Innovation During Recession

What do these companies have in common?

Zendesk, OneDrive, Dropbox, ThemeForest, Asana, KhanAcademy, AirBnB, Okta, Uber, WhatsApp, Udemy, Stripe and Square.

These companies have helped radically improve the way we collaborate and learn, and almost all of these leveraged technology to innovate and solve a dire problem of that time, but interestingly, another common thread amongst all these companies is that they were formed around the last recession. The word “recession” has its roots in the latin word “recess” which means a period of time where proceedings or activities are temporarily suspended. While we’re in the midst of a situation where people are more concerned about the oncoming days, these innovative companies are a reminder of the array of opportunities that await us.

Innovation during recession

Zendesk (2007), OneDrive (2007), Dropbox (2007), ThemeForest (Aug 2008), Asana (2008), KhanAcademy (2008), Airbnb (Aug 2008), Okta (Jan 2009), Uber (Mar 2009), Udemy (2009), WhatsApp (2009), Quora (June 2009), Stripe (2009), Square (2009), Pinterest (Dec 2009), Instagram (Oct 2010), Snapchat (Sep 2011), Zoom (2011), Coursera (2011).

Thanks for these 5 Years


Hi All,

It’s been 5 years I first started out with this blog. The idea when I started this was to put it out as a forum to write what I wanted to share with the audience I know, and to have their feedback. Also, this was to serve as a platform to introduce people to my work, thoughts and ideas.

Over time, I have received various emails and comments that have helped me improve. Thanks to all the readers who contributed by reading, emailing or commenting on my posts.

Also, thanks to #Amir Anzur for initially suggesting me to open up this weblog and to #HostMarkaz for supporting the setup for 5 years now! 🙂


Priority setting

Many people start out doing on their own something they think needs to be done, without thinking too much on whether it is worthwhile to do everything on their own.As a result, more people are occupied doing things they’re better off getting done by someone else. Often it is the need to finish what we started, or start what we thought of or just get done with it which leads us to try doing things on our own. As important as it is to be able to work on things entirely independently, it is increasingly important to realize what work needs your attention and what you need to do to take the task to fruition.

Priority setting is an important skill that leaders of today are expected to have more than a lot of other things, and I call it a skill as it can be learned. One of the first steps in the process is to ask why you’re doing something before starting out to do on your own.


Managing Yourself

Peter Drucker wrote about effective management of oneself to succeed in the knowledge economy – here, knowledge workers need to not only know how to successfully follow a pattern like the brick-and-motor economy workers know well, but also these people should be self-aware: knowing when to change course, when to pursue something, what to focus on and how best to complete the objectives. Increasingly, people are beginning to realize this and this is separating them from the crowded thinking of the rest.

In order to achieve in this economy, idea driven, impact focused, collaborative effort is needed. 

Kick-Starting Tourism Capital in Pakistan

Tourism capital is a big untapped market in Pakistan. This country is blessed with the most scenic valleys, mountain peaks, lakes, rivers, and amazing hill stations. The country has huge arable land as well as large deserts, cities and towns, historical places, heritage sites, rural and urban settings; to sum up, a lot to offer to tourists, both foreign and local – there are amazingly beautiful areas in all the different parts of the country. What has been missing is the perceived sense of security whereby tourists can feel easy while traveling around. Much smaller countries in the neighborhood have managed to raise that critical mass of travelers that has in turn helped them grow much faster, but Pakistan has lagged here. It’s something that is right there needing a focused effort to grow, and the most important supporter in this regard needs to be the government and law enforcement agencies who need to work hand in hand to build a safer country and then media would eventually jump in to help with changing the perception of this amazing country. Countries such as China, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are all close by and becoming examples of how effective country branding is bringing in a host of investments, tourist traffic, development ideas and growth across the masses.

It is high time Pakistan gets back to work and quietly creates an exemplary country that revives its image. The efforts in this regard are bound to pay back as a sense of security would automatically lead to a more productive, effective, healthier, happier and more satisfied local population, and it would also bring in tourist spend to all the different areas in the country assuring broad based growth and development. That growth will also bring to the forefront motivated individuals, who would then become role models for others to follow, again something positive in the roots of every civilized, progress-oriented economy.

