Sleem Hasan: The Father of Startups on His Risk-Taking Approach to Life

August 04, 2020 Alex Romanovich
Sleem Hasan: The Father of Startups on His Risk-Taking Approach to Life
Start of the career in the UK and moving to Dubai
Risk-taking approach to life
Age in entrepreneurship
The impact of COVID on entrepreneurship
Sleem Hasan: The Father of Startups on His Risk-Taking Approach to Life
Aug 04, 2020
Alex Romanovich

Sleem Hasan is an Experienced Owner with a demonstrated history of working in the venture capital and private equity industry. Skilled in Investor Relations, Securities, Asset Management, Investment Advisory, and Mutual Funds. Strong entrepreneurship professional with a Part III Mathematical Tripos focused in Physical Applied Mathematics from the University of Cambridge.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Sleem Hasan is an Experienced Owner with a demonstrated history of working in the venture capital and private equity industry. Skilled in Investor Relations, Securities, Asset Management, Investment Advisory, and Mutual Funds. Strong entrepreneurship professional with a Part III Mathematical Tripos focused in Physical Applied Mathematics from the University of Cambridge.

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Alex Romanovich (00:00):
Hi, this is Alex Romanovich, and welcome to GlobalEdgeTalk. Today we have a wonderful guest by the name of Sleem Hasan. Hello, Sleem.

Sleem Hasan (00:09):
Hi, Alex.

Alex Romanovich (00:10):
We're going to talk about his amazing journey to Dubai, but first, let me make a very quick introduction. Sleem is the CEO and founder of Privity, which is an independent Dubai based advisory and investment firm. It was founded in 2004. Prior to that, he was deeply involved with the financial services industry and Fintech industry. He was also an executive director at Nikko, a Japanese company. Prior to that, his education takes us to the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford of all the places in London, where he received his accolades as a Master's of honors in mathematics and then physical applied mathematics. Sleem, welcome to our studio and welcome to our podcast. And the first question that comes to mind is mathematics, London, your family is from Pakistan. How do you wind up in Dubai? Please tell us.

Sleem Hasan (01:13):
Well, I might as well start from the beginning because then you'll get the entire picture, if you allow me to. I was born in the Fiji Islands. That's in the South Pacific and at the age of two, my father got a job, my late father got a job to move to Nigeria. I come from a family of lawyers: my sisters, third or fourth-generation barristers in the family. And everybody did law, so we moved to Nigeria and that's where my formative years were spent in the Northern parts of Nigeria starting off in Kano, then Kaduna, then Sokoto. And then from Sokoto where I did my only levels to the English system, I got a place to read mathematics at Oxford at my late father's old college, Wadham College at Oxford.

Sleem Hasan (02:11):
So I was very excited and I arrived in Oxford, I remember, in September-October 1978, and they very kindly gave me his old room, staircase 11, room 6. And that really, really chuffed me to no end. And yeah, I spent three years there and I fell in love with maths and I wanted to be an academic. So my tutor advised me to do the part three of the mathematical tripos at Cambridge, which is basically one of the two triposes at Cambridge that actually has four parts. It's almost like a misnomer tripos would imply three. That's the number that comes to mind, but mathematics and physics actually have four parts. And the part three of the mathematical tripos at Cambridge is almost like a stepping stone to do a Ph.D. So that was really the game plan initially. Having secured a grant to read at, to do the part three of the math stripe was at Cambridge.

Sleem Hasan (03:13):
I thought, well, if I can secure a grant to do a Ph.D, there'll be no burden on my late father. And I'll be happy to do that. Unfortunately, I did not get a grant, so consider myself a failed academic at heart. And that's when I decided to move to London and decided to earn my crust. These were early Thatcher years, early 80', the years 1982 now. And it wasn't easy trying to secure a job because a lot of privatization programs going on, culling exercises were in place, but I persevered and 11-12 months later pounding the streets and knocking on doors and applying for jobs. There were three Japanese companies that actually very kindly invited me for a first interview. Two of them actually turned me down and that wasn't surprising because I'd had a huge long list of rejections till that point.

