Eye-to-Eye

I have such an eye for spotting talent. *ahem. *cough. *splutter. No but seriously. Just a week or so ago I meet 10 amazing startups. I write about only 2. And one of them already is the winner of the first ever Pakathon. In case you don’t know what a Pakathon is, which means you don’t read my blog, which means you NEED TO RAISE YOUR STANDARDS … read about it HERE. iTrak has won $2000 in prize money which is a good amount for a startup in Pakistan. And it’s not just the money. It’s the exposure and the chance to collaborate with talented entrepreneurs from places like MIT and Harvard etc.

Here is a demo video of iTrak. Have a look.

iTrack Final from Asad Badruddin on Vimeo.

Best of luck to these guys. Can’t wait to see how far they go.

Image Courtesy: Plan 9

Image Courtesy: Plan 9

Also, the second team to win from Pakistan is LookOut360. This is the team I met on Friday, just 2 days ago and loved at the Pakathon venue in LUMS, Lahore. You can watch their demo HERE.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Getting Used to Lahore

Edited post with images and links and NAMES.

I have moved to Lahore.getting introduced to the tech scene in a new city. I was comfortable in Islamabad. Knew everyone. Lahore is different. Was invited to speak at Pakistan’s tech incubator called Plan 9 twice. That was nice. Met some very exciting young people trying to make it into the tech world. If you need intro to Plan 9, it’s the place Groopic was launched & groomed.

A couple of the projects got my heart racing. The first was an optical mouse called iTrak that could be used by the disabled. The very excited founding team told me there were other similar products in the market but they were super fancy & therefore super expensive. Their entire focus was on one core functionality and that is to control the mouse after calibrating with an individual’s eyes.

The other was an app called AllSecure by TechnoIsys, a smartphone sensor that helped you locate your phone in case of theft. If a thief tries to turn it on it records his video and transmits it to the cloud notifying the owner as well as relevant authorities with a GPS location. How awesome is that!

So far met one exceptionally interesting “shining lights” person. He leads several ecommerce platforms in Pakistan under the Rocket Internet umbrella. These include the fashion portal Daraz.pk, famous food portal FoodPanda & general shopping store called Azmalo.pk. Did I mention he is also a gentleman? He is.

Rocket Internet

Couldn’t find a better image

Big difference I feel between Lahore & Islamabad? Erm it’s too early to say anything but yeah the Lahore tech scene has more younger people involved and is not so telco-centric. Or obsessed over the banking sector. Thank God for that. I was sick of hearing people talk about SaaS and apps and other ideas targeting Mobilink and Standard Chartered. *yawn

That’s all the updates I have for now apart from the fact that very exciting things are happening in Hunza that are keeping me awake at night dreaming, planning, grinning, believing.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. I write this as my mother-in-law gets her hair dyed at the salon. First ever blogpost from the iPhone app. Yayyyy. Apologies for no images. (Edited from the original version)

Idea for an App, Maybe?

We badly need a repository of all startups (between 0 and 5 years old).

Also, a database of ratings for these startups as well as freelancers.

This will enable startups to collaborate and bootstrap each other. Will also help people like myself find freelancers for various tasks based on their skillsets and work ethics.

work ethics

Yeah. I think it can be done via a simple Facebook App. Maybe the Pakistani Freelancers community can help. Badar Khushnood, you listening?

An app that all members of the page are required to sign up for. A rough mindmap would look like this:

Freelancers => First Name => Last Name => Skills (any 3)

I see a lot of people looking to hire for various projects. These people can also go to the app and see which freelancers offer what skills and they can directly connect with them. Once they find right person, they will check the freelancers name … something that shows s/he has hired xyz for xyz skill. At the end of the task, s/he can then leave a rating and comment.

This way, I am guessing we will have something that at least shows if service providers actually have the skills they claim. More importantly it will also solve a big problem where workers simply leave in the middle of a task or don’t do quality work.

What do you think? Is it too simplistic? Can it work? How much would it cost to build an FB app like that?

Networking – Don’t be Cold and Calculating

Came across a great quote the other day.

