It feels so right!
Friday’s Startup Insiders session at the Karachi Marriott was sponsored by Alchemy Technologies and it was exactly like that – full of energy, passion and loads of fun. Over a 100 young people got together with a handful of entrepreneurs from Karachi and Lahore to learn, to absorb new information, to network, to be a part of a growing, successful and innovative industry.
Some of these young people are already bringing innovation and exciting new ideas to an industry that is at a stage where growth is in double and triple digits, where home-grown entrepreneurs, and those who have returned from the US, Australia and Canada, are taking their companies to much higher levels than was thought possible a few years ago hence creating and spreading an aura of success and excitement in the young people of this country.
“We did it” they all said yesterday “and there is no reason you can’t if you have the hunger, the passion and the perserverence.” That was the key message. Humility filled the room as Faisal, Salim, Jawwad, Zia, Adnan and Amer shared their stories (Salim Ghauri and Imran Zia had flown in from Lahore for the event).
After the introductions were out of the way and I had done my normal “turn off your mobile phones otherwise I will take them – even though i now have an iPhone” bit, the entertainment began. To my delight, Jawwad started the proceedings with the Apple 1984 video. Who was Apple addressing, what was the USP (Unique Selling Proposition), why did the ad work resulting in the creation of millions of Apple evangelists and users? This was followed by the FedEx, Lexus and VW ads. Lots of discussions ensued on the marketing idea behind all these ads, what was it that clicked or didn’t, lessons learnt, etc. The ideas had started to flow, the minds were now engaged.
And then ……. we broke for tea, coffee and snacks to let it all mull in. Several youngsters came up to us during the break to say that they wanted to be involved in all the SI sessions, some had delightfully weird ideas (note – weird is a compliment in my book) – all fresh, all absolutely amazing. We listened and will be discussing it on the SI platform and will be calling on some of you to help us implement these ideas.
See the picture above of my friend Adnan Agboatwalla? On Friday Adnan was playing the role of struggling young entrepreneur – unshaven, in denims, unpressed shirt, looking as if he hadn’t slept for days – which could possibly be true since he has had one foot on a plane to Beijing, Barcelona, Dubai … and so on. More was revealed at SI4 regarding the PixSense story – from the plans on a napkin at Starbucks, to the setting up of the development arm here in Karachi, to the first sale.
How many of us have heard over the years that people fear making presentations more than they fear death? The truth of that came out when Adnan described how he had to present the first demo of the PixSense product in front of a large audience at a conference/exhibition – it was torture. “I am not a presenter … I get nervous … I don’t have the pizaz … and I don’t like being in front of lots of people.” And yet … when his presentation at the conference was followed up by a visionary Japanese chap talking about the future of mobile technology, and describing the PixSense product to the tee, PixSense got its first breakthrough.
As an entrepreneur, Salim Ghauri went to pitch to his first customer dressed in a suit and tie. The meeting was by the poolside of a luxury hotel with the customers dressed more appropriately in swimming trunks! Sweaty-palmed and anxious, young Salim (yes he was young once 😉 ) presented Netsol’s skillsets (at that time a team of 4) with a passion and keenness that struck paydirt. He got the business, delivered it on time, and has never looked back. He spoke about the importance of servicing a customer and ensuring that one under-commits and over-delivers so that repeat business and referrals take the company to the next stage. He knows what he is talking about guys and gals. Mercedes Benz now uses Netsol’s award-winning Leasesoft product in 8 different countries.
If you have never met Amer Hashmi, you cannot imagine the passion and faith in Pakistan that one individual can exude. Having grown up in Toronto, Canada, this young man returned home to set up Si3, bringing back with him a few dozen expat Pakistani professionals. “There is amazing potential in this country,” he said “we are at a stage in history where we can make Pakistan the next success story … if only we would believe it.”
Well, Amer believes it. He is on his way to making a world class company – developing professionalism and work ethic in young people not only in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad but also in Balochistan where Si3 is setting up a large data center. “A small number of us cannot make this into the kind of industry that’s needed … we need to join forces, to add on to the numbers, to collaborate and to create new companies and consolidate existing ones,” said Amer.
“My first start up in Silicon Valley failed,” admitted Imran Zia. Why did it fail, he was asked. Yup, we were ruthless with the questions 😉 He said it was timing. He started the company in late 2000 and then 9/11 happened and his company didn’t have a chance.
He came to Pakistan thinking he would stay for 4 months, meet old friends, just unwind. While here, he got a call from a friend in the Valley asking if he could get some work done for him. “I was lucky”, he said. “My first contract literally fell in my lap”. He got the work done, then something else came his way and before he knew it, he had started VahZay Pvt Ltd and the months turned into years and the business bloomed. “I am still a small company”, said Zia (who is also the Vice Chairman of P@SHA) – “we are about 20 people working out of an office in Lahore but we are doing well – it was the connections I made in the US, the people I knew who trusted my abilities and my professionalism who decided to send their work my way.”