Sleem Hasan (04:17):
And then one particular company called Nikko Europe PLC invited me back for a second interview and guess what? They offered me a job as a graduate trainee, inbound salesman to start my career. And the rest is history, as they say. And that's how my journey sort of changed from the world of academia into the financial world. I just wanted a job. They were kind enough to offer me a job. They sent me to Japan to train in 1984. So that was a show years. And I'm sure you're familiar with that, Alex, you seem to be quite knowledgeable on Japan yourself.

Alex Romanovich (04:55):
Yes, a little bit.

Sleem Hasan (04:55):
And I mean, that was the emperor at the time. So they go by the emperors period. Yeah, so I trained in Japan, came back and at the age of 26, I was one of the youngest directors, if not the youngest director pointed at Nikko Europe PLC.

Sleem Hasan (05:13):
I ran the equity and equity derivatives department for seven of the 11 years that I was there. And I guess I had risen up the ladder as fast as one could do as a gaijin, meaning non-Japanese as opposed to the Nihongjins. And I had a lot of fire in my belly and I wanted to do more, but obviously you hit a glass ceiling. And that's when I went to the chairman of Nikko Europe at the time and I asked him if he could grant me early release, he gave me his blessings. And that was when I really embarked into the big, bad world to try my luck at doing my own thing. And it took a while to plan to the SFA, which is the UK regulatory body for financial institutions. They've since then changed or morphed in terms of their structure.

Sleem Hasan (06:08):
But it's now called the Financial Conduct Authority of the United Kingdom. It's equivalent to your SCC in the U.S. and 11 months later, August, 1996, I get a letter from the SFA saying you've been granted a license to start work, and guess what? I never looked back. I just got my hands and feet deep dived into it straight away and started working like a maniac. And in the first three years, I'm pleased to say I made multiple returns on my capital reported at UK company sales with the UK regulators at the time. And that was really my first taste of entrepreneurship ever. Obviously markets have ups and downs, good days, bad days. And after a while it became, this was my bread and butter for a while. So the year is 2002 now, and I was on an Emirates flight going to Karachi.

Sleem Hasan (07:10):
I have friends and family there. I originally come from Pakistan before, it was before 1947, it was called a British India before the partition took place. And so we all originally hailed from that. And before that my parents came from Kashmir. So those are our roots as it were. But anyway, I was on this flight going to Karachi and I knew one gentleman from my London days in Dubai. And if you fly Emirates, you got to transit through Dubai, that's the hub. And back in the day, they used to offer this 48 hour of free layover if you want to transition through Dubai. And he very kindly offered to pick me up at the airport, stay at his place for 48 hours and move on. Now here's the interesting thing. The very night I arrived, I was on his balcony roundabout sunset around this time, I had gone out, stepped outside to have a fag.

Sleem Hasan (08:06):
And the evening breath that hit my face, I smelled the desert. Now, this is probably absolutely of no interest to probably anybody. If you haven't experienced it, desert or even grown up in one. But I grew up in Sokoto in the Northwestern part of Nigeria. Every day was a sunny day and the day wasn't going to be sunny or rainy, there'd be a dust storm that precedes it. And guess what? We know it's going to rain. You didn't need a weather person in Sokoto. So I was very familiar with the desert and guess what? That night in 2002, at my fence, on my friend's balcony, it brought back a lot of childhood memories because I grew up in a desert and it just attracted me to this place. I did not really know a soul other than that one gentleman whose house I was staying at.

Sleem Hasan (08:57):
And that's when my love affair with Dubai bega. I enjoyed just the whole being in Dubai. I did not have any business. I did not know soul. And I could say that's when the clock started. So for the first two years, I kept commuting London and Dubai, trading my Japanese markets out of Dubai. And I found out of interest the time zone quite advantageous because of the three-four time difference with the UK. So instead of working the graveyard shift, I had done for many, many years in London from midnight to six or from one to seven in the morning, depending on winter or summertime, you could get up at a civilized out here at four or five in the morning and by 10 o'clock you were done. So that's another reason why I kind of found it interesting to operate out of Dubai.

