The society in which we grow up only judges us for how well we can swim when thrown in the water. No one ever thinks that perhaps we were meant to fly instead. Bad grades, low GPA, and quitting jobs are viewed as flaws in people and not problems in their lives. However, most success stories are made up of failures treated as opportunities
This is the story of Waqas, the CEO and co-founder of Wonder Tree, a platform that develops games using augmented reality to boost learning and development for children with special needs.
Usman and I have grown up together since he was my neighbor. Usman’s brother has an intellectual disability and required special attention. He had been working on this program for last 10 months with the name of UAB Solutions. When he realized that I was good with marketing, he offered me to join him in the initiative.
Augmented reality is a very unique and new field and it’s being used for various educational purposes. When you talk about using augmented reality with special education, the funny thing is we are the only ones who are doing this right now.
Waqas goes on to narrate his not-so-bright child experiences from school and college.
My subjects in school were related to engineering. I never had any interest in them. Teachers didn’t understand me. I would always zone out into my imagination during the lectures. Some teachers also suggested that I might have some sort of attention problems. They told my parents that they should get me checked.
In college, I followed up with engineering subjects again. I was never a good student because I could never follow orders. That’s why I used to fail a lot and get really bad grades. My parents thought their child was hopeless. There were so many teachers who used to say that I will not be able to achieve anything in my life.
A low graduating score in college meant that Waqas could not secure admission in any of the prestigious universities, or even the mediocre ones. There weren’t many options open for him. Regardless, he never let the world put him down and instead, there was a rebellious spirit growing inside of him.
I thought about how everyone keeps telling me that I am wrong and I can’t do anything. And that I am dumb, and stupid. I thought, maybe they are wrong. And maybe if they are wrong then I can prove it to them. So how do I prove it to them? I need to get better at whatever I do, I need to get smarter. I need to get stronger physically and mentally. One thing led to another.
There is a thing called self-learning and given the resources we have at our disposal these days, it can do wonders. Unfortunately, a lot of us still do not indulge ourselves in it.
I started to self-learn religiously. I learned graphic designing, web development and video editing through which I used to freelance and earn a decent pocket money.
Then he discovered the option of Chartered Accountancy, which a lot of people choose to pursue and most of them fail as well.
One of my friends was pursuing Chartered Accountancy and he said I could pursue CA because they take you in with a low percentage. I passed that test and then I was enrolled in an accountancy school. If you fail one paper in the module, you fail the entire module and you take the exam again. So I failed in one paper in module B which meant I failed in the whole module B. I tried module C and failed that too. My parents suggested I try BBA. Turns out, that was my real forte.
With engineering and accountancy basics, Waqas handled BBA courses like a piece of cake. Meanwhile, he also got a chance to indulge in other ventures and activities. He became popular for his public speaking and design skills and worked on a small startup where he sold customized T-shirts with a friend.
I also have a creative side. I used to love sketching and I was really good at it. I had a sketchbook with me all the time. One day my teacher asked me if I had a rough book and when I took it out, he saw sketches and said that he didn’t want to see this anymore and I was so embarrassed that I started doing it less. Had I not listened to him at that time, like I normally don’t listen to people, I would have done some really good sketching.
Once graduated, Waqas landed at Interflow after hopping around some jobs. It is not very rare that people gossip about you when you’re struggling and want to gossip with you once you achieve something big. Is it so difficult to try to believe in someone’s potential? Interflow being a renowned advertising agency, shut down the worries of several related and unrelated people about what he was going to make of himself.
Interflow was a really big name back then and that’s when my parents realized that I was making something of myself. The challenge was that I was the youngest one. I was young and new in the field and I was doing everything right. So my co-workers were really intimidated. They used to gang up on me and bully me when my boss wasn’t around. There was this time at Interflow when I was questioning everything.
I decided that If I leave I’m going to leave when everyone realizes my full worth. I worked on extra gear. Within one year I learned everything. I was developing entirely on my own. At one point I was developing a behavioral strategy on women empowerment for USAID.
As soon as Waqas had proven himself at Interflow, he left the job. It may have been professionally satisfying but he was seeking growth as a person.
I had four other job offers at that point in time but I had put the entrepreneur plan away for far too long. Now that I had the experience and the time to try it out, I wanted to see what I could do. I ended up meeting a very old friend of mine who used to be with me in ACCA. He wanted to do something marketing related. We decided to grab another person who was a digital marketer and open up a marketing agency. Within a span of 4 months, we were able to get on board international clients. We even did a country wide digital strategy for Telenor.
Some dissonances in his own start-up and an offer from Usman got him thinking about Wonder Tree. Unlike the people around him, Waqas could foresee potential. He had seen it in himself when no one else did, he could definitely see it in Wonder Tree.
Wonder Tree was a zero cash start up. We won IamKarachi brand innovation challenge and got some money from there. Then we won the GISK competition which was an international competition and got more funds. Later we secured the Pasha grant. The fun thing is what we have done so far in that amount of cash is really miraculous. We have a team of 7 highly dedicated people who are over qualified and overworked.
What Waqas learned throughout his diverse set of experiences, he is applying at Wonder Tree. Not just on the work but also in developing the culture of the startup.
We are all friends. Hierarchies and standards are discouraged at Wonder Tree. So we all hang out, go out to eat, do small celebrations. What we are doing is brilliant and beautiful and I have all the hopes that I will be fulfilling my dream of doing something worthwhile. My target for Wonder Tree right now is to make it a global company. It should impact the life of at least a million people. The way we are progressing, it might become a reality in 2-3 years.
The prospects of Wonder Tree are positive and lucrative. That is because it is not just a highly technological startup but one which is strongly needed by the world.
Evangelists in multiple countries literally talk about our product on our behalf and we have said nothing. That is because this is a need and people want it. We haven’t launched it yet but when we do, the cycle will start. We have an advisory board of therapists and psychologists from Dow University and other places. They guide us about the needs we need to cater. We have also started clinical trials and research.
Waqas ended his story with a message that so many young souls out there long to hear.
I want to specially help children realize that they are worth something no matter what society tells them, they can do something. As Jack Ma puts it, “It’s what you do after office hours that’s going to change your life.”
Since everybody is quoting great people every time they tell a story, let us end this one with the saying of another great personality who is my personal favourite, J.K Rowling.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all- in which case, you fail by default.”