How I Lived My Early Twenties As A Fake Entrepreneur

The main 5 reasons why I lived my twenties as a fake entrepreneur and couldn’t make it.

I’m writing this article as I enter the last year of my twenties and it’s a super confusing feeling. This article is not about how to get it done but it’s from the perspective of a fake entrepreneur and why you “shouldn’t” do it! I know if you are an entrepreneur the first thing you will say is “I’m not a fake entrepreneur”.”No, I can do it”, “I’m not you, I’m a hustler”, “I will shoot for the moon”… etc!! if you just said that, it’s a strong reason to read this article till the end.
I hear you, I was the same 10 years ago but I’d love it if you can read the article and give yourself a 5-minute break from the hustling mode and activate the learning mode and just imagine…. just imagine if you are right 99% and I could be right only 1%! As I know you are busy… Let’s jump straight to the lessons and what I was doing wrong.

5 reasons that made me a perfect fake entrepreneur:

1. I was trying to prove to my family that I’m a great entrepreneur who can solve his country problems while I was solving NOTHING

In 2012 I got a letter from the government to get a job and I instantly rejected it because at this time I didn’t imagine or accepted to be “An employee” I was feeling it’s a shame for someone like me with my skill set & passion to be an employee.

I got into this debate with my dad and he asked me so, what’s the job description or company you will join? “I’m my own boss” — I replied.

8 years ago, the idea of online/remote working at my home town was treated in a very bad way, I was getting comments from my mom “Go and find a job”, “keep away this laptop and be real” … I’m not blaming them or dwelling about this now — they are the 2 people I love the most: my father & my mother. But the idea of creating an online business is very weird for them and the only way to prove that they are wrong is to have an office and employees and ask them to visit my office. But it was too early for a fresh graduate like me at this time to afford these expenses!

I tried to convince them and they were never convinced about me being an entrepreneur! The big lesson on this, not only about your family but for people around you Don’t try to prove anything to anyone, most of the people around you at this early stage are fully convinced that you are a loser who can’t change a needle on the sewing machine

For you, Not for your family

2. Being Superman with No superpowers

After 10 years I realized this. This is super super important for tech folks who watched “social networks” +10 times, and for who “Mark Zuckerberg” is the ideal entrepreneur for them.

Folks, it isn’t only about your code editor, it takes set of skills to run a business and it’s cool if you have it all, you actually shouldn’t have it all, that’s why there is a role of “Co-founder”, that’s why you can hire more teammates and work as a team not only being one-man startup who is hustling to get a financial plan done and all his experience with finances the 14 workshops he took on the entrepreneurship seminars.

Speaking of skills, I was a great developer this time, I used to say 2 sentences almost everyday “I solve problems with code” & “Coding is not my job, it’s my hobby”… I’m laughing now because after 10 years I realized that my best 2 hobbies NOW are “Music” & “Dancing”

Learning the lesson here: there is a difference between a one-man startup and a team who is working on solving real-world problems or providing a value for a segment of people “your customers”.

You must know what exactly yours and other’s skills you must need to sustain this startup in the short and long run.

I’m Mustafa Not Superman

The moment you will realize that you are only yourself, not superman, Iron man, or anyone else, you will start building something that truly represents you and your personality for adding new value to someone somewhere.

3. I was surrounding myself with fake entrepreneurs who were just words than actions

I do remember we were happy being failures because everyone around us was most likely failing too, and we all have some shared dreams “The VC is coming”, “The fund is waiting for us”, “It’s ok, you will make it next pitch”, “Next year, we will be at Silicon Valley” and I didn’t realize that we were hustling only to get to the VC, it was a competition of pitches to investors not pitches to real customers and get real problems solved or to enhance 1 person life.

Everyone around me at this time was simply a failure like me or even better in how he/she keep failing, after 10 years 2 dear friends only made it to 500 startups they are Mustafa Raslan for Converted.in start and Abdelrahman Said for Dailymealz startups and I also know exactly what they were working on 10 years ago, and I know for sure it wasn’t that startups or teams behind it that made it to 500 startups. I admire both of them for being hustlers for 10 years — I couldn’t keep hustling for 10 years so great shout to them.

With Abdelrahman Said, Co-founder of Dailymealz

“You‘re the average of the five people spend the most time with,”

~ Jim Rohn

This cliche quote is right! You won’t learn it from TEDtalk, or the next conference; you will learn it when you audit the circle around you and realize who is making it and who is faking it and it’s as simple as that

Is he/she making a real product? or providing real service? Is he/she having a real impact on real customers? Is he/she making money? (ROI)

If it’s YES then great, you have amazing entrepreneurs around you, else if it’s NO you have to drop 3 out of the closest 5 friends around you who you hang out with the most and find the entrepreneurs who are making it and get in touch with them, hang out with them, learn from them.

Just pick the best entrepreneurs in your community/country and send them a descriptive message about why s/he is your role model and what exactly you want to learn from them and ask if you can learn it and you also can give 1h/day doing any work for them. Trade-off your time for the skills you want to get “most probably you don’t have the money to pay for their time”

4. I played the game of finding cash cow to feed my startup(s) and ended up failing in both (Lost my compass & focus)

Within the ecosystem, It’s a great badge to win a competition to prove to the community how cool your startup is, and you have a clear business model canvas and initial business plan. And this step we did. I was part of the team who got the 1st place winner at startup weekend at Nile university — 2014, It’s great to win a competition but it’s very hard to sustain the startup expenses for 2 years.