Sleem Hasan (09:52):
The third thing was for doing exactly what I was doing in London here in Dubai. I didn't have to pay tax. So when I put these three things together, I one day looked myself in the mirror, in my apartment in London, said, Sleem, you love the place, the hours are kinder. You've got a pay rise, which of these three things do you not understand? So my friends and family, I wasn't married in those days. I set, I'm packing my bags and I'm moving to Dubai. And that's how my journey or love affair with Dubai started. Just to give you some context,

Alex Romanovich (10:24):
What an incredible story. Now when you and I met in Dubai, a couple of years ago, we spoke about this startup scene and so forth, and you were being referred to as a father of startups and DIY sometimes. So let's talk a little bit about that. Let's talk about how you've taken your passion for entrepreneurship, your risk-taking approach to life and sort of the opportunistic type of approach to life and so forth and how you sort of attracted a lot of the startups, a lot of the ecosystem, if you will, when building the ecosystem in Dubai as well.

Sleem Hasan (11:07):
Well, I'm sure that people who preceded me and you're very kind enough to call me the father of startups, but I won't flatter myself, but I'll tell you how I ended up in this space. I think that is more really what perhaps your viewers would like to hear, for somebody who wasn't, who didn't come from the private markets background. I spent my life or career up to that point in the public markets. How does one just transition to the private world? Well, I had a whole process of working that out and I had to work that out because a couple of things, one was, I got up the very next morning when I'd moved to Dubai after two years of commuting between London and Dubai. And I remember I rented a place in a building called Number One Tower on the Sheikh Zayed Road, right in the center.

Sleem Hasan (11:58):
Sheikh Zayed for anybody who's familiar with Dubai would know what I'm talking about. And I get up the very next morning to trade Japan. I trade Japan and at 10 o'clock, of course in the morning, Dubai time, Tokyo closes. At one minute past 10, I'm sitting in my room in Number One Tower and looking at myself and think, what on earth have we done? You don't have a business here. You don't know soul, you finished your work at 10 o'clock in the morning, at the time when most people are having the second cup of coffee, right? And I was done. And so I looked at myself, well, you're not the type who's going to lie on a beach all day long. So it wasn't me. So that was when the second seed of entrepreneurship got sewn. I said, Hm, maybe this is an opportunity of doing something either continuing with something that I've already done or perhaps diversifying and starting something new.

Sleem Hasan (12:52):
But what? So when I looked around Dubai, there were cranes everywhere. Dubai was what I call Dubai 1.0. It was in build mode, real estate construction. I wasn't in real estate, nor was I in construction. So I was like looking at myself and going, Hm, I want to do something. I don't know what I want to do. And if I look around, everybody was like hustling away, buying and selling property, left findings every and anybody at that time. And it was very unregulated at the time. I mean, now you have the Real Estate Regulatory Authority called RERA in Dubai, which regulates the space. But back then, there were no regulations. So anybody could come in and you could be a broken by property. And five minutes later, you'd be selling it to me and that'll be passed. That was sort of the order of playback then anyway.

Sleem Hasan (13:41):
I've always had one thing that keeps guiding me in life. And that is if I want to know a place, if I want to know community, I call it the sandstorm effect, there's only one way to hit, get hit by a sand and that's to stand inside it. So that's what I did. I didn't know this region the GCC I'm talking about, the Gulf Corporative Council, it's the region of about six-seven countries that comprise it. And I said to myself, I'm going to travel and find out for myself. So I went to Saudi, Kuwait, Oman, cutter up and down to Abu Dhabi. And my conclusion was this region by fine, large they're blessed with hydrocarbons some more, some less, but as a region, they've got gas, they've got oil.

Sleem Hasan (14:32):
And I was not in oil and gas. I wasn't in real estate or construction. I wasn't, I didn't represent a big multinational or big bank. So what am I going to do? So first let me come up with a name, and I chose the name Privity and believe it or not, it's not got any connection with private equity though, it might sound as if it's an acronym. It actually comes, it's a legal term as in privity of contract. And there, again, being from a long line of lawyers, a family of lawyers, I picked up a lot of legal jargon through dad, sister, brother, people around me and my friends at university, some of them were lawyers and some of them become top silts in the UK today.

