Jedi Master Training

A collection of thoughts.

Just not that good enough…

Almost coming to the mid-point of 2013 and I’ve realized this is the year I’ve spent the most amount of time taking an intrinsic look at myself. And what I’ve seen so far hasn’t been the best. It’s come down to the point that whatever I do, professionally or personally, just isn’t good enough. I want more. I want to do more. I want to be more. And as I get closer to 27, I know I haven’t done enough. 

I try not to be the kind of person who compares himself to other people or is jealous, but lately all that’s changed. Professionally, I know I have the capacity to do great things on par with the best, yet my portfolio doesn’t reflect that just yet. Does that mean I’m not capable?

Personally, I know my own flaws and my best traits, yet when I look at myself I know there’s so much more to me than meets the eye. How am I supposed to keep faking it in front of someone else when I can’t fool myself? How am I supposed to enjoy being “just me” when there’s so much pressure to conform to “regular” standards? 

The good news is I know a lot of people who struggle with the same sense of personal development. Most entrepreneurs have something to prove which forces them to get out of bed, suffer through all the BS and keep chugging along. 

The question is: What do I do? Do I conform myself into the way I want other people to see me as, or do I just continue doing what I’ve been doing (which hasn’t net the best results)? Which way is up? How can I convince myself that I’m not just good enough - I’m great?

It’s just one of those things…

Being an entrepreneur means so many different emotions: ups, downs, rights, wrong, etc.

While Spartups has made me feel more of an entrepreneur than ever, Pinfluence and my consulting has kept me down. Not that I don’t believe in them - I feel like I could do a whole lot better without a little bit of baggage. While I’m extremely thankful to CCK, there are some avenues where I believe they’ve actually held back the company.

When I join a startup company without any initial compensation, I join as an investor. Instead of “investing” money, I invest my time specifically because I believe in the company. I’m still that “investor” because my time equals equity. That has been me with Pinfluence for the last 10 months. In those 10 months I’ve learned a whole lot - the ins and outs of a company (albeit not entirely), trying to keep investors happy, and the ordeals of dealing with a “contract” development team abroad.

This whole ordeal has actually made me a whole lot more appreciative of programmers. Whereas I used to think they weren’t extremely important in a company, now I’m at the point where even if I have an idea - I would give up majority equity for that idea to the right programmer. So much has development influenced the last year that I’ve decided to take my own programming classes and learn things for myself just so I can fill in the blanks.

Early investors are extremely important, but picking the right ones are more important than ever. While I have the utmost respect for our investors, if I had been the one to “find” this company I would have done it differently. Instead of making the deal for a development team abroad, I would have taken the time to find my own CTO within my own city (or country) and had him/her create the product. While the product was being created, I would have designed the other channels of revenue which I now know we can hit. Once the product was created, I would use those channels for publicity, testing and marketing. While they may sound like fairy tales, I strongly believe I can do them. It’s just unfortunate that I’m in a position where I value both relationships very highly, one with a partner who I admire and respect, the other with at least one investor who I consider my mentor. Trying to find the middle ground sucks without making one or the other unhappy, but because I’ve invested so much time and effort into learning the business I KNOW I can turn this around into something that will be profitable (as some of our competitors are).

As an entrepreneur, it’s tough. I’ve never been the kind of person who screws people over, just because I’ve been screwed over in the past. I was raised a different way, and always taught that good karma reeps ten-fold. I would still do this my way, but not without giving up a little bit of my shares to make sure anyone else already invested in this company makes at least a little bit. I’m young, I’m bold, I’m courageous - even if they feel cheated in any way, I know I can pay them back over time and make up for whatever wrongs they think I may do with my decisions.

Spartups is a result of realising those wrongs. We’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in early investment, and were more than happy to say NO. Now, I’ll just have to do the same with my other baby.

A long way to go.

2013 is off to a pretty rocky start. The last two weeks have been weird for me, all the highs and the lows. One moment everything’s fine, the next something or another is going wrong. 