I’m not going to change the way I look or the way I feel to conform to anything. I’ve always been a freak. So I’ve been a freak all my life and I have to live with that, you know. I’m one of those people.
John Lennon

You can be “normal” and like everyone else. Merge and become one with everyone else so no ever loves you or hates your guts or talks about you or … you can do all the crazy things that your heart tells you are right and be FREAKINTASTIC. Let haters hate. Just means you are a strong enough personality to get to them. The lives you touch and the one genuine smile you bring to someone is the war more than half won.

Having said that …

My friends from GIST just completed their 2 week dream trip to the US where they went to Silicon Valley among other places. I was green like anything but at the same time am immensely proud of each and everyone of them. They worked incredibly hard and deserved to be there.

Speaking of Gist, my friends tell me the person who most benefited from GIST was me. I won’t say I benefited more than others but I did better than some. People attribute it to my “networking” skills. Not true. Networking is great but it needs to come with honesty and sincerity. A genuine interest in the other human being. While others network, I make friends.

Let me give you example from GIST …

At Abu Dhabi during the semi-finals we were asked to randomly pitch to a bunch of people around the room. While most were drawn to names from Google and Etisalat I went up to whoever was free at the mo. The young 20+ girl standing in a corner was my first choice. Not a big businesswoman … not at all. She was working on her startup. But more than giving her my pitch we just stood there and chatted about the challenges of running startups. I told her if she needed any help I was happy to assist since I had worked with several startups. After the trip, she wrote. She became my first client from the UAE.

I went around the 50+ startups in the hall (GIST + MITEF-PAN ARAB) and just spoke to them about what they were doing. Recorded short videos of everyone on GIST. In Dubai, for the finals, met co-founder of one of the Malaysian startups whom I had recorded. We had GREAT fun chatting, joking, sharing knowledge, exploring Dubai. He became my first client from Malaysia.

The shy young boy from Malaysia with a killer app for social media mapping and that I had great fun chatting with sent me another client from Malaysia. She runs one of the hottest startups in Malaysia and is coveted by Silicon Valley. (Did I say “Malaysia” enough times there?)

Yeah … none of these clients came to me coz I was looking for them. I wasn’t trying to impress and get them to give WDL business. They were just friends or people that I found interesting to chat with. It was these people that put their trust in WDL enough to not only work directly with me but also refer WDL to others.

I was sitting with Scott Gillespie, leader of the Jigsaw Group, which is a startup accelerator program. He is also a VC but above all he is just a great guy with a wonderful sense of humor. At lunch one day someone asked him, “Oh, you are a VC. You never said so”. And he replied, “Yes, ‘coz I am a human being too”. :) Those 2-3 days I met him, never once did either of us broach the subject of capital. We chatted about running a social enterprise, how he was involved with one called Yacht Aid Global, stories from his life and it was all fascinating.

Bottom line …

cold, hard, calculated networking never works. You can always tell when someone is after something. When you open up and take the other person as a human being with a life and challenges of her own (or his own) that’s when you make “relationships. And relationships are the real takeaway of life itself and not just business mixers.

OK BYeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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

Pitch It Right, Ladies (and *reluctantly* Gentlemen)

Dear Yous, me has started a new blog … Pitch It Right. No No, wait … don’t worry … I am not giving up on PakiMom here. We got a good thing going … I’d never dessert you. *tear. Since I started posting stuff from others, my readership has gone up … getting a lot more hits. And people expect pearls of wisdom every time I open my mouth. And you know how that’s so not gonna happen. There are days when I want to vent. When I am down in the dumps and the world looks like an open sewer and I hate it and I want to kill everyone in it. With me going fancy shmancy with Google videos and biz plan competitions … people are intrigued. “There is a strike in town .. let’s see what PakiMom thinks of it”. “Oh no, rise in petrol prices … wonder what PakiMom has to say on this”. DUH!

Now you my lovelies know me. You get me. You leave me the hell alone and just come here quietly, silently … read my vents or just give me pretty little upward rising stat-graphs … and quietly support me. *tear (again). We are like Eeyore and Pooh – forever together.

how to become an entrepreneur, how to develop your startup, what are startups

But then … there is no denying the fact I have this geeky side that loves everything about my “flashing lights” peeps. As Rhett Butler famously said about Scarlett O’Hara (and I quote for my love for startups), “It’s like opium in my veins”. I just can’t stop no matter how hard I try. So I have decided … I am going to separate the fancy stuff from the real stuff. Geeky-goo goes onto PIR and the fabulosity that’s moi stays here where its most appreciated and where its cosy and homely.

