Yesterday started off like any other … and I wasn’t really expecting much from it. The last few days had been tough – lots of things to ponder on; decisions to make; some disappointments and disillusionments which made me question some basic things I have always believed in.
Although I try not to let negative thoughts affect the way I interact with people during the day, there are times when my face and my status messages give me away. Suffice it to say that I haven’t been myself lately.
As I was driving to work, multiple thoughts going through my mind, I received a call from Naeem – our Office Assistant – asking when I would reach the office. I asked why and when he told me he had forgotten his keys at home, I must admit to being quite irritated. I hate it if the P@SHA office and The Nest i/o are not open on time. I hate it even more if people have to wait outside. I am usually there before 8.30 but yesterday I was running 15 minutes late because I had had a bad night.
I put my foot on the accelerator and mumbled to myself about young people’s memories – imagine forgetting your keys at home when you are supposed to open up the offices in the morning. When I got to the carpark, I saw Naeem sitting on his bike waiting for me. All the way up to the 3rd floor I lectured him – poor chap.
When I opened up the glass door and found that the alarm didn’t go off and the airconditioners in the outer office were on, I was a little confused. Waste of energy, alarm needing to be checked out were thoughts going through my mind.
So you can imagine how absolutely surprised I was when I started to open up the shutter and balloons started to creep out from under it. That was the first inkling I had of something being up. It was dark inside but I began to see legs – a lot of legs. Suddenly the crackers went off and the lights were turned on and a whole lot of voices shouted out “Surprise”! :)
Amidst all the noise and all these people each handing me a flower, and someone putting a red hat on my head, all I could come up with was “It is not my birthday!” which it wasn’t. My birthday falls on the 18th but I am going to be out of the country on that day so they had decided that they would surprise me with this bash.
I was blown away! As each one gave me a flower (I love flowers), I noticed that everyone was there – even people like Taaha Bin Khalid – CEO of Whisper O – who can never get up in the morning. I believe he was the Chief decorator. Startup founders from The Nest i/o batch 1 and 2 were all there. My team was all there. Jawwad Ahmed Farid – was there with his camera clicking away. All these people who never ever made it to work on time throughout their incubation, had been there since 7 a.m. putting together this surprise for me. If I hadn’t focused on the flowers and the balloons and their excitement at having surprised me, I would have burst into tears. It is the single most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done and if I didn’t love them all so much already, I would fall in love with all of them all over again. Guys and girls you’re all so very special and your love and respect means everything to me. If you had remembered to ask me to make a speech, I would never have been able to do it without breaking down so it is just as well you didn’t ask.
Then came the cake and the singing and the laughter … and the questions “Were you really surprised? Did you suspect what we were up to?” How could I possibly have suspected.
Lots of pictures and hugs and smiles followed and the Facebook timeline and Twitter feed were full of visuals of what they had accomplished together. Hey guys do you realize that this was the first ever collaboration between Batch 1 and Batch 2? Haha … that makes me so happy!The day was not over. There were surprise gifts and cards – a cap that Riaz Ahmed’s sister Mariam made, a plethora of things from my team which for some reason also contained an ashtray (beautiful but totally inappropriate on my desk since I abhor smoking!).
As I looked at the decorations I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face for most of the day. The heart made from balloons looked great and several pictures had to be taken in front of that natch.
Through the day things kept happening. Celebrations had to be stopped several times as we had a potential investor come in to meet with teams; as Jawwad conducted APICTA training; as P@SHA had a visit from a Chinese delegation who absolutely loved the atmosphere and went away feeling that the IT sector in Pakistan was vibrant and had a lot of potential – that these young people were the future of this country.
We also had visits from Sajjad Kirmani who brought a blueberry cheese cake and mentored many of the teams. Dr. Umar Saif and Nabeel Qadeer dropped in for a chat and an update. The teams who were still around were honored to meet Umar and get his feedback. All this amidst a great deal of activity surrounding the upcoming APICTA delegation, phone calls, emails, visits from people like Atif Azim who intended to be part of the surprise but was just slightly late – thanks Atif. It meant a great deal.
