How To Harness Your Unfair Advantage
In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba. They both are award-winning authors and entrepreneurs. Despite not going to university, Ash became a serial tech founder and the first marketing director of a unicorn startup – Just Eat). Hasan built a successful startup from his bedroom with nothing more than an online course and a yearning to escape the ‘rat race’. They are now international bestselling authors, coaches, and keynote speakers. Their latest book is – The Unfair Advantage: How You Already Have What It Takes to Succeed.
Behind every story of success is an unfair advantage. Your unfair advantage is the element that gives you an edge over your competition. In this episode, I talk with Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba about how to identify your own unfair advantages and apply them to any project in your life. We talk about how to look at yourself and find the ingredients you didn’t realize you already had, to succeed in the cut-throat world of business.
Questions I ask Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba:
- [1:44] The book starts out with the premise — life is fundamentally unfair. Could you break that idea down?
- [3:37] What you would call an unfair advantage that people tend to recognize?
- [6:46] Would you characterize this book as a business book or a self-help book?
- [9:43] What are some of the places that are less obvious unfair advantages that people don’t even realize they have?
- [11:41] Some people are purely lucky, but I would say a lot of entrepreneurs have come to the realization that they make their own luck, and that’s something that is earned as opposed to something that’s an unfair advantage. How would you respond to that notion?
- [13:52] What are your unfair advantages?
- [19:13] What do you say to that person that feels that they don’t have an unfair advantage?
- [22:57] Where can people find out more of the work that you’re doing and grab a copy of the book?
More About Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba:
- Follow Hasan on Twitter: @startuphasan
- Follow Ash on Twitter: @ash_ali
- Learn more about the book: The Unfair Academy
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John Jantsch (00:50): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jan and my guest today is Ash Ali and Hassan. Kuba gonna, I have two guests today. They're award-winning authors and entrepreneurs, and despite not going to university, Ash became a serial tech founder and the first marketing director of the unicorn startup just eat Hassan built a successful startup from his bedroom with nothing more than an online course and a yearning to escape the rat race. They're now international bestselling authors, coaches and keynote speakers. And we're gonna talk about their latest book, the unfair advantage, how you already have what it takes to succeed. So Ash and Hasan. Welcome.
Hasan Kuba (01:34): Hello. Thank you. Thanks for having us. Hi.
John Jantsch (01:37): Awesome. So the book starts out with this premise and we could probably do the whole show without me asking another question, but here it is, life is fundamentally unfair. Who wants to take that doop of hope?
Hasan Kuba (01:50): I'll take it. I'll take it going. So life is unfair. Yeah, that is the under underlying principle behind cuz that life is not fair. And sometimes when you get into self-development like I did and still, I still enjoy a bit of self-development Mo you know, you learned that, you know, what you got in life is what you deserved. You know, you built the life that you're living now, you designed it. Your decisions led to the moment you're in now and all these kinds of quotes and beliefs and mental models to make you take responsibility for your life, which is a very useful tool, but it's limited because it's not actually that accurate. So one of the ways to look at well, when we talk about this in the book is it's, it's all about mental models. So there's one extreme, which is to think that all success is based on hard work and, you know, merit.
Hasan Kuba (02:37): And the other extreme is to think it's all luck and unearned. And the reality is squarely in the middle, right? There's a lot of serendipity in life. There's a lot of luck of births and genetic lotteries. And there's a lot of things that just happened because you were in the right place at the right time. Yeah. But at the same time, you can, you know, stack the deck in your favor. You can make the right decisions. You can be consistent in how you think and how you behave and the decisions you make to lead towards success. So it's a mixture of both. Life is unfair and ultimately, you know, we're so lucky and we should all be so grateful for everything that we have going for us. And at the same time, we can also exert our own agency on the world. We can also take best on responsibility. We can also take control of our lives to an extent
John Jantsch (03:21): Yeah. Cuz it, it is interesting. I mean, we all know people have had everything handed to them, all the funding, all the backing, all the mentors, all the, you know, whatever. And they've still found a way to piss it away. Haven't they
Hasan Kuba (03:35): Exactly.
John Jantsch (03:37): So, so let's maybe start out by defining, um, what an unfair, maybe some examples of what you would call an unfair advantage that people tend to recognize.
