Interview of Saif Kamal
By Tarek Musanna
The amount of startups conceiving these days is clearly visible and significant, but at the same time, the amount of startups failing is pretty big in number as well. There are many elements behind the idea of a successful entrepreneurship and there are even more things to consider when anyone wants to ‘try’ being an entrepreneur. To get some proper insight, we spoke to one of the main men in the accelerating and incubating startups scene, Saif Kamal, founder of Toru The Idea Tree.
Saif Kamal is an entrepreneur who helps other entrepreneurs to take off with their ideas and turn those ideas into innovations. In an interview, Saif talks about how and why he became an entrepreneur. He also talks about what drove him to be an entrepreneur even though he had a successful career. And lastly he talks about what to do and what not to do as an entrepreneur in Bangladesh.
From Inception to Projection
Saif Kamal worked in the country and abroad for more than ten years and then founded Dhaka Tribune, a local newspaper, one of the leading English ones. Even with all the projects, he wasn’t really satisfied with what he was doing. There was something missing. “You get to know everything. You can’t do anything.” That’s how he described working in the media. He finally decided to resign from Dhaka Tribune and start something new after his grandmother’s funeral. “Did I know what I was doing? No. My mentor said to me ‘you wouldn’t dare to do what you want to do if you knew what you’re doing.’“ Saif trusted his instincts and founded Toru The Idea Tree, an innovation hub that facilitates the transformation of innovation to social enterprises. From then on, Saif focuses on accelerating and incubating ideas to turn them into full fledged enterprises, from the earliest stages possible.
As a veteran in the corporate world as well as the startup scene, Saif talks about the prerequisites and other requirements of being an entrepreneur. “Focus on dissolving pain. Ask yourself, am I solving a problem?” According to Saif, ideas should be related to the surroundings and the problems within. He emphasizes on how someone can be successful thinking about the relevant problems, referring to it as “Pain-storming.” There is hardly any point thinking about trying to find solutions to overreaching issues that doesn’t exist. There is plenty of innovation in the world and most of the known issues already have their effective solutions provided by people from Harvard, MIT, etc. The reason why our very own problems do not have their solutions is because the Harvard and MIT people are not aware of these problems in the first place. But if we think about a bit, we can surely come up with excellent ideas. The idea of solving a problem can give birth to so many more beautiful ideas. And to grow these, resilience is needed.
“Only entrepreneurs who get their hands dirty can get successful.”
This is what Saif has to say about the massive fallout rate of Bangladeshi startups. Another major point he emphasized on was to not run after money. At this point, Saif talks about how Steve Jobs just wanted to give people the opportunity to use computers or how Mark Zuckerberg wanted to connect people, and money just flowed in with it.
Connections and Networking
Saif sighs a little after hearing the question about how important connections are in the Bangladeshi entrepreneurship scene. He stresses greatly on the power of association and how it can help you in every aspect. He also emphasizes how it’s not the way it should be.
“Before you invest into business, you invest into people.”
The whole point is, people believe in the power of credibility and association gives you that. What is needed besides that is proper advice. That’s where mentors come in. Saif admits to having a total of four mentors, for both personal and professional reasons with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed as his role model. He identifies the lack of proper mentors as one of the major causes of startup failures. This is where Toru The Idea Tree comes in to help ideas. The entrepreneurs can use the connections of Toru as their own in order to grow.
Even though Saif has a lot of connections, surprisingly, his favorite hobby is to travel alone. He also loves reading books.
What to do and what not to do
Saif has a lot to say in this part. “Don’t be selfish” is the point of focus here. Collaborative learning is very important. Another important point is to not obsess over the ideas. According to Saif, the entrepreneurs should have the mentality to let their ideas go at times; it’s never a good thing to love your ideas too much. If an entrepreneur can give birth to one good idea, he should be able to come up with several others naturally. What is needed is the love for the journey, not the destination. But for the journey to start, the design should be applied above and beyond. The product should be thought to be customer suited and oriented.
The Need for Intricacy
Bangladesh is not that entrepreneur friendly, at least when it comes to the legalities related to it. In a country of 37.5% taxes, Saif suggests everyone to be in depth and intricate. One of the major factors working behind the failed projects is information gap. The information is there. People just don’t give enough effort to find it or they ignore it altogether. It’s the entrepreneur’s job to know and understand all parts of the slippery slopes. It’s difficult in Bangladesh and that makes it relatively harder to grow.
Saif Kamal’s Toru the Idea Tree right now is working on projects like 10minuteschool and The Tech Academy. To make us understand about customer oriented ideas, he shared the Story of Dr. Harish Hande, MD of SELCO Solar. Dr. Hande spent 1 month in Zimbabwe in total darkness to understand the sorrow of it. This is the kind of dedication that is needed in case of entrepreneurship, at least if one truly wants to be successful.