Sleem Hasan (15:21):
So I've chosen Privity, but I also liked the dictionary definition of privity, a mutual conversation between two parties to the mutual exclusion of all others. This had like, so privacy, element of privacy, private, and it was this kind of, sort of rivals with private equity if you want. So I chose the name, but what is Privity going to do? I mean, I had no clue. So in a way, I had to go back to the drawing board again. I said, I've got to find something let's pick one thing and focus on it. I mean, if you're starting off as something small, you don't want to be everything to everybody. So what should I start? What should I focus on? I used to tell to friends, a lot of things about this, one thing that I ended up focusing on, and today I actually quoted in a privileged presentation of my own entrepreneurial journey here.

Sleem Hasan (16:16):
And there was that one word - technology. I decided to zero into technology. Why? That's the question people like to hear and answer to. Why? I'll tell you why: back then even more so today, believe you me, it was the only discipline I had identified that has the ability to alter our ways of life, whether we choose to embrace it or not. And by that, I mean, very simply everything in life, you have the luxury of choice, right? Technology does not give you the luxury of choice. And when I realized the power and potency of this word technology, I looked at myself, I said, Sleem, you're getting on now. If you really believe what you've just said, will then drop everything focus on technology and whatever time God has given you left learn, unlearn, relearn, whatever you can on technology. So that's how tech started off.

Sleem Hasan (17:19):
But again, tech is huge. Where do you start in tech? How do you start in tech? So again, back to the drawing board, and again, this whole process of going back to the drawing board perhaps is second nature to me, by the very nature of the fact that I'm a mathematician. What do mathematicians do? We solve problems. What do entrepreneurs do? They solve problems too. So there must be some homeomorphic map between entrepreneurs and somebody with a mathematical mindset. It's just obvious to me, right? So I went back to the drawing board and I said to myself, I don't know what I want to do. I want to do tech, but where do I start? Now, Alex, here's the interesting thing. Not every one of us as even if you're an entrepreneur, has the blessing of having a crystal ball in front of them.

Sleem Hasan (18:15):
It might be the Mark Zuckerberg, or the Elon Musk, or the Steve Jobs, or the Bill Gates and absolutely you know what you want to do, but the rest of the entrepreneurs have an idea, but sometimes you cannot see very far ahead. However, each and every one of us is blessed with a rucksack we carry on our backs. What I mean by that? Our past, our experience is full of data points. So guess what I did, I looked over my shoulder, into my rucksack and, Sleem, what have you done? Oh, I've picked stocks in Japan. All right, stop there. You've picked stocks in Japan. Why didn't you just write that down in a sentence to show you understand what it is to me? Explain what you're doing. So I was acting as some kind of modem that was linking capital with ideas. Okay. Capital being the clients, the investors, ideas being the stocks that I was speaking, the modem being, the investment bank or the platform that you worked at.

Sleem Hasan (19:15):
Okay. So I said to myself, you know what? I'm going to transform this job into a business process. Let Privity be a modem that links capital with ideas. And I'm starting to put structure to this, right? But what capital and what ideas? I had go back to the drawing board again. So once again, now this is the perfect thing to look at because I can see on my left and I'm on the right, in these two screens, right? It's almost like a Venn diagram. And there's a line in the middle. So I said to myself, if we took every single idea in the world, a stock, right? And I was to draw a big Venn diagram, how many slices and dices of this Venn diagram do I have to do to accommodate every single stock or company in the world? And my answer was very simple.

Sleem Hasan (20:07):
Draw a line in the middle, just like with partitioned in these two screens in front of us. And guess what, every company and any company that you and I can think of will either fit on the left side or on the right side, any company in the world, what does that mean? Well, the line that splits the left and the right is called an IPO because a company is either private or it's public. I don't know of any other kind of company in this world. So suddenly I had mapped the entire corporate world, whether it's big, small, private, public, into a box. Yet my experience and my expertise had been on the right hand side of this box in the public domain. So again, back to the drawing board. So I said to myself, all right, I've had the experience on the public side to the right of the IPO line, but I know nothing on this left side, perhaps I should be bold enough to venture into that and try to figure it out for myself.

