‘Sup, Doc?

Loads of cool stuff happening.

1. My First Event: I suck at organizing events no matter how tiny. But 2014 saw to it that I cross that bridge too. With the help of my very sweet student volunteer, Arooj Perzada, I gathered a group of about 35-45 people at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, Pakistan for GIST’s live webinar “Crowdfund Your Startup Venture” showing from the State Department in Washington DC, US. You can see the album here courtesy of the amazing The AppJuice team which was our official social media partner. You can also read about the event here and here. You can also watch a recording of the live event here (they took a q towards the end from your’s truly ;) )

GIST TechConnect

2. Bringing Technovation to Pakistan: How many times have you heard that technology is just not for girls? That’s exactly what Technovation is trying to change. Its a Not-for-Profit based in Silicon Valley. It encourages school girls to make smartphone apps using a simple software that works like LEGO-blocks. Girls decide on a social problem, find a way to solve the problem via a smartphone app, and then build a business plan around it. Winning entries get to pitch to real investors in Silicon Valley. How cool is that? NO! That wasn’t a question. It was … kind of … if the answer is YES ITS AWESOME COOL!! *glare. OK so I have been in touch with the team for a while and this year I got some schools in dear ol’ Pk involved. We have the Liberal Arts High School from Islamabad, Alaudin Academy Lahore and Sedna School Hunza. I have high hopes for these girls. Also, if you or someone you know is a phone app developer and would like to volunteer their time (2 hours a week) please contact me. Let’s see how this goes.

Technovation Challenge Pakistan

3. The Portkey: I am suffering from a Harry Potter hangover. I miss it. *sob. Have finally found someone I think I can trust my baby with Yeah am talking about WDL. This company is making my web portal. Am super excited. This is something I have wanted since I started the company but just could never muster up the courage to actually work on it. Also, the fact I am perpetually broke didn’t help things much. I realize that now is as good a time as any. Gotta make it happen. So wish me luck peeps.

4. Elance Trainings: Am starting the first batch of Elance training in Alaudin Academy with a batch of 25 women. Amna Zafar, an Elance user and a very successful freelancer from Pakistan, will conduct the training. If you have any small data entry / data scraping projects you can send our way, please contact me.

Alauddin Academy

5. Guest from the US: Took a one day hurricane trip to Islo-land to attend a luncheon in honor of Catherine Russell, United States Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Had met her predecessor, Melanne Verveer, during the famous Project Artemis/GS 10k Women. Found out Saba Nazneen Ghori, one of our hosts at the US State Department, is temporarily working at the US Embassy Islamabad. It was so exciting to see her – like those 3 weeks weren’t just a dream. :) Met some exceptional Pakistani women including Dr Sania Nishtar, Sabeen Haque, and Saddafe Abidi.

6. Hunza on Elance: Great news coming out of Hunza. Just so haters won’t call me names, I am not taking credit for this. The IT Centers are run independently by KADO. I merely advise on best practices, chalking out course work, help with marketing and whenever possible, connect them to work. Trainess at the centers are finding online work. They are involved with writing projects with AllVoices, formatting eBook on Elance. I am soooo psyched for them. Can’t wait to meet them in the summers. Here are some of their stories that they shared independently. WDL NEVER shares personal stories of its service providers.

freelancers in Hunza Gilgit-Baltistan

Didar Ali Hunza KADO

7. Celebrity: 2013 was super awesome. WDL has finally started getting the recognition it deserves if I may say so myself. Was featured on Mashable, Virgin, Ashoka, ForbesElan, Express Tribune, International Business Times, WAMDA, Muftah, TechPresident, The AppJuice. It’s just been CRAZY! I am happy, proud, humbled, nervous.

Mashable

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

*The Elance Training at Alauddin Academy is not an official certification workshop. It’s conducted independently by users of Elance to help trainees use the platform.*

Quick Synopsis

Haven’t blogged in a while. Hot the worse ever writer’s block. So a quick round up to let you know what I have been up to.

Got a mention on Mashable. You can read it here:  http://mashable.com/2013/06/29/pakistan-woman-entrepreneur-2/ For a few hours, it was the HOTTEST story.

