality aside for twelve months and did something that sounds like madness now that I look back at it.

It was my first shot at hunting the great white shark. A business plan that masqueraded as a class project, but found life, valuation, funding and incubation. The hunt lasted two years, covered the East and the West coast, two continents, and acts defying belief, gravity and common sense.

Luckily enough, I failed.

The end when it came wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was the realization that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Failure is a very creative demon with many faces, some much nastier than others. The face that I saw, over ten years, became a book.

In the world of uncommon hobbies and common dreams, failure is a universal result. For an event that we face far more frequently than the great white shark, our fear of failure was worth writing a book about. At a selfish level it was great therapy, at another it allowed me to document my mistakes in enough details for others to avoid them. While there were no sure fire ways of teaching success, I tried my hand at training both hunters and dreamers to fail.

Neither the list of my mistakes nor the items on that list are long. Some though are counter intuitive and led to intense debates inside and outside the classroom. Fail fast and fail quickly. Avoid the love affair with technology. Ship imperfect products. Kill your heroes and your leaders. Diversification is a four letter word. The capital and partners’ paradox. Start with solving the wrong problems. Cast the first stone and question yourself. Get expectations right, especially yours. Walk away from big projects and bigger customers.

As Shane says it in the foreword to Reboot, in the end the difference between success and failure is but a few choices. It is neither the enemy, nor a taboo. If you can afford to charge it to the experience account, it is a lesson that we must learn before we can succeed.

(Reboot: In search for the land of opportunity, is now available at CIO Pakistan, the PASHA secretariat, Alchemy Technologies in Karachi and at the Vahzay offices in Lahore. The book has been used by professors to teach entrepreneurship at LUMS, FAST Lahore, SZABIST and SP Jain Dubai. For more information please see http://bluescreen.alchemya.com)

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