This story is about someone who has inspired and helped thousands of lives of young entrepreneurs and students. Her name is “Jehan Ara“. The woman who served 20+ years in “P@SHA”, created “The Nest I/O” and “021Disrupt”. Among all the lives she impacted, she also moved my life and helped me through my journey as an individual and startup founder. I’m lucky to be one of the first batch of startups when “The Nest IO” was founded.
I’ve tried writing a few of the many moments with Jehan Ara in my journey so far. You’ll also find that it’s not only me she helped but many more entrepreneurs.
For you, in this story, is a path to follow and a personality to learn from. The lesson here is when you get great powers, always stay humble and live to lift others selflessly. A life that could be spent living full of luxuries is sacrificed in order to develop the youth and tech-startup ecosystem of Pakistan.
This is Jehan Ara for you.
First Meeting With Jehan Ara
I don’t remember when it was the first time. I saw Jehan judging our university ideas, giving talks on empowering startups, speaking on digitization, and many more such events. However, I remember asking for her time to discuss our startup idea at the end of one meetup. To my astonishment, she gave time, a lot of time, and listened to us carefully, saw the mock designs of the app we made, and then asked us to visit a new space that was about to launch called “The Nest IO.”
Frankly speaking, I never thought it’d be this easy to talk to her. More than that, I never thought she’d give so much time listening to just our idea with a few mock screens developed.
First Impression Is Not The Last Impression
It’s not enough to know a person just by talking or hearing them speak on events. Jehan Ara looks like a strict person to many from the outside at times. To be honest, I feared her too. However, after getting incubated at “The Nest IO” and getting to see how Jehan helped us and always went the extra mile for us, it changed my opinion about her personality 180 degrees.
Jehan is sensitive, a secret keeper, gets happy on small things in life, and at times may not tell stuff for your good. But at the same time, she is courageous, and if you are wrong, she’ll make sure to inform you about it. Jehan wouldn’t defend herself, but if you wrong any of her friends, you’ll see a different warrior rise in her. Note here for you is, don’t mess with any of her friends. And her friends are many, startups, young university students, and even Apple fans! (If you have a death wish, speak evil about Apple. Joking)
Jehan usually does “a lot” for startups, and to the outside world, it looks crazy. It seems so much weird that people start assuming that she might have stakes in the startup companies she helps (and that’s because you rarely find good, selfless people in this world, so we keep our guards up). And when people can’t figure out the intentions of Jehan, they console themselves that Jehan might have a self-interested plan. Yes, she has a dream, a more excellent goal in life, which is to support and empower as many people in this life as possible.
A lesson here for you is to never ‘claim’ that you ‘know’ a person just because you met them once or twice in life.
So what do you do if you want to know a person?
Hazrat Umar (RA) asked the following three questions from a person who claimed he knew someone,
a) Is he your close neighbor, whose day and night is known to you?
b) Did you deal with him in monetary affairs, which could give an idea of his righteousness?
c) Was he ever your companion in journey, from which you could have seen his character?
The man said, “No.”
Umar (RA) said, “You do not know him.”
Cofounders at Social Champ; Sameer Ahmed Khan, Zohaib Ahmed Shakir, Shakir Ghani sharing the trophy with Jehan Ara on winning startup competition “Momentum 2017”
Found Lifelong Mentors Through Jehan
If it weren’t for Jehan, I’d have never known Jawwad Farid and Munir Usman. They had helped me since my 3rd idea, “RemindZapp” and continue to do so. It’s not easy to have great mentors who, when necessary, pull you down from the fantasy world and give you a reality check. Jehan also connected me with many of her other friends, but these were the ones that I always look up to.
Cofounders at Social Champ with Jehan Ara, Jawwad Farid and Munir Usman
Traveled To The United States And Met Guy Kawasaki
Well, you might think, how did this happen?!
Let’s take you back in time. One of the biggest social media conferences was happening in San Deigo, United States. One of my mentors, Munir Usman, told me to speak to Guy Kawasaki to sponsor me a ticket to the conference. I emailed and asked, and Guy agreed. Sounds too good to be true, isn’t it?
I was all set and ready to go to the United States. I scheduled an interview at the United States Embassy in Karachi for the Visa. But, I was single, Khan, and never traveled outside of Pakistan (although I grew up in Qatar, that’s not on my passport). The US Embassy rejected my visa application. They gave me two reasons to be sad; not meeting Guy Kawasaki and the application fees that I wasted.
Can you believe that? I showed them my hostel documents, return flight tickets, and how it was important for my 4th new startup, “Social Champ,” to attend the conference.
Jehan Ara was waiting for me to inform her about my US Visa status, and when I told her about my visa rejection, the following email is what she wrote to US Embassy. Munir Usman was also impatiently waiting for my results because we planned to meet in San Francisco to schedule a few of my meetings with customers and investors!