But that does not mean I don’t want you going over yonder and telling me what you think. I trust and cherish your opinion. Does it look good? Do you like the latest post there from Hind Hobeika? Do you want to write for PIR? Want me to feature someone? LMK.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Update: PIR is dead.

An Example of Why We Need More Mentors

Dunno how I feel about below. The confusion and chaos going through this student’s mind is soooo ME … yet, she has skills I would kill for. You know my love for anything “Flashing Lights”. How absolutely ecstatic would I be if one day I just woke up and found out I could do C+? *ScreamsOfExcitement* But Hammad is raising a very important point here. We have the talent – we need mentors to hone that talent and give it a nudge in the right direction. In Pakistan, I know the MIT Enterprise Forum is very active in providing necessary mentoring especially in the IT sector. Then there is the Coffee Shop Gurus that incubates startups as well as runs accelerator programs. If you need to connect with them, gimme a shout-out and I’ll be happy to make the connection.

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new businesses need mentors and advisorsOver the past few years I have been actively mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly recent graduates that are interested in starting their entrepreneurial career. In my view, there are 21 things that an start-up needs to consider beyond a brilliant idea.

I would like to share with you a facebook chat with a recent graduate how lives in Islamabad. I am sure there are lessons to learn in this conversation!

She: Assalamu Alaikum! What’s the best business if we have investment of Rs. 1 Million or Less. :-P
Me: What are your expertise?
She: Haven’t done business
Me: Education, passion??
She: Fresh Graduate in Business Administration with concentration on IT/MIS
Me: You need to find your passion first. For a small technology start-up, one million is quite a sum. But again, technology is a vast field! Do you have any ideas?
She: Almost All my ideas require a huge investment. :-P..Before reaching that stage, I must be in position of having vast experience and well understanding of how business are run effectively.
Me: What is your expertise in IT?
She: If I try, I can do hard work in possible areas of IT field like Web Development, Computer Accessories Shop, or an IT teaching academy etc.:-P
Me: I mean what can you do, coding, marketing, SEO????
She: Don’t know anything about SEO. I’ve experience of coding in C, C++, HTML, CSS, VB.NET etc. But what is Marketing in IT?
Me: Marketing is essential for every business. Using IT for Marketing is a business too.
She: First I need to have a business then will think of Marketing
Me: No first you need to have an idea and the will to implement the idea. Next is to find the right people to work with, sell idea to get funding – and 24/7 implementation. If you think of marketing after you have business, I am afraid, you will never be successful.  You need to know exactly how will you market your product or service, how will you manage finance and people, third stage is starting the business. What do you say?
She: You are right in accurate perspective I don’t want to waste my time anymore I think one can work on ideas, solutions, and strategies after starting a business because this will not be the end but a start of a self reliance. Please elaborate your statement: “Next is to find the right people to work with, sell idea to get funding – and 24/7 implementation.”
Me: You cannot work alone. You need a team. Also you need to sell your idea (concept) to those who are willing to fund, and when you are in business, there is no 9-5, you are working 24 hours and 7 days a week. Are you ready for this?
She: Isn’t it a new style of business? I’m sure it works better in earning perspective but I have seen people who were not partners but sole proprietors of their own businesses, had investment of less than 1 Million, with no expertise in IT/Marketing, with no business education, even they started their business just like others in progress in the industry as a new entrant in the competition; without a new idea, and they are successful now a days. What are your views on this?
Me: But, you do not have expertise in marketing and finance. You need people to work for you in these areas. I am not suggesting partnership in your business, but anyone who works for you or with you is a partner or stakeholder. What do you think?
She: I can do marketing of business on my own and I don’t need staff for that; even for finance issue, I am ready to handle it as it will be a small business and not a Multinational organization. I may need workers
Me: Hummm. But that is conflicting statement now; you said earlier what is Marketing in IT? Do you know how to manage accounting, pay taxes, submit monthly returns etc? Workers to do what?
She: I thought you were proposing or suggesting an IT business for me. Well, I know and do not know at the same time. The point is that at initial level, no one is expert in the field one is working in, but with the passage of time, people start learning a lot and thus expanding their businesses. At this initial stage, Owner alone can do and must do a lot of work needed to manage the business and rest is done with the help of workers. Workers to assist you in selling the product/service you are offering. :-)
Me: I need to log off. You are welcome to inbox me if you want to discuss more. But thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my views. I would like to use this conversation in one of my blogs on entrepreneurship – Without naming you. Best regards
She: In’sha’Allah will like to get guidance in future as well. Under your convenience!

