Few entrepreneurs are truly self-made. Hasan Saleem is one of them.
Today, he’s not just the head of one of Ireland’s foremost marketing agencies, DSS Media. He also owns a number of popular websites, from BQOTD.com to PakWired, and is a regular contributor to online publications such as Dawn, YourStory, and The Good Men Project.
But this soaring digital career was by no means a given when Saleem was growing up in Pakistan in the 1990s. Raised by a dedicated single mom, he became fascinated with computers when he received one as a present from an uncle.
Pursuing his new-found passion, he taught himself web marketing, programming and web development, and then moved across the country to extend his skills at university. Between his first website-fixing jobs which paid a meager $5, and his present success, Saleem overcame countless challenges. In the process, he built countless websites, traveled extensively, founded numerous start-ups, worked as a consultant, and earned an MBA.
Here, Saleem shares his secrets: What inspires him, how he deals with challenges and disappointments, and how he balances his successful business and private life.
What gives you energy?
Fundamentally, my goals drive me.
I firmly believe that you have to know what you want in life. Otherwise, you won’t succeed, no matter what you do.
Setting your goals often requires a lot of reflection and soul-searching, but once you have them, cast them in stone.
Having fixed goals will help you weather even the direst of situations. It’s what I’ve trained myself to do.
What’s your secret life hack?
Take action, be focused.
I’ve learned that whatever challenge you’re facing, it’s essential to take the first step right away and avoid procrastination – and then to stay focused.
I don’t believe in multitasking. Instead, I strive to tackle one thing at a time – and to give it 100% of my focus and dedication.
In order to do so, I have to divide my time wisely. If I have three different projects to work on and 90 minutes to spare, I assign 30 minutes to each project, rather than muddling them. The results are much better.
Another way to go is to delegate tasks.
During my career, I’ve learned that whatever business you’re in, you have to learn the skills that are its lifeblood. But once you have them, it’s crucial that you build a reliable team you can pass tasks to without hesitation. Hire specialists to do the job.
Having the central skills in any business lets you assemble a better team and make better decisions. It’s also a security net in case anything goes wrong – you can always fall back on your own experience. Having help is great, but I’ve learned not to depend too much on others.
What is the greatest challenge you experienced and how did you overcome it?
I’m not a social person by default. That’s what I’ve had to work hardest to overcome.
Early on, I realized that networking is vital. In business, connections are everything. So I had to teach myself to become more social – to forge and maintain business relationships.
The way I did that was by reading a lot, and then putting myself out there bit by bit. I believe that if you want to change your life, you have to start small. Implementing even small changes to your life and routine can have a massive impact in the long run. Joining a community, for example, was a vital step for me. I can recommend it to anyone.
Name a book that changed your life.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
I used to be angry and irritated in social situations a lot. This book changed the way I look at life!
I also have dozens of quote books and apps that I read every day for inspiration. Reading the words of those who came before us, and absorbing their distilled wisdom is an invaluable source of motivation for me.
Others seem to feel the same way. Back in 2011, I started a quotes page on Facebook by the name of BQOTD, which is still quite popular on social networks.
Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
I have to admit that my phone is my Achilles heel. I took it to bed with me starting in the early 2000s.
However, for the last two years, I’ve been working on being more mindful. That’s why I’ve been putting it away conscientiously when I’m about to go to sleep.
How do you deal with email?
When I started my business, email was one of the most effective ways to communicate – and it still is. In the course of my work, I’ve trained myself to be extremely responsive – customers appreciate prompt responses and help.
Despite my best efforts, though, I haven’t seen an empty inbox for years. With a booming business, that’s practically impossible.
You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
Over the past few years, I have discovered the immense power of meditation and mindfulness.
Apart from that, I try to be closer to nature in any possible way. Even a short walk or a few minutes spent in the open air can boost my concentration and focus a lot.
When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
Quite honestly, I can’t remember a particular time but it does happen now and then. Mostly when I’m extremely preoccupied with work. At these times, it can feel like I’m never satisfied.
What helps me keep these feelings in check is that I’m very mindful of my health. Regular exercise, eating well, and meditating are great sources of well-being for me and form a priceless defense against burnout.
When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
Over the years, I’ve felt like a failure a gazillion times. But every single time, my focus on my goals and never-say-never attitude have gotten me through it.
In times like that, I like to take a moment to step back and consciously reflect on what I have achieved. Count all the blessings in my life.
I look at my family and my loved ones, take some time to relax, travel, and have fun. Helping others, too, is extremely helpful in such moments. Even though I might have failed, having the power to lift up others – and using it – is still an incredible achievement. Plus: Good karma!
Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
My favorite quote is by Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
This is an incredibly important sentiment, especially if you’re approaching anything from the outside. As an inexperienced young person just starting out. As a person of color. As a foreigner. Throughout the years, I’ve derived a lot of strength and inspiration from these words.