Ash Ali (03:49): Yeah. So I mean, an unfair advantage is something that's unique to you based on your circumstances and also based on your background and who you are as an individual. There's so many books out there that talk about strengths. But what we do is talk about your strength, but also about yourself as an individual, as a unique person. So we talk about, you know, life is unfair and it's not a level playing field, but sometimes when life is unfair and it's not a level playing field, some people can grow up with a victim mindset and a victim type of thinking, say, I didn't have this, I didn't have that. But actually what we say in the book is actually, how do you turn that around? How do you make that stuff that you, you felt was unfair growing up in poverty or growing up in an area that wasn't great.
Ash Ali (04:29): How can you turn that around and make it part of your authentic story and use it to an advantage? So an example for me would be, I grew up with little money and when I start companies now, and I know a lot of listeners are listening here who will run small businesses when you don't have a huge amount of money for marketing budgets, for example, I'm the perfect person to come in and work with you because I know how to be resourceful cause I had no money. Right. So my mindset is always based around being resourceful. That's just an example of something that you could use, uh,
John Jantsch (04:56): Straight. But again, I, you know, to the flip side of that, I guess we all know people who had everything and should have made it, you know, there, we, we all probably know at least somebody, or at least you've read their story of somebody that sh never should have
Ash Ali (05:30): It is somewhere in the middle. It's interesting because you know, like I've got a daughter now who's growing up in privilege and I look at her and I look at my life and think, okay, you know, does she have the fire in the belly? And what can we do to help her have the same mentality of working hard and trying to achieve things in life? And one of the things I found was that interestingly is that constraint does kind of foster creativity. And if you just live, give everything to your children, for example, straight away, then they're not gonna, um, uh, feel grateful for it straight away. And unless they've worked for it. So con sometimes having constraints, uh, does make you more resourceful, more creative. And that's just an example of something. We live in an abundant world now where everything is available quickly, you can audio takeaway quickly, you can order your cab quickly. And, you know, they're growing up in a different environment compared to us where we had to wait for something, but we had to have some patience around something. So it's understanding what constraint is and how to manage that, I suppose.
John Jantsch (06:27): Yeah. I, I, of course it's so cliche now, but you know, I like to tell even 30 year olds, you know, about, uh, dialup, um, internet and, uh,
Hasan Kuba (06:53): Yeah. Good question. It really is in the middle because what we've done with our book is we've. So the origin of the book let's get into the origin. We did this book because we were getting pitched by loads of startup for funding. And it was just like shock tank, essentially. That'd come in and, and pitch us. And we thought, what is the difference that makes the difference here? You know, when we confirm we ourselves, we're like, what is it with some people that we're like, you know, even if we didn't believe in them, they're not gonna close out their funding ground. Nobody else is gonna believe in them. And they're gonna really struggle here. And what is that difference? And we started thinking about this and really diving into it. And we decided to write this down. This idea of the unfair advantage is essentially a sustainable competitive advantage for a big business.
Hasan Kuba (07:35): It's kind of the type of thing Warren buffet talks about in value investing. You want a business that has the economic modes, the defense ability that it's gonna sustain. And it's the same thing for individuals because at that early stage of a business, when you don't yet have a product, even sometimes when you don't yet have, um, customers, you don't yet have traction in sales, how are you gonna judge it? Well, you're gonna judge it by the team, by the co-founders. And when you're judging it by the co-founders that's when you have to try and decide, okay, what have they got going for themselves? What do they have? That's gonna allow them to push through, do they have a track record? Do they have something that gives you the idea that they'll be able to get into this? Do they have the unfair advantages? Yeah.
Hasan Kuba (08:15): And essentially that was the idea behind the book. And that's what made us think about like how we can help people to gain that kind of self awareness. Yeah. To know what kind of business to go for, to know what kind of strategy to go for. Should you raise funding? Should you bootstrap? Who should you partner with? These are the kind of decisions we wanted to help people with at that early stage. So we're just bringing it back to the individual. So that's why it's in between a business book and a self development. Cause it's about the early stages of a startup. Yeah.
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John Jantsch (09:27): So I think there are some unfair advantages that, that are pretty obvious that people could identify. But if I'm out there listening, you know, what are some of the, what are just some of the places that you go looking? I know you have a framework, you call the miles framework so we can kind of go, you know, letter by letter for the acronym. Uh, but, but what are some of the places maybe that are less obvious that you've said, Hey, you know, these are unfair advantages that people don't even realize they have.