This chat shows confusion. There are many such aspiring entrepreneurs around us, they are either shy and do not ask, or there are not enough mentor to guide them – We need a platform to connect these mentees and mentors.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

startups need more mentorsHammad Siddiqui is a passionate blogger and an expert in the field of institutional capacity building. He is the Deputy Country Director at Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). Hammad has written over 300 articles on entrepreneurship, social media and policy reforms. You can follow him on Twitter @HammadS.

So You Want To Start An Online Business

Notice you guys are coming out of your cocoons and have stopped being so shy. Thank you for your comments. Distressing most are coming from guy!! Dudettes, where art thou? 
This is Part One of a two part blog from the awesome Faisal Khan, more popularly known as “Babushka” (go figure). The guy has drama and you know how much I dig that. Here is how you start an online business in a proverbial nutshell.  

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So you want to start an online business?”  This question gets asked of me a lot. From budding entrepreneurs, to the unemployed, from students to housewives, from the elderly to the very young. Those who want to have their own thing on the side or to have their own business. What to do? How do I start? Where do I seek help? What are the steps? Where do I go? What do I need to learn? How much money would I need?

You’ve been thinking about all these questions for month or years, but have never really gotten to finding answers.

As a starting point, I want to make you aware of a very moving Quote. If you don’t understand this quote, you might as well skip this article and go back to whatever you were doing.

startup business online

The right time is now. Not tomorrow, not next week. Its now! What you put off today, will only prolong the situation, not improve upon it.

Over the course of my career, I have come across literally 1000s of people who seek advice on how to start their own business. They have ideas, dreams, ambition yet they lack the inertia to take the first step.

Starting an online business is not difficult at all. Its just a series of steps that need to be executed successfully that will have you owning an online business in no time. I would like to clarify one thing here. This article does not cover affiliate marketing, something which I absolutely am odds with. To read up on why I think there is no money in affiliate marketing, clickhere.

BUSINESS PLAN (Yes, Argh!)

Have a BusinessPlan? No? Then you need one. To start with an online business, you first need to decide what type of business you want to enter into. When choosing what type of business, you must take into consideration your knowledge and know-how of that particular business. It is equally important that you are cognizant of the geographic area you would be operating out of and the geographic regions that you would be selling to.

Let us say, your forte lies in clothing and fashion niches. Now it might or might not be foolhardy for you to venture into the online world of software sales. You might just get lucky at it, but the probability of you failing in that specific niche, is quite high. Why? It has quite a lot of do with domain knowledge.

Important Note: Stick to something you know or are passionate about.

To get started online, one of the primary things you need to do is to have a Business Plan. Now, now, don’t roll your eyes. A business plan gives you not only the holistic view of what you are trying to do, but also puts things into perspective for you.

Here is a great BusinessPlanTemplate you can work with.

A well-researched and thought out business plan, will make you more acutely aware of the competition, the opportunity that exists, the pluses and minuses of the industry, and more importantly, what is your unique selling point. What makes you so inherently different that buyers will flock to your website for the products/services you sell?

All this added clarity is only due to a business plan and all without investing a time in the business. As much knowledgeable you may be in the field, a business plan also serves a dual purposes – it also acts as a sales pitch book. You, yourself, would be your best critic and have answers to all the questions a ‘devil’s advocate’ may ask.

If your financials are correct, you will know very clearly, about what your expenses will be, and what it will cost you to run this business.

You wouldn’t buy land without having it properly appraised and thought over it a 1000 times before constructing your house. You look at 100s of factors, the neighborhood, the location, the locale, the commute factors, the town itself, taxes, schools, job opportunities, etc.

