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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(00:48): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Ash Ali. And Hassan Kuba gonna have two guests today, their 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 best-selling 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 Hassan, welcome.
Hasan Kuba (01:32): Hello. Thank you. Thanks for having us.
John Jantsch (01:34): Hi. 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 dollop of hope?
Hasan Kuba (01:47): I'll take it. I'll take it going and so life is unfair. Yeah. That is the under underlying principle behind our book is 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 are 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 we talk about this in the book, is that 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, merits.
(02:35): And the other extreme is to think it's all luck and unearned. Mm-hmm. And the reality is squarely in the middle. Yeah. 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 happen 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, 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, uh, we can also exert our own agency on the world. We can also take bear some responsibility. We can also take control of our lives to an extent.
John Jantsch (03:19): Yeah. Cuz it, it's 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 (03:33): Exactly.
John Jantsch (03:34): 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 (03:46): 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?
(04:26): 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 are 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 (04:53): Strip. 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 (05:28): It is somewhere in the middle. It, 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 and more creative. And that's just an example of something we're living in an abundant world now where everything is available quickly. You can audio your takeaway quickly, you can audio 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 (06:24): 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, dial up, um, internet and, uh,
Hasan Kuba (06:50): 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 Shark Tank essentially. They'd come in and, and pitch us and we thought, what is the difference that makes a difference here? You know, when we confer between 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 start thinking about this and really diving into it and we decided to write this down, this idea of the unfair advantage. It's essentially a sustainable competitive advantage for a big business.
(07:32): 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 defensibility 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. 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, cuz it's about the early stages of a startup.
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(09:37): That's DTM world slash workshops. 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 (10:06): 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 the 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. And so if you can identify your unfair advantages and then amplify those in your pitch, in your message to hiring people to your cust 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 the each one of those acri, the letters, what you have that's going for you.
(10:56): 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 straightaway? 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, uh, a business itself.
John Jantsch (11:54): 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,
Hasan Kuba (12:23): 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 was like, could swing a, could swing, a golf could swing a club before he could walk
(13:10): 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. 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 (13:37): 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 (14:04): Yeah,
Hasan Kuba (14:04): Absolutely.
John Jantsch (14:06): So what's your unfair advantages? Yeah, let, I'll let you both answer that one. Go on. For example, as you mentioned, you didn't go to college, so we're,
Ash Ali (14:17): Okay,
John Jantsch (14:17): I'll stop the college degree from Oxford off the table, right?
Ash Ali (14:21):
(15:01): And, and actually what it does, has done to me is made me more creative. So one of my high skills is creativity, um, intelligence, um, and insight. I have lots of insights with businesses cause 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. Uh, 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 eyesight location and luck. You know, I was born in Birmingham, which is like the second biggest city in the uk, an automotive retail industry kind of community.
(15:41): 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 I P O and look the IPO o you know, how many companies IPO O far and for few between it once again. And there's a luck factor behind that and the right timing of that. And then seeing how that would work out. Education, I didn't work university so I didn't feel entitled, you know, so that, that's what made, that's why I kind of hit everything and anything. And I built my expertise up in Dear Tomar. So I was, and, and the time when everyone wanted to know how to do SEO and online marketing, I was there. And then status, you know, like, you know, and your Rolodex of contacts, you know, like I didn't know many people, but now I know a 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 are built up over time. Yeah. So that's become an unfair advantage.
John Jantsch (16:31): 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 (17:09): Yeah, I, I mean if you want to learn, so,
John Jantsch (17:11): So Hassan, how
Ash Ali (17:13): 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. Yeah, yeah. 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 the book about this, there's three aspects of university, but I'll let Hassan talk about the Miles's favorite from his side and what, what his advantages are.
Hasan Kuba (17:39): Yep. Yeah. So, so for me, look, so it is, it's easier to simplify to what is your unfair advantage, but 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 the space that's so new.
(18:25): And like something I was, one of the main things I was doing was seo. I was doing branding and websites stuff, but SEO and getting people to the top of Googles was huge. And so the fact that I was able to explain it to local businesses, build 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'm, 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, I'd have the thickest accent and I'd have so much difficulty in terms of, it's 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 (19:27): So, so I suspect is you've both gone out there and maybe given talks on this or or web 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 (19:52): So I would say that essentially this idea and ashes touched on it, 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 Spanx. Mm-hmm.
(20:40): Like man wouldn't have come up with that.
(21:27): 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 your, there's all these different aspects to everything. So it's all about your mindset. If you have a growth mindset, and we call, 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 (22:13): Yeah. And it's interesting too because as we grow up a lot of the things that drive our parents or 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 an teacher, 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 (22:43): 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. It's about businesses, about people. So it's not just about you as an individual.
John Jantsch (23:09): 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 a grab a copy of the unfair advantage.
Hasan Kuba (23:19): Yeah. We're all, 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 (23:33): Awesome. And the book is, will be available in, I, I don't believe there's an audio version. Is there? There
Hasan Kuba (23:39): There
John Jantsch (23:39): Is, yeah, there is. Okay. So an audio and then, uh, in e ebook format as well as, uh, hard cover and available. Mm-hmm.
Hasan Kuba (23:50): Yeah, it's available now cuz it's at the time of recording. It'll be released tomorrow. So it'll be available by time comes,
John Jantsch (23:56): 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 can do it better than I just did. Tell me, tell me what the award was.
Hasan Kuba (24:08):
John Jantsch (24:53): Yeah. 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 (25:00): Thank you John. Thank you John. And big fans of Duct Tape Marketing, by the way,
John Jantsch (25:03): 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. Co check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketingassessment.co. I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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