Ash Ali (09:53): Yeah. So the miles framework is, uh, it stands for money, intelligence, location, and luck, education, and expertise and status. And it sits on top of mindset. And we talked earlier about why it's important for people to understand their unfair advantage in the context of business, because business is all about people. And most investors invest in small startups and early stage startups because of the people not because of the idea itself, it's the founders themselves. Yeah. And so if you can identify your unfair advantages and then amplify those in your pitch, in your message to hiring people to your cus or getting customers, it will help you get your early traction, which is what starts a business. So coming back to the miles framework, it's about understanding within each one of those miles frameworks in each one of those acronym letters, what you have, that's going for you.
Ash Ali (10:42): Right? And one of the big ones is insight. For example, when you're starting a company, right? If you have insight into something that nobody else has, and you are starting a business around, that's a very powerful, unfair advantage. And there's so many case studies in our book around that, um, about specific insights around that another one is being in the right place at the right time, right. The location. And look, you know, if, can you find the right co-founder, can you find the right, um, uh, customers who are close to you potentially who can, who can become customers straight away status is another one, you know, your network. And here, you know, when you are starting a business, if you know how to raise money quickly, and you have a network, that's an unfair advantage. And if you need to go out to the market to raise money from ground zero and have nobody, no network, it's much harder to do much harder to do. Right. And we know how that's, how investment generally works. So there's lots of little examples in different places for different types of projects or businesses. It depends where you wanna apply the framework itself, whether it's a project, whether it's your career, whether it's a business itself.
John Jantsch (11:41): Yeah. Let me, I wanna come back to insight in a minute and have you share some examples, uh, to, to help clarify that one, but let's talk about luck. Some people, some, some people are purely lucky. I mean, they run into luck in your right place, right time, like you said, but I would say a lot of entrepreneurs have come to the realization that they make their own luck and that, that that's almost something that's earned as opposed to something that's an unfair advantage. How would you respond to that? A notion?
Hasan Kuba (12:09): I, I totally believe in making your own luck as well. So we talk about luck and we talk about the fact that it's overlooked and luck exists. Hey, luck does exist. Talent does exist. You know, that all these books has become trendy to say, there's no such thing as talent, just work super hard and get the 10,000 hours in. And, and that will be that's enough. These things exist tiger woods, or was like, could swing a, could swing a golf, could swing a club before he could walk. Like, these are the kinds of things that, that is, is like pure talent. Oprah Winfrey was like giving speeches to whole congregations at church when she was three years old making. So these things exist, but making your luck also definitely exists. Yeah. We talk in the book about how you can actually increase your luck. There have been some psychologists who've studied the phenomenon of people who think of themselves as lucky versus people who don't and how the fact that they think of themselves as lucky just makes them more proactive, makes them more observant to opportunities that come up and it's been literally proven in studies.
Hasan Kuba (13:06): So it's quite interesting that you can make your own luck. We say, put yourself out there more. Yeah. Increase your surface area to luck and maybe more lucky things will happen. So it's essentially like rolling the dice. Just keep rolling it. No, one's counting how many you're throwing the dice. How many times you're throwing the dice. If you keep rolling, you're more likely to roll the double six.
John Jantsch (13:23): Yeah. I actually, I started my blog in 2003 that I talk about being in the right place at the right time. That was luck to spot that technology. But also it, you know, it led to my first book four years later, but that point I had also written a thousand blog posts. So
Ash Ali (13:50): Yeah,
Hasan Kuba (13:51): Absolutely.
John Jantsch (13:52): So what's your unfair advantages. Yeah. I'll let you both answer that one. Go on. Cause I, for example, as you mentioned, you didn't go to college, so we're,
Ash Ali (14:04): I'll
John Jantsch (14:04): Stop the college degree from Oxford off the table, right.