Here are the 5 steps that the government should quickly take to start with this process:

  1. Initiate a very strict security check and clear out areas of any disturbances so that people may feel free to travel anywhere within Pakistan.
  2. Setup a working state-of-the-art, technology-driven support system that is available across Pakistan to link medical facilities, hospitals, dispensaries, mobile medical ambulances, and security institutions such as police, rangers, and patrolling authorities. It should be a single-point link whereby any caller could get immediate emergency support.
  3. Make clouds of areas whereby particular kinds of tourism is possible. For example, put up a cloud for skating facilities, and link up the businesses, services and transport in those areas. Similarly, do it for historical sites, mountain ranges, etc. Make this all available online and allow accessibility to book online or through phone (this needs very effective pricing check so that the businesses charge fair prices).
  4. Prepare amusement theme parks in various cities that allow activities for families, fun for all and competitions for the youth.
  5. Actively market the efforts in this area on national television and other media so that people can actually see this work done, and become motivated to go out and start enjoying these facilities.

Once the right number of local population becomes very comfortable with the system and facilities, there are going to be foreign tourists too based on the effective word-of-mouth marketing. There could be different prices for Pakistani Citizens (validated through NADRA National Identity Card) and for Non-Resident Citizens/Foreign Tourists. Moreover, there could be discounts for tax paying citizens for using any of the facilities.

Such steps would not only help kick-start the economy, but also ensure that people are provided safe environment, and entertainment to remain healthy.

We Won’t Always be Around – No One is Forever

It is important to keep realizing that we are not going to always be around here, and like everyone else, there’ll be an end. Knowing that your time in this world is limited can help you create the most impact only when you consciously decide to take steps to improve things in your life.

Don’t allow negative people spread their negativity into your life.

Don’t bother about what others think or say because that will mostly distract you.

Do follow your passion, and don’t be bothered if most other people don’t do things the way you do – if you do what everyone else does, you’ll get what everyone else gets and you’ll end up where everyone else ends up. Funny how most people want to do things like everyone else, but expect to get what others don’t have.

When you’re considering taking a decision, think about if you were going to die in a week’s time, would you do it the same way?

You Are Not Your Resume

I read through this quote from Seth Godin, and loved it:

You are not your resume, you are your work. 

This is a succinct way of saying keep your head high and focus on your work, and the resume should take care of itself.


On Taking Risks

Years ago, man used to live in caves. He learned to use the tools, create fire, hunt in groups, cook and preserve the hunt. Each of the these skills created us an added advantage over the other species. On each step, we were able to grow a little further only because there were enough risks taken. In order to be more secure, we learned to take risks and over time prepare ourselves to take calculated risks to create “wins.”

When a child is born, (s)he is completely unaware of risks, and tries to pursue every opportunity to find something new, to see something new or do something new – it’s not uncommon for a child to try catching fire with his hands because (s)he thinks it’s attractive. Once the same child feels the heat of the stove fire, (s)he quickly understands it’s not something I should go for.

Risk taking is an attitude. Some people are risk-takers and some are risk-averse, but most have to accept it to varying extents. When people don’t for sustained periods, they end up staying in a perceived safety area, labelled “comfort zone” and as they say, comfort zone is a great place, but nothing grows there. In life, it’s necessary to leave that zone at least a few times to be sure to be able to grow.

An issue with risk taking is that “calculated risk taking” is not so easy to define – it’s a subjective area and the right amount of calculated risk is different from person to person. Also, it can change for the same person depending on the circumstances. That being the case, almost no one can exactly guide you on what amount of risk you ought to take, and one must understand that most of the guidance will also come from a filtered view these people hold.

Another issue with it is that when you do start taking up risks, by the very characteristic of risk, you stand a chance to lose out, or fail and if that happens, people even remotely related to you would start sharing their opinions on how the idea was lousy to begin with or how they knew this was not going to work (no, that won’t change or improve anything but people have this intrinsic need to justify why things happened the way those did and also reaffirm to others they were right). Also interestingly, these psychological reaffirmations on others’ failures are common across geography and cultures. As difficult as it is, try to ignore them.

In the end you always have two choices: to do something you want to, and end up with a possibility of failure; or not do that something and definitely end up with regret for the rest of your life. I assert the latter is more painful. And suggest you go ahead with what you find right, and a little uncomfortable.