Whats Hot
Was invited to speak at Plan 9 for their Startup Series. That was fun. Speaking to a room full of techies about running a biz. I tried to do the potato trick I learned from Sharon Lechter during Project Artemis. Didn’t work too well. Will take industrial strength Mickey D straws next time.

The Potato Trick

Don’t you just love my editing skills!

With the incubatees ... and my kids.

With the incubatees … and my kids.

 

Was interviewed by a team of researchers from The Fletcher School at Tufts University and Harvard Kennedy School about “the constraints as well as opportunities women entrepreneurs face both culturally and systemically in Pakistan.” That was an interesting experience.

Got tons of CVs in my inbox for our internship program. That’s exciting but at the same time intimidating. I BADLY need an assistant. Anyone interested?

Ooh I almost forgot. Pulled off the first Google Business Group (GBG) Islamabad event in Peshawar, Pakistan. It was meant for women entrepreneurs but a bunch of guys showed up too.

GBG Islamabad
Am I enjoying all of this? Yeah. Sort of. Now when I tweet something a lot of times I actually get a response from other tweeples. Dunno really. Mixed feelings. Am grateful for sure – no doubt about that. I hope I am able to deliver now. Need tons of work for those tons of CVs. And I NEED CrowdFlower / MTurk. And what am I gonna do if the Paypal account I use gets blocked for whatever reason (it’s my friend’s)? What if all I am is a mere celebrity and nothing more?

At the Plan 9 Incubator I kept debating whether to go with a semi-formal presentation or just speak about my own experience – from the start. I went with the former. I mean what was I supposed to say – business just happens? One day you wake up and someone tells you you are a tech-preneur? You apply on the last day of a competition and you actually win it and are sent on the most inspiring, encouraging 3 weeks of your life? That every few months you decide to give up on your biz and just as you announce it to the world something huge comes along your way out of the blue? That if you are sincere and passionate things will just fall into place? That Mashable happened coz you don’t say no to free lunch and also out of curiosity to meet a guy you had no inkling about and just turned out he was buddies with Reid Hoffman and loved the way you used LinkedIn – so much so he mentioned you in his TedTalk? And of course who should be in attendance but a journalist from Mashable.

All of this is true but it’s too much of a fairy tale. Truth is I don’t know anything. I am not a techie person. I am not a business person either. But somehow here I am. How do you make that sound real and not utterly corny? Just that I have never cared enough about the fame or the success or the money although I can’t say I don’t enjoy it when it comes along.

OK now I am getting all confused again.

I leave you with this extract from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem, The Invitation:

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

 

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Moi in the Limelight

Peeps, been lying low deliberately. Got something cooking up. Can’t tell until I have all the ingredients and seasoning. Meanwhile, I had to share something with you all.

I am truly blessed. No, I didn’t go and have quadruplets. What is it that make life really worthwhile? Yes, fancy vacations, limos, size 10, Brad Pitt all that helps. But they don’t give you true happiness or what reason does Ms. Jolie have to be depressed. Right?

What really matters is when you can form a true human connection with people around you. See and experience the best in them. The kind of best that makes you look at the madness surrounding human kind and start believing in an alien race conspiring against us. Because how can a specie capable of so much goodness, such love, such warmth and sensitivity ever hurt anyone at all.

I am fortunate enough to know many such people and Amy Scerra is one of them. She is a project manager at Thunderbird. We met while I was there for Project Artemis. We didn’t bond instantly. To me she was the distant one. The one who was quiet, didn’t laugh out loud much, kept her distance. She dressed awesome. Wore a diamond watch. The Rich American Woman. And then she let me have a peek inside her soul. We were riding one night in a van and she started talking religion. Oops. Seriously? A liberal Christian-American from NY who studied in Las Vegas wants to know about Allah and Qura’an. So happens she had a copy of the Qura’an she had bought on her many travels. This apparently small gesture made me see her differently. It was just the “respect” factor. A person who could bond with others as a “person” minus the titles and tags. And the more I came to know about her especially through her blog the more I knew she was my “kindred spirit”.

