Networking – Don’t be Cold and Calculating

Came across a great quote the other day.

I’m not going to change the way I look or the way I feel to conform to anything. I’ve always been a freak. So I’ve been a freak all my life and I have to live with that, you know. I’m one of those people.
John Lennon

You can be “normal” and like everyone else. Merge and become one with everyone else so no ever loves you or hates your guts or talks about you or … you can do all the crazy things that your heart tells you are right and be FREAKINTASTIC. Let haters hate. Just means you are a strong enough personality to get to them. The lives you touch and the one genuine smile you bring to someone is the war more than half won.

Having said that …

My friends from GIST just completed their 2 week dream trip to the US where they went to Silicon Valley among other places. I was green like anything but at the same time am immensely proud of each and everyone of them. They worked incredibly hard and deserved to be there.

Speaking of Gist, my friends tell me the person who most benefited from GIST was me. I won’t say I benefited more than others but I did better than some. People attribute it to my “networking” skills. Not true. Networking is great but it needs to come with honesty and sincerity. A genuine interest in the other human being. While others network, I make friends.

Let me give you example from GIST …

At Abu Dhabi during the semi-finals we were asked to randomly pitch to a bunch of people around the room. While most were drawn to names from Google and Etisalat I went up to whoever was free at the mo. The young 20+ girl standing in a corner was my first choice. Not a big businesswoman … not at all. She was working on her startup. But more than giving her my pitch we just stood there and chatted about the challenges of running startups. I told her if she needed any help I was happy to assist since I had worked with several startups. After the trip, she wrote. She became my first client from the UAE.

I went around the 50+ startups in the hall (GIST + MITEF-PAN ARAB) and just spoke to them about what they were doing. Recorded short videos of everyone on GIST. In Dubai, for the finals, met co-founder of one of the Malaysian startups whom I had recorded. We had GREAT fun chatting, joking, sharing knowledge, exploring Dubai. He became my first client from Malaysia.

The shy young boy from Malaysia with a killer app for social media mapping and that I had great fun chatting with sent me another client from Malaysia. She runs one of the hottest startups in Malaysia and is coveted by Silicon Valley. (Did I say “Malaysia” enough times there?)

Yeah … none of these clients came to me coz I was looking for them. I wasn’t trying to impress and get them to give WDL business. They were just friends or people that I found interesting to chat with. It was these people that put their trust in WDL enough to not only work directly with me but also refer WDL to others.

I was sitting with Scott Gillespie, leader of the Jigsaw Group, which is a startup accelerator program. He is also a VC but above all he is just a great guy with a wonderful sense of humor. At lunch one day someone asked him, “Oh, you are a VC. You never said so”. And he replied, “Yes, ‘coz I am a human being too”. 🙂 Those 2-3 days I met him, never once did either of us broach the subject of capital. We chatted about running a social enterprise, how he was involved with one called Yacht Aid Global, stories from his life and it was all fascinating.

Bottom line …

cold, hard, calculated networking never works. You can always tell when someone is after something. When you open up and take the other person as a human being with a life and challenges of her own (or his own) that’s when you make “relationships. And relationships are the real takeaway of life itself and not just business mixers.

OK BYeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee



When you get invited to a US Embassy event to meet some guy working with the government, your reaction is?

Mine was … *blech

But today I was in GEEK HEAVEN I tell you.

So there is this guy called Alec Ross who is associated with Clinton and ran Obama’s election-winning Twitter campaign. Used to run a NFP. Wants to meet bloggers and ppl active in social media. The Embassy sends some bio that I skim through but all I see is “blah blah blah blah blah”. But I go anyway. I am soon moving to Peshawar (another story for another day … or  maybe not) and thought what the heck. I’ll go see the guy. And then I have never been accused of saying NO to free lunch. So that was a good incentive as well.

So I arrive at the Ambassador’s house. Am greeted by the Ambassador … had no idea who he was until much later during the conversation. Am introduced to this young-ish guy. We shake hands and he says, “Hi, I am Alec”. Me, being me, said, “Hi Alex, I am Maria”. KILL ME!

Small gathering – made me feel very fancy shmancy and important. Then Mr. Alec decided to come and sit with me and start asking about what I do. I give my very rehearsed pitch about WDL. And the usual “oh wow, how great, wonderful, excellent, fabulous” followed. Americans do that a lot, no? I have picked up on it too. “Mr XYZ, what do you do?” “I do blah blah blah”. Me: “Oh how wonderful!”

I was saying …

Yeah, I mentioned how I found most clients through LinkedIn. And he takes out his BB and says you know what – Reid Hoffman is my friend and he will be very happy to hear about this so I am gonna email him right now”.




