Faraz from Pakistan, CEO and founder of SEED
Studied: MBA Marketing at the University of Lincoln
Now: Entrepreneur and Founder of SEED (Social, Entrepreneurial and Equity Development) in Pakistan
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How did you come up with the idea for your company, SEED?
I have always been a big advocate of entrepreneurship, because I strongly feel that it is a sustainable solution to most of the challenges which societies face. It does two things: it mobilises potential and helps people to look at problems as opportunities, instead of as challenges.
My very first shot at entrepreneurship was when I was fifteen years old. I started off as a cooli (porter) in the Sunday Market in Karachi. This was good and hard labour, and taught me a lot about dealing with people and running my own business at a very elementary stage in my life.
In time I learnt that business was more about skill, tact, networking, and creating goodwill instead of just profits and money. I also understood that my real calling was not just entrepreneurship; I am a social entrepreneur. I am inspired by ideas that have a social impact.
Faraz speaking on 'entrepreneurship vs employment' at SEED Incubation Centre (Picture ©Faraz Khan)
Studying in the UK helped to pave the way for me during the early years of my career. I realised then that entrepreneurship is an art, a skill that one can learn. Unfortunately we did not have an institution in Pakistan which focused primarily on entrepreneurial development, so my partner Khusro Ansari and I set up SEED – Social, Entrepreneurial and Equity Development – in 2009.
The main focus was to create a platform for Pakistan’s entrepreneurs – an avenue for funding, supporting, guiding and training budding entrepreneurs. We were not just the average venture capitalists or investors. The objective was to bring all the knowledge we had about running a business to the table. We focus on business plans and ideas that don’t just generate a monetary benefit, but are also capable of adding value to the lives of people who are living in this community. We also help entrepreneurs to transform viable business ideas into sustainable enterprises, or to scale and accelerate existing businesses.
We are currently developing training programmes and curriculums that help develop the business acumen of grass-root level entrepreneurs (GREs) in the urban, semi-urban and rural areas of Pakistan. A change of mindset at this level can have a domino effect on entrepreneurship as a whole; and the achievements of these small-time entrepreneurs can serve as a beacon of inspiration.
What inspired you during your studies in the UK?
The most inspiring part about my degree in the UK was the advanced knowledge culture. They focus on developing wisdom and excellence: the objective is to help students sharpen their acumen through the practical application of whatever they learn during their academic years.
I did not see a distance between the faculty and the student body, which was amazing because it creates room for creative and critical thinking. It inspires students to not just listen to what is being told, but motivates them to ask questions as well. This, I think, is one of the most important facets of learning – and an important prerequisite for innovation. The objective was not to create an army of blind followers, but to create leaders.
The curriculum was designed in a way that not only helped me gain an understanding about the world of business but also motivated me to discover what was really important to me. I think that should be the whole purpose of education, to help you find your true calling. Education should help you become better, and I was fortunate to have this kind experience. I realised that when one graduates, it is not just a degree that you walk away with, it is a whole package – your interactions, your academic experience and the insights you gain into your own personality.
Why did you choose the UK?
I am the oldest of four siblings, and even though I had this raging passion to go abroad for higher education, I felt it was important that I was close to home, so the foremost reason for choosing the UK over other countries was its proximity to Pakistan.
The second reason was the flexibility I had, to choose between different kinds of curriculums and modules. I felt the courses were far closer to my learning needs. In addition, the environment in the UK was conducive to the practical application of knowledge.
How did your MBA help you to become a successful entrepreneur?
I already had the entrepreneurial germs in my system, but needed the right kind of environment and circumstances to help cultivate those germs! The truth is, passion is not enough. If you really want to achieve something, you need a solid game plan, you need wisdom and knowledge to help you understand what it is that you want to do with that passion.
Pursuing an education in the UK gave me time to think about a lot of things, especially about what was most important to me. I knew that I could probably never spend the rest of my life working for someone, but it was not enough just to know that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It was during my academic years that I slowly began to decide what kind of entrepreneur I really wanted to become. In the UK, I opened my mind towards taking chances, and understanding how diversity could contribute to my overall aims in life.