Sleem Hasan (21:13):
And that's precisely what I did. In mathematics, an engineer, a physicist will all know what's called reverse engineering. And that's what I did. So I picked a point on the right side, I said, I'm going to reverse engineering. What do I call this point? If you step over the light from right to left a day before you hit IPO, late stage private company, pre IPO, want of a better phrase, right? So I started peeling the onion backwards, middle, it's a middle stage private company all the way back up to the beginning of T equal zero. Oh, an idea in someone's head. So an idea and an entrepreneur's head slowly builds up, gathers steam, raises capital, blah-blah-blah. And then I asked myself a second question for the same stuff that I'm picking in the public market, right? Because it's already gone public, it must've followed this path at some point, what value got unleashed unlocked by the same point, this company I'm picking the public market from T equals zero to IPO the world I didn't know?

Sleem Hasan (22:18):
This, the second question I'm asking myself in my head. So I started digging up for data 5X, 10 X, 100X, 1000X. A light bulb comes on, that was my Eureka moment. I said, what on earth am I doing sitting here? And this was at the time the Japanese bull market was long gone. I mean, these are very challenging times. I said, perhaps if I'm fortunate enough to find even one or two of these puppies, all the way upstream as close to T equal zero as possible, I might be fortunate enough to write this out and without realizing what I was doing, I was slowly transforming, morphing myself into the world of early stage investing venture capital. So I've just walked through that whole, what I call ratio signition, the process of actually walking through your mind, how I arrived in that world? It wasn't planned, it is'nt something I actually wanted to do. I wanted to stay in Dubai, anchor myself here, because I love this place, as I told you why I fell in love with this place. And I had to have, I had to find a reason to keep myself going up at 10 o'clock in the morning and that's how it all came about. So I'll take a little pause there. I hope that explains the whole process.

Alex Romanovich (23:35):
You certainly explained it extremely well. You almost applied the mathematical model to the entrepreneurship. So it's actually was very, very useful and interesting. But let's switch gears, let's switch gears a little bit. I want to talk about some very interesting and edgy let's call them edgy topics, right? Because you, what you're describing is the mindset or the process that you are going through being being later in your career, being later in your, in your life, right? Entrepreneurship for some unknown reason is always been associated with startups and young startups and folks in Silicon Valley 20 somethings, 30 somethings maybe. But what's interesting is that I am associating myself with a lot of entrepreneurs worldwide and I'm finding that more and more. I'm seeing more and more that entrepreneurship is really not necessarily just tied to age or gender for that matter.

Alex Romanovich (24:43):
Certainly not tied to race by any stretch of imagination, because globally entrepreneurship is alive and well in any country with any race, with any gender, but let's pick on age for a second. I'm finding more and more that people would there, as you said, rucksacks, right? With their quote-unquote baggage and their experiences and so forth. They're becoming more and more entrepreneurial. They're becoming more and more, they're becoming members of the gig economy where they're enjoying the freedoms, they're enjoying their backgrounds and experiences. And at the same time coming up with some really interesting ideas and whether through investment or participation or what have you, but let's talk about age and let's talk about a very sensitive topic that says, look to be an entrepreneur you do not have to be a 25 year old or a 30 year old in Silicon Valley, raising money and be in sort of the epitome of all of the Gen Zs and millennials in the world. You could be Sleem Hasan who is in Dubai, who is in the forties and fifties and sort of reconfiguring, recalibrating their entire lives, their entire career, and doing some interesting, additional or new things that are very entrepreneurial. Let's talk a little bit about that. What are your thoughts on this?

Sleem Hasan (26:12):
Well, it's a very good question, Alex, and I can just share what I think were a confluence of factors that came together. That's actually generated this explosion. I would call it in the supply side of my business, the ideas side, the entrepreneurs. Why are we seeing so many entrepreneurs everywhere today? The variety of results I'll try to give you and the viewers or your listeners, some data points that I think, I believe one. Let's go back in the day when people wanted to start ventures, the entry point in terms of costs was quite prohibited. You needed at least a million dollars from your own pocket to start a business. And by the Caden, whatever you had to do, what has happened since then, computing power has gone up, cost of computing has come down.

