46-year-old Salahuddin Khawaja is a man who wears many hats. The founder of Hypermode, an NY based crypto consulting firm, Salahuddin also heads a 50+ member team at his digital agency, Decklaration, housed at COLABS, Gulberg.
With a career spanning over two decades on Wall Street, Salahuddin worked as a Management Consultant in New York at Deloitte & Touche where he helped flesh out strategic initiatives for Fortune 500 clients.
High energy and constantly on the move, Salahuddin recently spearhead a community-driven initiative called xWave, which has brought 10 organizations together to bring a tech-based, long-lasting approach to Pakistan’s current flood crisis.
In conversation with COLABS, Salahuddin spoke about the importance of giving back, viewing the world from a glass-half-full perspective, and more…
What’s your take on the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace? Do you think organizations in Pakistan have begun to focus more on EQ development for better teamwork and performance?
I’ve been getting used to living and working in Pakistan ever since I moved back and have found that the whole country is running on high emotion. And not particularly good emotion, mind you. An example is the way everyone’s jockeying for two inches of car space on the roads and wasting a lot of energy and mental anguish around it. That displays zero emotional intelligence. Balancing your emotions inside and outside the workplace is so important. You have to learn to sleep on stuff and never act on emotion. Think long-term. Life isn’t a T20 match, it’s a test match. You have to show up every single day.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs in Pakistan today?
First of all, hang in there. The environment is turbulent and overall startups aren’t easy, also in particular, the macro-economic environment is not good. This is my fourth recession; I’ve been through three before this, but I do know you always come out of it. It’s just a matter of time. So hang in there, stay focused, keep building and aim for 20-30 customers if nothing else and build it from there. You may have these big, crazy dreams of a million customers, but start somewhere. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
You come across as someone who’s very positive and grounded. In your over 20-year career, having now moved back to Pakistan and wearing so many different hats, what’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten, something that’s stuck with you and guided you all these years?
That’s a tough one. I’ve had so many mentors and guides along the way, from my parents to school, college and through work. But I’ll give you one example. Perfection is the enemy of progress, start somewhere. Don’t overthink it. That’s one principle. Another is that it’s okay to make mistakes; allow for those mistakes to happen because when you fall, that’s when you learn how to walk. You want to encourage that.
During the 2005 earthquake, you helped build over 3,000 homes and shelters. Now too, with your initiative, xWave, you’ve put together a 10-year plan to set up the lives of 300 flood affectees…
I’ve felt a lot of despair at the state of affairs, particularly now with the flood crisis. But in a country with so much potential, you have to hope for the better. If you can’t, you’re in trouble. There’s a famous Henry Ford saying; whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right. See, if a person thinks they can’t climb K2, guess what? They’re not going to. If another person thinks they can, then they may. If you flip the ‘party of no’ and look at life from a glass half full perspective, maybe just maybe it can happen.
How did you change your perspective?
The first ten years of my career were like a rocket ship. Then it kind of plateaued and I had to re-evaluate what’s next for me. I learnt that saying yes is always the best answer. But then, it’s all about communicating what’s after the yes and just being open to opportunities. I remember this big project I did with Bank of America once. This lady I was working with shared an idea that was just an extra step to a certain process and I thought it was the worst idea in the world. I was like, I can’t do it. But then I thought, say yes. And it was a hit. It was huge. I was completely wrong. This is also part of the emotional intelligence conversation we were having earlier…if you’re stuck on emotion – that it has to be my way – that’s the wrong place to be stuck in. You should be stuck on growth. You should be stuck on making more money. And in my career, I try to live by the principle of: do you want to be right, or do you want to be successful? So think of every decision in terms of that.
A lot of entrepreneurs – who peak early in their careers – wind up a little disillusioned, deriving the need for more meaningful work in their lives. Has that ever happened to you?
If I was vulnerable for a moment, there’s definitely an addiction to success that plays a role in one’s ego among other things. It’s also the thrill of the chase right, when you’re trying to grow a business and build something substantial. On the other hand, you have to be humble about it, because when hubris kicks in, you’ll likely not stay on that growth path. Hubris is very evil that way and a lot of founders are addicted to it. Some people have asked me why I’m focusing on the floods during a recession, and to be honest, it has been tough to find a balance. But then again, you have to ask yourself that if you’ve been given the privilege to do something, you have an obligation to give back in whatever way you can.