Decided to make a change. Facebook has been weighing heavy on my mind lately, and it was an easy decision to say I won’t check it for a month. I’d rather focus this time creating and sustaining meaningful relationships instead of trying to write the next most-liked status, or bitching about my issues, or following people who I don’t really connect with anymore. My overall happiness level has been surprisingly low lately and it’s driving me insane. While some aspects of my life are the best they’ve been in a while, I’m lacking majorly in others. 

It’s time for a major change. Part 1 of solving the problem(s) is being able to recognize what it is. Right now my problem is I don’t see myself being the person I want to be. 

Guess who’s had a crazy couple of months!

My last post was back in early November. Since then,

  • Spartups added a new Marketing Manager.
  • Spartups was a sponsor at SJSU’s first ever 24-hour hackathon.
  • Spartups was involved with the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge.
  • Spartups reached deals with a nonprofit charity and SJSU to partner up with. 
  • Spartups reached an agreement with an SJSU student club to be the first ever “Spartups” student org. 
  • Spartups will be hosting it’s very own 24-hour hackathon in April 2013. 
  • Spartups will be a partner in SJSU’s Spring 2013 Business Plan Competition.
  • Spartups launched it’s first incubator class with two projects combining into one. 
  • Pinfluence made a major pivot due to the results of our high-end clientele tests. At least there’s a much smaller chance I’ll have to move to NYC now. 
  • Have a big meeting for Pinfluence next Friday to possibly partner up with one of our ex-competitors who now offers a Pinterest e-commerce platform that both our clients could benefit from. 
  • Denacom Collaboration is going pretty smoothly, but I need to find some new consulting gigs ASAP. Spartups should be able to help in that department a lot in 2013. 
  • AJURIS is on autopilot with Bulent bhai rocking it in PK. My role is still a bit fuzzy in the firm, but let’s first see how this phone call with the US Chamber of Commerce goes next week. 
  • Taylor and I have a nonprofit idea we want to get off the ground in lieu of Sandy Hook. Just need to find a decent development team and we should be good to go! Won’t take long to setup either. Between our contacts, we can have this thing fully automated within 4 months. 
  • Need to do a lot more outreach to find talented developers. It’s very surprising how many of them are afraid to take risks, but it makes sense considering how many stories there are of business guys taking advantage of them. Hopefully Spartups can help change that misconception, or at least help protect them from getting screwed over. 
  • Today marks 90-days since I decided to quit smoking! Full disclosure - I’ve had 4 cigarettes in those 90 days, but considering that’s how many I used to go through a day I’ll take that as a huge accomplishment! Helps that I don’t think about them anymore. Can’t believe I used to walk around with that smell on me 24/7. 
  • Spent an awesome couple of days with Sam and his family for Christmas. My first time eating tamales and by God - they’re awesome!
  • Been eating relatively healthy. Need to exercise more though - it’s just tough to get a routine down since I HATE routines! Plus something or another always seems to come up. 
  • Seemingly doing a little better in the dating department, but still way too early to tell. If only people would just stop playing games already and just be honest and upfront with their intentions, things would go so much better! I don’t have the time or the energy to waste trying to figure out what the other person is thinking. What are we, in high school?
  • Decided to take my next vacation in Portland this March. That should be a fun week considering Henry’s been after me to visit for the last year! If Diana comes too it’ll be our first big reunion since Henry moved to Oregon. 

Everything’s pretty good right now. Can’t complain, aside from still being stuck in Los Banos. Things would just be a lot more fun if I could move, but right now isn’t the time. Need to solidify a more constant stream of funding before I can make that commitment, and right now living at home makes taking care of my expenses a lot less of a drag!

Until next time.

Lessons from an interesting year.

As I work away into the wee hours of morning, I couldn’t help but think about my journey this past year and how vastly different it’s been from what I had originally hoped for. Where I had believed I would have found a home and life-long partnership with the Nerditorium turned into what I think to be somewhat of a betrayal, but eventually led me to even bigger things with Pinfluence, ConstellationCK and now Spartups. 