1st day, 1st impressions. What a DIVA! Diet coke, neon OPI and a Nordstrom dress. Can you blame me? ;)

1st day, 1st impressions. What a DIVA! Diet coke, neon OPI and a Nordstrom dress. Can you blame me? ;)

 

Lil Princess Amy and a giant Moi. We were color coordinated that day. *sigh. Miss her so much.

Lil Princess Amy and a giant Moi. We were color coordinated that day. *sigh. Miss her so much.

 

Today we are sisters and best of friends.

Why am I writing this? Because she recently gave a TED Talk in Phoenix that touched me to the core. A tweet, FB status, an email, none of those could do justice to how I feel every time I listen to it and neither does this blog. But I had to share this.

Love you soul-sister.

You can watch the TED Talk here:

Or on Vimeo here:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/65371163″>Amy Scerra at TEDxPhoenix Change – The Human Moment</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user15593072″>WD League</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

2012 Comes with a Bang!

Tomorrow is the end of the world so thought it was a good time to say my goodbyes to the World. Dramatic, right? Gosh, what is all this end of Mayan calendar and people moving to the hills etc bull? Even NASA jumped in to stop the madness. But whatever …

2012 has been a special year just like 2011 was super cool. I know if I tell you one more time about the business plan adventure in UAE thanks to GIST, (you) will look for (me), (you) will find (me), and (you) will kill (me). Then there was the Business Basics workshop at Islamabad Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the Success with Social Media one at Kuch Khaas, incredible honor of attending a workshop by Ken and Laura Morse (of the MIT fame) and so on.

But the two highlights of the year were;

1. Learning I Knew Nothing

I spent 7 months working at a BPO company in Islamabad. To be honest I was a bit snooty. Me? Work in a run-of-the-mill BPO company that has become a trademark with the South Asians and Filipinos? I was too cool for all of that. I read TechCrunch and Mashable. I worked with cool firms based in Silicon Valley. What can a BPO teach me that I don’t already know or something that I would want to know? How wrong I was! Those 7 months taught me more than the gruelling 4 years I had spent pouring over all those fancy Valley publications and, my love, Quora. You see, doing business in Pakistan has completely different dynamics. There are so many hurdles and power shortage is just one of them. That comes after you have successfully built a team and a company large enough that can’t be run from your basement any more on a backup device you can buy easily for $500. Where do you find the people to work with? Pakistanis are incredibly talented. I mean challenge them to hack the hardest website in the world and they will do it blindfolded. We have TED Fellows, we have entrepreneurs covered by Forbes. We have sportspeople (YES THAT’S A WORD). Scientists. Guinness record holder students. But how do I reach them? Where do they hide?

And then of course, it’s learning about pipelines and funnels. Oh God, how I hate those two words. They were my bane and still are. Truth is, the most brilliant, amazing business plan means nothing if you don’t tweak it to your market. So you may impress a judge in a business competition with your beautifully and most articulately written plan with some sprinkling of facts and figures here and there but implementing that plan is a completely different game all together.

Above all, I realized how important it was to work with a positive energy. Sitting on a garbage dump and getting frustrated over why you can’t smell the roses is just foolish. :)

2. Be Realistic

Here is a great quote my friend posted on her Facebook wall:

Some people will kill you over time if you let them; and how they’ll kill you is with tiny, harmless phrases like, “be realistic.” When this happens, close your ears and listen to your inner voice instead. Remember that real success in life isn’t what others see, but how you feel. It’s living your truth and doing what makes you feel alive.

Who doesn’t like buying new gadgets and travelling and getting lipo? This is also what people judge your success by. There was a great TED Talk about what is failure and a more humane idea of success. When I walk into a room full of people, no one rushes towards me to greet me and offer me a chair and requests photographs with me. WDL is not huge. But you know what … it makes me HAPPY. Also, being a social enterprise you don’t measure success by numbers but by smiles. Who can put a number on that? Yes, it hurts at time when you know there are people out there sniggering at you coz of the awards you haven’t won or the goodies you don’t own. But all of that disappears when someone looks at the difference, minute but difference nevertheless, that you are making.

