Sana’s Entrepreneurial Life (Part 1)

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My alma mater tee (2014)

Introduction, First

Hi Guys! A happy Saturday to you. Hope you are enjoying today because in a few days it will be Christmas 2018! I feel so blessed this year since the amount of hard work I put in my personal life and professional life since 2015 is finally beginning to materialize and show, AH. First of all, I would like to thank my sister, Sara Ali Khan for her success in her debut blockbuster, Kedarnath. I know how challenging the role of the protagonist is in a Bollywood movie as there are numerous roles attached during and after the movie-making process and because of all that, I am sending you duas and prayers for your continued success.

Additionally, it seems like the 2018 designs of the Starbucks hot cups (See HEREHERE) have been a raging success as I have seen nothing, but positive reviews online (See HEREHEREHERE, and HERE) and big smiles on people’s face, the latter being the only reason I chose this big task over designing regular Starbucks cups. Also, The Grinch (See HERE) & Ralph Breaks The Internet (See HERE) has done well so thanks for all the love and support this holiday season.

Lastly, there are quite a few birthdays in my family this month and I wish each and everyone celebrating a December birthday this year with a big “Happy Birthday!”.

What Is An Entrepreneur?

I know these days the word “entrepreneur” gets thrown around like a backpack on the classroom floor, but this is a serious designation that only a few people in history can claim. First of all, an entrepreneur (See HERE) is someone who brings about a global social change. Men like Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Estee Lauder, William Randolph Hearst, (maybe even FDR), and others are entrepreneurial because they have changed the world with new infrastructures whether physical or digital hence, providing us with new ways to think. Their main source of wealth is not necessarily through their entrepreneurial endeavors, but their strong business sense. I disapprove of using this word for just any business owner, big or small and I personally know Steve Jobs thought it was “callous” to use it so “freely” as well. So if you plan to become an entrepreneur, make sure it brings about a global social change for the good.

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San Jose, Costa Rica in 2010 with a chiwawa

Me As An Entrepreneur

Today, I will try to steer the post for my young readers as much as I can. I know there are many bright “Generation Z” girls among you with big dreams and are in need of some advice on how to navigate through many roadblocks that naturally come up when you are on the entrepreneurial journey.

The best piece of advice I want to give you is to learn that it takes time. Taking in my own personal accounts, I displayed that rare “entrepreneurial” spirit and tact by age two. At this age, I was practicing tea-time etiquettes (I thought of them as presentations) and having conversations with important people in front of my parents’ bedroom mirror. I actually never came out of my bedroom until I felt fully presentable & comfortable/confident to approach guests in the formal guest room or dining room. It was not until my first meeting with now Former President Barack Obama that the news of my talent spread. Subsequently through my interactions with “some of the “smartest” people today”, I gained much knowledge and experience that helped me connect conceptual technology unlike anyone in the world at the time and served me well during intense and difficult times. Given my personality, I tended to put myself in difficult situations whether intentionally or unintentionally and understood human psychology to such a respectable extent that I could manipulate “myself” positively to teach “big concepts” (think Einstein vs. Hawking).

Through this process, I created a few literary devices used by certain authors only (Puns, Symbolism, Stream-Of-Consciousness, Personification, Foreshadowing that can be used for “character development” as well. These skills turned into a personal wit and before I knew it people from around the world would find me in school to talk to me about what I am working on (or studying) & I would “sell” my latest project, whether it is planning an event at school or at someone’s house, creating or implementing Pakistan’s Truck Art culture in Pakistan or explaining to grownups how I want my “computer” vision to be materialized. But, of course, in addition to my gifts and talent, there were tons of people who believed in me, supported me through my hard work, and saw me persevere with patience – leading me to where I am today, an obnoxious winner. Yay!

My Entrepreneurial Endeavors

The concept of connections was important to me since forever. Whether they were made with people, with things, or experiences. The most difficult time in life was when I felt I was beginning to lose connection with God. And the only thing that helped me center myself was building that connection back. While as a child I thought the idea of the “internet” was perfect to connect Pakistanis who had gone through such inner turmoil and trauma at the hand of Hindus and other polytheists, I learned during the “internet as a concept” phase that this “technology can be a service” as Anne Wojcicki described it and can be expanded to search for information, cut paper pollution, and help with learning for everyone. It’s potential was applicable and needed literally everywhere in the world even back then. Excited, I spent the rest of my elementary and middle school years researching and devising in my mind (or on paper) how I could create an infrastructure for the “internet”.

