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This episode is a Life Advice Q&A that Taimur and Ali did as part of Ali's 300,000 YouTube subscriber milestone video. We answer questions about startups, procrastination, motivation, productivity, money-making, rejection, investments, imposter syndrome and hair loss.
Here is a transcript of our discussion:
Question: Any advice for starting an online business?
Ali: I’m going to make a video that breaks this down in-depth but point number one is that you should learn how to code and the basics of web design because being able to code and make stuff look pretty is an absolute superpower when it comes to starting an online business. Any other general tips?
Taimur: I might actually disagree with the learning how to code thing. A lot of people think there are a lot of barriers to entry in starting an online business, but now there are tools which allow you to do pretty much anything. If you want to start an e-commerce thing you don’t need to know a single line of code, you can use something like Shopify. Even if you want to make something a bit more custom there are now tools that let you do that without writing code so don’t worry too much about the code thing. I think developing design taste is really valuable because you can get really high production value in anything you do and that’s an immediate boost when you are getting started.
Ali: I want to disagree with that! I think the code thing is really important because knowing the basics of coding actually opens you up to a lot more business ideas than you would’ve thought possible. The mistake that people make when deciding to start an online business is that they think, ‘I’m going to sit down with my mates and brainstorm business ideas’ but all the common advice in the entrepreneurial world says that the best way to get ideas is to identify problems in your own life that you can then solve using technology. Just knowing the basics of code, opens your mind up to the realms of possibility, even if you’re not going to be the one to fully custom-code your product, it’s still useful to have that knowledge.
Taimur: Yeah, yeah I understand that, I just think that saying that in order to start an online business you need to know how to code, implies a higher barrier to entry than there is in reality.
Question: How do I motivate myself to study more?
Taimur: I was never particular good at this. I think environment actually helps – it took me about four years to realise that my bedroom isn’t the most productive place for me to work. So think about really basic stuff like what environments you work best in.
Ali: We’ve done a podcast episode all about this too so people can go and listen to that if they want more information.
Question: How to balance reading books, listening to multiple podcasts etc?
Taimur: I listen to a lot of podcasts. I put them mainly into two categories. There’s podcasts that I listen to for fun and entertainment, like Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend, but then I also listen to a lot of business/tech podcasts where I’m just trying to glean information. I should probably do more note taking…
Ali: I record Voice Notes about the key points from podcasts if I’m driving. For reading books, when it comes to fiction I read one at a time but when it comes to non-fiction, at the moment, I’m reading about six different non-fiction books…
Taimur: One thing that helped me to read more is that I stopped thinking that I had to read a book cover-to-cover.
Question: How do you effectively deal with procrastination?
Taimur: There is a nice movement in certain Twitter spheres at the moment which is in favour of things like procrastination but the point is to guide your procrastination in the right ways. For instance, if you are avoiding one thing but end up doing something else which turns out to be equally valuable, procrastination can turn out to be quite useful. There is something to be said for doing the things you feel like doing – if you’re really forcing yourself to do something you’re going to do it to as good a degree as if you were really into it at the time. Sometimes if you feel like procrastinating, think about something valuable you could be procrastinating with and it might actually be really good for.
Ali: This is something that I like to call productive procrastination – so if I can’t be bothered to do work or something I might go and play the piano or browse web design inspiration. Therefore while I’m procrastinating I’m still doing things that add value to my life.
Question: I’ve just finished university, but I now want to study data science, any tips?
Taimur: My first job out of university was as a data scientist. It means a lot of different things nowadays – the reason this title exists is because lots of companies now have lots of data coming in from lots of different departments and there are helpful things that you can do if you analyse this data. I worked at a company in the property space and we were trying to use data to figure out the value of a house so that we wouldn’t need someone to go and visit the house. In terms of getting into it, as a graduate its difficult because it’s not as developed a field as software engineering or other such roles. The way I did it was to make sure I had a solid foundation in what I needed – so I specialised in statistics whilst at university. I also knew how to code which is really important. So learn Python, learn statistics and try to reach out to smaller companies who are more likely to take a bet on a recent graduate.
Ali: So how do you go about learning Python and stats?
Taimur: I think in terms of Python, there are sites like Caggle where you can do data science challenges which can be good to practice your skills. In terms of learning stats, in my case, I just studied this stuff for four years and at some point things started to click…
Ali: If you want to learn the basics of Python then Google it and online courses are all really good.
Question: How do you pull yourself up after something doesn’t go to plan like not getting into university?
Taimur: I think this is an internal battle that we all face. You’re going to say no, ‘I read all these books on stoicism and there are actionable things you can do etc’ and maybe there are but I think that it’s mostly an internal battle.
