10 Months, 10 Lessons, Part 1

Embrace Failure

The word failure tends to carry a negative connotation and understandably so. The word literally means to not succeed at something and who doesn’t want to succeed? If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of failure, which I’m sure everyone has at some point, you know it’s a painful, chastising, and gloomy experience. When met with a sense of complacency and acceptance, failure truly owns up to its bad reputation.

One thing that was made blatantly clear to me this year was that failure can be an incredibly powerful, motivating, and life changing opportunity if you can use that feeling to reflect, analyze, and understand why things panned out the way they did. Failure offers a unique form of learning that can make lessons stick. Over the course of my program, I had my hand at three business ideas, one of which I had the opportunity of pitching at this years Hult Prize Regional Finals in Shanghai! Despite all the work put into each of them, they were nothing more than flashes in the pan. Three whopping failures which on the surface, felt like smears across my CV, but, were hands down, marquee moments that led to the development of valuable insights for my future.

Key Takeaway: Don’t let failure weigh you down. Learn from them because they provide sticky life lessons that you can take with you in the future.

Entrepreneurship is a Science

I did my undergraduate studies in Kinesiology which, contrary to popular belief isn’t just a degree where we learn how to work out! Kinesiology is the science of human movement and like any other science, we had labs that required us to hypothesize about theories, formulas, and concepts. Let me be clear when I say this: Entrepreneurs are every bit the researcher as a Kinesiologist, Physicist, or whatever -ist you can name.

One of the first things an Entrepreneur does when working on a new venture, is develop a business model canvas which is a visual representation of their business. The reality is, every element on the canvas for a new venture is a hypothesis until validated by some form of primary or secondary research. Curating through business media, blitzing surveys to potential customer segments, and conducting one on one interviews with stakeholders are all part of the journey to testing hypotheses. Validating business ideas and practices is a day to day activity for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and innovative corporations just like hypothesis testing is a day to day activity for dedicated scientists.

Key Takeaway: Don’t kid yourself, Entrepreneurs are every bit the researcher as a Scientist.

Delivery is Everything

Finding the right idea is great, but it’s critical to be able to communicate your idea and any information for that matter, in a way that listeners are receptive to. My leadership prof told our class something that really drove this point home when he said:

“When you deliver a presentation, you are engaging in battle with your audience and trying to fight off everything else that’s swirling around in their head at the time.”

Remember that trip to Shanghai? My team and I won that trip because we qualified through the University of Waterloo’s local Hult Prize competition. My teammates would agree with me when I say: we did not have a strong idea when we presented. Where we really made the difference was in our delivery. Winning a battle with your listeners isn’t easy and everyone has their opinion on the topic, but here are a few practices that I’ve learned and been using over the past year that you can add to your arsenal.

  1. Have a killer introduction. This is the one point in your presentation where you know you have their 100% attention. You have one shot at it, so make it count.
  2. Look your audience in the eye. It’s easier to connect with someone if you look them dead in the eye. Yes, I mean in the eye. Not their forehead, not their nose, smack dab center of the eyes.
  3. Tell stories. Stories are a great way to effectively communicate dense information in a way that listeners are perceptive too.
  4. Engage them in an activity. This one is my favorite. If you can get your audience to stand up, answer a question, or make them laugh, you become more memorable and differentiate yourself from the rest of the herd.
  5. Be authentic. Above all else, be your self. It’s cringe worthy watching a phony deliver something that is clearly something they’re not in tune with.
Key Takeaway: Strategize on how you can win a battle with your audience’s attention.

All In Or Fold

Making the decision to pursue an unconventional graduate program in business, priced at $32,000, right out of undergrad, was understandably, not an easy decision. However, once I accepted the offer, I swore my life away to the program because I wanted to soak up every minute and dollar of it! What this also meant for me was to enjoy each day of the program without stressing over the future; something that was really difficult for me.

As humans, we have limited mental capacity that we can dedicate to tasks and thoughts which is why we’re unable to multi task without compromising our performance in another area. Whenever I found myself worrying over my future, I was noticeably more irritable, less productive, and uneasy which took away from the positive experience of the program. Commitment is pivotal not just in pursuing further education, but any project, new venture, or job because it improves the affinity you’ll feel with that experience which will enable you to be more successful.

Key Takeaway: Once you commit to something, give it your 100%.

Find the Right Team

What’s the optimal recipe for a well-built team? Having a technically diverse team is a great start and will at the very least yield some success. Ensuring that team members share common goals, values, and believe in a shared mission and vision is another positive addition to the mix. But, perfect teams consider one more thing:


At the outset of the program, our class participated in a unique way of identifying our innovation personalities through a FourSight Assessment. The profile asks a series of questions with the aim of identifying your innovation personality preference. These are the four main preferences:

  1. Clarifier: Enjoy understanding problems and gathering data before diving into solutions
  2. Ideator: Creative hubs of a team as they can generate a ton of solutions
  3. Developer: Analyze solutions and perfect them by weighing them against other options
  4. Implementer: Run with a solution and effortlessly execute

It is possible to be high in multiple categories. For example, I’m an Accelerator, high on clarification and implementation. Now imagine a team technically diverse, rooted in a mutual mission and share common goals, but are all clarifiers. The team would move forward with their project at snail like pace because they’d spend all their time on understanding the problem. Similarly, a team full of ideators would get overly caught up in features and details of a solution and would struggle with providing a minimum viable product. That’s why the best teams are technically diverse, rooted in common values, and have a wide range of innovation personalities.

Key Takeaway: Perfect teams are not only balanced technically, but also have an even distribution of innovation personalities that are rooted in common goals, and have a shared mission and vision.



12 thoughts on “10 Months, 10 Lessons, Part 1

  1. Great read! Embracing failure and finding the right teams are dead on with many of the lessons I learned with CareChair in final year. Looking forward to the next post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Salman! A great first article! Super well written and authentic – including the life tips 😉 . I can’t wait til your next post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very well articulated and very applicable – I certainly have gone thru similar experiences myself. Life is a great Educator!. Salman you are a willing learner (and teacher) with a positive outlook!.

    Liked by 1 person

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