Oh … and if you think this was the end of it … after lunch I was presented with a bottle. This bottle contains 365 multiple messages on post-its from all the startup founders and the team. I am supposed to read one every morning until my next birthday. Yeah … as if that is going to happen! I am the kind of person who doesn’t even wait to slowly open a gift so the wrapping paper can be re-used! I read about 10 of the messages yesterday. They let me because we are going to be away in Sri Lanka next week.
If you were to ask me what was the best thing about yesterday, I would tell you it was the fact that all of these youngsters had been there since 7 just to bring a smile to my face … and this bottle full of messages that is bound to make me laugh throughout the next month (no it’s not going to last a year!).
This could have been a super-emotional post but I have tried to not go there. All I can say is I feel blessed to have all these new people in my life. They are thoughtful and loving and caring … and they are going to change the world. Those of us who adore them are going to sit back and take pleasure in the fact that we knew them when they were first starting out. I love you guys and girls. Please always stay this way. Don’t let the world around you change you too much. Change the world instead!
Money has never meant too much to me. Of course all of us need a certain amount to live but I have never yearned for too much of it. As my father used to say: No matter how much money you have, you can only eat 3 meals a day and sleep in one bed at a time. These days you also need some form of transport, a mobile phone and a couple of gadgets … but that’s it!
My parents came from middle class families and they worked hard to bring up 5 kids. As we were growing up, I remember that our home was modest. We ate simple food and wore simple clothes. My mother was a woman who was easily content. She never made any demands. She was happy as long as she had her family around her. Both my parents worked extremely hard to make sure we had a happy childhood and a comfortable life.
Even when we moved to Hong Kong, initially we lived in a small flat – all five of us kids shared a room. As my father climbed up the corporate ladder, we moved into a larger apartment and began to have more conveniences. But throughout the period we were growing up, we were never allowed to take our blessings for granted; we were taught to value what we had, to work hard for anything we needed. And we did!
As we grew older and started our own careers, these values stayed with us and served us well. However, of late, I have been wishing that I had more money – lots of it! I was speaking to a few friends about it the other day and trying to explain this apparent sudden ‘greed’ for wealth.
It isn’t really greed. As we carry on our work with young people who want to experiment with ideas for creating businesses involving innovative products and services, we are happy that P@SHA’s Tech incubator The Nest i/o has provided an oasis for them, has given them access to mentors and a network that they couldn’t have otherwise dreamt of. Yet there is one thing that is still missing … that is the cause of of a lot of frustration and many sleepless nights.
As these kids prove what they can do, as they create their startups and look for investment, we can see how frustrated they are at the lack of a proper angel investment network in the country. There are a growing number of angel investors popping up but, because they haven’t seen much of a deal flow yet, they are rather risk averse.
Some of them feel the need to take a large chunk of the equity and to take control. A few of the startup entrepreneurs have been lucky and have found great investors who have given them valuations that are fair and they have had to part with only a reasonable amount of equity. But there are others who want majority stake. I have watched helplessly as these young entrepreneurs have struggled with the decision to part with a larger stake of a company that they have invested their sweat and tears in to build. I have even advised some of them that bootstrapping is the best bet.. Generate some revenue, get traction and then talk to investors. What is the point of giving away a large share of your company, begin to feel like employees and lose the passion that drove you to start the venture in the first place, is my question to them.
I know it is easy for me to give this kind of advice because I am not in their shoes. Some of them desperately need the funds to take their companies in the direction that they want to. I shouldn’t really interfere. They are, after all, more than capable of making these decisions themselves. Most of them are very smart, have interacted with VCs, Angel Investors, seasoned entrepreneurs, legal experts and peers so they understand what it all means.
But I can’t help it. My heart goes out to them as I see them struggling with these decisions, as I see them engaging with lawyers and investors and discussing all the pros and cons amongst themselves ad nauseum. It doesn’t seem fair that at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, instead of being full of excitement and passion, they are instead having to make compromises.
If only I had a lot of money, I would invest adequate funds in all the startups who show potential – asking in return for only a minimum equity of maybe 4-5% which could be used for a rollover fund to continue investing in more startups. It is a dream I have that appears to be far-fetched at the moment but hey you never know. It could happen.