Alec Ross, whom I met a couple of months back and blogged about here, gave a shout out to WDL that has left me honored and humbled.

In his TEDxMidAtlantic talk, “What Alec Ross Learned in 1,298 Days Working for Hilary Clinton” he mentions how despite visiting Pakistan at a terrible time when Malala was shot he found hope in the story of WDL.

Not a very long time ago I remember the annoying 25 yr old telling me WDL was about HOPE. It was about telling people there was a way out if they cared enough to look for it.

I am ending 2012 on a very positive note. Don’t let anyone stop you from dreaming and if you are gonna dream, might as well dream big. Forget about what others think you can or can’t do. It’s just them saying THEY can’t do it but using YOU instead. Don’t be the guy who tries to please everyone and ends up looking like a fool.

This wasn't necessary - just been dying to find a way to add it to a blog. :P

This wasn’t necessary – just been dying to find a way to add it to a blog. :P

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Of Flashing Lights, MIT Professors, Scobleizer, and Anne Frank

For those of you wondering – yes I made it into the finals of the GIST I Dare Business Plan Competition along with 4 of the other 5 teams from Pakistan. Going to Beirut, Lebanon end of June if the visa comes.

Attended a workshop on “Global Strategies for Ambitious Pakistani Entrepreneurs” with Ken and Laura Morse. Met a lot of my “Flashing Lights” peeps.

Check out what Ken is holding in his hand – ready to dig in! :D

Just have to include this. This gentleman was feeding on some rather queer mints the entire two days … he was hilarious.

Did I tell you about the workshop I gave on Business Basics at the IWCCI (Islamabad Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry)? Yeah – used the course content developed by 10,000 Women Program and Project Artemis. Was supported by the wonderful Bryce Barrows, CoFounder of The Recruiting Experts. Again, proof below …

Their kids don’t have time to teach them how to email.WDL’s solution? I am bringing them Google in July. No honestly, I am!

The wonderful Bryce Barrows.

Plus, plus, Robert Scoble sent me a friend request on Facebook! Story goes … I was at the workshop with Ken Morse right … and Ken asked us to pick one person we want to pitch to … any person at all … but make sure we knew his/her’s mother-inlaw’s name, fav color etc etc. So of course I sent a msg to Scoble asking him for that info. As luck would have it, he didn’t let me in on all that but he did add me. Am planning on trying this tactic on other random people on Facebook … let’s see what happens. Will keep you posted, my lovelies.

See – he is my kinda guy.

Was interviewed by Voice of America Pushtu service.Ummm … what a pity … I didn’t realize up until that time I had no vocabulary for describing my business in pushtu. Plus, the dialect issue is always tough.

My cousin passed away yesterday. She was the same age as me.

Do you see where I am going with this?

Phases in the life of a startup, dodos! You will have success. Things will accelerate. The adrenaline will start working overtime. Bush fires will erupt. But remember, when setbacks come along, grief strikes, for a good few hours you can’t breathe from the pain exploding inside your heart … be kind to yourself. You are human after all. As a startup you may not have the luxury of a big team – never forget your clients are also human. Tell them. It’s highly unlikely they’ll kill you for taking time out to attend a funeral.

Am ending the note with a few lines from Anne Frank who has been a source of inspiration for a long, long time. I’ve never been good at meeting new people. I am awkward and it shows. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just how I am. At such times I take great solace in Anne’s words – hope you also find comfort in them.

“A voice within me is sobbing, “You see that’s what’s become of you. You’re surrounded by negative opinions, dismayed looks and mocking faces, people who dislike you, and all because you don’t listen to the advice of your own better half.” Believe me, I’d like to listen, but it doesn’t work, because if I’m quiet and serious, everyone thinks I’m putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke, and then I’m not even talking about my own family, who assume I must be sick, stuff me with aspirins and sedatives, feel my neck and forehead to see if I have a temperature, ask about my bowel movements and berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can’t keep it up anymore, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, an finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if . . . if only there were no other people in the world.