Email from Jehan Ara to US Embassy after my visa rejection
I am writing to you to ask for your assistance.
One of our entrepreneurs – Sameer Ahmed Khan of Ouzel Systems – from the first batch of Nestlings has developed an app called Social Champ. It attracted the attention of Guy Kawasaki (the Apple evangelist who is now a VC) so much so that Guy has become a regular mentor for Sameer.
Recently Guy sent Sameer a free pass to attend the Social Media Marketing Conference in California from April 17-19, 2016. This conference could be a gamechanger for Sameer and his startup.
This morning Sameer applied for his US visa and it was turned down on the basis that he could not prove that he had permanent ties to Pakistan. His family is here, his business is here, he teaches at the Karachi University in addition to running his business. I can personally vouch that he will return to Pakistan after the conference.
I had provided him with a support letter from The Nest i/o but it did not make a difference.
I would really really appreciate it if you can help him. I am attaching his application. This could be one of the star startups from The Nest i/o but he needs the additional exposure and network that this conference will no doubt be able to provide.
*Someone pass me the tissue box. I need to dry my eyes.*
How can one ask for help, and that too, for the sake of others?
If this story doesn’t change you, I don’t know what will.
What happened next? I got a call from US Embassy to schedule another interview (I had to pay the visa fees again). I was asked to courier my passport and documents before my interview. And on my interview day, I felt like a VIP candidate. I had to stand in no line, had a different counter for my interview, and a very friendly lady took my interview. One funny moment was when she asked me why I’m going to the US, and I replied to meet Guy Kawasaki. She replied that I should say that I’m going for business, not just to meet Guy Kawasaki. Well, I wish they knew how much of a big deal meeting Guy was. But a learning lesson for you here is, no matter how much enthusiastic you are about someone or an idea, you need to understand other’s perspectives too and respond accordingly. Not everyone might be lucky to have Jehan in their lives, so be realistic when necessary.
One more thing, I don’t know who told me that I’ve to go to the US visa interview wearing a three-piece suit. Readers, please wear something that looks good on you and is appropriate. I looked like a weird desperate person wanting the visa, dressed heavily as if it’s my wedding!
And when I reached the United States, I got a lot of help from Munir Usman during my stay there. Also, former “The Nest IO” entrepreneur in residence, Rumaisa Mughal, helped me connect with few incubators in the US.
Don’t you love the village Jehan Ara built of helping founders, mentors, and friends that you can meet in any part of the world!
The Role Of 021Disrupt On Our Startup, Social Champ!
Social Champ was able to secure two rounds of seed funding due to the network and the connections built during the 021Disrupt Conference.
The First Investment
The first investment was from Oman Technology Fund; thanks to Jehan Ara for introducing me to Charles Ill. He mentored us through the final investment pitch day and helped us build and figure our retention rate on an excel sheet based on our specific business. Moreover, Charles also got on Whatsapp/Zoom calls multiple times and even taught me the magic of advanced Microsoft Excel sheet graphs.
I remember the first time I met Charles. At the closed dinner with speakers and 021Disrupt team, I was roaming around, and Jawwad Farid and Jehan called me to join the table. Jawwad introduced me to Charles, introducing me as a social media tech startup owner but more than that, a big problem is that many girls are after him. And Charles laughed. I don’t remember what happened next, but then Jehan and Jawwad added kind words for me and asked me to join Charles in having Crabs. The first time I had crabs was with Jehan, though it wasn’t easy to eat, and this was the second time I had Crabs again. Jehan, Jawwad, and Charles had to teach me again how to eat Crabs. It was messy. The next day, Jehan scheduled a time of my one-on-one meeting with Charles, and the rest is another story related to raising investment, key points, etc.
Cofounders at Social Champ with the Oman Technology Fund (Wadi Accelerator) Team
All you can learn from the above interaction is that, at times, relationships are not always built by pitching your idea to investors straightaway. They also require a certain level of human connection to be established at first.
The Second Investment
My second investor would like to stay anonymous for now. However, I met them again during the first 021Disrupt Conference Office Hours, but they had known me even before, thanks to the pictures and stories that Jehan Ara share on her social media!
You’d be surprised to know how many government officials, companies, and well-known influencers know me only because they saw me mentioned on Jehan Ara’s social media!
The investment didn’t happen after directly after the 021Disrupt conference, but almost a year later when I needed a specific service for my startup. Some of my friends introduced me to them over an email, and we immediately recognized each other and met. These investors helped us make 3-year projections for financials and even a 3-year product roadmap with estimated delivery dates. It was a great learning experience for us.
Throughout this journey, we always consulted Jehan Ara for the authenticity of an investor (Why authenticity, you ask? You’d be surprised to know that a lot of startup investors invested, and then because of them, the startup becomes history). We also got our legal terms and conditions crossed checked. Jehan Ara even went further and pulled in her lawyer friends to review our investment deals. All for free.