I find it hard to type any more. My heart stopped for a minute and all I could do was give him one of my goofy grins coz I didn’t trust myself to speak. I knew I was gonna start screaming. And he asked, “You know who Reid Hoffman is?”

Gun – trigger – face – BANG

I don’t know who Hilary Clinton is but I sure know Reid Hoffman.





Just thinking he has my name in his inbox in an email which he will prolly lay his eyes on in the next … say … 3 hours (he is on US PT) does funny things to my heart. SHIT!

Emailing Reid Hoffman ❤

I can’t talk any more. But just so you know – I wasn’t a complete idiot. I remembered to ask about PayPal. Dudettes, back me up on that one.

The land where unicorns graze in rainbow colored fields exists …

and that’s where I am gonna be for a while.


An Example of Why We Need More Mentors

Dunno how I feel about below. The confusion and chaos going through this student’s mind is soooo ME … yet, she has skills I would kill for. You know my love for anything “Flashing Lights”. How absolutely ecstatic would I be if one day I just woke up and found out I could do C+? *ScreamsOfExcitement* But Hammad is raising a very important point here. We have the talent – we need mentors to hone that talent and give it a nudge in the right direction. In Pakistan, I know the MIT Enterprise Forum is very active in providing necessary mentoring especially in the IT sector. Then there is the Coffee Shop Gurus that incubates startups as well as runs accelerator programs. If you need to connect with them, gimme a shout-out and I’ll be happy to make the connection.

new businesses need mentors and advisorsOver the past few years I have been actively mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly recent graduates that are interested in starting their entrepreneurial career. In my view, there are 21 things that an start-up needs to consider beyond a brilliant idea.

I would like to share with you a facebook chat with a recent graduate how lives in Islamabad. I am sure there are lessons to learn in this conversation!

She: Assalamu Alaikum! What’s the best business if we have investment of Rs. 1 Million or Less. 😛
Me: What are your expertise?
She: Haven’t done business
Me: Education, passion??
She: Fresh Graduate in Business Administration with concentration on IT/MIS
Me: You need to find your passion first. For a small technology start-up, one million is quite a sum. But again, technology is a vast field! Do you have any ideas?
She: Almost All my ideas require a huge investment. :-P..Before reaching that stage, I must be in position of having vast experience and well understanding of how business are run effectively.
Me: What is your expertise in IT?
She: If I try, I can do hard work in possible areas of IT field like Web Development, Computer Accessories Shop, or an IT teaching academy etc.:-P
Me: I mean what can you do, coding, marketing, SEO????
She: Don’t know anything about SEO. I’ve experience of coding in C, C++, HTML, CSS, VB.NET etc. But what is Marketing in IT?
Me: Marketing is essential for every business. Using IT for Marketing is a business too.
She: First I need to have a business then will think of Marketing
Me: No first you need to have an idea and the will to implement the idea. Next is to find the right people to work with, sell idea to get funding – and 24/7 implementation. If you think of marketing after you have business, I am afraid, you will never be successful.  You need to know exactly how will you market your product or service, how will you manage finance and people, third stage is starting the business. What do you say?
She: You are right in accurate perspective I don’t want to waste my time anymore I think one can work on ideas, solutions, and strategies after starting a business because this will not be the end but a start of a self reliance. Please elaborate your statement: “Next is to find the right people to work with, sell idea to get funding – and 24/7 implementation.”
Me: You cannot work alone. You need a team. Also you need to sell your idea (concept) to those who are willing to fund, and when you are in business, there is no 9-5, you are working 24 hours and 7 days a week. Are you ready for this?
She: Isn’t it a new style of business? I’m sure it works better in earning perspective but I have seen people who were not partners but sole proprietors of their own businesses, had investment of less than 1 Million, with no expertise in IT/Marketing, with no business education, even they started their business just like others in progress in the industry as a new entrant in the competition; without a new idea, and they are successful now a days. What are your views on this?
Me: But, you do not have expertise in marketing and finance. You need people to work for you in these areas. I am not suggesting partnership in your business, but anyone who works for you or with you is a partner or stakeholder. What do you think?
She: I can do marketing of business on my own and I don’t need staff for that; even for finance issue, I am ready to handle it as it will be a small business and not a Multinational organization. I may need workers
Me: Hummm. But that is conflicting statement now; you said earlier what is Marketing in IT? Do you know how to manage accounting, pay taxes, submit monthly returns etc? Workers to do what?
She: I thought you were proposing or suggesting an IT business for me. Well, I know and do not know at the same time. The point is that at initial level, no one is expert in the field one is working in, but with the passage of time, people start learning a lot and thus expanding their businesses. At this initial stage, Owner alone can do and must do a lot of work needed to manage the business and rest is done with the help of workers. Workers to assist you in selling the product/service you are offering. 🙂
Me: I need to log off. You are welcome to inbox me if you want to discuss more. But thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my views. I would like to use this conversation in one of my blogs on entrepreneurship – Without naming you. Best regards
She: In’sha’Allah will like to get guidance in future as well. Under your convenience!

This chat shows confusion. There are many such aspiring entrepreneurs around us, they are either shy and do not ask, or there are not enough mentor to guide them – We need a platform to connect these mentees and mentors.


startups need more mentorsHammad Siddiqui is a passionate blogger and an expert in the field of institutional capacity building. He is the Deputy Country Director at Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). Hammad has written over 300 articles on entrepreneurship, social media and policy reforms. You can follow him on Twitter @HammadS.

Pipelines and Funnels – Dammit!

Someone I revere asked me recently; “Do you honestly believe WDL can work?” Without batting an eyelid I said, “Yes!”

Ask me what my business pipeline is and I will give you a goofy grin and say, “I don’t know”. Ask me what my sale funnel is and I’ll giggle nervously and tell you I ain’t got a clue. But there is no doubt in my mind that WDL is meant to be.

Many a days I am tempted to get myself a job. Am offered good ones. Great salaries. Here is the problem. I know if I take up any of those offers I’ll make a bunch of money but I’ll never ever be happy. Now, I am no fool. Being as stubborn as I am has been a great asset in running WDL. Despite the mockery and the cruel jokes I’ve been slowly moving along. However, I am not a fool. I promised myself I would give 5 years to WDL and try make it work. I have absolutely no doubt that it is a very practical idea that can actually change the lives of many in Pakistan. But at the same time I also know sometimes you are meant to be the architect and not the mason. If I am unable to scale it up, I’ll just get it out of my system knowing I tried REALLY hard. There will be no nagging guilt telling me I quit and chickened out.

Its not easy being a woman in a very male dominated industry. Making it on your own without any connections or biz background is hard. Putting up with jeering comments about trying to be “saintly” is horrid. Being asked what you have been doing for last 3 years is hard. You can’t go to everyone and say, “Hey, I know I am where most women in the industry start from. But its’ taken me an incredible amount of sacrifice and resilience to be here where I am now and I am proud of it.” Maybe someone, some day will come and take it to the next level. I am happy I’ve got the ball rolling. Am happy I have a “case study” at least in WDL for others.

I have absolutely no clue how to run a business, I have admitted time and time again. Yes, I know crazy stuff like the infographic below:


But when it comes to serious stuff, I am just a literature student who somehow finds herself doing tech. All I know is this is what I am meant to do. Dunno where it will lead. Just know the journey is completely worth it.

And no, we don’t know where it will lead. We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here. ~ Steve Jobs



Blog from a Sleepy VA at 2:45 AM

Am sitting up waiting for a client on the US East Coast send me an email rgearding an urgent project he wants done. I have to wait for the email because it’s an urgent task (did I use the word “urgent” before?). So if you are just starting and you love your sleep and can’t even think of ever having dark circles – please do yourself a favor and find another job – this ain’t for you.

Almost 3 weeks back from the US and I have yet to start delegating responsibilities. It’s Women’s Digital League – emphasis on the plural. If you have been a VA for a year and have 5 or more clients, go and hire a fulltime assistant. It can get pretty crazy. I am hardcore and can take it (bow) but not everyone is me (bow some more).

But seriously, jokes aside, this is what I tell all women that show an interest in becoming freelance VAs – just becasue you are working from home it doesn’t mean it’s an easy job. I work 14 hours some days and I can’t sleep because I keep waking up to check my email or to reply to Skypes. If I keep this up for another 2 years, I am sure pretty soon I’ll either get insanely rich or I’ll go bonkers. Starting a startup is easy. You wake up one fine day and think, “God, people are so stupid – why haven’t they thought of this idea? I better go out and show them how to do things.” But, making it succeed is a whole other story. Being poor doesn’t help either. So yes, as someone told me, you can do business the rich (wo)man’s way and gamble a million dollars or you can do business the poor (wo)man’s way and rely on your spirit and passion. However, if someone asks you what you prefer please don’t be a starry-eyed fool and go for the latter. Money helps.

I need help – psychological help.

Past 3 AM – still no email … still no sleep … I better get rich … WDL better become a success …