5 lessons from 9 years of experience on building a content company

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You don’t have to go through all the 9 years to experience the lessons and hopefully none of us have to repeat the same process. If you are part of any startup or new company, learn as much as you can and build the relationship/network early. Contribute to expedite your own growth in a particular field. 

Because what I learned for the last 9 years is not only about how to build a good company and grow the team, but I learn a lot of life lessons that I hope will benefit most of you.

1) Start first and don’t be afraid

We have many self doubt and often overthink too much. The new roads always appear to be risky, especially in business. Unknown territory makes us feel unsafe, hence we prefer to be comfortable doing things in the field we already know.

But in order for us to learn, is to start. We never know our capacity until we start doing it. But this didn’t discount proper planning and strategizing the move. Most important is to execute, learn, iterate, repeat again. 

1000 hours of uncomfortable moments is always better than 10,000 comfortable moments.

Being a doctor is a comfortable life. I don’t have to think about not being able to find a job all my life. But, IMAN had taught me different lessons. I have to be cautious all the time and need to be ready to mitigate risk and adapt if things happen to the company.

Being in a growing company will always make us uncomfortable and uncertain. But there lies growth. We only learn by doing.

2) Leverage in what we have in hands.

I started with books and writing. That’s what I already had that time. I love reading books. And writing seems effortless to me. I began to read trends and know what kind of good books really means. So I begin with writing, then selling books. So far, thats what seems to work. And through writing and books, IMAN manages to pull great talents to build to who it is now.

Apart from leverage skills, we also need to leverage our network. I began to have a network when I was 16 years old. And it becomes larger as I grow up. Especially when I studied in the UK from 2003-2011. During that time I get to know hundreds of students, including authors that study in many places. Most of us in IMAN already know each other since our early uni days. 

Get to know as many good people as early as possible. Keep them because we are only as good as our network that we have. Even during the early days of IMAN, those who helped lend money to me in starting IMAN was my friends during the early days. We were in the same NGO and have known each other till now.

When we have the right attitude to other people in the beginning of friendship, they will pay us back.

3) ( Right) System is important to scale.

During the early days of IMAN, we learned through trial and errors. Those years can be shortened if we learn the right knowledge from the right mentors since the beginning.

Initial state , we have to vigirously find product market fit. Subsequently, we have to find a system that scale. 

At this stage of IMAN, go back to the previous lesssons and we don’t have to repeat the same mistakes we had previously. Find the right system. The lens or angle we have to look at now is different from 3-9 years ago. 

System is very important to scale. Get the right workflow. Use six sigma if you are familiar with it. Meticolously iterate then make it a system.

4) Inquisitive and curious minds create innovations.

For us to continue relevant in this industry, we have to have an inquisitive and curious mind. Normally science background people have this kind of culture. Through research and manuscripts thesis development, we were used to questioning the theory and wanted to come up with new one.

If we are choosing comfortable ways, we would choose to stop thinking and questioning. We would accept the things as it is and will not find ways to make it better.

To continue to grow and be relevant, it is important to install curiousity. Always ask question.

If you don’t know what to asks and having difficulty to be curious, try to talk to 6-7 years old kids.

My nephew today asked me about fundamental things about our deen;

” Agama itu apa ?”

” Kenapa orang kafir tak percaya Allah?”

“Malaikat itu macam mana?”

” Kenapa kita sembah Allah sedangkan kita tak nampak Dia?”

I would say that was the toughest questions I ever received in my life. But it does makes me questions my understanding of Islam and how well I able to convey it to my 6 years old nephews.

Books can also make us curious. Books can train our mind to think and imagine beyond what video/movie/series can make us. 

5) Culture of candor

As I recruited most of IMAN team within the same network I have, we were friends before becoming colleagues. We know each other like our own family. Our relationship become so deep until it sometimes hurts and affects the way we work.

Hence, it is important to develop a culture of candor, ability to give frank feedback, and accept the feedback. It is hard for me initially. I remember when I listen to feedback from one of the team, I can feel my ear lobes become red and my heart racing so fast. It takes time for me to really listen and comprehend it before I can contextualise the change I have to make.

And most of us are afraid to give direct and honest feedback because it feels unsafe. We were afraid to lose the personal friendship we had and we prefer to avoid conflicts by keeping silence than facing the truth.

Giving feedback should be given in direct and proper way. Not in humuoral , indirect way. It should be understood by both party that the feedback is important for the growth of the team and whole company. No matter who you are in IMAN, director, HOD or even execs, we are all responsible to give feedback, honest brutal feedback in order to better. 

Speaking unpleasantly about the hard truth is hard. Especially to those we respect so much. But it is very important. Or else, it will become bottleneck and affect the whole of team. And when giving feedback, give it one to one. Give it in the manners understand and can take action.

For us who have less experience in accepting feedback, learn to listen. Learn to take the feedback as it is and understand it. It is hard. Both ways are hard, giving honest feedback and accepting feedback. But do it for the sake of love and respect towards each other. If we really care about our team members, we want them to be better, not just mediocre.

I lost many good friendships during the years, especially those who started the business with me. When I think back, perhaps I was not frank and honest enough in what I felt and set the boundaries and expectations during those early days. I learned my lesson, it has never been much safer than speaking what we really expected and felt for other people.

I believe there are many other lessons that IMAN has learned throughout this journey. As an entrepreneur, finance and getting the right people is vitals. As an IMAN team, the most important strategy is the culture. 

Till we reach 10 years of IMAN, and perhaps there is more to learn for the next 1 year ahead!

““ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness” – Malcolm Gladwell.

10,000 hours = 10 years of working days.

These 5 lessons encompasses all 5 IMAN Co re Values:

1) Just start doing it – Growth

2) Leverage through own skills and network – Great Attitude

3) Systemise what works – Great Impact

4) Curious minds – Great Innovator

5) Candor – Great Team work

Dr Aisyah Zainordin

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