How accepting vulnerabilities as entrepreneurs is key for success

“When you’re on your way up the mountain – your insecurities, your vulnerabilities, your fears, will hold you back, not the mountain. So you need to know what they are,” says Sana Farooq, startup coach, TEDx speaker, and founder of ELN – The e-Learning Network, an online service that provides vocational training across 18 countries in Europe and Asia.

Watch this interview with Google’s Blackbox ambassador and mother of two to hear more about the unique challenges female entrepreneurs (5:33) face and some more hurdles she believes founders should be prepared for when starting a business (0:52, 4:36). Some more highlights from the conversation include Sana’s idea of what ‘success’ means to her’; what surprised her most on her entrepreneurial journey; and the invaluable role incubator The Nest i/o has played in her business (3:52).

Born in Pakistan, Sana was raised and educated in Dublin but came back to Karachi for her university education. She majored in English Literature and was a gold medalist in both her bachelors and masters degrees. After marriage, she moved to the UK and started teaching.

Unwittingly, Sana founded ELN from her London home in 2015 – while on a break from her career to take care of her young children.  With the initial intention to offer an online course she couldn’t find anywhere else, the idea took off and morphed into something bigger. Within the first eight months, ELN had registrations from eight countries.

ELN differentiates itself from other certification websites by offering globally accredited courses that comply with multiple government frameworks, ensuring career mobility in teaching through standardisation. Qualifications offered by ELN are equally valid across borders, especially in Commonwealth states.

In Pakistan, ELN hopes to work with the government in teacher training, assessments, and quality assurance – trying to raise the level of local education to international standards. While ELN only offers teaching training right in Pakistan right now, Sana believes that the same standardisation models can be adopted for other vocational fields such as plumbing or electrical maintenance.”That would be a relief right?” When you can call a certified electrician to your house with the assurance that he’s not likely to break anything, says Sana.

What sets ELN apart from many startups at this stage, is the fact that it has been cash flow positive from its second month in operation, hitting $30,000 in global sales in (the month before this interview was recorded).

Sana credits the Nest i/o for having made her into an entrepreneur, teaching her business skills, and providing amazing opportunities leading to her personal growth and professional success so far.

Among the lessons she’s learned along the way, self-discipline has been the most important, and the hardest to learn. Her Silicon Valley experience as a member of the Google for Entrepreneurs program, Blackbox, has taught her how to look inwards at her own fears and vulnerabilities – the biggest of which is the fear of being “too successful”. She feels this concern resonates with women entrepreneurs, and mothers in particular; they tend to be less confident, experience more self-doubt, and often downplay their achievements.

“The biggest obstacle I want women to get over is themselves.”

Sana hopes that Pakistan is able to one day ensure quality education to all its citizens and Pakistani teachers and startups begin aiming higher, broadening their horizons, and making the country globally relevant for the right reasons.

Sana Farooq’s current read: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson