Startup culture and creative thinking were the focus when Wa’il Ashshowwaf, CEO and cofounder of Unstuck Labs, came to speak with students in the Intensive English Program for the Interact DC speaker series. Ashshowwaf, whose brother was formerly an English Language Center (ELC) student, shared his insights on failure and success, being an entrepreneur, and turning a great business idea into a reality.
Ashshowwaf received his master’s degree in Business Leadership from Georgetown University in 2012, and later worked for a number of major companies, including Walt Disney and Pepsi, before eventually creating one of his own — Unstuck Labs. Now in its third year of operation, the DC-based company continues to work towards accelerating startups, primarily in the technology space.
Students heard from Ashshowwaf on his entrepreneurship process, from setting intentions and gathering insights, to executing a course of action and holding himself and others accountable. Ashshowaff warned students against simply putting forward a solution. Instead, he encouraged them to thoroughly consider the problem at hand and leverage a unique advantage to develop strategy. As an example, he referenced the success of electric car company Tesla, which does not advertise heavily but is still highly successful thanks to the preeminence and ingenue of Elon Musk, its founder and CEO.
Challenging the norm that success must be immediate, Ashshowwaf explained to students that failure can actually be a good thing; it encourages us to try new things, experiment, and “put ourselves out there.” Although many people would imagine that entrepreneurs are typically quite young, Ashshowwaf referenced a study that found that 40-year old startup founders are 200 percent more likely to be successful than their younger counterparts — and the odds of success only improve with age. Ultimately, experience makes the difference. Ashshowwaf also spoke to the increasingly significant role of diversity in entrepreneurship today, citing the fact that more diverse teams tend to perform better than less diverse ones.
Ashshowwaf concluded his talk by prompting students to consider their own ideas and potential pathways as entrepreneurs, asking,“What are you doing, when are you doing it, and how are you doing it?” Students were invited to follow up with him after the event, and begin building networks of their own.
The talk ended with Ashshowwaf engaging the audience in a Q&A. Jump-starting the conversation, one student asked Ashshowwaf what advice he would give to someone who finds himself “stuck.”
“Do something a bit drastic to break the routine,” Ashshowwaf said. “I give myself some arbitrary goal that destroys my typical routine, so I can think a bit differently and behave a bit differently.”
As for the future of his business, Ashshowwaf looks forward to further growing Unstuck Labs, as well as launching an online platform, Unstuck Anywhere, in the coming few months. Unstuck Anywhere will empower entrepreneurs to speak with Unstuck Labs team members remotely, expanding Unstuck Lab’s global impact and furthering its mission of being an innovative and idea-centric firm.
At the end of the day, the most resonant moment of Ashshowwaf’s InteractDC presentation were perhaps his words encouraging students to pursue their big ideas with the right mindset. “A good reason to pursue entrepreneurship is, ‘I have a better solution to a big problem and I am obsessed with making it happen,’” he said.