I believe that if free flow of funds were available to tech startups in Pakistan, it would result in creating the momentum we need to take entrepreneurship to an entirely new level in this country.
Most people around the world see Pakistan very differently from the way that you and I (Pakistanis) do, and from the way it actually is – maybe because they have never been here; maybe because they believe the myopic coverage on mainstream media; maybe because they have never met the hundreds of thousands of amazing people from Pakistan who are striving to make the world a better place. I strongly believe that we should talk about these people, ensure that others know who they are and what they are doing. Some of them are working on mass philanthropic efforts; yet others are working towards improving the economy on a broader scale … and then there are the young ones who are breaking all stereotypes and working on the cutting edge of technology.
One such person, who I am fortunate enough to know, is Fawad Ejaz Bhatti, the CEO of Trequant. Fawad is a passionate young man working to improve the lives of people who suffer from tremors.
I first met Fawad last year when he was studying at NUST in Islamabad. He submitted his Final Year Project for the Tertiary Student Award Category at the P@SHA ICT Awards and won. The judges were very impressed not only with what he was trying to do but also with his attitude and his temperament.
He went with us to the Asia Pacific ICT Awards in Jakarta in 2014 and presented Trequant to an international panel of judges and was declared a Runner Up in that category, with Osama Maruf – also from NUST – taking the top award in that category for his product Smart Seth. We could not have been more thrilled. The pride we felt at the recognition that these young men had attained for themselves and for Pakistan, made everything we have ever done to support them, and others like them, totally worth it.
Many young people work on Final Year Projects at university as just assignments; they take part in business plan competitions and award programs but once they graduate, they lose all interest in the projects that they had once spent so much time on.
Not so with Fawad and his team of innovators. I continued to be in touch with Fawad on social media and followed what he was doing in the final year of his undergrad education. Last year he became part of The Nest i/o External incubatee program and I connected him with Shehryar Hydri, CMO of Convo who is a fabulous mentor.
Earlier this year Trequant joined the Plan 9 Incubator in Lahore. I met him and his team again last week when I visited Plan 9 to catch up with some of the teams there. The Trequant team showed me the watch they had made for tremor patients and told me what it could do. Tremors are a neurological disorder in which hands, head or legs shake involuntarily. Until now patients with tremors have found it difficult to get assessed. The Trequant Tremor Quantifying device enables patients to not only self-assess; it also allows the doctor and family members to monitor the patient’s progress. A dedicated application is able to analyze and track the tremor patterns.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? It fills my heart with so much pride to see these youngsters come up with a product like this. Fawad gave me a package while I was there – the package contained, amongst other things, a personalized letter that I didn’t read there because I thought I might become emotional.
The letter is something they have been sending to some mentors and supporters who have motivated and helped them in their journey … and that is indeed sweet and considerate of them. There is a customized portion though and mine said “Dear Jehan, Hope you are well. Thank you Jehan. Thank you for always believing in me from the very first day. Your motivational talks and words of strength are the reason we have reached this far. We admire your work not just for us but for the tech scene of Pakistan. We at Trequant are on a mission to help 300 million tremor patients around the world using wearable technology. Since you have personally believed in us from the start, we are writing to you to give you the updates.” They then go on to provide the updates and end with this message: ” What we need from you is your vote of confidence and support all along our journey. We want to touch the lives of as many tremor patients as possible. Your support can help us achieve that.”
Fawad, there is no doubt that you and your team are on a mission, on a journey that will benefit a lot of patients around the world. It will be a privilege for me to do whatever I can to support you on your journey. You can always count on me to be there whenever you need me. Well done … and God bless you.
When we first started the P@SHA ICT Awards 12 years ago the goal was simple. There were a few of us who were fed up of hearing people say that there was no innovation happening in Pakistan, that there was no talent, no creativity – in fact some even claimed that we didn’t really have an IT industry.
Debating with them was of little use. We knew that we would never be able to talk our way out of that perception. So what could we do? Why not just show them, we asked ourselves – and indeed in the past 12 years we have!