In middle school, I moved to the United States permanently. I continued my work from Pakistan by having “serious” conversations with Sergey Brin (See HERE), the original creator of the World Wide Web, an expensive “perfectly dead” technology as everyone believed at the time, and Larry Page, who was a software programmer, a friend from Pakistan & an excellent businessperson like myself. He is the original programmer for email systems of AOL, Google, Yahoo, and others. Together, we created the blueprint of the “internet” using the World Wide Web technology. I met with Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon (See HERE) at this point was a software program (a CD disk in those days) and Jack Ma, who was still hesitant about the “internet”. Regardless, we were so excited that Jeff Bezos’s Amazon and Jack Ma’s Ali Baba e-commerce businesses can expand because of the “internet” technology.

After the “blueprint” of the “internet” was created and implemented, we separated and decided to “fill” it “freely” with information since the potential of this technology seemed limitless. I started working on creating “social media” with Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Kevin Systrom, and Mike Krieger, Larry Page was working with the financial sector; others were working with video streaming and blog sites. I got many opportunities to meet with people who were working on creating “software programs” that allow people to create websites and blogs of their own. I reunited with Larry Page & Sergey Brin who had created Google Maps by then and informed me that the “internet” is large enough now to include photos. It was a very exciting time and a stressful time. Imagine trying to fill everything that was “on paper” “online” at the same time. We had a chance to meet lovely celebrities, models, and bloggers/influencers who were so supportive of us and excited to use our products to reach their fans and audience. We had countless meetings during the day and evening, which included meetings with the nation’s leaders from the executive and legislative branches and members of the judicial branch. 

While the “guys” were programming, I used my free time aka weekends designing the interface of the “internet” and “social media”. During my junior and senior year at UC Berkeley, we discussed colors, logos, and other features visible to “social media” users and I approved everything before “social media” was launched.

Due to the “internet’s” potential, there was a lot of interest abroad as well and many wonderful leaders visited us in California, for which I would be always appreciative. However, since online security was such a concern and this was such a new technology, still, that we took a systematic approach to grow the service globally. YouTube and Facebook launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram launched in 2010. During this time, I traveled the world, met with many important and influential people, got married, witnessed “a terrorist attack” (in my opinion) for the second time in my life and pretty much exhausted myself to no return. Because of the after-effects of me overworking for almost three decades, I want to thank God for supporting me through the journey of healing myself and learning to put myself first. While these “guys” were like family to me, I learned painfully that sometimes you have to take care of yourself. Additionally, I am so glad blogging technology is part of the “internet” because it has given me a chance to express myself; and has given others another platform that demands quality, thoughtfulness, and truthfulness, making it an intrinsic part of every business in the world. 

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Me wearing a Gap toggle coat (which I still have) in Tokyo, Japan in 2004

