Mahdi Khan, Social Media Manager at Urban MBA, graduated college after completing his A-levels and spent ten months with Kofi Oppong, Founder of Urban MBA, where he gained industry experience in social media marketing. Mahdi shares with us at Velvet Collab how his experience at Urban MBA landed him an apprenticeship at Google.
Mahdi has always been creative
When Mahdi was in his first year of primary school, on the first day of class, the teacher held up a ruler and asked: “what is this?” Mahdi thought that it resembled the colours of the TFL as it was red, white, and blue. He ingeniously answered: “it looks like a train”. He mentions how the class laughed at him but “looking back at that day, I know that I have always been a creative person and it scared me because I never knew how to utilise it.”
Coming from a traditional Asian family he was expected to enter a professional role, such as a lawyer, doctor, or accountant. However, he knew that he would never be able to take on such a role as he felt he would flourish in creative roles rather than in these professions. In secondary school, or year 13, Mahdi started doing research on types of careers creative people could follow, and most of his research sent him in the direction of making art and becoming an artist. “I’m actually bad at drawing,” says Mahdi “but I discovered digital marketing and it just clicked for me.”
“I always knew that I wanted to do something online, especially with the landscape that started shifting and how over the past year we have all been subjected to communicating online.” He started applying for job opportunities where he would be involved with online marketing. However, he did not get accepted into any of those opportunities. That is when his cousin told him about Urban MBA and how he could gain industry experience.
When Mahdi started his role as Social Media Manager at Urban MBA, he thought he knew what social media marketing was due to him growing up with it. However, throughout his experience at Urban MBA, he came to realise how much more to marketing there was than just running adverts, posting eye-catching photos, and posting the right products on the right platforms to sell to your customers. During his stay at Urban MBA, he learned that marketing is all about telling a story and that is when it clicked for Mahdi. “I realised that this is the route for me, and I want to use my creative abilities to help tell stories and bring brands to life.”
Industry experience beats academic knowledge
To Mahdi, both academic and industry knowledge are important. He points out that in some sectors like healthcare it is rather important to have qualifications – as opposed to a doctor that has watched a few videos online. “Even though there is this whole trend undermining the academic system, saying that even with a degree you won’t be able to get a decent job, I believe that if you have the opportunity to attend college or university that you should make use of it depending on the career you want to pursue.”
However, Mahdi believes that people should not be defined by whether they completed their degree or not. “Let’s say someone drops out of college or university, it won’t be the end of the world as there are millions of opportunities out there and they can gain industry experience,” Mahdi admits that he leans more towards industry experience and deems it more important. “I feel this way because knowing my sector, industry experience is more future proof as there are only certain things you can teach someone through books and writing essays.”
Within his, sector Mahdi agrees that teaching someone how to write a captivating marketing campaign can mostly be taught through hands-on experience. “There isn’t a textbook answer when it comes to marketing. And industry experience throws you straight in the deep end, but there is always that light at the end of the tunnel.” He believes that through industry experience he was able to make mistakes but in turn to learn from them and that this will allow him to eventually end up where he wants to be.
“I feel that sometimes people are forced into choosing a university and they end up studying something that they don’t necessarily enjoy. Whereas industry experience lends you the opportunity to actually find out sooner what you would like to achieve.”
Mahdi points out how an enterprise course at Urban MBA can future proof careers. “At Urban MBA they’re all about changing things up. They believe that the most powerful form of teaching is through storytelling, and I agree with that 100%.”
Being an entrepreneur, to Mahdi, does not necessarily mean owning a business. Instead, entrepreneurship is a set of traits which everyone should adopt. “For example,” Mahdi says, “to hold yourself accountable for your mistakes, to take risks, and to take initiative by learning and not being dependent on other people.” He believes that pen and paper cannot teach everything and that you can’t always learn everything from the traditional academic system. “Something like networking and speaking with new people cannot be taught at any university and I believe that through industry experience we learn more and that we learn quicker.”
What Gen Z brings to the corporate world
“When I think about Generation Z I think of the term ‘flipping the script’. I don’t think we are like your other generations seeing as we are such a diverse group of people. As an example, I can’t relate to the people who were born maybe two years after me.” He believes that the corporate world isn’t ready for Generation Z. “I believe that we’re changing the world like how people interpret new forms of media. A perfect example is probably online video and content creation, 10 years ago no one really took being an online content creator as a serious job, and they were asked when they would be getting a ‘real’ job. Today, most of the content creators online are Gen Z, they are the ones obtaining most of the likes and gaining millions of views.”
Mahdi believes that the reason for this is the short attention span that Gen Z has. “The time you have to capture the attention of Gen Z is within four seconds. This makes content creation difficult because when you don’t catch the attention of Gen Z within four seconds, you will not receive any engagement from them.”
For him, this has brought innovation to the creative space to ensure the creation of more captivating marketing material that still has meaning behind it. Mahdi compares it to the music of the last few years, “Songs used to be around five minutes, but nowadays songs seem to hardly pass the three-minute mark.” He points out that even though the songs are shorter, people still listen and they are still played on the radio.
“Most people think that having a longer attention span is better, but I guess what we’ve done as Gen Z is we’ve used our deficiencies to bring change and actually bring progression to society through making more meaningful and impactful content with a shorter amount of time.”
Gen Z, according to Mahdi, will also be bringing more diversity and inclusion to the workplace. “There have been many activist movements, just take a look at the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement of the past year. It is evident that Gen Z is trying to convey that you should not be ashamed of who you are, your skin colour, your hair texture, or your background.” He says that these movements will open up opportunities for those part of the Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) community.
“I feel like for so long people of the BAME community felt scared that their ethnicity, their haircut, their hairstyle, their skin colour, or their language would stop them from taking opportunities. But those are things that are out of our control, and I think as we progress, through this year or within the next decade, we will see more companies take on a more diverse group of employees. More young people need to stand up and just say that we’re not going to wait five or ten years, we want this now. More people need to embrace their differences and use them to their advantage as opposed to treating it as a weakness or as a burden on their shoulders,” Mahdi concludes.