Still, a part of me really wishes things had worked out with the tribe. Hidden deep within feelings of deception I can’t help but thank them for helping me find my muse. I always knew we were after different experiences, but I gave everything during my 8 months of collaboration and for relatively little in return. That’s something I’ve learned to be wary of, even with people who I consider to be my fore-most role models - always make sure you’re on the same page. 

I looked at some of the projects I was a part of and can’t help but wish I was still involved in some way. Boss.ly was technically my very first startup project, and one which I felt very connected to because of the long hours I happily devoted to it. All the plans I came up with, all the dreams I had of making it the foremost podcast repository in the world - only to find out that I didn’t fit the Nerditorium’s overall plan for the project. Apparently I was only worth $500/month and staying as a generalist with no other real worth. It was only after I left and started my other ventures that they even considered me coming onboard as a partner, a partnership I was willing to give another shot despite everything that happened. But no - that final “let us discuss it then we’ll get back to you” never came, and I grew tired of the cat and mouse game that we had been playing since I left. 

Thank you, guys, for helping me learn some valuable lessons. Thank you for helping me find my path in life, figuring out my passions and what I have to do to achieve them.

Maybe one day the three of us can sit down cordially and talk about what happened, put all of this to rest. 

Starting “Movember” off strong!

It’s only been two days into the new month and already making huge strides!

Pinfluence just signed it’s very first post-Command Center client with 4 more talking internally about our services. Taylor is killing it with lining up more prospective customers and really helping to get the word out while I concentrate on polishing up the command center a little more before releasing it. 

Denacom is FINALLY getting it’s website setup. I’m still not sure whether or not to file it as a sole proprietorship or an S-Corp. Probably should wait until I sign some more clients before dealing with it though. 

Found some awesome co-founders for Spartups who share the same passion as I do, and officially kickstarted our very first incubator class with four social startups affiliated with SJSU. Rand and Emeka will definitely help provide a much needed Bay Area presence while I’m away, and their own strengths and contacts will help fill in my very obvious absence and weaknesses, which is exactly what a team is all about!

Finished my first week of Crossfit by actually completing the entire WOD! The running really shows how bad my stamina is from all the years of smoking, but I’m getting there. Love the community spirit at the gym. It takes everything in me to get up and go but Operation: Reinvention is keeping me motivated! Hit a little snag with my no-smoking campaign last weekend when I had two cigarettes, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve stopped thinking about it. I just need to be more careful about staying away!

My life is next to perfect right now. Only things I’m missing: An apartment in San Jose and a lady by my side. I’m on my way to both!

Saif Akhtar - Public Speaker?!

I first pitched Spartups in front of a room of 30 people in early September. That day I had a short presentation which I expected to go 20-30 mins but in reality lasted about 15. I remember feeling nervous, scared and at times petrified whenever I stuttered or made a mistake. I was consciously trying to keep my voice level high, my hands to my sides and avoid shaking at all costs - somewhat successfully, but in some key areas I gave in. Boy oh boy, did I think I crashed and burned. 

Since then, I’ve had about a dozen phone calls, email exchanges, lunches and other meetings with people around the Bay Area about Spartups and what it’s about. The overall consensus is - THIS IS AWESOME! Now to just use that excitement to take things to the next level. 

Our first official meeting was on October 6th in a classroom which put the me in the front middle of the room with tables and chairs lined up in a U shape. I was running on about 3 hours of sleep, super tired because I had four meetings right before and just told myself to stay calm and take care of business. Imagine my shock when it worked - I was more relaxed, took my time to articulate things and spoke relatively clearly about what we were doing. True, everything didn’t go according to plan, but it was a whole lot smoother than I had originally anticipated. 

Today, I just got offered two speaking opportunities: 

1) At the Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship to talk about Spartups and possibly integrating both our networks into one. 

2) A 30-min presentation in front of a potentially large (few 100+) students and professionals to talk about my own experiences as an early-stage entrepreneur and why I created Spartups. 

