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Startup Guide: Darden Reboot Chat – transcript of the EVC, DSAS event

Thank you very much for showing up for my chat.

My name is Jawwad Ahmed Farid and I am a failure.

Before I became a member of Failure anonymous, I always wanted to be a winner. I wanted my own world record; see myself where you see Mr. Usain Bolt; ideally with a medal or two, preferably at the Olympics. The event, 800 meters (though you can’t tell by my shape and size now, once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away I ran the mile under 5 minutes). But what I didn’t know then but do know now is that before I could win, I needed to learn to lose.

What you see in front of you is a scene from the final lap of the 3000 meters finals event from the 1984 LA Olympics. The athlete who just tripped is Mary Decker Slaney; the person who accidently tripped her is Zola Bud, originally from South Africa – the one who ran all events bare foot. Mary lost, Zola lost and a Romanian middle distance runner ran away with the Gold. A life time of training, one event, one mistake and if you were Zola or Decker a lifetime of regrets.

I first gave up middle distance because I was afraid of not winning; of being overwhelmed.

I gave up a life living on the edge because I was a good kid, I was told I was not good enough and it was sufficient reason for me to join the herd and my rightful place in the corporate hierarchy.

I gave up a shot at personal Nirvana just because I didn’t want to walk the road that Bud and Decker had walked.

My name is Jawwad Ahmed Farid and I am a failure and I will tell you how I have been up-to no good through two separate stories

My first story starts in NYC when I wrote a business plan at Columbia University that was incubated in southern California. The business plan was simple. Using a mix of onshore and offshore resources we wrote content for corporate finance courses.

The target market were business school students struggling with finance, analyst and associate training programs and professionals looking for online continuing professional development credits.

Starting the business at school made a lot of sense. Your opportunity cost was already taken care of and you had already borrowed money for tuitions, living expenses and rent. Depending on your course load and your background, business was either a walk in the park or a living hell.

But more importantly, the environment around you was unreal. Remember this was 1999, a year before the turn of the century where a plan on a piece of paper with no substance behind it got you respect, attention and a 10 million dollar valuation.

And then to top off the unreal environment we moved to southern California where the incubator was based. If NYC and Columbia were simply unreal, for someone just starting a business, California was like a permanent high on crack.

You walked around with your own personal reality distortion field and it didn’t help that despite being a two man team with a technology interface in Pakistan, you would still get in front of the third largest bank in Tokyo, pitch your wares and get noticed.

So what broke the distortion field?

That is our apartment complex in Costa Mesa. And that is our pool. On an early evening in February 2001, I drowned in that pool. It was dark, I was still learning and getting comfortable on the shallow side here and somehow in trying to make it to the other end, I ended up in the deep end of the pool and there was no one around.

I am not sure how I made it to the edge, right about here and after thanking God, as I lay wheezing and sputtering water out, the first thought that came to my mind was:

Jawwad Farid you are a Fellow Society of Actuaries, a computer scientist and a MBA from Columbia. You have no money in the bank, 35,000 dollars in credit card another 100,000 dollars that you owe for the MBA. You have a wife and an eighteen month old child, you have no health or life insurance and if you hadn’t come out of the pool what would have happened to them. What are you trying to do?

This one thought broke the reality distortion field. Although I didn’t know then, I quit the minute I came out of the pool. It took a few more months for me to be sure. In April when the technology world and the boom fell apart, it wasn’t that difficult to walk away from the dream and to say goodbye to Avicena and southern Califronia.

My name is Jawwad Ahmed farid and I am a failure.


Every time I tell this story one of the first questions I get is what was my most painful moment?

I still remember the day after I decided to walk away. I was busy consigning all Avicena related material to the darkest corner of the darkest closet that I could find and I come across an update from the business school regarding another venture started by another student who had raised enough money to buy an airbus in a down economy to start a dedicated business class service between London Gatwick and New York. Here I was bleeding my heart out, surrounded by successes that were dumping mountains of salt on my wounds.

Lessons learnt:

  1. A total system reboot is a great time to find yourself and define who you are and who you want to be.
  2. There is no better therapy than writing a book to get everything out of your system. It took me five years but when I was done, I had no regrets left.
  3. As entrepreneurs we start businesses and decide to work for ourselves because we are different, not because we want to make an obscene amount of money. And we do that because we don’t want to belong to the herd or let someone else define limits and boundaries around our behavior.

The second story starts in Karachi, my hometown in Pakistan (official motto: we are in the news again). We started off as a Human Capital and Actuarial consulting practice that evolved into a risk training shop that evolved into a risk consulting and solutions business over five years.

We went from zero to fifty employees and over 600,000 dollars in annual revenues in less than 6 years all because we had a very simple business model.

Do one thing exceedingly well (risk) and charge premium pricing for it. Our portfolio of risk solutions grew from a single product in 2004 to about products in 2008.

And you would think this is where the second story should logically end. Right! If this was a movie, this would be the time for me to take a bow. Well last year we got hit by the cycle and came very close to failing a third time.

Lessons learnt

  1. Start a business where your network is deepest and strongest.
  2. As a first timer you will fail, embrace failure, don’t resist it or resent it.
  3. Writing is great therapy; use it to release the tension, stress and pressure.
  4. Take lots of pictures or don’t forget where you started.
  5. Kill your ego – it’s the team that made it happen, not you.
  6. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of being a parasite.
  7. And don’t forget the cycle.

My name is Jawwad Ahmed Farid and I am a (all together now) failure. Thank you

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