As part of the interview series, Anis Turak interviewed Akram Hoque, Founder & Editor ounder & Editor ThePolicyTimes.com, India’s leading Policy initiative news portal
1. Give a brief background about yourself and your business?
Akram Hoque: I graduated in economics and Masters in Management in my mid-20s, which led to the start of my career in journalism and teaching. My first job gave me a lot of exposure to the industry, policymaking, and stakeholders in foreign diplomacy. In the latter half of my career, I worked with India’s leading industry associations such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and FICCI which gave me further exposure to working with governments, industry, development organizations, and the international community. Seeing the challenges that the world community, as well as India, is facing, I wasn’t happy with the latest development and want to see India rise to a truly Socialist, Democratic Secular, Modern, and the Prosperous Republic that our Constitution vows for.
Journalism was always at the core of my heart, however, seeing that journalism has become too dirty and meaningless with the rise of fake-news lobbies and propaganda and the vested interest of some politicians, we thought of building a new organization in the form of The Policy Times as a media cum strategic Think Tank which aims to promote development journalism through policy advocacy and be a practical alliance of experts from business, policymaking, civil society, and the international community to lead the advocacy through events, B2Bs and media activities.
Established in March 2017, The Policy Times journey has been a bumpy ride with a lot of achievements and experimentations. As we stand in March 2021, The Policy Times looks somewhere stable to take a leadership role to contribute in nation-building through development journalism, which is the only form of journalism to set people’s attention to the right path of national growth and development, in short – ‘Policy and Progress’ is what we want to achieve.
2. What was the objective and vision to start your media business?
Akram Hoque: As I mentioned in my first introductory note, we as Indian youth wish to see India a developed and prosperous nation where all Indians have access to quality education and universal healthcare; India develops a perfect entrepreneurship ecosystem; be a leader in the future technologies like AI/ML/Blockchain, world-class infrastructure, and many more.
As I mentioned in my first introductory note, we as Indian youth wish to see India a developed and prosperous nation where all Indians have access to quality education and universal healthcare; India develops a perfect entrepreneurship ecosystem; be a leader in future technologies like AI/ML/Blockchain, world-class infrastructure, and many more.
The creation of The Policy Times is the first step. When I started my journey, my friend and Co-Founder of The Policy Times, Mr. Salman Ahmad was the first person to put complete faith in me and provided all the necessary support for the last four years from his humble background. I haven’t seen a gentleman like Mr. Salman Ahmed in the whole world who can sacrifice everything for a greater humanitarian cause and benefit of the greater Society.
While Mr. Salman Ahmed has many other businesses in real estate, education, finance, and FMCG, The Policy Times has always been close to his heart and he nurtured it to grow wholeheartedly. If I have to say in his words, The Policy Times aims to be the people’s voice for policy change; focus on issues that can make India a great and developed nation; inform, educate, enlighten, and enrich public policy understanding; to be the most authentic and influential platform to discuss, debate, dialogue, deliberate on policy and practice issues; be the fourth pillar of modern democracy; address the needs of unserved and underserved especially socially, economically and culturally vulnerable people and promote responsible journalism for positive change in the Service of Humanity (to attain Peace, Prosperity and Unity).
3. What were the challenges faced by you as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
Akram Hoque: Entrepreneurship is a journey of struggle and failures and The Policy Times is not an exception. The last four years have been a journey of failures and experimentation but full of learning. We made a thousand mistakes and failed a hundred times in our small endeavors. Remember individual is different from a system. Building the right team and hiring the right people were challenging. We learned through experience. Finding and building a revenue successful model was a difficult task that we are still working on but have developed clarity recently. Compliance and physical infrastructure were other challenges. So-called co-working spaces are bloodsuckers in the name of promoting entrepreneurship promotion platforms and so are the Chartered Accountants and landlords. I realized that 80% of my initial time was going wasted in handling people, office construction & renovations, compliance, and building a basic network for future business, and after I am truly exhausted in these, I am left with 20% time to bring new clients for the business.
But the most difficult part of the journey was, despite being an MBA, I had no practical knowledge and experience about dynamics of business and startup. I still remember many management and economics theories but practically translating them into action has always been a difficult task, which I am still learning from my experience.
4. Is there a link between Education & Startups? If, yes please give your viewpoints.
Akram Hoque: Well, a very poor link I must say. It may teach you a couple of rules and theories but building a business is always a difficult task and someone needs to be practically trained mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. You have to be a really smart, intelligent, and hardworking person to be a successful entrepreneur. Neither our parents nor our educational institutions teach us how to be an entrepreneur, how to earn money, and how to build a business, which is supposed to be the most objective of education. They train us how to be a good employee. So a massive change in outlook and approach is needed in South Asia.
5. How do you see the Indian startup and education industry in the next 5 years?
Akram Hoque: Covid-19 Pandemic has actually pushed us 10 years ahead in terms of adopting technology and the internet in education. We are still within the phase of Covid-19 socio-economic transformation of life, while Artificial Intelligence (AI) with 5G is at our doorstep. AI is expected to have an equal impact in society when humans will interact with machines and when machines are going to be more intelligent than humans and a completely new set of threats and opportunities will emerge it.
India is nowhere even near to it. Our startup ecosystem is bringing a lot of innovations as well as replicating successful business models from abroad but in miserable shape and struggling helplessly. Thus, they need a lot of handholding from Governments. The education system is divided – while public education is old and slow, private education is giving leadership to adopt changes and in innovation but their model doesn’t seem to be sustainable as the cost is pretty high which a large number of Indian students and parents are not able to afford. With a lot of CSR money coming into education, the industry taking an active interest in education, the Edtechs boom, and excessive cross-border integration in education are going to bring massive disruption. In this madness, startups seem to be net gainers.
6. What is advice would you like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Akram Hoque: Just focus on your innovation and revenue model. Rest all is manageable. Remember that just raising investment or funds means the success of the business is a myth and absolutely wrong. People are crazy to build startups thinking that they will raise big money, which will help the business thrive and they will make a personal fortune, this is a myth.
If your business model is sound and good, you don’t need investment. Investment should be used for growth and expansion. Unless your business is sustainable, don’t raise funds. After all, the person who is investing money in your business wants higher returns and will never want you to grow big. Your investor wants you to quickly finish your money by any random and aggressive unsustainable expansion plans, which may not be required at the moment for your business. This is the only reason you see a lot of startups raising bid money, growing and expanding too fast, and then selling out or surrounding to their investors and then the investors sell these startups to big giants like Facebook, Reliance, Amazon, etc. Stories of Flipkart, Oyo, Ola, Myntra, jabong, etc. are all same.
But there is no bigger achievement than identifying your passion and then converting it into a successful business! If you really want to achieve true success and happiness, don’t forget to try business once before your death!
Anis Turak is a contributor based out of Nagpur, India. He is also the creative director of TMA Worldwide, the parent company of Startup Berita