Introducing Hasam Silva: Managing Director of Forward Advances
Hasam has a quiet determination quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before. After spending 4 years in the British Army, he progressed through the ranks at Bank of America and Paypal, before joining us at Forward Partners this month as Managing Director of Forward Advances. In between all of this, he found the time to launch 3 startups, and run numerous ultramarathons (without any training, may I add - viewing it as “mental challenge, not a physical one”). He brings with him a wonderfully optimistic disposition and a razor-sharp outlook on business and life. To say we’re excited to have him would be a giant understatement.
Welcome to the team Hasam!
Starting off in the Army
You started your career in the army. What was that like?
I’ve only recently started sharing this publicly as I’ve become more comfortable with my flaws, but as a child, I wasn’t academic at all. Despite this, I’ve always had a conviction of wanting to do really well in life. Given that I excelled in physical outdoor activities, and was from a military town, the army felt like the right place to go that would lean into my strengths and help me learn a trade. I joined the Royal Signals as an IT and telecoms engineer and operator.
And what did you learn?
The biggest things I took away from the experience was discipline, determination and a belief that anything is possible. Discipline is about repetition. Getting into a rhythm of doing things so that you can make yourself as successful as possible. Determination is about pushing yourself beyond what you even think is possible. And whilst I was in the army I also passionately believed that anything is possible.
I’ve grown slightly since then and there are obvious caveats to that, but I still believe in the sentiment. You can truly do whatever you want. But it won’t fall in your lap. It requires hard work and discipline.
Your conviction that anything is possible - was that an internal revelation, or was it the result of seeing people exceed expectations around you?
I went out to Afghanistan, and that was incredibly hard work on a number of levels - physically and mentally. I understood how precious life was at a young age, and thought I owed it to myself to see what I could do! I’ve never been one to take a job and a salary because it’s comfortable. Some people do that - and that’s fine. But it’s just not me. Ever since I was in the military, I just wanted to see what I could do if I kept pushing.
What can startups learn from the army?
So, of course, hard work and discipline are important. You get out what you put in. Being able to deal with pressure is also certainly something you learn in the army. In startups, you have so many things going on, and you are responsible for so much. If you get overwhelmed easily this can be quite a hard place to be for certain people. So, I think the army or any work you do in that kind of environment helps condition you to be able to deal with stress.
Career transitions and entrepreneurship
After the army, you became a founder, before moving to Bank of America. Talk me through that journey - it’s pretty unconventional.
When I left the military I set up a couple of companies. One was called Action for Energy and it was importing green technology from Japan to the UK. I made a bit of money and was awarded the privilege of taking some time off work. That was until a friend came to me complaining about his job. I told him “If you don’t like it, just get a new job. Anything is possible!”. He didn’t believe me, so I said I’d prove it to him. I then told him to come back to me next week with 3 business ideas, and I’ll show him I can turn one into a viable business.
Fast forward one week, whilst two of the ideas were rubbish, one was interesting because I thought I would use it. It was a home removals company for professionals in London. We used software to change bills and addresses, as well as actually moving their stuff - taking away all of the complexities of moving home.
After some time, I got connected with Bank of America and started moving their people. When I eventually lost passion for the startup, I left and joined Bank of America full time.
And what did you learn from being a founder?
I learnt a terrible amount from Action For Energy. The thing is when I was younger I was always chasing money. Which is bad. It was never about what value I could add, rather, it was always about how much money I could make. As I’ve matured I’ve realised that my purpose is to help other people.
Also, it takes a lot to build a good company, and I don’t think many people get it right. Many start with “I want to be a founder” and then try and mould something onto a customer. They’ll be trying to solve something that doesn’t exist or just sounds interesting. What should really be happening is that you're experiencing a problem and you want to go and solve it, or you see a problem that you want to solve. Either way, a clear problem needs to exist.
I also often think through frequency and intensity. How often does the problem happen for someone? And when it happens, how intense is it? If it’s high frequency but not high intensity, then people are often willing to forgo a solution. But if it’s really frequent and really intense, then you’re onto something.
So your advice would be?
Just do it! Go. Follow your passion, follow your dream. Be sensible and solve a real problem that someone needs. But go, have fun and solve a problem that people need solving.
And with your next move, from Bank of America to Paypal, were there any tensions in transitioning from a corporate culture to a more dynamic one?