Ash Ali (14:07):
Ash Ali (14:47): And, and actually what it does has done to me has made me more creative. So one of my high skills is creativity, um, intelligence, um, and insight. I have lots of insights with businesses because I'm doing things all the time. I'm always taking action. So I'm seeing opportunities and getting insights and different things and intelligence, there's different types of intelligence. You know, a lot of people said to me, Ash, you're really cool. You're the glue amongst your friends. So I'm good at bringing people together and doing things together, which is cool. And I like to be, I don't like to be the smartest person in the room. You know, I'd rather not be the most intelligent person in the room, but I can learn from other people quickly. So as well as that's the, the eye side location and luck, you know, I was born in Birmingham, which is like the second biggest city in the UK and automotive retail industry kind of community.
Ash Ali (15:27): And the tech industry was booming in London. So I moved to London at the age of 19. If I didn't move, I wouldn't have had the same opportunities. Wouldn't have been able to join companies like just eat and do the IPO and luck the IPO, you know, how many companies, IPO for and view between it once again. And there's the luck factor behind that and the right timing of that. And then seeing how that would work out, education excluded. I didn't go to university, so I didn't feel entitled, you know? So that's what made, that's why I kind of did everything in anything. And I built my expertise up in deal to market. So I was, and the time when everyone wanted to know how to do SEO and online marketing, I was there. And in status, you know, like a, you know, and your role ATEX of contacts, you know, like, I didn't know many people, but now I know lots of people. So if I need to do anything now, for example, I can open my black book of contacts, LinkedIn network connections, and make things happen because of my status of having connections that I've built up over time. Yeah. So that's become an unfair advantage.
John Jantsch (16:17): What's interesting, as you said, you know, the degree from a prestigious school used to really mean a lot. It feels like in the, particularly in the entrepreneurial space, it's more about what were you doing for your summer job?
Ash Ali (16:56): Yeah. I mean, if you want to learn,
John Jantsch (16:57): So, so Hassan, how
Ash Ali (16:59): Then the fastest way to learn is reading blogs like yours, John. And if you wanna learn about marketing, you can learn a lot more from reading blogs and marketing books can get old very quickly. Right? What happened, you know, some time ago, timing wise might not work now. So it's keeping fresh and, uh, up to date with knowledge, I think that's really important. And we talk about this in a book about this there's three aspects of university, but I'll let, has Sam talk about a miles favorite from his side and what his advantages are.
Hasan Kuba (17:25): Yeah, yeah. So, so for me, look, so it, it's easier to simplify to what is your unfair advantage? Well, the reality is we'll have a set of unfair advantages and a unique set of them. And that's why Ash goes through so many well, you know, for Ash, I would definitely say his creativity is, is just one of the top things about him and the fact that he just gives things a go, he just goes for it. So for me, I would say that it's my ability to learn really fast. So I think I have that kind of the intelligence where I pick things up fast and then I'm able to communicate them. So one thing that really helped me to get my initial clients and start to develop and get referrals is the ability to build rapport and build trust very quickly. So I think that's partly just from my ability to absorb information and knowledge in a space that's so new and like something, I was one of the main things I was doing was SEO.
Hasan Kuba (18:15): I was doing branding and website stuff, but SEO and getting people to the top of Google was, was huge. And so the fact that I was able to explain it to local businesses, built connections with them, build trust. I think that massively helped me. So that was huge for me. And then you can go further back and just say, listen, I was born in Baghdad, Iraq. And I came to the UK in London when I was three years old with my family to escape the war and all of that. So I, my unfair advantage is we moved to, to the UK when I was a baby. And I grew up here in London. If you imagine, if I'd come when I was 20 years old and I'd have the thickest accent and I'd have so much difficulty in terms of just how I come across the status side of it in terms of building rapport, building trust. So this is so lucky. So you can kind of go into the genetic lottery of it all you can go into where you grew up and what kind of schools you went to. You can go into your ability to skill, skill stack, and build your skills and expertise and learn things quickly. So I think that learning side is kind of the massive piece for me.
John Jantsch (19:13): So, so I suspect as you've both gone out there and maybe given talks on this or, or webinar done webinars on this that, that, you know, ultimately somebody comes to you and says, look, this is great, but I don't have any unfair advantages. You know, what do you say to that person that that feels, especially since mindset really sits on top of this, what do you say to that person that, that has that mindset?