Sleem Hasan (27:12):
Memory capacity has gone up. And so the whole, most of things taken place. So today it is cheaper to start a business at that age. At the age you are talking about, as you see, the Gen Zs and the millennials, that's one factor. The cost of starting a business has come down. Second, and again in an order of importance is back in my time, you finish university, you apply to job, you either go to Wall Street or to the city or to the big consulting firms and so on and so forth. Well, guess what? Over the years they have been ups and downs in the financial world. Forget what's happened now with the COVID crisis, but the last financial crisis, when the Lehman shock took place in 2007-2008, hat got a lot of kids of folks that were say working in the industry.

Sleem Hasan (28:07):
They started thinking twice because what happened was financial firms started culling exercise, laying off folks and stuff. And people felt that whole job security, which we used to have in Japan once upon a time doesn't exist anymore. So if you're not going to give me job security, why would I want to spend my time working with you? I mean, what is it in there for me? So that's another factor that I think that also lead folks today. And then today you find a lot of the young kids, who've got bright ideas, who can start a business because it's affordable. And even if they fail, it's not a big deal. They've got age on this side to gravitate into that space. They don't want to join Wall Street, or they'd rather go to Silicon Valley and give it their best shot or wherever they are in this world.

Sleem Hasan (29:01):
So I believe technology transcends color, creed, religion, race, and the most beautiful thing about technology that I find is that it's intellect interfacing with intellect. And that's all I care about. And that's one of the most beautiful spaces to be in, Coming back to the point about age. You remember the remark I made earlier about how I define technology, what made me gravitate towards technology as the only discipline I could identify, not giving you the luxury of choice. Well, that's what's happening today. So whatever age you're at, you could be 40, 50, 60, 70, if you want to get up and you still got enough fighting power in you, and you want to become an entrepreneur, nothing should stop you, nothing. The only thing that stops you is what's in your mind, it's about industry wiring yourself. And that's all it is.

Sleem Hasan (29:51):
I was actually, I was approached last week by an entrepreneur of Pakistan, wanted to talk to me. And I have a very simple rule in life, Alex. I never say no to the first cup of coffee with anybody, never turn your nose up because you just never know. And that's something I've learned the hard way through my own journeys in life, but I'll save that for another time. Because what I didn't tell you is that the first five years of Privity, there was nothing in my portfolio that was tech. And I did get involved in a couple of things that were not tech. One was an oil and gas venture in Nigeria. And the other was an artist. These are totally uncorrelated. So people say, what are those two things doing in a tech portfolio? And I say, well, that's my legacy.

Sleem Hasan (30:35):
I didn't sit idle after 10 o'clock in the morning when the Japanese market closes. But anyway, this guy, which is out to me on LinkedIn, and we had a call this morning and he was, I could tell he was green, he wanted to get some tips of what you should do, how you should get involved into the tech world. And I was very straight up to him. I said, look, there are no shortcuts here. This is not for the faint-hearted, but what you need to do is keep learning. You have to go and deep dive, immerse people talk about blockchain technology. I don't know what it is. I don't understand. Well, guess what you've got to put in the hours. Like all of us. I have spent 16 years of my life trying to reinvent myself.

Sleem Hasan (31:21):
And it's not easy. Let's be clear. It's not easy. There are ups and downs, the challenges every day. You don't know where your next paycheck is coming from. The cost of building has gone up here since when I first came, yet the income is not regular, nor is it steady. So these are balancing acts that any single entrepreneur goes through. And it's for that very reason, what I feel entrepreneurs want to privaty, privaty as a tiny shop. It's a tiny shop. Yet when new entrepreneurs knock on my door, whether it's in person now that we can start to meet people again or on a Zoom call like this, I can relate to them because I'm going through that journey myself. Now imagine you're in the corporate world and you're trying to interview an entrepreneurial. In my humble opinion, there's going to be a Delta, there's going to be a mismatch there.