Ali: Fair point and I agree that it’s an internal battle but I think it’s an internal battle of diversifying your identity. The reason we feel down about things that don’t go our way is because our hopes and expectations are tied up in that thing and our identities are somehow tied up in that thing. For example, if I tried really hard to get into a particular university and set my whole identity on becoming a medical student at Oxford and then I didn’t end up getting in, I would feel absolutely crushed and there is not much anyone can do about that because all of the previous time that has led up to that moment has created the space for this disappointment. So what many people suggest is to diversify your identity. In an ideal world, our identity and our sense of self-esteem wouldn’t come from anything external at all, it would be all internally generated but that’s ideal but in real life we all have our identity tied up in different things. I’ve found it really helpful to hang my identity off various different things has been really helpful for me as it means that if any one thing doesn’t go my way it means that I’ve got these other things that I can make myself feel good about.
Question: How has reading books helped you in any aspects of life?
Taimur: I haven’t read many books but I read a lot online about tech and business which has helped me to become more clued up about the things that I’m interested in. I can’t point to a single thing that I thought ‘that was really useful’ but just accumulating a wide range of knowledge form reading a range of stuff.
Ali: One of the new trends in reading books is to start to think of books as if they were blog posts so there is no prestige associated with reading a book cover to cover. Instead you can sort of skim it, draw out the lessons you need from it and move on. I’ve found that helpful and secondly, I’ve got a video called ‘3 Books that changed my life’ including 4 Hour Work Week, Anything You Want and Show Your Work, which are all good starting points if you’re looking for book recommendations.
Taimur: I would add one recommendation too – that is ‘The Courage to be Disliked’. I was surprised how much of an impact this one book had one me.
Question: Do you have any advice for earning money during school/university period?
Taimur: Using your summers productively. Obviously we’re into the whole online business thing so I’d recommend trying to set up some sort of online business that gets you some sort of passive income.
Ali: For earning money during school, I worked at this tutoring agency and made about £6/hour which was pretty good because I was earning £24/week which was £96/month and at the time I felt really satisfied with that. When you are starting out and you don’t have any extra skills I would recommend doing something like tutoring. But quite early on once I’d learnt to code, I started to do some freelance work making a few websites etc.
Taimur: I used to do psychic readings online.
Question: What has been the single most worthwhile investment for personal development?
Ali: That’s easy. Getting a Kindle. It completely the game for reading books – you can immediately buy a book, you can read wherever you are – it just changes the game. There are studies that show that people who read e-readers read about 50% more than those who don’t so Kindle is always something I’d recommend.
Taimur: Learning design and learning how to code. Exploring your own interests has been really valuable for me. I didn’t know I would end up trying to do this as a job. I was exploring my own interests in design which happened to lead somewhere good. I think it’s really valuable to cultivate your own interests and explore things on your own. Most of the valuable things I’ve learnt has not come from school or university.
Question: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learnt in your life so far?
Ali: One thing that I’ve learnt to appreciate that everyone is making it up as you go along and no-one has all the answers.
Taimur: These are all clichés and at various points in your life some of them will actually click but I don’t think there is any value in saying these things in videos like this…
Ali: I think that there is because the objective here is not that you would say these things and then 30 seconds later someone’s life has changed, the objective is to be again one of those people who are hammering these clichés home. There is another saying that is the secrets of life are hidden behind the word cliché – there is a reason that these phrases are clichés. Saying the phrase is still helpful – for example, money doesn’t buy happiness. For some people this is going to click early on but for other people they might think ‘easy for you to say’ and they would try to chase money and eventually they would realise for themselves that it doesn’t buy happiness. The cliché is still helpful.
Question: Does hard work always lead to success?
Ali: It depends how we define success and it depends how you define success.
Taimur: Ugh, another cliché!
Question: If you had a spare £1000 what would you do with it?
Ali: I would take us on a cruise for two weeks. I’ve been reading this thing about cruise ships as being the best place to get work done because everything is done for you. If you find a good deal, it can cost as little as £50/day to live on a cruise ship and you can use that time to bash out a load of work.
Taimur: Sounds like a novel cultural experience. Cruises are weird though right?! Let’s get a massive ship and get a load of people to come and travel around on it.
Question: Did either of you ever suffer from imposter syndrome?
Taimur: I think I had this for a while in tech stuff. Hearing enough people talk about imposter syndrome, it eventually sunk in that I’m not the only one.
Ali: I had imposter syndrome when I was co-directing the clinical school pantomime. The other co-director had loads of theatre and acting experience, I had zero acting or theatre experience so he knew what he was doing and I had no idea. So I was thinking that’s what everyone else was thinking but very quickly I realised that people don’t care about what I’m feeling or whether I’m doing a good job. People are going to be so tied up in their own selves that no-one is thinking about me at all.