If anyone had asked me last year if I would ever be caught dead talking in front of a group larger than 20 of my closest friends, I would have told them they were spot on. I’m too nervous to speak in front of large crowds. I don’t have confidence in myself. I really don’t know what I’m doing!

Now that I’m doing Spartups, that fear is slowly going away. I thought to myself for a second - this is going to be scary as hell! A few minutes later, I told myself it was an opportunity to flex my public speaking muscles and work towards eradicating that fear. 

That’s what entrepreneurship ultimately teaches you - Do the impossible. 

So many projects! Aaaaaaaah

I feel like the guys in Step Brothers when they’re asking their parents for bunk beds to have extra space for more activities. I may only be one person but it feels like I’m actually a bunch of different people in one body that come out to do different things. 

Here’s a rundown of what I’m currently doing personally and professionally:

- Quit smoking. Going on day 6 now, and so far so good. Now that I’ve told everyone that I’m quitting, it should be a lot easier to stay on track. Only thing I have to be careful about is when I’m driving and go to the gas station to get gas - that’s going to take super willpower this weekend when I’m in San Jose. Thankfully I have nicorette gum just in case I falter. 

- Exercising again. Alrite, I’m slowly getting there. Came to terms with the fact that I suck at working out on my own and need a support system, which is why I’m joining the gym in Los Banos. Crossfit classes are sadly full at the moment but as soon as they’re available I’m jumping on that train. Actually getting out of the house and doing something in Los Banos might even help me meet people in this small town. Let’s see. 

- Pinfluence is absolutely rocking it! We’re getting clients contacting us left and right about our services and signing up. Dreamforce must have helped. Even my own friends and relatives tell me they keep hearing about Pinfluence, so that’s very encouraging! Just to get our new tools out of the gate and tested so that we can switch to hardcore sales mode. 

- ConstellationCK work is finally picking up, and I feel a lot more confident than I was last month. It’s awesome having such fun people to work with in Scott and Taylor. Have to figure out a way to meet up with Carlos and get to know him better. That time will come. For now, CCK is providing me with the financial blanket I need to make my other projects succeed!

- Denacom Collaboration is still being setup, but should be up and running this week or next. Just have to register it as an LLC and set up the website!

- AJURIS is doing AMAZING! Only been running a month and we’ve generated a ton of dough! It’s awesome being a partner with such amazing people who compliment your own talent. Just need to setup the logistics a little more so the entire business structure is a little more fluid, but we’ll get there. 

- Secret project is a go. Another partnership that, if executed properly, could turn us into a global force within 5 years that’s fully automated and self-sustaining. That’s the end goal - to be able to make money while I sleep so that I can work on other projects that I’m passionate about. Can’t talk too much about it right now but we should be up and running within a few months!

- Spartups is doing a lot better than I had anticipated. We have about 200 great members right now and are gaining traction in various Bay Area entrepreneurship groups. I was invited to do a 30-min presentation at a startup conference in Berkeley at the end of the month, so that’s exciting! I’m damn nervous in front of big crowds but this gives me a chance to work on that fear. Our first meeting is this Saturday so excited to see how it goes. It’s an amazing learning experience trying to coordinate all these things by yourself. Hopefully if we get the website fully operational this weekend I can start creating partnerships with other incubators, accelerators and startup groups to collaborate with. Would be a whole lot easier if I was in the Bay Area but I’ll have to make do with what I can for now. Soon!

I keep dreaming about how my life might look like in 5 or 10 years. Will all these projects pan out? Will I get to live the life I’ve always wanted, doing what I want and continuing to be a leader in my community? Will I prove people wrong for telling me I’m chasing a bad dream and am not doing anything with my life? Or will I just crash and burn at 27, broke and unemployed with no sense of worth?

We’ll find out soon enough. That’s the constant struggle with being an entrepreneur - the ups and downs; the voices in your head telling you you’re not doing anything; that what you call “work” is really just you screwing off. Every week starts off differently, and every week presents it’s own new sets of challenges. The finish line is there but who knows, it could just be a mirage teasing us dreamers to keep chasing it, moving us further away from what we really should be doing. 