Sleem Hasan (32:12):
For the very reason, if you're sitting down and you've got the security of comfort or a paycheck every month, and the other mindset is of someone who doesn't know where his next dollar is coming from, how can you relate to one another? On what basis are you raising to one another? So it's very important to be on the same wavelength. And because I go through this phase myself, I've been in the entrepreneurial world since I did my first startup in the UK in 1996. So knock on wood, it's 24 years, but that's the break and jump I made many, many years ago. So they always say it takes X many years to become an overnight success. And I haven't had any unicorns coming out of my portfolio, but there's always hope, you always keep working hard, but you've got to be focused. A lot of grit and determination, the no shortcuts, no feel anxious. You've got to put in the time and you've got to be dedicated, have a schedule and stick to it. Good day, bad day, up day, down day. You don't give up because the minute you give up, that's when you lose. That's precisely the point when you lose, as long as whatever happens, however difficult the night might be, tomorrow's a new day. And guess what? The sun is going to rise in the East. I trust you. Trust me on that.

Alex Romanovich (33:30):
I absolutely love your optimism. And your almost viral nature of the entrepreneurship. Let's talk, let's switch gears and talk a little bit about what's going on in the world right now. Obviously with COVID things have changed dramatically. I even, I recently did a presentation on some of the values and value system, how it changed with COVID and how things have changed, not only for the corporations, but also for entrepreneurs and individuals and so forth. And you absolutely correct. Thanks for what technologies and thanks to technologies like Zoom and other technologies we can continue to communicate and communicate in the more interactive way. Although I do crave just like you, I do crave that person to person interaction those from handshakes and the hugs and seeing old friends and so forth. But let's talk about COVID and let's talk about the impact of COVID on entrepreneurship. The process of fundraising, the process of doing presentations, the process of appearing at conferences, the process of raising money and validating, doing due diligence, what was the impact of COVID and disasters and pandemics, like COVID on the entire world of entrepreneurs? What are your thoughts on that?

Sleem Hasan (35:01):
Okay. There are lots of sub questions within that one question. So I'm trying to break it down and perhaps answer them one at a time. So COVID was not planned in my opinion, whatever the source, how it started. It happened, right? And in markets, some people refer to these as black swan events, very low probabilities, more than two standard deviations out for this type of event to take place. Whatever the source, however, it started off. It took everybody by surprise. Some countries reacted swifter, others took their time, but regardless, I'm not here to make any judgment on who's right or wrong. Everyone was affected. It affected travel, hospitality. Everybody was affected. We all went into lockdown, right? So we're all almost in the same boat for once. Everybody was in the same boat: rich, poor, beautiful, ugly, tall, short doesn't matter.

Sleem Hasan (36:05):
We were all, and that's in a way how the human race should be one big united family. But anyway, that sentiment aside. How did it impact the world of entrepreneurship? With the data that I've seen thus far, I think it's fair to say, make a couple of observations. Those people who were thinking of getting involved in this whole world of entrepreneurship, even if it was a company getting involved in sort of digital transformation process, what did COVID do? It's actually accelerated that process for better or for worse. Yes, it's paid a massive toll on people's lives and there's no way that those lives are going to come back and it's a pity. That's happened and I wish everybody, all your viewers and listeners good health. And but at the same time, one has to as an entrepreneurial deal with this, right?

Sleem Hasan (37:14):
So how does one go about dealing with this? Well, first and foremost, you double down and whatever you're doing, you just double down. I mean, if you're working on a project and you're trying to raise capital, try to raise it quickly, if you can't raise it quickly, check why you can't raise it quickly. All that's happened is that the fundraising goalpost has moved further away and the goalposts have narrowed. It's not that people are not raising capital in this environment. There's a lot of reporting taking place. In fact, some countries say, even in our region here in the first half of this year, the numbers came out. I mean, Saudi has pumped in a lot of money into the BC business and stuff. And more and more people are have observed what's happened to the tech stocks in spite of all what's happened.