What does she get by doing all this? Happiness, I think.
Jehan Ara Knows You More Than You Might Know Yourself
I know. It’s a powerful statement. But – trust me, Jehan knows the likes of her friends. Every time she travels or sees something that reminds her friends, she doesn’t hesitate to buy it and gift it.
Every time she buys a cool new gadget or some guests bring her gifts; she loves sharing them with the world. The Atom masks you see these days are just “one” example from the countless gifts she buys and consistently distributes openly and secretly.
Apart from gifts, Jehan Ara is a good life coach too. She is always there to listen to your challenges in life, keeping it all secret and guiding you when lost. I’ve spoken to her about so many different things in life. And trust me, even just telling it to someone you trust helps.
A lot of startups need someone to hear and relate to their challenges. It’s okay to be worried, fearful, but always remember to make good friends with whom you can share your good and bad days.
Impact On My Local And International Traveling
This article is getting much longer than expected. So let me mention a few countries I traveled to and how Social Champ made it there. In all of the following trips, Jehan Ara influenced our traveling opportunities.
1) U.S – San Diego, San Fransico
Traveled to San Diego for the “Social Media Marketing World Conference” and met Guy Kawasaki and then flew to San Fransico to meet Munir Usman and attend OPEN Conference. The trip was sponsored by OuzelSystems (Our service company which we ran till we raised investment)
Social Champ was part of a few selected startups to a fully sponsored trip by “The Nest IO” to the Startup Istanbul Conference.
Social Champ was participating in APICTA Competition and represented Pakistan. It was again a fully sponsored trip by “The Nest IO.”
By this time, we had raised investment from OTF (Remember the Charles Ill story above?) and had to travel to Oman for our Wadi Accelerator Program.
5) UK – London, Manchester
The training program of Wadi Accelerator continued in London, at Hambro Perks.
We met potential investors at “The Nest IO”, Ashraf Kalim and Zain Moosa, who later became partners with us in Social Champ, and took us on a fully sponsored trip to Dubai for Gitex Conference.
7) Local Travel – Sindh Ed Program
I was also a part of the trainers sent by “The Nest IO” to 5+ different universities in Sindh, Karachi, Pakistan, to train their students.
As a reader, you might think as if Social Champ was very special to Jehan Ara; well, it could be. But, these are also the kind of opportunities “The Nest IO” has been giving to 200+ startups that have been incubated to this date.
Founders, it’s your job to grasp opportunities that come to you. I’ve seen many who think the world revolves around their startup, and mentors are supposed to reach them because they are now the CEO of their own company. But in reality, it’s the opposite. So keep buzzing and seeking time to get help and be as humble and a learner as possible.
What have we have learned from Jehan Ara?
It’s tough for me to collect learnings from all startups who graduated from “The Nest IO”. So I contacted a few of my fellow nestling friends and “The Nest IO” team members and asked them,
“What did they learn from Jehan Ara?” And following is what they have to say.
Muhammad Waqas – CEO/Cofounder – WonderTree
Jehan has taught me the following things:
1) How to be resilient: no matter what others are saying what is happening around you, just keep moving forward.
2) She has taught me to always keep learning and keep growing:
The world especially the tech world moves really fast, you need to constantly keep learning and keep growing. Just because you are already successful doesn’t mean that you stop your learning.
3) Helping others:
I have always seen Jehan selflessly helping others, and always being happy for others’ success. This is a rare quality and I try to practice it as much as I can
Azima Dhanjee – CEO/Cofounder – ConnectHear
Jehan is a mentor and a friend. She gave us a chance to get incubated right after our first meeting. She trusted our idea and supported us throughout! This is what she has taught me. To support the passionate ones and see how they change the world. To stay humble even when the entire world is your fan. To always smile and take one day at a time. Thank you Jehan for believing in us and ConnectHear. Thank you for always being our number 1 ambassador. We love you!
Sennen Desouza – Cofounder – Investors Lounge
For me, the Nest will always be about the people and not so much about the premises. And I have found no better person than Jehan in bringing intelligent and passionate individuals together to make great things happen. She sets the bar high when it comes to exemplary work ethic & compassion. But beyond all of that, what stood out for me, is how invested she is in the future of every single mentee. She has been always been only a seat away when times have been turbulent, on the ground and in the air. Keep being the person you are, Jehan. May the years to come in your life have a lot more travel and a lot less turbulence. And for the times when you need assistance with your luggage, you know where to find me.
Rumaisa Mughal – Pilot Program Manager – Relish Works
When the Nest I/O was about to launch in January 2015, Jehan asked me to come onboard and help out till she had a full team. This little helping out turned into an unofficially official position of The Nest I/O’s first Entrepreneur In Residence. While there are many people who have contributed to the growth of the Nest I/O, there is only one real backbone who has been behind everything we have achieved as a community; the Big Bird, aka. Jehan Ara. I can’t imagine who and where I would be today without Jehan Ara’s support. Jehan started the chain reaction of empowerment for the Pakistani entrepreneurial ecosystem which has grown exponentially in the last 6 years, and will continue to do so over the years.
Amna Saleem – UI/UX Designer – Genoa Telepsychiatry
I currently work as a UI/UX Designer at Genoa Telepsychiatry. I had the privilege of being part of the first team at The Nest i/o in 2015 as the Creative Lead. It was the beginning of my career and one of the most memorable times in my professional life. I will always be grateful that I had the opportunity to work under someone like Jehan Ara and see for myself how women can be strong, inspiring leaders in fields that are usually dominated by men. I have witnessed how she managed challenges and how she celebrated the good days. How after a day of serious business, she would come out of her office to share a laugh with us. The Nest i/o was a huge stepping stone in my career and the connections and friends I found there are an invaluable part of my life now.
Baqar Jafri – CEO/Cofounder – Investors Lounge
Her empathy and resilience made us fell in love with her from day one. From reaching very early at office to supporting 100s of startups; from taking multiple meetings to advocating startups in the corporate world, Jehan does all this every single day; 365 days a year. Creating meaningful impact with a purposeful life is what defines Jehan. This is the most profound lesson we have learned from her
Mubashir Sakhi – Tech Consultant
I don’t know where to start but I will try. The first and foremost thing is to be disciplined about time, no matter what be on time for your meetings. Every time when I was down and I saw her coming to the office every day with persistence made me lift up to get onto things. Never compromise on ethics no matter what you are getting out of the deal. Perseverance, I have seen her pull of sponsorships right at the last minute of the event. That’s what has shaped you to believe in your abilities and don’t quit no matter what
Sabika Abbas – Marketing & Comm. Manager – The Nest IO
I have worked with and for Jehan for almost 4 years now. I have seen her getting through alot of tough times during these years but her we-will-get-it-all-done attitude has been nothing short of inspirational for me. I have learned to remain calm in a storm from this lady. I have learned to show up every day with a smile get shit done from her. I hope I can inculcate a similar sense of discipline and duty in my work career too. Thanks, Jehan for all the good and tough times. We wouldn’t have learned so much otherwise.
Umair Ali Khatri – Head of UX & Design – 10Pearls
Jehan taught me ‘resilience’, 5 years back I was a self-taught UX designer. Through all her guidance and support, I created a small design studio, which was recently acquired by Pakistan’s top tech Company 10Pearls. I faced many setbacks in my professional career, Jehan was there.. always there to help and support me. God bless her!
This is a closing note for this blog post, but not to all the future adventures and challenges we will be looking forward to, InshaAllah. I didn’t share every memory related to Jehan Ara because some are very precious to be shared. But to give you an idea, we have been, the nestlings, together to support each other, in each other’s happiness and sadness in life. It could be events such as marriages or breakups, or the birth of a child to a passing of a dear family member; we had always been together. And solely, Jehan Ara, with the help of Allah, had been able to create this beautiful family.
For some, success would be the number of dollars raised by startups so far from The Nest IO; that could be one metrics. However, the other is something that numbers cannot measure. When a startup founder comes to meet and tells their firstborn child is a girl; that is the success of a true leader that allows such conversations and celebrations to be shared.
Here’s a message to you, Jehan Ara, that resonates with many startup founders,
You are one of the best things that have ever happened to many startups in Pakistan. And especially to Karachi, when this city had no tech incubators, you took the flag forward, and tried to create a mini silicon valley atmosphere at The Nest IO, but even better because along with ideas and innovation, you valued long-lasting friendships too. To this day, I don’t quite get how you do all this. Even though I’m young (if you ignore my hair color), I used to fall dead tired after volunteering for 021Disrupt and many times missed your morning keynote speech the next day, during the event. I’m not sure how much sleep you get or need. The weekends you have sacrificed, the long hours spent in the office to help the ecosystem move forward. You must be having external forces behind you that support you too. That’s the only explanation I can have.
“The Nest IO” will have a change of leadership as you are about to start a new journey in life. We will cherish all these memories and the beautiful days you have given to us. And we will still be proud to call ourselves nestlings who had been once under the leadership of Jehan Ara, the big bird.
Thank you again for all that you had done, and continue to do.
In you, we find a coach, mentor, friend – family!
Behind the scenes
One more thing. I capture a lot of o videos for Instagram and Snapchat stories. I have tons of Jehan Ara stories too. Let me share one of the cute ones recorded during “Startup Weekend” at “The Nest IO.”