Funny Related Anecdotes

  • Steve Jobs asked me why I wanted to work on Cloud or digital technology and didn’t want to work on computer hardware technology and I was jokingly was like “I am”. He said, “No, I mean the physical computer” and I replied that I didn’t want to make computers because they can look dated all of a sudden. And then I asked, “Why are you asking me this? Are you thinking of hiring me?” He replied no because I wouldn’t be able to do anything at Apple and that everyone needs me here. I said, “Yeah, but after this, I could be hired as a manager at Apple”. And we both laughed. 
  • Among many notable interactions (a couple of funny ones were with Bill Gates – See HERE), some of the key experiences I had were very casual, but life-altering. For example, in Kindergarten, I told Steve Jobs that I am thinking of creating a software program for his computer because it works just like a calculator. Imagine all you could do at the time with personal computers was open a file logo and do nothing afterward. He asked me, “Where did you learn this word?” I said, “Software Program? From Bill Gates”. And he said, “no, calculator” and I replied “my father”. I couldn’t decide whether I saw fear or excitement in his eyes, but I told everyone I had to help Steve Jobs because like Sergey Brin, he looked “sad”.
  • The first time I met President Obama was in 1984 when my grandfather invited him to our house in Islamabad because he was related to us and famous in the USA for being a constitutional lawyer. I spoke to him in Urdu and he asked me if I knew English. And I looked at my grandfather and said jokingly “I thought I was speaking English”. I told him that I thought he was Sindhi (people belonging to the Sindh province of Pakistan) by the way he looked. I told him Pakistan invited him because Sana (I later told him that she was me. lol) choose democracy as a form of government for Pakistan (we were a prosperous postcolonial, post-two-wars-with- India socialist government at the time) and we needed “your help since Sana thought the US Constitution was so fair. I told him Americans made democracy and I know this because of the way he talked. Yes, he had the “Is she crazy?” look on his face (See HERE) after that.
  • While Anne Wojcicki liked teaching concepts “bottom-up” I liked teaching concepts “top-down”, meaning that I informed my students the concepts they were learning and how it could be applied to real life before diving into the lesson. I knew as a young elementary school student that the way Anne Wojcicki of 23 & Me (See HERE) works is “You give me something. I will give you something”. By first grade, I had the concept of the “internet” as a marketing tool (probably learned the word from Versace – See HERE). However, she was trying to understand in her mind how this “little big monster” was going to help her tiny little business. We discussed marketing and we discussed data storage. And we made each other confused. I told her to wait. So it was really difficult for her to realize that the only way her business could stay organized and scale (grow) is if she waits for us to create the “internet”. She asked me disheartened what she should do in the meantime and I told her she could teach the way she taught us (See HERE). She was with us the whole way and officially founded the 23 & Me company in 2006, the same year Twitter was founded. Because of the “internet”, she was able to grow and scale her business, add cool features to her website, and provide a secure and private service. But since she had such faith in us and what we were doing before the “internet” was nothing, I introduced her to Sergey Brin later.
  • There are not many “Anne Wojcickis” in the world. I only really talked to her a couple of times and each time I wanted to close my ears and run away screaming. She even had a “Sweet 16” birthday party where “none of the Victoria’s Secret models showed up” so she called me & told me to invite my friends, “the entrepreneurs” (Steve Jobs called us that originally). A big thanks to Steve Jobs in heaven for saving my graces during trying times with her. Lol. The reason behind our relationship struggles was very similar to what I just mentioned above. I am a “big concepts” girl and she is “quantum mechanics” kind of girl. The latter type of brain requires a lot of knowledge and focus, but I didn’t really care how smart she was because I told her I could actually carry a conversation with Albert Einstein. I wonder if she is the same now.
  • A huge influence on me (yes, there are more) was Ruth Bader Ginsburg (See HERE). I remember meeting her through Benazir Bhutto (See HERE), a distant relative and a close friend of my political family and Former President Barack Obama (See HERE) who called her “the smartest person in the world” and jokingly described her as “dangerous”. A movie on her is currently running in cinemas around the world (See HEREHERE). Ignorant to what that meant, I told her I wish to speak to her privately. I had just met the “Chinese” (sorry, an inside joke) and needed her advice. I couldn’t word my concern so she gave me a few sentences to read from the US Constitution (See HERE) she had written on a piece of paper and I looked at her puzzled because she told me to focus on the words “freedom” and think how it can be applied on gender “issues”. I laughed and told her that she wouldn’t believe it, but the only issues we have in Pakistan are to do with Hindus, not gender issues. She asked me what law I am interested in that will help me explain what I am thinking and I couldn’t think of one. She asked me to make up something and I made up the now legal term “intellectual property” to verbalize my concern and she said she will tell the right people what to do. I thanked her and we parted ways.

In conclusion boys and girls, being an entrepreneur is a gigantic (an astronomical) task that requires a strong will, patience, smartness and intelligence or wit, and a heart searching for perfection in the imperfect world. During this journey, my co-founders were my friends and my family, but I went to school, graduated from college, even tried my hand in teaching and now blog and do other projects to keep me busy. Do I regret anything I have done? No. But at this age, I still wish situations hadn’t been so difficult through the process.

*Look out for part 2 soon.