In search of his ikigai, Yama Saraj drove all the way from the Netherlands to Afghanistan to give kids boxing lessons

How a hackathon can help founders find their purpose

The inner path to becoming SensAI

Recently I did a proof of concept hackathon with Yama Saraj for his startup SensAI. Such hackathon forces founders to express their vision on their business model and their technology stack. There is a big difference running a social entreprise on DIY technology or a startup with a stack in the cloud and a clear exit strategy. And in Yama’s case he might be going for both…

Yama characterizes himself as a “crazy development economist”. When he was young, his family had to leave Afghanistan and they ended up in the Netherlands where he became a succesful student. Yama first studied electrical engineering then economics, but there was something missing. After his studies, in search of his ikigai, he drove all the way from the Netherlands to Afghanistan to give kids boxing lessons.

He then realized that through sports you can empower this generation to become more resilient and you can even inspire them to be true changemakers. With a touch of irony, martial arts could lead to a peaceful society with less violence and competition. Technology is just a medium to get the message across. But what is the message?

Yama is one of a kind, with an energy that matches mine (almost), he is someone you can not not like. He sees connections everywhere and gets almost everyone excited about his ideas. And his ideas are great, if you ask me. Normally people would say someone like Yama needs to focus to be more effective. That could be true, but that most probably doesn’t make him happy.

Team “Sustainable SensAI” working on their prototype. Hardware by MadLab Eindhoven.

Team Sellout SensAI versus team Sustainable SensAI

In the process of our hackathon Yama’s ideas were made tangible. One team wanted to work on his idea of a circular boxing bag that would help both the problem of used car tires and that of obesity in working class neighborhoods. And another team start working on the idea to gamify boxing, both for professional and private use.

Part of the slidedeck of team “Sellout SensAI”

To run a sustainable, as in long term viable, company you need a robust busines model. That much is certain. So the tendency of millenials to work on something that is “good for the world” still needs to be matched by a revenue model. There are too many nice initiatives that don’t last because there is no clear revenue model. Volunteering or bootstrapping is often not a sustainable model.

Soul-searching; 1 proof of concept at a time

Thinking by doing is a wellknown strategy in a lot of disciplines, for example in electrical engineering. But this is not yet a very common approach to the art of living. And in some cases, like finding a life partner, you want to take a more conservative approach and think more before you do.

But in your working life I would argue you have quite a lot of flexibility to test things out. Is it something you like doing? Is it something you see yourself doing in 10 years still? Job hopping is more and more accepted, and a failed startup is even considered a positive addition to your resume (lucky me 😜).

A working prototype of a gamified boxing bag (Rogier Brussee demonstrating his makey makey contraption and a pretty mean Jab-Jab-cross combo)

So why not test with life a little?

So why not test with life a little? Enjoy the different things it has to offer and better prepare yourself for choices that have great impact on your life.

During the hackathon in the proof of concept lab Yama could better imagine what it would be like to run a company that sold the products the teams came up with. But Yama could also better understand what people he needed on his team for all the different projects.

Find your SensAI

Yama has a special relationship with 5 time World Champion Thai boxing Yucel Fidan. Yucel is one of the persons that sees the great things that SensAI could be part of. And Yama would like to learn how to be a champion like Yucel, albeit in a different arena.

For me it was an incredible honor to be part of the follow-up day of the SensAI hackathon as well that was hosted at Fidan Gym. Yucel is an incredibly balanced champion. Having worked hard myself, I am always in awe of people that managed to metaphorically move mountains, made a small dent in the universe and stayed true to themselves no matter what.

5 time World Champion Thai boxing Yucel Fidan & CEO of SensAI Yama Saraj

I am not sure what choices Yama will take in the nearby future. But I hope, and I am pretty sure, he stays true to himself. I have a feeling that the proof of concepts have given him more grip on what the effects are of the choices he makes as an entrepreneur for his own life.

I am very grateful to have worked with Yama for my first proof of concept session at JADS. And it might not surprise you we are already planning a new proof of concept session soon. Stay tuned, stay SensAI.

Life is beautiful. Personally I think moderation is key. Also with Twitter. I hardly ever read my dms. he/him — @seldondigital @jadatascience @vaartsoftware