Your online pursuit, should be no less.

Once you have determined your vertical and niche (for your product &/or service), the next step to naturally ask yourself is where will you source your goods/services from? and for how much?

Some questions to consider are:

  1. Is your supply line competitive and reliable enough?
  2. What is the competition like?
  3. How many competitors show up on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, page of Google? (for your country? worldwide?)
  4. Will you be able to compete against these search results and make your way into these search engine results pages?
  5. How many of your competitors are buying ads? What is the average price they are paying per click? Will you be able to compete with them?
  6. Average selling price?
  7. What is your unique selling point? (free shipment, extras? discounts?, etc.)
  8. Whatever you are selling, is it cyclical in nature?
  9. Does your market scale horizontally or vertically?
  10. You need to invest in inventory? If so, how much does that cost?
  11. You may also need to look into Affiliate Marketing and Drop Shippers. These two options also represent a great way to start without having to worry about any sales process. You simply divert the user to the sale mechanism of the company whom you are representing for affiliate marketing or drop shipment and al is usually taken care by them. Referral sales are how 1000s of businesses today are doing business on the web. [but I digress]. Affiliate Marketing in my opinion will bring you traffic, but hardly any sales. With Millions of affiliate program out there, I would recommend you stay focused on your business plan and marketing it in the traditional way.

All these answers will come out from a well-researched business plan. Hence, I keep stressing the importance of it.

A business plan gives clarity from all perspectives and serves as a cheat sheet and your focus document, should you go astray.

RISK: MONEY & TIME

Important Note: Whatever money you spend on your online endeavor – you should be able to risk it all. After all that you may do, you may find out that the business never really took off and you want to throw in the towel. Be prepared to lose that money. What will be done with the inventory (if any), are things you need to think of. As in life, I say, there is a 50-50 chance. Either it will work or it won’t. If it doesn’t – and you are ready to call it quits, then understand the gamble to take with your money. Be prepared to lose it all, if worse were to happen.

DOMAIN NAME

To be online, you need a domain name. You can opt for a generic domain name, or a unique domain name. if you are selling Bicycle Seats, your domain can be http://www.BicycleSeats.com (if you are lucky enough to grab something like this). If you are a multi-product line store, you might opt for something like http://www.PetersOnlineStore.com or something of that nature (nomenclature notwithstanding).

Do keep in mind, today’s online stores heavily rely on online optimization and marketing. Choose your words for your domain name carefully. SEO is something you will have to consider later on. (SEO = SearchEngineOptimization).

HOSTING

Once you have your domain name, you would need hosting. There are plenty (actually 10,000s) of web hosting partners you can go to, and get your web hosting. The most preferred ones are like HostGatorBlueHostGoDaddyVerisign1and1LiquidWebiWeb, etc.

WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT

Once your hosting aspect has been taken care of, you would most likely need to have a website developed. I am going to assume that this is something you are familiar with and can work around to have this website (your online identity) sourced from somewhere and taken care of.

SHOPPING CART, CONTENT AND CMS

Important Note: If you are going to use a hosted shopping cart, most of the time you would not even need a website developed. If your prime goal is to sell online via the shopping cart, just go ahead with that. The shopping carts mentioned below are good enough to be strapped onto your domain and you get started right away. This only implies if you are okay with a online hosted shopping solution and do not want a website developed.

Three things to consider when doing your website:

  1. The content and copywriting is unique and up to par. Content is King. Don’t every forget that. Your website copy should be error free, grammatically correct and on the dot, meaning, the headlines, the opening sentences, the descriptions, etc. all need to have a proper sales copy feel to it.
  2. You have the ability to change the content of the website without a need for a web developer, etc. (a Content Management System) is a must. A good and perhaps the most prevalent CMS out there on the Internet is WordPress, check it out and see on how to get started, or alternatively, read this article on HowtoGetyourBusinessOnlineusingWordPress.
  3. You will most likely need some form of a shopping cart system for your website. Though there are 1000s of free and paid for shopping cart systems out there, my advice to you would be to free your time, outsource it. Opt for a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) hosted shopping cart app. Of the few (best) shopping cart systems I would recommend are:
    1. Shopify
    2. Magento
    3. BigCommerce
    4. Volusion
    5. Etc.