“I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear; my courage is reborn. “

“People who have a religion should be glad, for not everyone has the gift of believing in heavenly things. You don’t necessarily even have to be afraid of punishment after death; purgatory, hell, and heaven are things that a lot of people can’t accept, but still a religion, it doesn’t matter which, keeps a person on the right path. It isn’t the fear of God but the upholding of one’s own honor and conscience. How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the while day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then, without realizing it you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn’t know it must learn and find by experience that: “A quiet conscience mades one strong!”

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

“Riches, prestige, everything can be lost. But the happiness in your heart can only be dimmed; it will always be there as long as you live, to make you happy again.
Whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside. Not at the houses and the rooftops, but at the sky. As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you’ll know that your pure within and will find happiness once more.”

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Power of Networking

Networking is very important. Don’t let ‘em tell you otherwise. At times, knowing the right people and connecting with them can make a huge difference in making your startup take off. I didn’t have a clue what networking meant until this spring during Project Artemis and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Program. The professors and management team kept telling us to perfect our 30-seconds commercials or what is also called an Elevator Pitch. The idea is to summarize what you do, why you do it and how you do it in such a way that it acts as a hook – something so exciting and interesting that the person gets hooked onto it and wants to hear more. For example, my elevator pitch went like this:

Hi! My name is Maria Umar. I am the Founder and President of Women’s Digital league which is a virtual shop providing digital services such as data entry, content writing, transcribing and email plus calendar management etc to clients. The entire team comprises of educated, skilled Pakistani women working from home.

So in just 30-seconds or the amount of time it takes for an elevator to cover two landings (unless it’s the elevator at the US State Department in which case it’d be 10 floors in 30 seconds) I told the person what I did, how I did it, and gave them an interesting concept for a startup … women from a country like Pakistan working from home on their computers earning a living.

So you swap business cards and if you’ve done a good job of it, you can be sure of getting an appointment to talk in detail about your venture.

People have been asking me why I went to a fashion event I attended recently. A friend sent me the passes and I was intrigued. But more than that, I saw it as a networking opportunity. I am helping manage the Hunza project now and we have big plans for it. I thought what would be a better opportunity to spread word then attending an event crawling with the media? So I went. And I am glad I did. For one, it was a new experience and was very entertaining. Secondly, I met a lot of interesting people, told them about my work and got some very positive response.

Another good way, besides attending networking events, is Facebook. You have no idea how many random people I have added to my friend’s list over the last 3 years … I only have a handful left now but it was worth it. These few people have been immensely helpful despite the fact they don’t know me at all. But they took the time to listen, to follow my activities, to answer my questions, and much more.

So ladies, keep your business cards on you at all times, don’t hesitate reaching out to a person you think might be a good connection, be genuine, take interest in the other person’s ‘story’ as well, offer help when you can, give people a chance …

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Financial Literacy with the Co-Author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Assets
Libailities
Revenue
Profit
Gross Expenditure

Here is my understanding of these words before the Accounting class with Prof. Petersen and Sharon Lechter:
Assets = children, family – usually just children
Liabilities = poor relations (Charles Lamb, a tribute to you)
Revenue = something they talk about a lot on TV during budget time
Profit = when the bank gives me money at the end of the month on a saving certificate
Gross Expenditure = when you spend so much it’s disgusting

Errr … yep … that’s how bad I was. NO exaggerations here. As a VA or a businessowner you have to know your finances. No matter how scary they are – no matter how intimidating. But I have always been scared of numbers and fancy words that don’t do anything for my imagination. Then, Project Artemis and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program happened. Besides of course the wonderful classes we had with Prof. Peterson, one fine day, Sharon Lechter came to merely “talk” to us about something called Financial Literacy. And that’s what she did. She talked. To me, who was in morbid fear of anything to do with numbers (my 8-yrs old son has a tutor come in to teach him Math – I can’t – I am terrified of it), her words tried breaking the force-field I had made around my head and at times it even succeeded in penetrating through that barrier but I wasn’t ready to listen. Case in point, the pic below:

But she had me sit up and take notice. Tell me, has any of you run a straw, an ordinary plsatic drinking straw, right through a gigantic potato? When Sharon’s assistant told us that’s what she was gonna do I thought it was only an exercise in teaching us how some things are impossible and should be left alone. And then she whammed the straw clean thorugh the potato! It was the COOLEST thing I’ve seen since I conceived WDL! We all got a chance to try it and I was the first one toget it right. You should have seen me jump up and down. A 32 years old mom of two and a businessowner jumping like a yoyo holding a potato in her hand with a straw is not a pretty sight. This was Miracle No. 1.