Time will tell. 

Collaboration.

Mutual collaboration is probably the most powerful tool entrepreneurs have today, and precisely the reason why I founded Spartups. 

In today’s day and age, there are so many products and ideas being built at one time that fresh input is one of the most valuable tools founders need for feedback. Despite what we may think, there may be other opportunities available which founders may not have thought of but someone else has. A connection they may not have which could reap them huge benefits in the long term.

For example, a friend of mine is involved with a startup company involved in sports highlights. One of our clients at Pinfluence is in the same industry albeit a different role, but they both share the same core variables required for success. Why not collaborate with each other? Why not figure out ways to add value to each others products and services for mutual benefit? 

I’m not necessarily putting my blood and sweet into Spartups, but one day I hope to get it to a point where it’s fully sustainable on it’s own and can link every single Bay Area (or global) entrepreneur and startup organization together for mutual collaboration. Incubators and accelerators these days are so involved in making money that they compete against each other for funding and projects instead of providing entrepreneurs with every single resource they can. I’m a firm believer that with such a network where everyone is connected and we can consolidate accelerators such as Y-Combinator and Startup America and Startup Weekend together, more startups will be successful and more people will come up with new technologies and ideas. 

The toughest hurdle to get over with Spartups is to get it setup as a non-profit and have the people helping me come through in a fast way. Things have already been running slower for my taste, but that comes with the territory in volunteer settings. I’m just thankful I was able to find like-minded individuals who were even willing to spend time on some of the technology aspects which I’m not aware of. 

Entrepreneurs are considered the backbone of this country. We’re not in a recession anymore, but historically our greatest companies were built during them. Here’s to trying to make America’s economy a global powerhouse again with mutual collaboration. 

Chugging along.

It’s been over a month since my last post, and what a month it’s been! Settled in with Pinfluence and ConstellationCK, setting up my own consulting firm to handle Ajuris’s demands and created Spartups at San Jose State to incubate ideas from students, faculty, alumni and other entrepreneurs. 

A month ago I wasn’t sure what I would do. I still have moments when I think “I should really use my degree and just find a decent engineering job where I’m getting paid a steady salary.” Then I think - Naaaaaaaaah! This is fun!

It’s definitely not for everyone. Startups are an emotional rollercoaster at times with the high demands and constant aim to outdo yourself. There’s so much more I’m capable of and so much more I want to do. Despite the workload, I’m still looking out for more opportunities, seeing where I can stamp my name and create products and companies from scratch. My first priority is Pinfluence right now, but eventually I want to make these ideas I have in my head a reality. 

I see myself involved with ConstellationCK for a long time. Scott, Carlos and Zafar are phenomenal role models, and provide their own unique blend of experiences and resources that I know will make the four of us great partners in the future. Taylor is a rockstar, and the two of us are definitely going to collaborate on projects way after Pinfluence is a smashing success. 

Spartups is experiencing phenomenal growth, and I’m glad I took the initiative to create it. It gives me a chance to network with amazing people who understand what startup culture is, and learn from failures and successes first hand. I didn’t design it to be a moneymaker, but there might be an opportunity there if I can integrate Spartups with other smaller incubators. Eventually my vision is to see it become a powerhouse such as Startup America and Plug n’ Play. It’s taking a little longer to setup than I had hoped for, but at least we’re on the right track. 

Some days though, I feel like I’m not doing jack squat. I have a habit of doing things really fast, and when I’m done I feel like I didn’t do anything at all! It’s weird, but better than sitting at a desk all day in an office and just staring at the clock waiting to clock out and go home. It’s a lot more frustrating though when you want things to get done quick and you’re relying on other people to get their tasks done. If only I could plug in data directly into my brain like in the Matrix so I could do all these technical things myself and cut times for completion to hours instead of days. 

It’s fun, stressful, exciting and liberating - all at the same time! Most people I know still aren’t convinced I’ll be successful just because I haven’t really started getting paid, but I’m convinced all this hard work is going to pay off immensely in the near future. Just need to keep chugging!