A good shopping cart system will have plenty of options for your store layout, discounts, coupons, loyalty program, shipping integration, payment handling integration (especially look out for PayPal integration, a lot many users prefer to pay via PayPal), etc.

Unless you are a techie, and really have extra time on your hands, just opt for an online-shop builder solution (also known as hosted shopping carts). There are no steep learning curves, safe and secure (read: hassle-free) hosting and above all, you get technical support. Remember, time-saved is money earned.

Once you have taken care of your shopping cart, website, domain and hosting. You are essentially online. However, you still need to process payments.

PAYMENT INTEGRATION

I must point out here, that today’s shopping carts are very advance. The hosted shopping cart solutions like Shopify etc. do not require that you have a separate website all together. In fact the GUI / Design of the shopping cart is such so as to give a fully functioning website look, feel and experience, whilst still having the entire domain of the shopping cart (product categories, checkout, etc.)

The ability to accept online payments is a straightforward process. You need to have what is called a Merchant Account (usually provided by a bank, based on your credit history, etc.) and then you need to have this Merchant Account – integrated with your shopping cart system. The merchant account is not mandatory. You can tap into various 3PP (Third Party Payment Processors) to do the same for you, however, do note, your acquiring fees would be slightly higher.

Here, luckily you have many options. 1000s of merchant service providers would be able to assist you. From Cardservice International, Authorize.net, 2checkout.com (if you are international or even US concentric), BraintreePaymentSolutions (highly recommended), Bank of America, etc.

I would really look at Braintree and see if you can get started with them. Very helpful staff, and very good rates. You need to be aware of:

  • The acquiring fees (usually a percentage). The lower the fees, the better it is.
  • Monthly fees
  • Per approved transaction charge
  • Rolling reserve (some merchant opt for this)
  • Charge back Fees
  • Fraud Control
  • Integration with various shopping cart system?
  • 24/7 Customer and Technical support

SHIPPING

If you are selling physical goods, it would be a good idea to sign up with say USPS, Fedex, UPS, etc.

Now that your store aspect is almost complete, you would need to take care of a couple of things:

  1. Telephone Number and Address for your business (I am going to assume you will be a proper business that is registered)
  2. Be aware of what your tax rate is if you are shipping within the state
  3. Your terms of sale, terms of service, acceptable usage policy, privacy policy, service level agreement, disclaimer and legal terms all need to be worked out by an attorney. Money spent on this is well worth it.
  4. Your refund policy and exchange policy needs to be clearly spelled out.
  5. Do make sure your shopping cart can handle refunds, etc.

BOOKKEEPING

For your accounting and bookkeeping, you can again resort to an online solution. Xero.com or Quickbooks.com are two good options.

HELP DESK

You would also need some form of a Customer Support Help Desk, where your users can open support tickets or ask questions, etc. Here again you have many SaaS options like Zendesk.com, 37signals.com, etc. Google for “help desk” or “hosted crm” and you should see plenty of results.

With the above your online store is essentially complete.

WEBSITE TRAFFIC: VISITORS

What you now need to work with, is getting visitors. You have just perhaps spent quite a few weeks in the making your online virtual shop probably the best it is. However, sadly all this goes to waste if you don’t have any visitors to your website (shop). The more (targeted) visitors you have the higher the probability of a sale. Here is a great (simple) articletohelpyouunderstandwhatInternetTrafficandVisitorsareallabout.

Most online websites that sell fail to see any sales is because they underestimated the importance of post-website construction phase, known as traffic building. Without traffic, there is no sales. Whether you bring in targeted traffic slowly (organically) or via paid clicks, all depends on you, however – this is an area you cannot afford to ignore.

You need to now work with a professional (individual or company) who will work with you, on your limited budget to start online campaign for you. The online campaign is not just for marketing purposes, but it is also geared towards your search engine optimization (SEO). You would be looking at things like acquiring back links, having articles written and placed on various ezine sites, listing your website with the necessary online directories, making sure your site is index properly by Google and other search engines. Make sure you on-page SEO is done correctly. Your META tags and descriptions are well written, etc.