From the very first year – 2003 – we were surprised at the number and the quality of entries for the P@SHA Awards from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. At first we received nominations from only known P@SHA member companies but as people found out that our mission was to recognize innovation in IT no matter whether the company was a member or not, the numbers increased as did the diversity in the kind of companies that applied.
And what a ride it has been so far! Each year we continue to be absolutely amazed
at the quality of products. Some of the same innovators continue to develop new products but each year there are new companies that emerge. Companies from Peshawar and Hyderabad have also started participating and in some cases, winning! That is a wonderful sign. Pakistan is a large country with talent galore. All we have to do is give people a chance – and there will be no limit to the kind and quality of products that we will continue to see each year.
Celebrating innovation in the Pakistan IT industry is one of my favorite things to do. There is so much to celebrate, so many young people (and some older ones too) who prove again and again that we are a country brimming with talent and creativity; where people with wonderful ideas start companies and transform their ideas into dreams and products that conquer markets, create impact and win awards and accolades.
Has your product ever been recognized? Maybe that’s because you haven’t submitted it to the Awards judging committee. Each year dozens of judges adjudicate and pick the best out of the best.
If you happen to be in Lahore or its vicinity on Monday evening, don’t forget to register to attend the P@SHA ICT Awards. There is no registration fee but registration is essential I hope to see you there!
The day started off well – an hour of focused work at the office before heading out to meet a startup entrepreneur for breakfast at The Pantry on Zamzama. Delicious Norwegian Eggs Benedict, strong coffee and a really interesting conversation ended with a photo to document our ‘date’ ;).
Got back to the office to carry on with work. A little while later Faisal Kapadia dropped in for a chat regarding the enhancement of the social media campaign for P@SHA and The Nest. I listened to him interact with my team as I continued to go through, and compile the results, for the P@SHA ICT Awards. FK’s advice is always useful and leads to a lot of brainstorming followed up with action so I was delighted that he had taken the time to drop in. He then went on to teach some of the startups from the new batch content planning for social media. I could see them through the glass door of The Media Lab hanging on his every word.
Something happened later in the evening that led me to feel hurt and demotivated. I guess I was tired – and feeling at my most vulnerable – and something someone wrote, which I felt was totally unfair and unjustified, made me burst into tears and feel really down in the dumps. It happens to the best of us I suppose.
From the moment I posted how I felt as a status message on Facebook – yes I am one of those people who do such things – don’t judge me! ;), my community started to come alive boosting me with cheerful messages, some even offering to “fix” the person who had caused me to be sad. Hey no violence please!
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.”
“Haters gonna hate😎, it just means you’re doing it right!”
“That’s not the Jehan Ara we all know and love !!”
“Ignore them and eat ice cream instead”
“Demotivate you?? hamaara to phir Allah hee haafiz hai…”
There were phone calls from friends and colleagues in various cities reminding me of instances when they had been going through rough times and I had drawn them out of it with a cheerful word or smile. “Come on Jehan,” one of them said “You’re our cheerleader. Don’t let them get to you!”
The cherry on the cake was an invitation to “not be alone”, leave work and join a couple of friends for home-made pizza and banana milkshake, chocolates and fruit (an offer too good to refuse). The food, the caring, the heart-to-heart chat all helped immensely.
How in heaven’s name is one supposed to wallow in depression amidst all of this? Thanks everyone for showing me that I have so much in life to be grateful for and that no matter what one does, or how well-intentioned one may be, there is always the odd person who is perhaps so miserable in his own life, that he needs to bring everyone else down with him. All we can really do is pray for their well being and offer them our love and understanding.
This isn’t the first or last time that I will feel depressed – it’s part of life – but knowing that the world consists of people who genuinely care about putting the smile back on my face and the cheer back in my heart, makes me feel like one the luckiest people in the world. God bless you and bring tremendous joy into your lives and the lives of your families. You know you will always find me in your corner.
“You have no idea what this place has done for me Jehan,” said Amar, a young man who was part of The Nest i/o First cohort. “I used to be a very sad and lonely person. This place has brought me back to life, has reminded me what happiness is, introduced me to people who have become friends, comrades – almost family.” I looked directly into his eyes as he shared this, and it dawned on me that there were stories at The Nest i/o that were still waiting to emerge – stories not just of entrepreneurial success but of people who had rediscovered themselves, rebuilt their lives and started their journeys anew.
