Building a company from scratch is one of the most challenging professional tasks you can imagine. But imagine doing this in a country like Pakistan, where early stage money is notoriously hard to acquire and founders face additional challenges above and beyond the already challenging task of building and scaling a young company. That’s exactly where Kalsoom Lakhani and her work comes into play. Kalsoom is the Founder and CEO of Invest to Innovate and a Partner at I2I Ventures – two organizations whose aim it is to support and unleash the potential of young entrepreneurs in growth markets like Pakistan. I caught up with Kalsoom recently on our From the Dorm Room to the Board Room podcast. The following short excerpt from that interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Andy Molinsky: How did you become inspired to help young entrepreneurs in Pakistan?
Kalsoom Lakhani: I remember being really unhappy at my job. I was stuck there because of my own visa situation in the U.S., and I didn’t want to leave the country. I remember one day that Pakistan was on the cover of Time or Newsweek for being the most dangerous place on Earth. I remember just feeling so incensed by the injustice of that title because it did not encompass all the nuances of what I knew of my home country. I remember this moment very vividly. I was sitting in the back of a car with my dad and I said to him: “I can’t believe that this is the cover. This is unfair.” And my dad replied, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” And that’s my dad in a nutshell. He always challenges me.
Molinsky: Did you feel fully prepared to take this on?
Lakhani: No – definitely not! And I think this speaks to a misconception that college students often have entering the workforce. People often feel that they have to have all the answers when they’re graduating. But we are dynamic as humans. We are ever-changing, and the world is ever-changing around us. So, say yes to things that feel uncomfortable. Get out there. I think you always find inspiration and potential for creativity in those in those moments and in those moments of discomfort.
Molinsky: Speaking of college, was there anything in particular that helped prepare you for what you’ve taken on today in your career?
Lakhani: Yes – for me it was the critical thinking that I learned with my liberal arts education at a U.S. university – having the freedom to explore, try different things, and learn to think critically and question things. To me, that was one of the best life lessons I learned from college. It put me into a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, people don’t ever challenge anything and are okay with the status quo – or maybe are the status quo. Growth mindset is that you’re constantly thinking, and questioning, and curious about things. I think college really gave me that.
Molinsky: Tell me about the role of mentors in your career.
Lakhani: Mentors are critical – to support you, to advise you, and especially to tell you what you don’t want to hear. You don’t want to have an echo chamber around you. You don’t want people telling you how amazing you are. You want people that are going to challenge you and be critical of you in a constructive way.
Molinsky: Can you give an example?
Lakhani: I remember really confidently telling this guy at a conference one day about the company that I was starting, and he literally tore it apart. I don’t cry easily, but my eyes were stinging. However, after I took a minute, and I went back, licked my wounds a little bit, and realized that was the most valuable feedback I’ve ever gotten. I remember then seeing him a year later at another conference, and said to him that he gave me some of the harshest feedback I’ve ever gotten – but it was really the best feedback I’ve ever gotten. And he’s been on my board of advisors ever since.