That’s me with the potato on my head.

Then came Miracle No. 2. She dangled a small metal ball from a piece of plastic wire and she told it to go round and round, and the ball actually started moving in a circle. I was looking at her hand – it was perfectly still! Then, she asked it to go back and forth, and the ball obeyed. It was CRAZY. All us non-believers of course got to try it for ourselves and it worked!

And then came Miracle No. 3 – the biggest miracle of them all. Sharon introduced us to a  board game she had been working on along with her team at Pay Your Family First. It was called Thrive Time and was supposedly meant to help people, especially teens, understand their finances. I was sceptical but then I love board games; Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble – you name it. So, I joined in. Within minutes I was totally immersed in the game. Of course the vocabulary wasn’t coming easy to me and I had a hard time deciphering where I put my losses and gains but it slowly started to make sense. BIGGEST MIRACLE OF ALL!!

I didn’t realize it at that point. I am guilty of even whining about it a little. But, when I got home and I was going through the invoice template I use to send to clients, I realized I was thinking of the numbers in terms of  revenue and profit. That encouraged me. I started making a list of things I had – my assets. Looked OK. I then made a list of my savings or the profit I received at the end of an assignment (I always used to wonder how I spent the entire $1000, not reliazing I paid a team-member $150 and paid my Internet bill and spent on adding more RAM to the computer). Here was my revenue and expenditure.

I am not saying I am a whizz at it now but at least I know the basics. For me, as a virtual business that’s very small scale at the moment, this is enough. I know at some point I am gonna need an accountant – but at least she won’t think I am a complete illiterate when it comes to finances and accounting, and won’t be able to intimidate me with an alien lingo.So Yipppeeee …

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Challenges Facing Pakistani Businesswomen

OK -  I know all 5 of you missed me – I see the love … about 10 hits while I was gone. But hey, I am back, if only for a lil while. ;)

Been filling out forms left, right and center for the Project Artemis course I am leaving for soon. Did I tell you guys about it? It’s AWESOME! I have been selected for a 2 week (is it 2 week or 2 weeks??) course on business leadership at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, AZ. Being sponsored by the US State Department and Goldman Sachs under their 10,000 Women program. The program is for 20-35 years old women with small businesses and no formal business training looking for a little push in the right direction and some mentoring.

Anyhoo … the one question that keeps cropping up as I fill forms upon forms is the challenges facing Pakistani businesswomen. Got me thinking … yeah I am crazy enough not to have ever given that much thought before despite being obviously relevant to what I am doing … but that’s how I am … stop judging me … you don’t know me … I AM STRESSED! I was saying … ?

Yeah, so challenges I face as an entrepreneur.

Here are a few I could think of …

1 – Obtaining Financial Support – HUGE challenge. I have support, people love and are fascinated by the idea of what I am doing. But when it comes to actually coughing up that $10k they become wary – same argument everywhere  … it’s a service and not a product so it’s difficult to put a value on it.

Plus, I have looked at the process of obtaining bank loans in Pakistan and it’s a very cumbersome and discouraging process. Firstly, banks have little experience in supporting innovative startups. Secondly, red-tapism and high interest rates make it a very hard endeavor.