You can also get started with a small online PPC (Pay-Per-Click) campaign on Google, to buy ads and bring (targeted) traffic to your website. PPC is one of the fastest ways to bring visitors to your online store.

Everyday by some estimates 40,000-50,000 blogs/websites, etc. go online. That’s every day. What is going to make your website stand out is only how effectively people are able to search for the things they want to buy (which presumably you are selling) and how effectively you utilize and conquer (for lack of a better word) the Search Engine Results Page (or SERPs). Don’t ignore the social media either. Today, more and more users can be found spending countless hours on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (relatively new), LinkedIn, etc. Learn to adapt your marketing and communication by using social media.

In the end, it boils down to two things:

  • The end price the user will pay to have the product/service delivered to them.
  • The user experience.

It is not easy competing with the likes of the web giants, like Amazon or Ebay, or other web stores (albeit Ebay would classify itself as an Auction). You need to give users a reason to come to your website and shop from your store.

One example of a store done very well in my opinion is www.etsy.com - you will see what a great feeling it juxtaposes on to the visitor.

Hopefully, this would give you a very good starting point on how to get started with your online store. As I cited, I could have overlooked a few key points, please do not hold that against me. If you need any additional information, feel free to post here as a comment and I shall reply. Good luck on your venture.

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doing business on the InternetFaisal Khan describes himself as, “An engineer by education, a payments specialist by trade … A geek / technologist at heart.” 

He is the Founder & CEO of Inter-Bank Financial Services, a Cross-Border Payments & Payment Systems company. He is the Scobleizer of Pakistan being very active across several social media channels including my fav Q & A website, Quora. You can connect with him on the following platforms; Quora, LinkedIn, Blog, Twitter, Tumblr.

This answer was originally written for Quora. The original post can be seen here: http://www.quora.com/How-do-I-start-an-online-business/answer/Faisal-Khan-1 

Do you Wanna be a Transformer?

GIST I Dare

Excited Finalists with Judges and the GIST Team

Remember GIST? The wonderful organization that was responsible for my annoying whining for longer than I am proud to admit? Yeah, the peeps who ran the “I Dare” business plan competition(BPC), the one where I had absolutely no hope of ever making it into the semi-finals never mind the finals, have announced a new competition called the “Tech-I“. It’s sorta like a BPC … actually its exactly what it is, but unlike “I Dare” where we had to submit full biz plans this one is asking only for an executive summary and a 2 min video pitch. Interesting, eh?

The flyer below will give you a good summary of the event:

CRDF GIST Tech-I

If you click on the image above it will take you to the official competition page.

I am telling you, if you have a business idea and its tech-related, you don’t want to miss this. I had absolutely no hope of getting into “I Dare” but I did. What if I hadn’t applied? What if I had let my doubts and lack of confidence get the better of me? Well, for one I wouldn’t have had 2 free trips to the UAE … mwahahahahahahaha ….. and secondly, I would have missed out on a huge opportunity to connect with other startup owners, hear all about their plans and their challenges and realize how despite the geographical and cultural and religious changes all of us had almost identical problems.

With the GIST, MITEF Asia, and MITEF Pakistan Team
5 of 20 semifinalist teams were from Pakistan and 3 of them were led by women!

Then of course there were all those mock pitching sessions with people from Google and Seed Startup and Etisalat. There were people with titles longer than their names; first, middle and last combined. Hell I even got some business from there; some real, other not. But Etisalat’s top honcho saying he wanted to do business (and then never replying to phone calls or emails) or Google UAE’s Mr. Big Shot telling me the same was enough to give me an adrenaline rush. I mean where else would I meet those people?

GIST I Dare Business Plan Competition Semifinalists

Look! You have nothing to loose. Just apply. Either you get through or you don’t. It will be one of the 2. If you don’t, eh … who cares. If you do … PARTAYYYYYYYYYY … TAKE THAT SUCKERZZZZ. Ahem!

And remember, when you get selected to go to Dubai, don’t forget to bring me candies from the Candylicious store in Dubai Mall. Also, I have developed a weird weakness for souvenir pencils and mugs. *hint,hint

OK BYeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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.