Conversations With An Entrepreneur: Sennen Desouza

Entrepreneurs are a rare breed. They accept a life of backbreaking work in tough, competitive markets just to launch a product that may or may not even succeed. But they persevere, and that’s why they are called adventurers, undertakers, or in some cases, even lifetimers.

We talked to one such entrepreneur who, along with two of his co-founders, has created a product that’s changed investment and finance as we know it. Sennen Desouza – co-founder of Investors Lounge, a Fulbright Scholar, and an IBA grad – who’s also associated with Nest I/O – has cultivated years of learning which he shares with us.

Talking to him, we understood the struggle one goes through while creating a memorable brand, along with an insight into how an entrepreneur’s mind works. So without further ado, here’s Sennen Desouza going Mainstream…

Disrupting a Market requires understanding it first

Pakistan’s financial market has always been a quiz that was never easy to solve for laymen and individuals. Typically, you need to go through a lot of processes before you even understand how the investment market works. Sennen’s Investors Lounge tried to fix that through their idea.

“When this platform officially started in 2014, we started with a platform for retail investors, students, and young professionals who could do better financially with a varied set of expert opinions. Our thesis was that the more advice and recommendations you have, the better chance you have to perform in the riskiest market in Pakistan.’

‘We started as a B2C business with our audience being retail investors who invested small amounts of capital in the market. But after running a few experiments, we understood that the market wasn’t as ready as we had anticipated so we pivoted to a B2B market – to people who understood investment and had an appetite for data, and had invested a significant amount in the market.”

There goes lesson one for all entrepreneurs out there – learn to be flexible in your approach. Sennen and his team started with the thought of disrupting the B2C investment market, but since it wasn’t ready, they had to pivot, which was a smart choice. Whenever you want to bring change, you start from the base up. And the B2B market has always been at the base level of the Pakistani financial investment market, so to reach them was a crucial step with Investors Lounge at the right time.

“It’s been easier for us to spread awareness because we come from a niche industry and you can get through to people with email lists, contacts, Facebook, and other options. Being a small industry, it doesn’t take a lot to create reach, and that kept us visible.’

“When it comes to Pakistan, not a lot of data is available, especially for the financial market. Our competitors have always included names like Bloomberg, but it’s very hard to access Bloomberg because of the cost of the platform and the lack of data they have about stocks beyond the top 100 stocks ranked by market capitalization. So we kept ourselves differentiated from them by keeping ourselves as an intelligence platform for people who wanted an affordable tool to monitor markets frequently.”

Listening to Sennen talk about the lack of data representation from Pakistan, we were reminded about how Usama Ahmed said the same about following international examples in a Pakistani context and how that doesn’t work. Taking up a course on trading or corso trading online makes one aware and more likely to succeed.

This not only identifies how important it is to set and follow benchmarks from your own industry but also the necessity of startups like Investors Lounge that offer insight to your own market, instead of borrowing from other international ones.

Of entrepreneurial challenges, learning and relearning

Being a part of his own startup while also being associated with incubators like Nest I/O, Sennen knows the ups and downs that entrepreneurs have to face, especially when building something ground up. We asked him what his message was to entrepreneurs and how they could do better…

“For us, it’s definitely been challenging. There’ve been a lot of ups and downs and it’s been very tough, but there’s been a lot of learning. Every 6 to 8 months there’s exposure to new content, mentors, and insights. And as difficult as that may be to digest, you understand how many things you’ve done wrong.’

‘The best thing we as entrepreneurs can do for people who are about to take this leap of faith is to pay your learning forward – that this is what we thought, this is what we were told, this is what was wrong, and don’t make these mistakes. Because that can save you a couple of years and for a lot of people that’s equal to a lifetime.’

“Leap of Faith” may be just the right phrase for people embarking on a journey this tough. So not only was that information true, but Sennen’s next advice was also spot on.

‘My advice to people would be to first, do a self-evaluation of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Be honest to yourself, as tough as that is because the journey will be very crazy. You’re going to be underpaid sometimes and overworked too. You also won’t have the same type of security as a job. The pressure will keep building, which is why self-evaluation can help a lot.’

‘My second advice is to focus on solving a REAL problem and not one that YOU think is a problem. That’s what I have learned. I am currently enrolled in a Master’s program at the University of San Francisco as part of the Fulbright program. The program makes you focus and dissect problems, recognize blind spots, and only then run experiments to build a solution. For an entrepreneur, there’s a lot of reeducation. Unless you’re ready to accept that you can be wrong or that you can make improvements on yourself, you will be doing a great disservice to yourself.’

‘So always be on the lookout for resources where you can get insights for your industry. There are platforms like The Founder Institute or YCombinator’s Startup School. This is important because you can get a lot of learning from Silicon Valley while still keeping in mind that Pakistan’s problems are very different. So to localize your solutions you have to be a little desi along with being a little American to make a formula for Pakistan that can be successful.”

Pakistan’s Ecosystem and an Entrepreneur’s Way Forward

Because he’s been associated with Pakistan’s startup ecosystem so closely, we had to know from Sennen what were the ways budding entrepreneurs could connect with incubators to grow their ideas into real startups.

“Nest I/O has an application system that lets you apply with your idea. Ideally, you should have tested that idea a little bit to see how it works, but you can apply with just your idea as well. Then you meet a panel of judges and have a second process after which 12 to 15 ideas are selected, after which Nest I/O is your home for the next 3 months. You get mentored, meet investors, and get a free space to think and grow.’

‘Founder institute also has an application system and gives you access to brilliant resources developed out of Silicon Valley. You can also go for YCombinator’s Startup School. YCombinator is the world’s most prestigious incubator which also happens to run an online program called Startup School. I was a part of it. I graduated from it and had a great experience.”

This wasn’t just insightful, it gave us a lot of reference on how incubators let startups come together. And while it may seem daunting, talking to Sennen made us realize that if you have the drive, all you need is a little learning and support that such incubators can give to you. When it comes to your businesses know how one can sell a small business

“What I feel is missing in Pakistan is the lack of podcasts and channels that discuss local realities. We can easily access blogs to know what’s happening in the Valley, Canada, or India. But in Pakistan we need more (of this) to know what the investments are in, what are the common problems, what are the successful startups and who owns them, what challenges they are facing how can the people who are listening not make the same mistakes again, how can they capitalize on those opportunities that help them built something phenomenal because there a lot of room.’

An entrepreneur with merit

For us, talking to Sennen was a journey full of insight which not only helped us understand the potential of learning and understanding in an entrepreneur’s life but also what opportunities lay ahead in Pakistan – whether it’s through Investors Lounge’s idea of helping you understand finance or through incubators that are changing how entrepreneurs hustle and grow. All in all, we’ll gladly say that our conversation with Sennen Desouza was a learning opportunity, and a great way to understand how entrepreneurs could bring forward their ideas to the mainstream.

Watch Sennen’s full interview on our YouTube channel, or read more from other entrepreneurs in our MVPs category.

Which entrepreneur would you like to hear from next? Tell us in the comments below.

Ali Mujtaba

Mujtaba is a business development wiz with a knack for IT, tech, and all things positive! His interests lie in gaming, memes, Netflix, and the food scene in Karachi.

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