Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of receiving an invite to be a guest on Afghanpreneurs podcast.
Afghanpreneurs aims to create a worldwide network of influential Afghans giving back to their communities by sharing their experiences with their audience.
You can listen to the podcast from the following links:
Spotify | Anchor | Apple Podcasts
If you are interested to read, I am also sharing the transcript of the episode here.
Just a quick intro, name, business and country.
My name is Jamshid Hashimi, CEO & Founder of RapidIteration based in Vancouver and Kabul. At RapidIteration we help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into income-generating products in 21 days.
How did you get your job? I know you run a business but this question just sounds good:)
I am a hustler and enabler. I like these two words and the way I got to know them is interesting. I attended MIT Bootcamp in Seoul, South Korea and before we attend, they send us a form with dozens of pages and they said we can generate a profile for you. I filled the form and in the first day of the Bootcamp, they distributed our profiles. It was in 2016, so I don't remember much details, but I remember mine was: Hustler and enabler as a title with some details. Actually you can take a job (either as an employee or employer) in two ways: either hustle and focus and do that one thing very good, or, be an enabler and support others in their hustling journey. I am a mix of both.
What is your background? take us back to the start of your journey.
Grade 1 to 12 I was extremely focused. I had nothing in mind and nothing was more important than my studies, homework, and school books. I had this self-motivation to stay up until midnight and just study. There were no electricity up until grade 10, so I was using Alakain :) Even after that, we did not have stable electricity, and it is the same unfortunately now too. Anyways, that focus was big part of my success. I did not go down past number 3 in the class, and 90% of the time I was number 1. Actually that's how I got into scholarship to study in Turkey. I was both a calm and ambitious student, with good marks. They say be so good they can't ignore you. They could not ignore me. Then with university, I got a little distracted. I did my undergraduate in Turkey in Computer Engineering and I went there when I was 14. Even though we have a lot of similarities with Turkish people in terms of culture, but the environment was totally new to me and it was my first time out of Afghanistan. Wow, it was a transformation. People, cultures, stories, friendships. Later, I got back to my focus mode. We are all humans and as we go through different stages of our ages and life, we face different opportunities and obstacles and we adapt to survive. I survived the cultural shock quickly and got myself back in track. I was back in my focus mode.
When you focus, and you are highly successful, people start to get into different expectations. In terms of what to study, this is common in Afghanistan and specially Afghan moms and dads have their own expectations for their kids. Although in my case my mom and dad wanted me to do whatever makes me happy, you can't shutdown society. Everyone expected me to study medical school and become a doctor. But then things didn't went that way fortunately and I had some early exposure to computers and wanted to be a Software Engineer.
I got my first job through a friend when I was in the second year of university as a Linux Developer and in the 3rd year of the university I got into Microsoft Summer School, where that led to being part of Microsoft Student Partner program. After I graduated, I worked for around a year in Turkey as System Engineer. Then I returned to Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan I worked in a couple of companies, building products and platforms for the government of Afghanistan, NGOs and other local and international organizations. I trained hundreds of jobseekers and employees through a couple of ICT training projects, taught students in a couple of private universities, did some consulting jobs with international NGOs and also co-founded my own startup. At the same time, with a group of volunteer friends, I was running CodeWeekend, Book Club Afghanistan, Founder Institute and was also part of TedX Kabul for sometime. It was a packed 6 years in Kabul, then I got into Chevening Scholarship for my masters degree in the UK. I studied Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship in the UK. After I finished my postgraduate education, I worked for around 3 years in a robotics and AI company in the UK, before I founded RapidIteration.
What is your current business, what do you do?
I run RapidIteration. We went out by being bold enough to say: we turn ideas into products in 21 days. We've developed enough products to be able to say that. I have a team of 15 full time developers working with me, all located in Afghanistan.
We have a great company culture. Everyone thinks long-term. We are a human company, a calm one. A no BS company. I've worked in many companies in the past 14 years and I've seen the good and the ugly. What I focused and constantly working on is to bring the best into the company.
