Super Woman, Maria Adil

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“When I read about this lady I genuinely for a moment thought, Wow, she is a super woman. Please welcome Maria ADIL”.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

OK so explanation.

Was invited to speak on the panel for entrepreneurship at the US Embassy Islamabad’s Annual UGrad Alumni Reunion. They were covering travel and lodging and as you know by now I am a champion freebie of course I went. They put me in Serena for the night. Cool, right? As my friend says, You don’t need to be rich to have fun. Mwahahahaha.

So in the AM I head down to the venue. LOADS of young people. GOSH, it was enough to make the mid-life crisis kick in. It was a lot of positive energy I can tell you. Seeing old friend/neighbor Osman Saddique who is now an alumni coordinator at the US Consulate Peshawar was a treat. Can’t believe he is the same kid who used to play cricket in our street and get scoldings from my mother. Tee hee.

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So, panel starts. Of course Ayla Majid was there. love the woman to bits. She is so brainy … like not the “I have read all of Tolstoy” kinda brainy but the accounting, FCCA, ACCA, (all other acronyms made from English alphabets certified) kinda clever. 2 other gentlemen that I barely knew. And this is my dahlins when the moderator, a young girl barely out of her teens introduces me as. Maria ADIL. I guffawed out loud. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No wonder she thought I was a superwoman. Confused me with someone else I guess. Have to Google this Maria Adil person now. Am intrigued.

One thing I realized during the session was how even now so many kids are clueless about how to make their ideas into reality. Some questions that sill come up are;

- How do I finance my project?

- Where do I find incubators or accelerators?

First thing everyone needs to understand prolly is how businessman and entrepreneur are different. If there are 5 textile mills in the country and they are not meeting demand of the market then you start a new textile mill. Does exactly what any other does but its meeting market demand. There you go. You have a business.

Then you have an entrepreneur. Entrepreneur identifies a problem. Has probably been affected/afflicted by it. And tries find a solution to that problem. So to me personally entrepreneurship is about;

1. Self discovery

2. Saying no to being a “victim” to a problem.

3. Finding a solution where traditionally you are told there was none

As Ayla very aptly said in Pakistan you see problems everywhere. From the grassroots level to the very top. So this is the Land of Opportunity now quite literally. For example, I am a woman. Not allowed to work outside unless its teaching at a school or a girls college. Am a new mother. Can’t even do the little I am allowed to. So I go ahead and start the Women’s Digital League –  a platform where women can work from home on various ICT tasks. Where do I get my money from? I don’t have any. Erm … I make it online. OK, but then what about spending on a website and putting a system in place? I use WordPress and mu BFF “Excel Spreadsheets” and Google tools. How do I pay my employees? They are all ad hoc – project based workers. What about power outages? Get a UPS. Internet problems? Get TWO connections instead of one and PRAY. Internet censorship … no YouTube or Skype to phone calls that clients used to pay for? Apologize to client and not take YouTube tasks or send them to a friend in another country (really, takes 10 minutes to upload a video max … what kind of a friend would say no to helping out with that?) – instead of Skype use Hangouts (calls to landlines in US are FREE) or get a phone card … they usually last for ages.

So you see … everything has a solution or that’s how an entrepreneur thinks. So don’t worry about things before you have started. Take the plunge and the net will appear. If you MUST have funding, try crowdfunding, or pitching in the various startup competitions that are happening these days. if you are good, the money will come, I promise you.

If you have any Qs, just LMK. Mayeb I will answer or I can always pass them on to superwoman Maria ADIL.

hehehehehehe

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Dear Serena, I took all the toiletries and emptied out the mini bar. Just saying.

Women Entrepreneurs – The Dots Connect Looking Backwards

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

It’s as cliché to start an article about entrepreneurship with a Steve Jobs quote as it was to end an essay in school with an Allama Iqbal couplet. The latter we did because his poetry was shown before every news hour on dear ol’ PTV in the days before we were familiar with the term channel surfing. But I can honestly say Jobs hits the right notes almost every time.

I am one of the foolish ones, the crazy ones, the mad ones, the ones with the constant hunger for better. I am an entrepreneur. A very romantic notion in the country we live in. Building something amongst the chaos surrounding Pakistan is absolute madness. We are torn by the worse wave of sectarianism and terrorism ever. Power shortage, redtape, strikes are the norm. Add to it the fact I am a pushtun woman with a Master’s degree in English Literature.

There are loads of Mad-Hatters out there but I take the cake.

So how challenging is it to be a woman entrepreneur in Pakistan! Let’s take it one step at a time.

