Who are your favourite sports stars? Yusuf Amanullah may get you their autograph
For Yusuf Amanullah, an 18-year-old Pakistani, philography — collecting autographs — was not just a hobby but something he was drawn to from the age of seven.
As a boy, he collected just about anything. “There was always something appealing to me about building a collection. It’s almost like putting pieces of a puzzle together.”
What exactly draws Yusuf to the celebrity culture and documenting his heroes’ achievements is hard to pin down. But perhaps part of the appeal is the idea of holding history in your hands and playing a role in an icon’s archival discourse.
'A personal interaction'
The ardent collector was attracted to his childhood heroes in particular as they have been a source of inspiration and motivation for him, and he is obsessed with meeting them in person.
“For me, autographs are the best way to remind myself of my heroes because it’s the most personal form of interaction with them,” he explains. “And, of course, meeting any of my inspirations in person reminds me that they are a person just like me, so if they can do it, I feel I can too.”
Eventually, Yusuf channelled his hobby into a business, Titans Autographs & Memorabilia. “I was starting to read various biographies and autobiographies of entrepreneurs and the more I read, the more I saw the idea of putting pieces of a puzzle together and building something within the world of entrepreneurship. So it was then that I became really excited to incorporate collecting into my entrepreneurial career.”
A very young CEO
Yusuf hardly strikes you as a CEO at first glance, or second glance for that matter as he is but a young man. But as you speak to him his vivacious energy is almost infectious.
You can sense the passion and dedication that drives his ambitious endeavour as he quotes one of his role models, Ayrton Senna: “‘You race to win, second or third place is not enough.’ I try to incorporate that in my life in as many ways as possible. I want to win, and as long as I can see myself having the passion and ability to do so, nothing will stop me.”
What is truly exceptional, however, is the fact that Amanullah is still only an A-level graduate, recently completing his studies at the Harrow School in the UK.
He is now set to pursue a degree in business management in London, despite already having a business under his belt. It makes the rest of us feel a bit lazy by comparison, and I wonder aloud how he handles the pressure.
“It’s tough. There’s no doubt about that. It’s really difficult sometimes to find the balance, because whilst you want to really push forward with some things in your business, you also have to keep up with your studies.”
The business of philography
For this particular venture, Yusuf focuses on collectors’ items and autographed memorabilia, which is rare in Pakistan. “I aim to get genuine autographs of legends from the world of sport, music and culture on carefully selected items linked with or used by them and authenticated by some of the largest authentication agencies in the world.”
It doesn’t end there though, as what we see is more of a tribute to the icons condensed into one display. “These pieces are beautifully framed along with the relevant facts to truly commemorate the career and achievements these legends have gone through,” he points out.
While the true value of each piece is in its rarity and uniqueness, and in the inspiration and privilege of ownership it provides, it is also an investment that continues to appreciate. “A boxing glove signed and dated by the Greatest of All Time Muhammad Ali will always be an invaluable asset for the owner.”
These are hardly just products or investments, however; they carry as much sentimental value which shows us their true worth, as these celebrities are actually Yusuf’s personal icons. He is animated as he tells me about his favourite piece, a shirt he got signed by the Formula One drivers Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
“It means a lot to me, because I was able to meet my childhood hero, Schumacher, to get it signed. I can still remember how uncontrollably I was shaking when I met him! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so this shirt is very important to me.”
However, the upside is personal fulfilment of following his dreams. “My business is almost my sanctuary,” he quips. There is never a dull moment when working on Titans, because it’s my passion. With any task, I feel I am accomplishing something and moving on to the next step.” His business actually acts as a form of stress relief for him. He also acknowledges the importance of a strong support system, which he finds in his family and friends.
A growing market for autographs
Being part of a niche market, Titans may have a difficult time of creating a firm foothold. It is yet a novel concept for this country after all. I divulge as much to Yusuf, but he believes the idea is gaining traction.
“In Pakistan, I think it’s a growing market, and our introducing it more prominently to the country has catalysed the growth,” he says, “We of course need to maintain awareness through various events and movements to get more people interested.”
Titans’ own growth seems to be at an accelerated pace at the moment. Currently Yusuf has big expansion plans in the works with eyes set on Europe and the UAE.
“In Pakistan, I think it’s a growing market, and our introducing it more prominently to the country has catalysed the growth. We of course need to maintain awareness through various events and movements to get more people interested.”
“I am always travelling to Pakistan, Dubai and the UK, and because of that, we are constantly exposing our brand to these geographies. Right now, our priorities are Pakistan and the UAE, and we’re looking very keenly at greater involvement in the UK in the future.”
While the originality and innovation of Titans is what makes it an exciting up-and-comer, it’s the young entrepreneur’s unrelenting passion and determination to start following his dreams as soon as possible that is truly inspirational for aspiring young entrepreneurs. He feels that it is important to be patient but at the same time persistent. “Things will not always go your way, but if you truly believe in something and it doesn’t go right the first time, you should not give up and persevere.”
It is passion that helps you do that, Amanullah admits as he leaves me with this final advice from a wise 18-year-old. “I find that passion for what you are doing is the key ingredient to it all. You have to know why you’re doing something before you actually start doing it, because if it’s just about money, then you really won’t last long in any sort of business.”
Titans Autographs & Memorabilia will hold an exhibition Brace Yourself from August 26-28 at the Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi.
Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 21st, 2016