That’s not easy.

When you talk to people about innovative ideas, many of them listen carefully and end up with a note of caution “that’s not easy.”

I contest that it is not a very useful response for two reasons: one, almost anything worth doing is not easy and two, if a person has made up their mind on getting something done, then they would appreciate the “how’s” of the task, rather than reminding themselves that the task at hand is “not easy.” So, the next time someone comes to you with something innovative that you like to listen to, don’t say “that’s not easy” but rather point out one “how” to help them solve at least one puzzle in the myriad they might have.

If you can’t do that but you feel it’s a good cause/idea/effort/plan/prototype/invention/innovation, at least say “that’s worth a try.” If you think it’s lame and not going to work, tell them so. Simple.



8 Noteworthy Trends in Online Space

Last few years have seen many acquisitions, buyouts, new businesses and emerging areas of discovery as far as online space is concerned. Gleaning through the numbers, acquisition motives and acquired companies, new companies coming up, there are several areas that are becoming worthy of attention in terms of the next decade in online space.

  1. Payment System Effectiveness: We’ve seen Square change how credit cards get accepted and the way virtual wallets are handled. Bitcoins came out and have become partly popular and partly controversial.
  2. Communication Design Change: People are moving to more mobile platforms now than ever before. Right now, there are roughly the same number of PCs as there are smartphone devices out there. Whilst the PCs remain a separate device used at a specific place, the latter are far more interconnected and personal – therefore, these on average have a higher share of the mind.
  3. Social Media Trend: Once you’re onto a network, the utility of the network is directly proportional to the number of relevant people on the same network. This was still difficult to achieve in Web 2.0. What it meant was that once the networks became large enough, people on that network had a larger “social” opportunity cost of moving to another network. For example, it was difficult for many people to move from mySpace to Orkut to Facebook, but with the number of people on there and the inter-connectivity it provides across different websites, it’s even more difficult to move from there. It used to be a big positive for these leading social media platforms as people usually feel it’s too much effort developing the same network again on another platform. Now, with companies like WhatsApp and Threema, this is not such a big problem. Mobile devices, being personal as they are, already have the updated contact numbers of all the “relevant” people in anyone’s network, and connecting through simply a cell phone number means all those who choose to adapt to the change can become part of the new platform more easily. This brings a promise to the newcomer with an innovative appeal to bring exponentially growing user base much faster.
  4. It’s All in the Cloud: The phrase ‘on the cloud’ is getting commonplace. Increasingly, people are beginning to understand the benefits of using the technology to get location-independent access, powerful backups, support, and flexibility. This has begun translating into distinct business models in various spheres. Companies like Dropbox, and Amazon AWS are opening possibilities to work and collaborate very differently than was the case until only few years ago.
  5. Convergence – One Big Happy Family: Internet has brought together and connected people from all over the world. With mobile internet, people have become much more used to the concept of convergence. People expect to be able to share their experiences tweeting away, instagram-ing their pics, sharing statuses, sending IMs, conducting polls & surveys, getting comments and likes and playing multi-player games. This trend will continue into eGovernment systems, collaboration tools to deliver added-value, software and hardware linking sensory perceptions of sight, sounds, and smell into the mainstream over the coming years. The focus of internet has always been creating visual enhancements, right from the days of early versions of Windows geared towards bringing GUI to the end-user, but now it is driven to create enhanced user experiences using multiple sensory perceptions. Internet will be even more interactive.
  6. Innovation Lead Time Substantially Reduced: With the high-end simulation software resources, crowd-sourced subject matter experts, cloud-based SAAS (software as a service) solutions, pool of committed talent available online, team based offshore development options, crowd-funding accessibility and options for pilot planning – shipping out innovation is faster and cheaper than ever before.
  7. Online Education: With the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Coursera, Udemy, Stanford’s, MIT’s and Other Online Education avenues available now, those who want to gain knowledge in a particular domain are only restricted by their own lack of will more than anything else.
  8. Big Data & Analytics: With too much information, the ability to quickly sift through heaps of data to see what’s important and define the underlying trends becomes very valuable. This will create many jobs and businesses in the future.

 The rapid pace of change would create many opportunities for those who keep their minds open to the trends and are ready for such opportunities.