Sleem Hasan (38:06):
Everybody's spending at home, everybody's ordering online, everybody's talking on Zoom and so on and so forth. Back to my point about tech being that one factor that is going to have massive impacts on our life. So all I say to any, would be entrepreneurial, if you haven't thought about embracing it, just do it. Don't think about it, just do it. I almost sound like a Nike ad, but that's it because if you are going to embark on this journey, now is the best time, not tomorrow, not the after, now. Tomorrow you'll have 24 hours of data points behind you and you just start building it up. And that's what I would say. The last point there I would mention is that yes, they have been casualties in different tech spaces, whether it's in the FinTech spaces, I've talked to several folks in this space andthey have been casualties.

Sleem Hasan (39:07):
They have been people who raised tons of money and then suddenly whatever reason it didn't work out, because the market's not there anymore, something has changed dramatically from what it was before. That's said, you have to go back as an entrepreneur and try to figure out how do I position myself and in an environment which regardless of which whether a vaccine is found or not, whether it happens this year, next year, the year of, I don't know, I don't think anybody knows. Anybody who can give you any degree of clarity on that is doing based on insufficient data points, insufficient evidence. So it's very, very important to make sure you try to find something that either gets propelled there are silver linings in this COVID cloud.

Sleem Hasan (39:59):
And some of the cilver linings I'll just touch upon. I mean, it could be an online business, for example, because everybody's gravitating towards. It could be health tech, health tech is suddenly gone up to the roof, people are looking for that. It could be something to do with, I mean, I made a couple of bets this year myself right in the middle of COVID. The first one was in mass mobility as a service and the second one more recently was in traceability as a service. But to me, the logic stacks up, and that's what I look for, I look for interesting entrepreneurs doing interesting things. And these guys came forward, they'll have to adjust a little bit in stuff, say you are focusing on something that COVID is going to impact. Well, maybe you look for other verticals, you can apply your services or products in, or your app or whatever you're developing. And then come back to that previous on once, maybe, COVID has eased and that business returns. So you've got to think on your feet because there's always a way, you don't take no as an answer, you go in every day and you give it your best shot. And if it still doesn't work, get up the next morning and do exactly that all over again.

Alex Romanovich (41:10):
There is some very, very great and sound advice. And I want to thank you for this introductory podcast. I would love to invite you to do additional podcasts. One of the topics I'd like to discuss next in the next future podcast is Dubai itself. The entire ecosystem that is developing and brewing in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, and in the middle East. Number one and number two, some of the emerging markets, or by now, they're actually very mature. This is India, Pakistan. And what has sort of, what has given the growth of that incredible region, which is becoming more and more interesting with some of the investors and manufacturers who were typically doing some business in China. And now all of a sudden India is becoming this very interesting alternative to China, and Pakistan as well. And yet there are some issues with Pakistan in terms of infrastructure and in terms of the attractiveness of the region and so forth, but those topics that are very, very interesting, I'd love to discuss next. And maybe not right now, but next.

Sleem Hasan (42:26):
Sure. I'll be happy to share my thoughts on both, on this region, on India, on Pakistan. And I can tell you, I come from Pakistan, I've got family there, it's a country I know reasonably well, even though I've not lived or nor was I raised there. And in here, I've got a fair amount of knowledge. I've been there a few times. And one of my own current existing portfolio companies has just deploy the beater in the Indian market this month. So I've got real insights as to what is happening other than what you read in the public domain. And then of course the GCC region. If you'd asked me this question in 2004, my answer would be, I don't know, but thankfully in my rucksack I have 16 years of data points I'll be happy to share with you and your listeners as well.

Alex Romanovich (43:16):
We appreciate it. And we thank you for this initial podcast. Sorry you're hearing some sirens in the back. I'm in the middle of New York city. So there's all kinds of stuff going on, of course. But we appreciate your knowledge. We appreciate your presence here and wishing you all the best until next time.

Sleem Hasan (43:34):
Thank you very much, Alex. God bless, take care and stay safe.

Alex Romanovich (43:38):
Thank you. Bye-bye.

Start of the career in the UK and moving to Dubai
Risk-taking approach to life
Age in entrepreneurship
The impact of COVID on entrepreneurship