The Lack of Guidance

You are sitting with a crying baby in your lap and the next big business idea hits you. Now what do you do with it since you don’t have a business degree, not that those have ever produced anything but great managers. The first challenge is to find someone who has been there, done that, and will listen to your idea. Of course your friends and family brush it off as a continuation of your postpartum depression. Now you start scouring the Internet for “I have hit the next big idea since the light bulb. Who do I contact”. Find a few helpful articles, hopefully land on Quora. If you are really intelligent you will turn to LinkedIn and look for CEOs, founders etc of various businesses in Pakistan. Having a nice display picture helps at this point. IF they accept your invitation you will send out lovingly drafted messages about your idea and hope they reply back. Maybe, just maybe, a few will. And even maybe-ier then maybe, one of those emails will actually be helpful in telling you what to do.

The Harassment

You take the address of the kind guy (let’s not kid ourselves – it WILL be a guy and not a gal) and go pay him a visit. You ask all your carefully planned questions. You get crap MBA-type answers – all right but completely useless. But of course you don’t know it at that point. You sit a bit more, sip on some tea, get asked strange questions that appear innocent but something tells you they aren’t. Still you leave feeling forever indebted to the guy. You reach home and he has added you on Facebook, Skype and also sent you an emoticon on Viber. Hmm.

The Maanneee

Bless your heart. You really think any bank will give you a loan? Yes they will talk to you kindly. A woman entrepreneur is still a pretty rare specie. But don’t let them fool you. To get a loan you need to have 3 or 4 different accounts and show movement between them (I am forgetting the exact term here). You also need to have property in your name. No, not gold and car but actual land and building sort of property. And let’s face it – who gives property to a woman in this country? The father and brother don’t believe in it because it would split their family wealth. The husband doesn’t because she is an outsider and might leave him any time with it. So you can forget it.

The “Log Kia Kahein Ge” (What will people think!)

In the beginning your family will let you be. It will be highly amusing to see you trying to set up shop. Endearing, actually. But wait till you actually start making it happen. Have you read Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind? Just to give you a quick idea – the men leave to fight the American Civil War. Women are left to tend for themselves. Many start doing business such as open a general store or a bakery. The remaining men and society in general love the idea and help out the women by buying stuff they don’t need. But Scarlett O’Hara is looked down upon for starting a business. Why? Because she is very successful at it. You see … it will be alright as long as you don’t make anyone feel insecure. After all, a successful entrepreneur is a threat. I mean give a woman some money of her own and she will definitely bring dishonor to the fam. Everyone will try and persuade you into giving it up. Most (over)used argument will be, “Log kia kahein ge!” (What will people think!). Tongues will start wagging about how you meet men to get business. Who knows what antics you use to get them to buy from you! If you are married they will also tell you your husband won’t find you woman enough as a man likes dim-witted trophy wives that churn out one dish after the other in the kitchen while looking like Vidya Balan in Parineeta. Nobody wants a wife that talks numbers and gets her hands dirty at a factory.

Now, now ladies. Don’t let my whining scare you off. Being anentrepreneur is awfully exciting and gratifying. I get to be my own boss. Wake up when I want to and work when I want to. I can spend the entire day actually thinking, planning and creating rather than discussing which was better, Fatima Gul or Zindagi Gulzaar Hai. There are certainly days when I want to jump off a roof. However, every time I pick myself up, and trudge along for another few months I look back and realize how true Job’s words are. You just have to believe and not give up. Challenges will come. Horrifying experiences will follow. But through it all there will be moments of utter joy, such happiness as can only be felt and not explained. Looking back you will understand why you never gave up.

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Dream Chasing

Schmoozing

When you get invited to a US Embassy event to meet some guy working with the government, your reaction is?

Mine was … *blech

But today I was in GEEK HEAVEN I tell you.

So there is this guy called Alec Ross who is associated with Clinton and ran Obama’s election-winning Twitter campaign. Used to run a NFP. Wants to meet bloggers and ppl active in social media. The Embassy sends some bio that I skim through but all I see is “blah blah blah blah blah”. But I go anyway. I am soon moving to Peshawar (another story for another day … or  maybe not) and thought what the heck. I’ll go see the guy. And then I have never been accused of saying NO to free lunch. So that was a good incentive as well.

So I arrive at the Ambassador’s house. Am greeted by the Ambassador … had no idea who he was until much later during the conversation. Am introduced to this young-ish guy. We shake hands and he says, “Hi, I am Alec”. Me, being me, said, “Hi Alex, I am Maria”. KILL ME!

Small gathering – made me feel very fancy shmancy and important. Then Mr. Alec decided to come and sit with me and start asking about what I do. I give my very rehearsed pitch about WDL. And the usual “oh wow, how great, wonderful, excellent, fabulous” followed. Americans do that a lot, no? I have picked up on it too. “Mr XYZ, what do you do?” “I do blah blah blah”. Me: “Oh how wonderful!”