Hasan Kuba (19:38): So I would say that essentially this idea and ashes touched on this idea of double edged swords. What you think is a disadvantage. You can turn into an advantage and I'll give you an easy one. So we have a few examples in the book of people who had a, kind of a classic disadvantage. So a classic disadvantage is a woman entrepreneur, right? So a woman founder, the example of Sarah Blakely, founder of spans mm-hmm
Hasan Kuba (20:24): She would cut off the feet off tights. Like, man, wouldn't have come up with that.
Hasan Kuba (21:09): And then eventually he was acquired by Proctor and gamble for 30 million. So it's like, what seems like a disadvantage you can use to your advantage. If you grew up poor, then you have an insight into how poor people live. What, what needs they have, what mass market products you might be able to create, let's say, or if you grew up as whatever, like you grew up from another country or you're learning languages, or you're, there's all these different aspects to everything. So it's all about your mindset. If you have a growth mindset and we call it, we talk about in the book, the growth, uh, the reality growth mindset, because we wanna root it in some real reality, then you can grow and you can turn what seems like a disadvantage into an advantage. And listen, if you're listening to this podcast, if you're able to read this book, you probably have a lot to be grateful for. So you just need to kind of do a sort of an audit and gratitude is one of the underlying themes of our book.
John Jantsch (21:59): Yeah. And it's interesting too, because as we grow up, a lot of the things that drive our parents are teachers crazy, you know, ultimately come out as an advantage. You know, we were told they were a negative, for example, I, you know, I, my parents used to always joke about how curious I was and always getting into things because I had to teachers, same thing, you know, I was told for a long time that that was a problem that has served me extremely well in my professional life. And I think that's, uh, sometimes we just have to overcome, you know, the, what, what society has told us is a negative don't we?
Ash Ali (22:29): Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. When people focus on your weaknesses more than your strengths, that's when you start to misunderstand really what your unfair advantage is because we've all got strengths. And what we, the idea of the premise for the book is to double down on your strengths rather than focus too much on your weaknesses and then plug those gaps where you can appropriately and understand that we work in teams and people is about businesses, about people. So it's not just about you as an individual.
John Jantsch (22:55): Yeah. So, so Ash, uh, Hassan where tell people where they can find more of you more of the work you're doing, and obviously grab a copy of the unfair advantage.
Hasan Kuba (23:05): Yeah. We're all, all over social media. So I'm at startup Hassan. Uh, Hassan is spelled with one S and Ash is, is it Ash Ali, UK Ash, for most of your socials, you can find us. And our website is the unfair academy.com.
John Jantsch (23:20): Awesome. And the book is, will be available in, I don't believe there's an audio version. Is there, there,
Hasan Kuba (23:25): There is.
John Jantsch (23:26): Yeah, there is. Okay. So an audio and then, uh, in E ebook format, as well as, uh, hard cover and available, depending upon when you're listening to this available, everywhere that you buy books.
Hasan Kuba (23:37): Yeah. It's available now, cuz it's at the time of recording, it'll be released tomorrow. So it'll be available by the time
John Jantsch (23:41): It comes up. And I should have mentioned this, but the book has been awarded. I don't have it written here. Tell me the best business book in the UK in 2021 or something, you could do it better than I just did. Tell me, tell me what the award was.
Hasan Kuba (23:55): So, so we were surprised and happy to learn that we'd won our category of the startup category of the business book awards. Yeah. And then it was like 12 different categories and then it turned out we'd won the whole thing as well, over all the categories. So we'd won the business book of the year 2021. It was actually it's based in the UK, but it's an international award as well. The only country that the book hasn hasn't come out yet until now is in the us and Canada in north America. So yeah, it's done really well. It's really popular on good reads. It's on YouTube. It a lot viral videos on YouTubes took summarizing it. So if you want to check it out a bit further, you can see some summaries on YouTube. You read all the reviews it's it's doing it's thankfully it's spreading by word of mouth. Cause people are loving it. Yeah.
John Jantsch (24:39): Awesome. Well, thanks so much for stopping by the, the duct tape marketing podcast. And hopefully we'll run into you both somewhere out there on the road.
Hasan Kuba (24:46): Thank you, Joe. Thank you, John. I'm big fans of duct tech marketing by the way.
John Jantsch (24:49): Appreciate that. Thanks so much. Hey, and one final thing before you go, you know how I talk about marketing strategy strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the marketing strategy assessment. You can find it @ marketingassessment.co not.com.co check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketing assessment.co I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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