At RapidIteration, we serve clients around the world. We served clients in the UK, Europe, US and Canada. We built long-term relationships with many of our clients. We have many occasions where founders came to us with an idea, where we helped them build their MVP quickly and launch their products. With one of our clients in Europe, the product we built helped them getting investment of around 10 million Euro. It is around 3 years that we are still working with them.
We do all these in Afghanistan. Unbelievable right? this is what I believed and that's what keeps me pushing and moving forward or help me jump out of the bed in the morning. This is a different face of Afghanistan. Everyone wants to save Afghanistan, but very few put practical steps to get there.
At RapidIteration, we build our own products too. We build yagankar.com, the first freelancing platform in Afghanistan, biginagi.com, where you can buy t-shirts online, with designs by Afghan artists. Yaganchiz.com, we deliver books for Afghans internationally. The list goes one. Last year, we built 6 products in 12 months.
What is your vision for your business?
Passion economy is the future. The future we believe is everyone having the opportunity to work for themselves and build their own products or provide their own services. I believe in this and we want to create opportunities, tools, platforms and means to help creators put their knowledge, skills or entertainment online to earn money. We started by helping potential entrepreneurs turn their ideas into income generating products and eventually we want to build platforms to enable basically anyone to be self-dependent and earn income online.
What are some of the challenges of being a young Afghan entrepreneur?
I've done business and run companies both in Afghanistan, UK and Canada. Afghanistan has its own problems and I don't want to even get in there. Being an Afghan outside of Afghanistan and trying to do business has many challenges. Some of the challenges are actually common among many immigrants and refugees trying to start a new life in a different country.
In business, you have to close deals. In order to close deals, you have to build trust. In order to build trust, you have to be good, but also you need to socialize, communicate and engage. When you step into a new environment, you face a lot of barriers that delays the process of you being part of a community. It can become lonely and frustrating. Cultural differences, language, rules and regulations are only some of the main challenges on the way.
But of course, nothing is impossible. It requires a lot of patience and hard work for sure.
I know you hire Afghan developers for your company, what is like hiring talent from Afghanistan?
If you know what you are searching for, it is very easy to hire talent in Afghanistan. Afghan youth are resilient, ambitious, hard working and smart. They value opportunities and understand the value you are providing in their life and career. I've been working with many talented developers in Afghanistan.
I am also deeply involved in Afghanistan's developers community. In 2014 I founded CodeWeekend, Afghanistan's first and largest developers community. CodeWeekend is associated of close to 4 thousand members. We have computer science students, graduates, developers working locally or Afghans working in companies outside Afghanistan and tech entrepreneurs in the community. Through CodeWeekend, we've done hundreds of seminars, weekly sessions, gatherings across Afghanistan, mainly in Kabul. I made and keep making tons of memories running CodeWeekend for the past 7 years. Met many great people along the way, which we built long-term relationships and are still in touch.
Having this big community of developers and knowing a lot of them more closely enabled me to approach the right people or being introduced to many talented developers who wanted to work with me.
A funny story I wanted to share here, I hired the first two developers for RapidIteration completely remotely. Actually I did not know for like 3 months how they look like. Once they sent a picture and I was guessing, is that Hamid? is that Aziz? I did not have to worry. I was assigning tasks, and they were getting it done. Then we did Zoom calls, as we got more work and eventually after a year, I met them in Kabul. We went from 1 person to 15 in the past two years. I like that we have steady progress.
What would you tell your 18 year old self regarding success in business and life?
Do what you love and love what you do. Stay focused and don't get distracted by shiny objects and noises around you. Know that, you can't be perfect in too many things. So focus in one, and if you aim to be good in a couple of things, do it one by one and always think long-term.
It is also important that you keep a circle of good people around you, who are there for you regardless of your success or failure. Also, know when to move on, shut down or exit.
Choose who you work for wisely, choose who you work with wisely. You can get into a lot of headache and can go through many wasted hours by not paying attention to this.
What are your top 3 lessons for a young entrepreneur starting a business this year?
1. Validate your idea as early as you can.
2. Focus on getting customers (paying ones are the best) as early as you can.
Where can our listeners connect with and learn from you online?
They can find me on rapditeration.com and Twitter. I am also in Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Clubhouse and LInkedIn.
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