I was saying …

Yeah, I mentioned how I found most clients through LinkedIn. And he takes out his BB and says you know what – Reid Hoffman is my friend and he will be very happy to hear about this so I am gonna email him right now”.

OH 

MY

GOD!

I find it hard to type any more. My heart stopped for a minute and all I could do was give him one of my goofy grins coz I didn’t trust myself to speak. I knew I was gonna start screaming. And he asked, “You know who Reid Hoffman is?”

Gun – trigger – face – BANG

I don’t know who Hilary Clinton is but I sure know Reid Hoffman.

LinkedIn 

PayPal

eBay 

*drool

Just thinking he has my name in his inbox in an email which he will prolly lay his eyes on in the next … say … 3 hours (he is on US PT) does funny things to my heart. SHIT!

Emailing Reid Hoffman <3

I can’t talk any more. But just so you know – I wasn’t a complete idiot. I remembered to ask about PayPal. Dudettes, back me up on that one.

The land where unicorns graze in rainbow colored fields exists …

and that’s where I am gonna be for a while.

byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Recipe for a Delicious Dinner

I am supposed to guest post once every two weeks but this was just too good to resist. Ladies, I met Sajjad Kirmani over email through a friend. And am I glad I did. He is definitely a great entrepreneur but more than that he is a wonderful human being who exudes a warmth and sincerity hard to find in people these days. I am so excited about this post. Without further ado … tuck in ;) 

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entrepreneurship in PakistanDefining successful entrepreneurship has always been a combination of many words. A few stress on focus and leadership, some preach motivation and aggressiveness, while some sell innovation and planning. We can always argue on the composition and percentage of all attributes discussed but one thing is for sure that successful entrepreneurs know how to cook the delicious dinner without bothering too much about the recipe, ingredients and their composition. What makes them special is that, while collecting all the praises for that “delicious dinner”, they always relate to the hardships and sufferings they faced in the kitchen and yet they are full of advices in case someone else wants them to share the recipe.

During my career of 28 years in information technology, I had heard a lot of such recipe, at times ingredients were easily available too, yet the decision to actually move in to the kitchen was a difficult one. In later part of 2011, I decided to get into entrepreneurship and finally launched “INFOGISTIC” in Feb, 2012. Since then, it has been an amazing ride, days full of excitement, nights full of thoughts, with the focus to strike that perfect balance to make my delicious dinner. The journey no doubt can be long, definitely tiring but I have learned how to overcome my fears, how to absorb pressures and still able to smile and innovate.  Believing in the people, faith in the ideas, I am moving on and in a short time have been able to create the “Appetizer” for my delicious dinner. The company that started with a small footprint in Pakistan is now able to attract a good customer base in Middle East competing with best of the best.

Besides focus, determination, leadership and innovation, belief has been the key component of our journey. For a start up like us, we had to ensure flexibility yet drawing the line between changing and spinning. With a notion to invest in the people, we have been able to develop a mature and scalable IT services model and with the willingness to invest in technology we are on our course to develop a cutting edge software product based on cloud paradigm.

Summing up, Technology entrepreneurship has its own flavor that does not require heavy machinery, massive labor, and huge capital. With the advent of technology and business transactions taking place over cyberspace, there are numerous opportunities for budding entrepreneurs to be a part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Even in a developing country like Pakistan, there are platforms that facilitate entrepreneurs to convert their innovative ideas into their delicious dinner.

For me personally, it’s been a thoroughly fulfilling journey so far and most certainly one of the best decisions I have taken to setup my own kitchen.

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entrepreneurship in pakistanSajjad Kirmani is the Founder and CEO of INFOGISTIC, an emerging IT company that focuses on providing information security, enterprise portals  and banking solutions to its customer across Pakistan and Middle East. He has over 28 years of IT experience with several years of senior leadership experience in the IT industry. He won the CIO of the Year Award in 2010 for his outstanding work as Director IT & Operations at NetSol Technologies. During his 14 years tenure with NetSol, he was instrumental in carrying out several groundbreaking initiatives, including NetSol´s emergence as the leading IT exporter and the first CMMI Level 5 Company.

Sajjad holds a Master´s degree in Computer Sciences from University of London along with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from IBA. He is the President of IBA Alumni Association and has been the Vice President of Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA). He has a passion for gardening and maintains one of the best spring gardens in Lahore.

Chat with Author of The Lean Startup

Eric Reis, author of the New York Times bestseller The Lean Startup speaks to Mashable about lean startups (duh!), vanity matrix, Instagram’s success story, and more.