Mudassir Sheikha’s keynote address at the 36th LUMS convocation

Our CEO and Co-Founder, Mudassir Sheikha, gave the keynote address at the LUMS convocation to the graduating class of 2023 this week. In his speech, he shared personal anecdotes about his humble upbringing in Pakistan and revealed a defining moment in his life that made him realise he was destined to be a risk-taker. He also emphasized the importance of pushing past limitations, embracing ambition, and investing time in oneself to unlock a world of possibilities and uncover one’s unique purpose right from the start. 

Read his full speech here:

Assalamu Alaikum everyone:

Vice Chancellor sb, thank you for this kind introduction.

Class of 2023, let me be among the first to congratulateyou. Aap sab ko bohat bohat bohat mubarak ho. 

I want to thank Founding Pro Chancellor Syed Baber Ali sb, Pro Chancellor Razak Dawud sb, Rector Shahid Hussain sb, the Board of Trustees and esteemed faculty for giving me this honor of addressing you. You are the graduates of Pakistan’s finest center of higher learning. 

Like many of you, I grew up in Pakistan. Played street cricket with tape ball. Went to high school in crowded public buses. Even had to occasionally ride on top of buses. I guess that was an early sign that I would be a risk-taker. 

But since I moved out of Pakistan almost 30 years ago, my Urdu has not kept pace for this important occasion. So, forgive me for delivering this speech in English. I am pretty sure AI will have the answer to such first-world problems very soon. 

I don’t need to tell you about the challenges that our country is facing. But I can guarantee you one thing. Most of you will be a part of the solution. You will usher in a brighter Pakistan. Many of you will become world-class professionals. Others will excel in research. And I hope many you will start your own ventures. 

As you start this next chapter of life, I would like to leave you with three lessons that I wish I had learned earlier in life. 

First lesson: aim really high. I mean really really high, much higher than you think is realistic or achievable. In Careem, we say shoot for the moon. 

When I was in your shoes, I thought I was aiming high. But high for me back then was doing well in studies or getting a prized job. 

After all, that’s what my parents wanted. That’s what my future in-laws would want to see as well. And that became the height of my ambition. 

But I have learned since then that aiming really high unlocks possibilities

It changes the way that you approach things. Incremental thinking gives way to radical thinking. You are forced to focus. You have to work hard and work smart. You start looking for opportunities under every adversity. 

Most excitingly, it attracts other crazy people to your journey, which is a massive unlock, given that you cannot do anything big just by yourself. 

My dear graduates, high ambition has a magical way of manifesting itself. 

Three weeks ago, I was at a Careem alumni event in Saudi Arabia. One of our first colleagues in Riyadh, actually a LUMS graduate, reminded me that when we first met in 2013, I told him that we must build a $100B business – not necessarily for the sake of valuation but for the proxy of impact it represents.  

This is when we were surviving on 10 dirham biryanis, buying second-hand office furniture, and didn’t even have money to pay proper salaries. Like many others, he found it crazy and dismissed it. 

But Alhamdulillah, that crazy ambition has created pathways that we just could not have imagined. People joined who we could not afford. Partnerships happened that seemed impossible. Funding somehow or the other always came through. We are still not there but we have come a long way, and I am confident that we will get there over the next decade inshallah. 

If you look carefully, you will see this story of high ambition and manifestation repeat itself. Sam Walton started Walmart, which is the largest company in the world by revenue, from a town that would be the equivalent of Sahiwal in Pakistan. Imagine. Many people globally look up to the likes of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, but I would bet that most of you had a better start in life than them.

If they can do it, you can do it too

Don’t waste your potential or your life doing incremental things. Pakistan needs its best minds, that is you, pursuing extraordinary outcomes. Aim really high and don’t give up! 

My second lesson: work really hard. Regardless of what you want to achieve in life, whether it is professional growth, social impact, or a successful family, you will have to work really hard for it. 

