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

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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

PUHLEAZE PEOPLE

Yes, 2nd time in a row. You know my lovelies – I don’t do this – But I am desperate. And desperation makes you do strange things. But no, I am not “ashamed”. As Barney said and I reverently quote:

In my body where the shame gland is, I have second “Awesome” gland”

I NEED a VA who can provide support to a Malaysian-based startup. VERY cool people – Silicon valley can’t wait to get their hands on ’em but being nearly as awesome as me and Barnacle dude, they obviously flip their hair and say “No”.

OK – so to the point.

Need a VA to work from home to work from 9 AM to 6 PM US Pacific Time. Good money – I assure you. US accent a must. Doesn’t matter what gender you are (or are not). Simple work for someone with common sense (ever wondered why its called “common sense”? Seems pretty uncommon to me).

If you know someone have him/her contact me ASAP. Of course want a Pakistani national. Come on my pretties – help a fellow girl in need. If you don’t like helping fellow humans, I am gonna try the “Puss In Boots” on you.

VA, virtual assistant, virtual assistants, virtual assistance, work online, work from home, vacancy

Thank youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

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.

Mantra for Entrepreneurs

And I am back with a second guest post and from someone I’ve admired for a long time. Atif Mumtaz needs no introduction at least so far as the Pakistani IT industry goes. My fav thing about him besides the fact he is a “flashing lights” guy – his ingenuity. He is usually very quiet about his ventures but for this post he came out of his shell a bit and I am ever so grateful to him for taking out the time to write this. Without further ado – read on my lovelies! 

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Entrepreneurs are the crazy ones. They thrive on innovation and standing out from the crowd. At times, they even invite controversy with their radical new ideas and how they see the world changing. Who would have thought in 1990 that Internet could be so big when Tim Berners-Lee proposed it and built the first web page? Steve Balmer (Microsoft CEO) famously laughed at launch of Apple iPhone in 2007, saying its a device with no keyboard and no future. Look where it is today.

Entrepreneurs do things that others cannot easily understand or fathom. If someone else understood what they are doing, then someone would have already done it. They are ahead of everyone else in recognizing potential of an idea and building it into a success.

virtual assistanceEntrepreneurs are also different from typical businessmen. They innovate and create something new. They do not follow others, they lead. In Pakistan’s case, BrightSpyre (a company that I founded in 2002) was innovator in Pakistan for introducing online recruitment. They created something new, something different. It was a time, when internet was still dialup and job advertisements were only available in Sunday Newspapers. Hence, they were truly entrepreneurial and innovative. Ahead of everyone in Pakistan, changing the way recruitment is done in Pakistan. All other companies that came afterwards (Rozee etc) are simply businesses that took on what BrightSpyre had created. They are not entrepreneurs in the true sense. So if you really want to be an entrepreneur, create something new, something different and something innovative.

To be a successful Entrepreneurial startup, I recommend the following mantra:

  • Innovate: Have an innovative and radical new idea. An idea that can change the world, literally. Think hard on what you want to build and run to achieve it.
  • Build an awesome team: Team is the key. If you have a winning team, you will go places in a matter of weeks. But if you have a weak team, you will never succeed. And if your team consists of parasites, those who rely on your brilliance to achieve anything, then you will at best be mediocre. Having started numerous companies and worked with all sorts of players, I have noticed that when I had co-founders who thought they were great but were really poor in execution, the company went down in the long run and could never sustain its growth. They will never let the company achieve its true potential. They are quick to blame others for their failures and will never try to do anything right. Avoid them, even if they are your best friends. Only select the best. The winners.
  • Conserve cash: This is very important. You will not earn a lot in the first few months of your entrepreneurial venture. It is essential you have the cash to last the distance. For that purpose, you need to spend thriftily. If targets are met, if clients are happy, give yourself rewards at the end of the year, otherwise, do not spend. Conserve. And in today’s tight economy, there is no alternative to conservation of cash.
  • Built it, Don’t think it: You will be skeptical of how your idea will thrive in the market initially. Most of this skepticism will come from family and friends who think you are crazy doing it. Don’t worry. Just follow your heart and just do it. Do not over think it. Or someone else will do what you want to do. So just build it, don’t think it.
  • Belief in Allah: No entrepreneurial course will ever teach you this. But believe in Allah and you will see good things happen. When chips are down, when stress is at its peak, when friends abandon you, when your founders go against you, Allah will be there. Ask for His help and believe that everything will be alright in the long run. You will succeed.

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virtual assistantsAtif Mumtaz is a co-founder of Personforce, a leading job board provider in the Silicon Valley, California, USA. He is also running a non-profit, UM Healthcare in rural Pakistan that provides affordable healthcare to those who cannot afford it. He can be reached online at: http://www.twitter.com/amumtaz 

Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in this post belong to the writer. PakiMom takes no responsibility.