In a status message on Facebook today, Amar wrote the following:
When I decided to be an entrepreneur and launch my tech startup. I could have never imagined that I would discover myself again and in the process meet some inspirational people that would guide me all the way.
Thank you The Nest I/O for the opportunity …
A special thanks to Jehan for helping me find my soul again. I can write, sing and smile after 10 whole years, all thanks to you. Wow! That is huge! Thank you Amar – all we did was open up our hearts and allow you to become what you already are.
What Amar said reminded me of another young man who had, in one of our heart-to-heart sessions a month or so earlier, told me that he had lost confidence in himself and faith in the integrity of human beings and in relationships, due to past experiences. “Being at The Nest has given me a new lease on life,” he said.
Two things happened as I listened to these amazing young men who have come so far and proven so much in the short space of four months. On the one hand, I felt shattered at the things that they had endured so early on in their lives. There was a seething anger within me targeted at the people who had caused the pain and disillusionment.
On the other hand, I felt overwhelmed at the responsibility that we carry on our shoulders as these young people walk through the doors of our technology incubator with hopes and dreams that they think we will enable them to fulfill. They look to us for much more than just guidance and mentorship – and we better be able to deliver!
When we first started discussing the concept of the haven we wanted to create, we knew it would be an oasis for entrepreneurs. We knew we would put heart and soul into it because none of us were looking at this as an initiative. It was the culmination of a dream that many of us had had and we were going to make sure that it was the beginning of something phenomenal.
The past months have been a roller coaster ride of emotions, of passion, of energy and excitement, of sharing dreams and being involved in helping turn some of those dreams into businesses that will have enormous impact.
What I have learnt over the past months and years is that when you put your heart into something that you believe in, you tend to attract a lot of wonderful people. From the day we announced that we were starting The Nest i/o, the phones haven’t stopped ringing, the volunteerism hasn’t stopped, the offers of assistance just continue to grow. I have always been an optimist, a believer in the intrinsic goodness of people and each day proves to me that I wasn’t wrong in my assumptions. The people who come to The Nest i/o to help and guide, to inspire and motivate, to just listen and provide direction when and where they can, do so because it makes them feel good, it re-energizes them, it brings out the dreamers in them. They are the ones who are helping us build an eco-system that will enable many young aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their dreams into reality. I am just along for the ride.
This will be the first of many blog posts on The Nest i/o – of people, of experiences – stories that will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs who will embark on their journeys to change the world. Embark on this journey with us.
Whenever I travel, whether domestically or internationally, I always look forward to coming home to Karachi. It is the city where I was born and where I have spent the last many years. Each time I land at the airport it is as if the city is opening up its arms and welcoming me back with a warm hug.
And then I come home and I can’t help feeling the heartbreak of not having Ammi and Abbaji here to welcome me. Whenever I went anywhere, no matter how frequently, I always came back to them. They would be waiting to ask how the trip had been, to hear the many stories I had to tell, to share in my excitement, my achievement or my disappointment. Although they never expected anything, I always brought home something special for them because I wanted to see the joy in their eyes, the smiles on their faces as I handed over my gifts. Abbaji, ever the banker, would always say “Why did you bring this? I have everything I need. You shouldn’t waste your hard-earned money like this”. Ammi would just smile, make a fuss over my gift, give me a hug and then settle down to hear all about my trip.
Walking into the house now is difficult because although they are everywhere in spirit as are the many special memories that I am lucky enough to have, I walk in the front door and immediately turn to look into their room (force of habit) knowing that they won’t be there, that they have gone forever. I know I was fortunate to have them with me for as long as I did but whenever you lose your parents, it is too soon … and you never really get over it.
Today is one of those days when I returned home and missed them terribly. I unpacked my suitcase and looked at the things I have brought back from Sri Lanka – but that special excitement, the thrill of taking things out and showing them to Ammi, of just chattering away without the fear of being judged – that was missing and I felt lonely. It is the kind of loneliness that will never go away no matter how many people I have in my life.