Back when I was in school, Bishop Lobo was the Bishop of Karachi. He used to address us in the assembly every morning. One day just before exams, he shared a beautiful way of approaching life. 

He said, your life is like a boat with two oars. One oar is your hard work, and the other oar is prayers or blessings. If you simply work hard, you will go around in circles. And if you simply pray or wait for blessings from above, you will also go around in circles. To get ahead in life, you need both hard work and blessings

Since then, I have always worked really hard. At some point in school, I felt I was able to manufacture success. I would work really hard on certain topics that I liked, and then pray that the exam would only cover those topics. 

After graduation, I took the same work ethic into professional life. But learnt something on top. Sometimes your hard work does not translate into success right away, but you learn from it, and that learning enables future success.

In my first startup after college, in the year 2000, I and many others worked really really hard. We literally had sleeping bags in the office. But despite our crazy efforts, the startup failed. Maybe the blessings were not with us on that one. 

But looking back, those efforts and that failure gave me super valuable learnings that would become the foundations of success at Careem. 

That’s where I first got exposed to mobile applications. I learned how to approach hyper growth. I saw the energy that is unleashed by giving company stocks to employees. I also learned many things not to do. 

If I had not worked very hard in that failed startup and learned those valuable lessons, there is a good chance that Careem may not have come this far. 

My dear graduates, make sure you work really hard and realize your full potential.

Don’t be fooled by articles in popular media that glamorize success and entrepreneurship. Invest the time to read the biographies of successful people. Without exception, you will hear repeated references to crazy ambition, hard work, sacrifices, perseverance, and of course risk-taking. 

You are some of the best graduates of our country. Your hard work in this next chapter of life will undoubtedly improve the lives of millions around you.

My third and final lesson: find your personal purpose. If you are going to aim really high and work really hard, you don’t want to wake up in the wrong place 50 years from now. That will be too late. Life is unfortunately irreversible. You need some direction of travel, as early as possible. 

That’s what a personal purpose can do for you. It is what you want to achieve in life before you go back to your creator. Even if you are not sure, please put something down so that you can start iterating on it. 

I unfortunately did not get to it until I was 35. The trigger was my co-founder at Careem, Magnus Olsson. He had a bleeding in his brain that almost took his life. In the dark moments when he was battling for life, he promised himself that he would build something big and meaningful if he survived.

That became the starting point of Careem’s purpose. It eventually landed at simplifying the lives of people and building an awesome organization that inspires

This gift of clarity on purpose has proved extremely valuable. So many things that we did at Careem were guided by it, including what we pursued, how we pursued it, and where we chose to do business. 

My personal purpose overlapped largely with Careem’s purpose. It ended up having a couple of additional things in it, including looking after my family, raising strong muslim kids, preparing for my hereafter, and doing something for Pakistan. 

This overlap has been life-changing, and deeply satisfying. Many of us at Careem do not see ourselves as building a business. Instead, we are companions on a mission to uplift the lives of people in our region.  

My dear graduates, invest the time to discover your purpose as early as possible, and find ways to align your day-to-day with it. 

It’s going to bring out a lot of passion, long-term orientation, and resilience. These forces will become strong tailwinds for your success. 

Not to mention the deep sense of peace you will get from knowing that you are working hard every day on things that really matter in life. 

Now, I understand that life in Pakistan can be hard. And you can be forgiven for feeling a little depressed by the challenges that we face as a country or as an ummah.  

But the truth is, there has never been a better time to be graduating.

We are in the middle of a digital revolution that’s redefining industries. Countries like Pakistan have a massive opportunity to leapfrog. We saw it happen in communication through mobile phones. The same is happening in commerce, transportation, financial services, education, healthcare, you name it. 

Grab these countless opportunities, help yourself, and help our country. It is a once-in-a-century opportunity to catch up with the rest of the world, and inshallah race ahead.

As you do that, remember to aim really highwork really hard, and find your purpose

Congratulations once again.

Pakistan Zindabad! 


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