So can you only be successful if you have lived, studied and worked in the US or some other developed country and made contacts there? “Not at all,” said Jawwad Farid. “All the customers I have today are because of the connections I have in Pakistan through family, through friends, through people I went to school with in Pakistan. They recognize and trust me as an individual and us as a team.”
Jawwad’s wife and primary investor Fawzia interjected at this point. She told us a story about the early days of Alchemy. They had returned from the US after blowing a million dollars and owed close to US$30,000. They were at a customer meeting and really needed the work when ‘angry’ Jawwad asked the team to get up and leave the room. Anger management is an issue with Jawwad – he has spoken of it often. You know one thing though? It is the anger that generates the passion for the things he does. And I have never known him to be angry for no good reason.
Know when to walk away, was his message. Nothing is worth your dignity or that of your team’s. There will always be other opportunities. And so there have been!
I have personally always believed that nothing is worth losing your dignity over. I remember when I got a job in Hong Kong many years ago. It was a good offer and one I was really looking forward to but I was haunted by the first interview I had at the organization. The big boss, an Englishman – Adrian Batten – who later became a good friend, was throwing around 4-letter words – he was angry about something. I thought as I considered taking the job “Would I be able to handle that kind of verbal attack? Did I even want to no matter how much money there was in it or how much opportunity it offered?” I could have turned down the job. I didn’t. However, at the final interview I told my soon-to-be employer “This is a new field of work for me. I am bound to make mistakes. When I do I want you to point them out and I will make sure I don’t make the same mistake again, but please never raise your voice because the day you do, I will walk out and never come back. My dignity is all I have.” He looked at me (a young, itsy bitsy girl with checkered experience) and said “Is that an ultimatum young lady?” I nodded, a little scared but not willing to back off. He smiled and said “You’re on!” I worked for him and with him for 9 years and we had a number of disagreements but NOT ONCE did he raise his voice.
I think I started my entrepreneurial journey at that company because after a couple of years, Adrian lost interest and “found” himself as those in the West often do. He went to a number of soul-searching sessions and then decided to set up a Spiritual Healing Centre in Bali with his Italian fiance. He made me the Managing Director and I ran the whole region from my base in Hong Kong. I made the money and he spent it but I loved running the show – all the pain, the stress, the uncertainty was well worth it at the end of the day. That is why I started ET with a friend when I came back to Karachi in the early nineties. I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to be responsible for my failure or my success, to create something that was uniquely mine, that I identified with. I guess that is what entrepreneurship is all about. But I digress ….
I left Faisal Qureshi for last because I don’t quite know what to make of the guy. He is funny, he is passionate, he has very strong beliefs. Some people adore him, others hate his guts but one thing’s for sure, no-one can ignore him.
Faisal is the Chairman of P@SHA this year. He also runs a tech shop by the name of Kolachi Advanced Technologies (actually Imran runs it, Faisal is just a visitor whose primary task is to come in every day, have coffee, fly to Singapore and Hong Kong to party with customers from time to time, hold their hands and make sure all is hunky dory). He is an activist of sorts, a media personality and a self-professed geek. He is also extremely passionate about Pakistan and is very vocal about what needs to be done to turn things around.
Faisal made quite an impression at the first SI session and at the 4th one on Friday things were no different. He talked about many things. Ammar has put up some of the most interesting stuff on PakMarkaz.com. Thanks Ammar. Ali, we are waiting to see all your videos. We actually had the entire proceedings videoed and will be putting that up soon. Zia has also given me half of the SI3 proceedings on DVD. Will put that up too … eventually.
Back to Faisal. He talked about many things – about the first customer he converted – someone who started off hating him but was won over because he stuck to his guns and did not comprise with his dignity. One thing about selling is, said Faisal, sell to a point and when you see that you are not getting through to the chap, leave. Come back to fight another day. As an example, he said even toddlers who are asking their moms for something, know within seconds by looking into their mothers’ eyes whether they will get what they want. Read your customer, see if you are getting through, if not then head for the exit. Come back another time.
Unfortunately Salim and I had to leave for CNBC at 9 pm (which is when this session was supposed to end). It carried on for another hour (there were still 4 or 5 young people there when I went back to pick up my car) and, you know something, although I was on the roof under the moon and stars recording a show on a beautiful set with Salim Ghauri and Asif Iqbal of Post Amazers, I was wishing that I was back at the Marriott in the highly charged atmosphere that we have all come to love.
All those techies and non-techies out to change the world … one pebble at a time. I feel lucky to have been part of SI1 and SI4 and have decided that there is no way I am going to miss any of these events no matter which city they are in.
Thank you Jawwad and Alchemy for hosting it. Thank you Faisal, Salim, Amer, Zia and Adnan for being there and sharing. But most of all thanks to all the young people (and the few old ones) who keep coming back and making these events such a joy for us all.
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