At startup weekend

Within the ecosystem, It’s a great badge to win a competition to prove to the community how cool your startup is, and you have a clear business model canvas and initial business plan. And we did this step. I was part of the team who got the 1st place winner at startup weekend at Nile university — 2014, It’s great to win a competition but it’s very hard to sustain the startup expenses for 2 years.

At startup weekend: OMG, this was one of the most exhausting times to me. I used to do small projects on the side to get some money to monetize my ideas that I thought it’s going to change the world. But one of the entrepreneurs advised me to open a software house — as I’m good at making tech projects — and I have so many techies who can get any project for me done at affordable prices.

The biggest mistake I made was that I pivoted so much about my values and started working on any project that brings money with some websites or e-commerce. I wasn’t fully satisfied with it or the purpose and I was ignoring it and shipping it at the right time to get money, more money, and more money.

I turned it into my main channel to monetize my life and was able to put little money on small ideas but again all of them were failing.

$$$$$

I’m not trying to say that doing side projects is wrong when you are an entrepreneur, it’s all about the balance between the different things you do to lead to your goals.

5. I believed in the mentors so much — wrong mentors

This part of my twenties is the dark one not only because of believing in wrong mentors for me but to start having trust issues with mentors who are awesome on stage and 1–1 meetings, but they are doing the opposite of it. Let me give you one example, one of the mentors used to give talks about entrepreneurs events and he had 2 full-time jobs and he always used to go on the stage and say to fresh graduates in a very motivational voice tone “Don’t apply for a job, be your own boss, “Don’t wait for the opportunity, Create it”

I stuck with this mentor for 2–3 years, he was my 1st motivational speaker and mentor who can charge me with a motivational talk in 20 mins, and I can go hustle — in the wrong way — for 5 months, yes, he was super motivational.

One day I asked him “Hey…. Why don’t you have your own startup and you keep asking us to create opportunities?”

I think not many wanneapenures — like me at this time — start to realize How fake the entrepreneurship ecosystem is!!

He replied with a very fake answer, and I replied “ I don’t think this is true, and I genuinely believe now your speeches are fake, and you know… thank you for being my mentor but I don’t think your mentorship will add value for me.

The right mentor will appear when you build something

Waleed Khalil, He is my favourite mentor ever. Although I became a full-time employee 3 years ago, Waleed has been the best mentor ever and this is why he was a great mentor:

  1. He is not theoretically mentoring entrepreneurs and sharing things he never made.
  2. He is very practical, he gets things done, if you sit with him for a 1–1 mentorship, you will realize that on the next meeting you must have progress other than that, it will be a waste for both our times.
  3. He has the experience of working with different startups and has senior life experiences, he saw startups make it to silicon valley and got to know 1000s of reasons why startups fail, he was living the entrepreneurship dream not only waiting for events or conferences to show off.
  4. He has 0 expectations from us as a startup, he said it very clearly, I’m mentoring you because I see you are building a good product that has a good potential to grow.
  5. He is not theoretically mentoring entrepreneurs and sharing things he never made.
  6. He is very practical, he gets things done, if you sit with him for a 1–1 mentorship, you will realize that on the next meeting you must have progress other than that, it will be a waste for both our times.
  7. He has the experience of working with different startups and has senior life experiences, he saw startups make it to silicon valley and got to know 1000s of reasons why startups fail, he was living the entrepreneurship dream not only waiting for events or conferences to show off.
  8. He has 0 expectations from us as a startup, he said it very clearly, I’m mentoring you because I see you are building a good product that has a good potential to grow.

I mentioned Waleed as an example for the mentor who adds value to you and pushing you to make real products and figure out your shortcut way to make money. I don’t have secret formula on how to judge mentors, I’d say:

“Mentors come after building MVP, not on the ideation process. If the mentor is not adding value to you and the team, you don’t need him/her”

Waleed Khalil, my best mentor

Absolutely everyone can achieve their dreams but you have to be realistic about how to achieve your dream. and a dream without a plan is just a wish.

Entrepreneurship is not easy, it’s not a straightforward thing, you always will find yourself needing to go from “A” to “Z” having no clue how to go there and that is what makes entrepreneurship very challenging. If you found yourself working on the startup for 4–5 years and you don’t have a true business, what I mean by a true business is that it has a real product or service with real customers with cash flow.

If you are going on the wrong way, it’s okay to know that you are on the wrong way, you have to admit that and work on fixing this, maybe by “giving up” and trying to find a full-time job that can sustain your life financially and be in a real business where you do real work and see how you are contributing with a team to make money.

Last but not the least, you won’t be a good manager or a team lead if you are not a good employee yourself. This is the reality why most entrepreneurs fail to build a team or a sustainable product for 1–2 years with a small team.

Hope the lessons of my failures have opened your eyes to the real world. Please take it as a message from a wannapreneur who couldn’t make it in his twenties and was planning to make it in his thirties.

Life is good 🙂


Originally published at https://mustafaelnagar.com on August 16, 2020.

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