It’s strange, but this has never been difficult for me. Over time, I've learnt that we’re all people, and in any role, you’re simply dealing with people. You just need to connect on a human level. Don’t always think about yourself but think about what others want from situations. When you come to the table with that sort of thinking and belief, life is a lot easier, no?
Becoming the MD at Forward Advances
And now you’re building Forward Advances. Welcome! What’s your vision for the product?
I mean, it’s the same as FP’s. We want to help founders realise their potential. The limitations with venture investment is that there are only a certain number of companies that can realistically deliver venture-scale returns. Forward Advances means we can help founders on a much larger scale. Help them realise their hopes, dreams and ambitions as they are trying to build something valuable for the world.
What do you think is Forward Advances' edge?
Traditionally a lot of small businesses and founders struggle to access capital. There’s been a lot of progress with the amount of capital available but that brings with it its own set of problems. It can be really expensive and I think there is so much opportunity to do a better job of serving founders and businesses.
We are going to be obsessive about providing value to our customers to help them succeed. It starts with the fundamentals, making simple products, being fair and having great customer service. Relationships and personal connections with a customer are really important for me and I think in this industry there is a race to automate everything and as a result, you lose something really special. When you stop listening to your customers the value you create erodes over time. Plus the best parts of my day are speaking to amazing entrepreneurs.
An area I’m really excited about exploring is how we can help customers grow beyond the capital. I believe that access to the right knowledge can unlock a lot of growth for many businesses. We are perfectly placed to do this. Forward Partners has tons of experience helping founders grow great online and e-commerce businesses. We have an amazing studio team that provides a full suite of services to help grow businesses.
Our studio team spent time with one of our first customers and they were able to unlock so much value. We know we have something truly exciting, and now's the time to bring it to life.
So, you’ve essentially come full-circle and become a founder again. What don’t people know about what it takes to get from 0 to 1?
Simply that it takes a lot. There’s a lot that needs to be done.
Think about the crank on an old car. It takes a ton of effort to get the crank turning, and get the car going, but once it’s rolling, you’ve got momentum behind you. But you need to be the one cranking day in, day out until you’ve got momentum from the movement.
But I assume everyone knows it’s going to be a ton of hard work, and that it takes a lot of time. In addition to this, there’s also a lot of strategic positioning involved. You can build something - but is what you build of any value to anyone?
Ultramarathons, optimism and lifelong learning
What is your secret talent?
My secret talent is not thinking I have any...in the sense that, I truly believe that I always have something to learn from other people. I honestly believe that this gives me an advantage. Because I constantly want to learn, I never feel like I’m there. The minute you think you’ve cracked something and you’re an expert, is the minute you stop putting as much effort in.
I’ve got a thirst for learning. I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘smart and intelligent’ person, but that actually ends up helping me a lot. That’s my edge. A yearn for wanting to learn a lot more, and believing I’m not yet there. You’re never there. It’s a journey. You never get there.
Having said that, I’m lucky to be an optimistic person. If I was a pessimistic person, this awareness that I’m not the smartest person in the room could cause anxiety or fear. And of course, I have worries, that’s natural, but I tend to always think about the positive side of things.
What is something that no-one knows about you?
Once a year I like to do something really difficult. It comes back to the military - you push yourself so hard, that it somehow becomes drummed into you. So, to this day, I keep seeking really hard challenges. It’s an internal thing.
And whenever I do this very difficult thing, I won’t train for it. I do this with ultramarathons quite often. Most recently, I signed up for an ultra marathon a month before, and before stepping on the start line I hadn’t run longer than 10km in a long time. I do it not for the physical challenge, but for the mental one.
And how is it, doing an ultra without any training?!
You know what, it’s alright. It’s actually not bad. It comes back to my thinking that you can do anything you want. I’ve found there is a friendly community of people at these events and you’re normally running through beautiful places so that helps numb the pain. I did one in San Jose that was called Skyline To The Sea in Santa Cruz, and I was so unprepared that I didn't even have any suncream! So I got to the start line, and had to quickly slap some on, otherwise, I would’ve been in pretty big trouble! Luckily it was a well-organised event, and they provided some for you.
What do you live by?
Leave the world a better place than you found it. Be a good person, and spread kindness and happiness along the way. A lot of people are shocked I was in the military because perhaps there is a preconceived notion about the military.
Lastly, what’s your favourite quote?
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu