Dearest Contras & Contra readers,
I was just wondering the other day, when I was thinking about the best way to write this, about success stories. The abundance of them and how we’ve come to be so addicted to them. When I walk out on stage as a speaker, at an event, in a workshop, or even when someone bumps into me in person there’s always this expectation of a success story. Mostly the desire to listen to those is based on our inner desire to find our passion, figure out what we want from life, and discover a path to our own success.
However, I’ve found that most success stories and energetic speeches are hollow of meaningful advice or lessons to learn and build on. This is not a success story, on the contrary, it is one of inadequacies and limitations. This is not a sad story either; I hope for it to be one that is fruitful with humble admission of flawed judgment and many beneficial lessons for your future endeavours. Something worthy of your inner desires. Mostly I want this to be a story of truth.
I’ve been putting off writing this for quite a while, like this whole ordeal would not be happening or meaningful until I write it down, but time is running out and I must bring myself to write: this letter shall be the last to be published on CairoContra. The website shall remain open on a free platform where access to the work of the many talents that have passed its threshold can stay forever.
Writing, for me, had always been more than a passion, besides it being an outlet for my emotions so they don’t fall in the wrong hands – or on the wrong heads, more importantly it’s the way I converse with the world. I find it so much easier and simpler to put my thoughts into writing, everything seems so much better in writing when compared to fumbling spontaneous speech. I wanted to create a space for those like me; I was animated with ideas to reach out to those who have a special way to express.
CairoContra had been founded largely as a reaction to not finding our reflection and voice online, as young Egyptian bilingual youth. I wanted Contra to be a place not just for written content but to branch out through social media, create videos, publish books, create clubs, and camps. A haven for content creators of all kinds, particularly writers & readers. Why couldn’t we have such a haven?! A place that reflects us and allows us to have room for expression.
Creating a vision board, and musing on big picture goals is thrilling and motivational, but I might have been better off focusing on the baby steps, breaking things down to small achievable goals.
I started Contra as a hobby, an outlet for my writing, and a place for people like me to find their voice online. I didn’t start Contra with the intention of making money, so the transition from taking it from a hobby to a business, should have undertaken a different path. I should have been keener on treating it like a job, not a passion. I should have extracted that notion of attachment to a baby I made and raised on my own personal morals and inserted the notion of a business that might or might not work out.
I’d fallen into the rabbit hole of belief that if click-bait made money and got ads and investments, why couldn’t we do better with quality content that actually reflects young people like me?! Surely, we could make money off ads, and easily find investors?! Looking back, the notion that good quality work translated into money was the most childish notion I’d ever had on my journey. My notion was "if we can find so many passionate writers, and develop organic traffic – well hustled for organic traffic- why couldn’t we make it?!"
Investors weren’t interested in investing in a media company, particularly one that couldn’t be entirely defined as media, it was a learning platform after all. It’s understandable not to want to invest in a model that had yet to turn a profit. It’s ironic that in the country that is the king of media and content creation, there isn’t interest in investment in young media or a learning platform that caters to the industry.
I won’t say I was very excited of pursuit of investors. I admit I had a juvenile desire to keep Contra to myself, I was very protective of what I’d built and couldn’t handle the idea of an overbearing other voice interfering with it.
Like many young people, I shut out the voices of many older adults who tried to advise me against investing into Contra; who told me the model I was building was flawed and wouldn’t be sustainable, that I should at least hold out till I found a business partner to support me.
I defied all the voices, for isn’t that what they tell you in those passionate energetic speeches and success stories; “don’t listen to the critics, follow your passion!” Many of those I shut out had experience in the start-up industry. I, however, was very protective of Contra and its community. For a long while I acted like a community leader not a business person.
I was running out of options to sustain Contra, perhaps I could find a big media company that would buy us, or partner with one, but then we’d have to create content they required us to write rather than leave space for the youth's voice and creativity. Perhaps I could find a non-invasive investor. Workshops were bringing in very limited cash, we started putting out plans to monetize the entire Contra internship programme.
I was pushing my limits, not just so as not to fail but there was an inner fear in me. What would I do after this?! What would happen when I no longer was running a business/brand name. My name is literally saved out there intertwined with this brand name, who would I be?! One of the biggest hidden secrets about entrepreneurship is how the brand consumes you; you and it become one, not only in your eyes, in everyone’s eyes.
That’s a burden that you have to live with, if the brand is small, people view you as such, if someone makes a mistake, you must have had bad intentions, somehow you and the brand become a one entity, so it becomes harder to kill the business, because wouldn’t that be suicide?! I had to come to terms with the fact that I am not my brand, I made the brand, I made mistakes, I also did good, the world isn’t a perfect place, I have to grow up and let go.
Then came the big crash. What was barely being held up by a thread toppled over as COVID-19 got us all huddled at home. We couldn’t keep workshops open, nor market for a big internship programme for the upcoming summer. I had pushed myself to a brink, it was either I let go of the load I had been balancing or fall over with it. The final slap on the face to remind me that in the real-world money is king, passion is just passion.
Many are expecting me to be sad and broken. While there is definitely some of those emotions there, that is not all what I’m feeling right now. I hold immense gratitude to God for making Contra happen, to every individual who I crossed paths with on this journey, whether you helped or didn’t, you’ve made an impact that was remarkable.
I’m proud to have had the ability to have brought together such a wondrous team, I’m inspired by all the beautiful talents I have met on this journey. I have faith in the future because of you all, because you reassure me that the world is not as toxic as it seems and there is still much of goodness and magic out there, fostering in each and every one of you.
To all of you who changed Contra on this very special journey, please know we would have not come this far without you, and I am very thankful & humbled by this. In one way it has been a pleasure to see many of the Contra Talents grow and bloom, but I am also very appreciative to every one of them for what they have added to me on this wondrous journey.
I pray that whatever impact this place might have brought into your life, big or small, may it have been positive. I do not believe this connection is over. This connection, this bond is something that will last a life time, for there is nothing stronger than the bond created through written word. Thank you for reading, and raising, CairoContra.