How does your organisation help young entrepreneurs?
Young entrepreneurs have immense potential. One of their greatest strengths is their desire to do something and bring about change. They are excellent at spotting market needs, but once they have, they usually lack a sense of direction. This is where SEED comes in – our mandate is development in four areas: social ventures, strengthening equity, and entrepreneurship.
We work with aspiring and existing entrepreneurs to determine what stage of business development they are in, and determine whether they need a more solid business plan, stronger networking or capital to scale up their businesses. We strongly believe that in the entrepreneurial world, capital has two forms – knowledge and money. If you're not street smart you will never be able to create a business that serves the needs of the market, and without money it’s next to impossible to scale up. So after a comprehensive study, the SEED team analyses where the entrepreneur really stands and implements a solution that fits the gap.
Our greatest contribution in this regard has been SEED Incubation Centre. This was established to provide start-ups with a comfortable space to operate from, in addition to guidance and networking opportunities. It also has a panel of mentors from different industries, who provide expert advice to these young start-ups.
Young entrepreneurs starting to learn the tools of the trade (Picture ©Faraz Khan)
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs ?
Be prepared to work very hard. It is not going to be an easy ride, but don’t get intimidated by this thought, because the educational system in UK has been structured in a way that means you will get a lot of opportunity to experiment with whatever you learn.
When I was an entrepreneur in the making, I was studying and working at the same time. I did a lot of odd jobs and there is something I would like to share here – no job is menial in nature, it all keeps adding up to your life experience and knowledge bank. From how to deal with people to discovering your potential, that is far more important than the stature, designation or perks that are associated with jobs in the corporate sector. I worked at McDonald’s; I would open the restaurant in the freezing cold in the morning and then clean the toilets. I also worked for my uncle, who had a Moroccan furniture and artefacts outlet in London – I learnt so much about perseverance and hard work from him.
So be ready for anything, and keep your heart and mind open to learning.
Do you think studying at the University of Lincoln changed your world view?
It certainly made me think differently. The education system at the university introduced the concept of informal learning. This gives you a lot of room to experiment with your potential – you don’t just read and retain, but you learn and apply, and that is by the far the strongest method of acquiring wisdom and experience.
The teaching methodologies were progressive, and it was never just about text books and notes, so there was ample room for practical application and evaluating the things that we studied in class. This model helped me to think out of the box and look for solutions that create a win-win situation for everyone, so you can understand my focus on business initiatives with a social manifesto.
How important was networking and making contacts during your degree?
I don’t believe in transactional relationships; what I do believe in is good will. There is no such thing as ‘me’ and ‘my’ on the road to success, as it is always a collective effort. I have learnt something from everyone, and I certainly hope that I have been able to contribute in the same manner to their lives.
MOSAIC Young Muslim entrepreneurial training (Picture ©Faraz Khan)
What was the most important thing you learnt about entrepreneurship through your degree?
The two most important things I learnt about entrepreneurship during my degree are that creativity is a pre-requisite for innovation, and everyone can be creative – but not everyone can be an entrepreneur.
Creativity is the ability to develop new ideas and to discover new ways of looking at problems and opportunities – thinking new things – and we need institutions that provide that kind of learning environment which enables creativity. Every industry has its own appetite for innovation, and its acceptance by the target market. If entrepreneurs want to create sustainable businesses, they must be well aware of this appetite.
People often come up with great ideas that don’t ever make it to the development and launching stage, and the simple reason is that these people do not have the will to act. That is what separates successful entrepreneurs – the will to set an idea in motion, to take the first step and the risk.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to know ‘the secret to success’?
The secret to success is that you need to stop looking for the secret to success – get your head down, roll your sleeves up and get to business! Stop looking for formulas and recipes for shortcuts, because there are none. Every entrepreneur will have his or her own story, an individual set of learnings which may not fit your context, so don’t think this is a ‘one size fits all’ discipline. Besides some very basic things, everything else will be different and you need to be prepared for that. Assume the attitude of a lifelong student – trust me, that will save you from arrogance and complacency.