Entrepreneurship – My Emotional Journey By Zulfiqar Ahmed Ghumman

Talliwala is a small village situated about 150Km northeast of Lahore. It sits 5km north of the famous town of Sohdra, that served as a fort under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, by the Chenab River.

I grew up on a farm there, as I now fondly reminisce. The village had a Haveli, a mosque, a school, an old lady that taught to read Quran, and a solitary convenience store. Lest I forget, there was a Qabristaan (cemetery), quite an intriguing place for us as kids. The stories of the dead walking there at night were rife. When someone died, we followed the procession until the burial was done and the rituals completed. It was there that we played hide and seek and jumped over the graves in seeking a place to hide. At times we wondered why some people did not get to live past their childhood while others did.

That village was my first institution that taught me a few things that I still hold dear. No electricity and no refrigerators, vegetables and fruits were seasonal and limited to what came from your own farmland, shaping our expectations to rejoice in what we got.

Life revolved around nature, the sun, the moon, the rainfall, and the floods. You wanted to eat berries, to climb trees at the risk of breaking a bone or two.

And now to today, it is funny how we debate at home whose turn it is to make that run to Frontino’s, in a Mercedes, just 400 meters apart from the house. Life is always about perspective. Isn’t it?

In the summer of 2006, I was faced with a question akin to a midlife crisis. Shall I sacrifice a corporate leadership role to venture out on my own? I was doing well in my job, a success story among the Pakistani Diaspora the UAE. Could I leave everything I had built behind, a name, a career, friends and family and move to another country. How was I going to cope with the emotional challenges of this new way of life.

Many of us immigrants to Canada are not really economic immigrants. We were lured by the promise of stability, by the hope that Canada would provide a better future for our kids while we just hang in there. Transition generation as my friend Asif Zaidi described it the other day.

Stepping into entrepreneurship was a truly humbling experience. It would often challenge my self-belief in myself and would undermine the pride I carried from previous accomplishments in life.

Here I talk about that emotional journey, the highs and lows of building a business. It does not pretend to offer any advice, though it may contain a few lessons. That a simple boy from a flood-stricken village can make a decent living through entrepreneurship may resonate with you or help us raise our kids differently.

Early-Stage Entrepreneurship is a challenge in self-doubt, irrelevance from the job market, undercut social stature, peer pressure as those friends in the workplace seem to be getting promoted faster after you leave that world behind. It is important to remember that in business we make our own path through the wilderness. It serves to fold your back and side view mirrors, so that you are not distracted by all those guys who are overtaking you financially and career-wise.

Our savings culture inhibits entrepreneurial growth as we seek certainty and security in life and we raise our kids the risk-averse way. Back to my village story, we do not encourage them to climb a tree to pluck fruits and mange the risks associated with doing so.

In an employment that your kid has to start out from where you started and not from where you finished. One of my mentors and a hugely successful entrepreneur once shared a gem of wisdom, as he tried to uplift my spirits in those Early-Stage days. He said life is a relay race, you run as fast as you can and as many laps as you can carry yourself before you handover the baton to your successor so that they get a head start over others.

As I struggled, the wisdom of seasons I learned in my village would echo in my head, ‘no mangoes in winter, no oranges in summer. You get what you get, and you don’t get upset’. My challenges would pass too, as did my successes in the past.

There were no teams to be led, I managed myself, I led myself, and I was my biggest cheerleader. I bought a pair of headphones, and we started running together, me and my fears. I even remember to this day the song that I played in the summer of 2006 and I could never forget those days.

Ae saala

Abhi-abhi hua yakin

Ki aag hai mujh mein kahi

Hui subaah main jal gaya

Suraj ko main nigal gaya

Roo-ba-roo roshni

Roobaroo roshni hai


Jo gumshuda, sa khwaab tha

Wo mil gaya woh khil gaya

Wo loha tha pighal gaya

Khincha-khincha machal gaya

Sitaar mein badal gaya

Roobaroo, roshni

Roobaroo, roshni hai

Running everyday not only allowed me to stretch my limits, from 2 to 3 to 14 kms per day, it also made me stronger from inside.

Even my mother thought it starting out on my own was an unwise move. The insecurity dismayed her as it confronted her youngest child. Having been there, I can tell you that security is an illusion. I am sure all of you have seen people losing the so-called security of their employment.

Thank God entrepreneurship is gaining in ascendency. Startup is the buzzword describing young and bright working on the next big thing. In the post covid workspace, as we all work from homes, it is easy to see that boundaries between employment and entrepreneurship are vanishing.

The road to entrepreneurship is mystifying to most. Bootstrapping your company from savings and initial sales is a difficult process as all the risk is placed on the entrepreneur. I always told myself that if something went wrong, I would have my CPA, CA, and Project Management Certifications to fall back upon. That was fear talking to me.

Past the high-fatality early years, the big question was how I grow outside the growth that I am capable of achieving alone. Am I the best manager for this business? Is my accountancy background and my bias towards security inhibiting growth potential of this organization? I do not like to call it my own business and I could never bring myself to print a business card that says President/CEO/Founder. A few years ago, the head of the Expo 2020 (Dubai) walked up to me at a trade show and said ‘I know you are a big company and you are expensive, but we would love to do business with you if you are willing to reconsider your prices a little bit’.  I cried. I never realized how people view our business and the company we built.

We hire people every month and I wonder looking at those resumes how some very smart people are unaware of their potential. How in our search for security, fixed income, vacation pay, and end of service benefits we bargain ourselves for a fraction of our potential and our joy.

Remember when you become successful by God’s grace, watch for the small guy. View them both as a threat to your empire (market share) and as an opportunity that you can explore. That is the threat and not the leader in your industry. In my own experience of business-building, the easiest market share we took was from the smug giants. It took them months to realize how we were eating their lunch.

As I write this, sitting in front of a bookshelf filled with partly read books, I wonder if one’s life is anything more than a partly read book. How many of us would go to our eternal bed feeling that many pages in their book of life were left unturned?

For anyone of you looking to add the chapter of entrepreneurship to your life’s book, I am here to sit down with you and share the lessons time has written in mine.

About the author

Zulfiqar is a passionate entrepreneur who feels strongly about the social enterprise and environment.  Global Lumber Resources Inc. named amongst Canada’s Top 50 Growth Firms Globe and Mail and Zulfiqar profiled as “Export Guru’’. Also founder of ‘Global Home,’ a unique concept. President of The Hunar Foundation Canada.

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