FaceBook, MySpace, linkedin, and so many other social networking sites offer great ways to connect with people – and lose touch with reality (and the total time spent on a computer). That is even before location-aware GPS and RFID devices, married to addictive platforms like FaceBook, Twitter and MySpaceTime.net (more on that later) make social networking mean even more being social and not working even during working hours.
It is so ironic that just about 16 years I wrote an article contradicting people’s then assertion that computers and the Internet were going to make us all anti-social.
Having started what was considered the first online matrimonial sites, at http://imran.com, I dared to disagree.
I felt that though we may spend more time on our computers, the Internet would actually help us find that one in a million connection from places around the world we could never have gone or known or met that person.
Little did I realize how social networking would grow. Lesson learnt, something that you consider merely a social observation, or the earliest makings of a trend, must be pursued zealously even as the trend changes shapes and directions from market forces. If you are riding, even shaping, it along the way, your opportunities to start something huge are….well, huge.
Of course, as is my forte, I have a knack for starting new things. But, in the past I also had a “rebel without a cause” habit of not sticking around in such businesses long enough to become a millionaire off them. So, my advice is to never lose your idealism – as that is what will help you achieve the impossible. But, temper that idealism with pragmatism.
Wanting something to be a commercial success does not necessarily mean you “sold out” your dream. Take an alternate view. If you work hard and make Project X a huge money-making success, even if you have to sell the company to investors or venture capitalists, you did not sell out.
All you did was leverage Project X to give you the freedom to freely experiment and play with your many other some-crazy some-great ideas without being worried about getting funding for them. That can take you from being a “serial entrepreneur” to a “parallel serial entrepreneur”, capable of trying multiple new ideas and businesses and achieving success far beyond what Project X alone would have given you.
In my own case, idealism was a strength, but it was also definitely a huge liability. Usually, I sat back and a few years later watched someone else do the same thing, with funding instead of personal funds, and grow rich/er. I saw the same thing as online dating grow into a huge business with the likes of match.com and others many years after I had launched the first matrimonials database.
When I started Internet email for my native country of Pakistan, I also became “co-owner and co-founder” of the .PK top level domain with my friend and neighbor, the technical genius Ashar Nisar, who went on to establish PKNIC to manage the ccTLD.
Besides getting a kick out of being called “father of the Internet” (at least in Pakistan), I even gave many people free email addresses on imran.pk (the country’s first email provider and ISP) to promote email. But, never could I have imagined that sticking around giving something for free I could later have sold it to a giant corporation as hotmail.com did a few years later. Oh, well. Live and learn.
Today, FREE is a valid business model. If you grow a business large enough, no matter how much money it is losing, as long as you have enough users, someone will buy you out for millions of Dollars.
When I started writing an online journal and political opinions (Occasionally Obnoxious, Obviously Outspoken Opinions) at http://imran.com in 1995-96, little did I know that I could have built some sort of “blogging” empire on that.
Once again, despite having an MBA and thinking of myself as a savvy entrepreneur, I missed the boat. So, look around you – some of the very ordinary problems you are solving daily without thinking twice may hold within them huge business opportunities. First, recognize them. Then, go for them with everything you’ve got.
In 1995 I became a heavy GPS user in boating and later in aviation as a pilot. In 1998-2000 I became CEO of EverTrac, among the first out the gate selling RFID and GPS based solutions. Alas, as usual, like Panasonic’s slogan, I was just slightly ahead of my time.
Fortunately, EverTrac and my team survived the dot-com bust, but only because we were gobbled by a Fortune 50 level company – which did nothing with what they bought. Lesson learnt. It’s important to survive, but if you sell out to a big company, try not to feel heartache when they don’t make any use of the technology.
But, this current new momentum of GPS based devices we are seeing will prove I was on the right…. umm.. EverTrac?
Hopefully, this time, with my current projects, covering GPS, social networking and mobile-monetization – I’ll actually make some “real” money if I can sell something to a Google or Yahoo or, some even smarter business!
If that does not happen, I guess the pattern (or call it the Corporate Culture of an Entrepreneur) here is that I love to start new things, just before their time, that others make billions off later. But, so what? The sheer joy of starting something new, taking something from an idea that everyone says is dumb, or will never work, and making it at least take shape, get launched, and become popular is, in itself, a huge reward.
So, feel free to call me about what I an doing now. Surely I can help you become a Web 2.0 multi-millionaire doing whatever I am too lazy (or not smart enough 🙂 ) to make money from!
Good luck and God Speed, fellow entrepreneurs.