2 – HR Woes – 59% of the total female population in Pakistan between the age of 15 and 24 are educated. 10% of our population of an estimated 18 million uses the Internet. Now you would think women would be falling over each other trying to get a place in WDL. Somewhat true – I put up an ad for a fulltime VA on a local job portal and received over 240 application. Unfortunately, more than half the applicants were men. Goes on to show no one reads the job requirements! The female half were no better. I wrote to all of them asking them to complete a simple demo task which required them to clean-up the data in an excel sheet. Left it to them how they wanted to do it. I SUCK at excel so when I say it was a basic task, I mean it. Right near the end of the email, I put it in nice big, bold, RED HIGHLIGHTED letters that I wanted an update at or before midnight the next day and they had a total of 48 hours to finish the task. Guess how many reported on time? ONE! Yep … only one out of about 120. I thought, OK, so she is the one I have been looking for. I invite her for an interview and after a 45 minutes interview where I explained everything to her and she grilled me with Q&As we finally shook hands on it(virtually of course) and I gave her a warm welcome to WDL. All well, eh? Nope – within 10 minutes she pings me on Skype only to say she had just consulted with her husband and she couldn’t join right now since she had two other day jobs. SCREAMS!!! After this experience and speaking to several other women working in conventional offices doing content writing, SEO and other digital tasks for less than $200 a month working 9 hours daily for 6 days a week I reached one conclusion: we have yet to understand the true potential of online work and that working-from-home can actually be a serious, lucrative full-time job. We need more awareness.

Having said that, I do have some incredibly intelligent, competent and skilled women (OK, girls, don’t take offense – “women” sounds slightly more professional :P ) – they are working form home and doing a brilliant job and I am so blessed to have found them. Ladies, I don’t say it enough so soak it up (soak it in??) .. whatever. Anyway, none of you reads my blog so you won’t know all the nice things I say about you .. duh!

3 – Gender – yep, you heard me right. It all trickles down to the same thing. A 31-year old woman with two kids with a technical startup selling a service rather than a product (cute little teddy bears wearing Sindhi caps or embroidered pashmina shawls would get me more sympathy and probably funds) is the perfect recipe for business harakiri. What does a woman from a small town with a degree in humanities know about running a business? Well, to them I say, I have made it so far without any help form you or anybody else for that matter – with a little push I will soon have you eating a very humble pie with “When I See Your Face, Hope It Gives Your Hell” playing in the background. Yeah, I am juvenile – that’s part of my charm and my stealth attack. :P

4 – Payment Options – How in God’s name are you going to run an online business catering to clients around the world when you don’t have PayPal? Yes, I have talked in great detail about other payment options in a previous post but the simple truth is people just prefer the convenience of PayPal. No one is willing to walk to Western Union 10 blocks away or fill out lengthy forms for wire transfers when they can easily outsource the same work to someone in India or the Philippines and pay them via PayPal. I hate you PayPal and Scott Thompson and whoever else is involved in leaving Pakistan out of its list of partner countries. I have friends in the VA business with PayPal accounts in nearby countries but that does not solve the woes. By the time the money reaches them here in Pakistan they lose about 10% of their total earnings in transaction fees, currency conversion fees, wire transfer fees … you get the picture right? So when you are already getting paid less than minimum wages you just can not afford to lose 10% of it. So what to do??

5 – Lack of Support – This is another one. Lack of support from both family and also from other people already in the business. People either just don’t have the time to help or don’t want to help – I dunno which. We need an advisory board that can help entrepreneurs, female or otherwise, starting a startup or running a small company and wanting to take it to the next level. Some organization do exist that are working towards incubating women-owned businesses and helping with their growth, like SMEDA, but they only operate in big cities like Lahore and Karachi.

6 – Power Failures – This is my favorite … you are working online which obviously requires you to have electricity and we live in a country where unscheduled power failures are a common feature of our day to day life. Spring does not mean beautiful weather and flowers blooming and birds chirping but power-outs every two hours. It’s impossible to work virtually without having a good power back-up and that my friends requires $$$. I don’t blame many of the girls for chickening out of joining me full time because I require them to have not only a reliable and fast Internet connection but also an 8-hourly online presence. Not many can promise me the latter considering we are facing such a gigantic issue wrt power-failures.

These are just some of the challenges put in a very haphazard manner but they are enough to give anyone an idea of what we face. Why is this post relevant to my vow to educate ye all about virtual work? Because you ought to know what you are getting yourself up against.

Another thing I suck at is ending these ramblings … so … yeah … OK …

BYEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee