Its Complicated. The curious case of Fintechs, Banks and Asma.

It truly is complicated, every one just graduated from MAU(Monthly Active Users) to AI (Artificial Intelligence) and now on to Blockchain. (Formerly known as Block Chain). We are still catching up on financial inclusion.

Before we get in to Artificial Intelligence lets talk about basic intelligence or due diligence. With news daily of X “local” company meeting Y “foreign” company and productive and constructive meetings + now news of strategic partnerships etc is very interesting, but has any one really looked at the fundamentals of taking financial services to the un banked? Or to grow financial services access beyond where they are.

To this date as an individual I cant plug in to any National Registry API to do citizen lookup or verification. So If I/any one else wanted to build an app to verify some ones ID, we cant actually do that. Happy to pay a service fee to do that lookup(Binary, Y/N). Why is that not possible? Why is public data not publicly available? For a fee of course, if it is, why isn’t this info public and being advertised nationally? Forget big data, we cant even get small data sorted out.

Data is going to be king even in Pakistan soon enough, so as a paying customer of the National Registry why can they offer enterprise services and access control and bio metric services? when I cant build my own, especially when as a citizen I’ve paid for the cost of building that system by taxes and fees. What happened to my right to access information and build services on top? Basically the state has decided it wants to be in that business hence it will not be good for the ecosystem long term(Discussion for a different day). But what that means is, innovation beyond the state paid actors and Telcos and Banks is really limited because the average App developer cant get to it via API or build innovative services that linked to identity in any way. Banks may/maynot allow you to interconnect with their APIs to run some of these verifications but that’s a walled garden approach. Rest assured, Scammers and the other lot don’t need API access they have and will continue to thrive by figuring out simple exploits. That truly is why its complicated, because it is fairly simple to counter these exploits but no one seems to be paying attention.

No less the real issue is with the floating copies of ID cards every where, god knows what happens to them when you give them to you bank or to you mobile operator or to the travel agent or where ever else you use the hard copy version(Schools/Clubs/Real Estate/Wills/Contracts, etc). Or what they can be used for.

Fintechs and Banks cant grow up and expand till there is absolute consumer confidence that your information is secure and a consumer protection agency is on the hook for it along with the regulators, because at best their (Fintech/Banks) tech is dated more so the mentality. There are good people every where. Every time I had the mis fortune of going into a bank branch and or try to open a domestic “wallet” account the experience is less than pleasant. My opinion will change when my experience changes.

Maybe the bottom of the pyramid market where they(telcos/fintechs/banks) intend to service customers is not yet aware, but soon they will be, and if this(financial inclusion) grows at any exponential scale, then the problem will become bigger to rectify.

My confidence in third parties is at all time low, you should try to do the following test, borrow a secondary phone number from a friend (say from Maybelink, UffPhone, CpecMobile) then take your own ID and try to open say an account in the most popular recently 45% strategically partnered branchless banking product. A little birdy says you will be pleasantly surprised that you will be able to open an account as the SIM to ID check is not where its supposed to be.

(Again all this is hypothetical and no one is encouraging you or any other member of the public to do some thing they shouldn’t and this is purely an academic hypothesis)

Meaning if you took say a number from the other 3 Telcos, used your own NIC or some one else’s, likely you could open a brand spanking new account, that you could use to send “Asma” as many loads as she wanted or you wanted. Because the Sim + ID combination seemingly is not being validated by Asmas service provider.

Do you see a problem with that? No “Asma” is still single and will gladly take your money. As will any one else who has your ID and an unused phone #(on an other network), they can open a (insert “Asmas” favorite product here) account using your name and hypothetically make transactions, receive payments.

You can potentially reverse the experiment and the carriers and the products but the central idea is, Asma remains single because the suitors all addressing the wrong problem(s).

Maybe with all this hype and PR is just in time, may be there is a dire need to bring in vilayati(imported) tech to fix digital payments/fintech/banking because truly its not ours to solve. Maybe Asma is also tired of all the local suitors, maybe its time for her to get serious and thats why she looked Eastwards to her Ant*.

Get. Set. Go ; Stupidity Avoidance Filter (It’s a real thing)

Every day when people wake up in Silicon Valley, they get up , set eyes on their mission and get going to deliver on their vision. This btw is not only limited to California but from Tel Aviv to New Delhi and from Jakarta to Sao Polo all the places that are going places have their GSG synced to some inter galactic clock.

But California is perhaps more special. If you step through the pages of history from Steve Jobs to Bill Hewlett to Vint Cerf there was always some thing in California that seems to be missing from every where else.

At 12, Jobs wanted to build a frequency counter, but he didn’t have the parts. Ever sensible, he suspected that Bill Hewlett, then the CEO of HP, might have some extras. And so, with the bizarre confidence of an 8th grader, he found Hewlett’s number in the telephone book and called it. How many 8th graders do we now know who demonstrate those chops? For example most 8th Graders in our NA250 demographic are making tough choices on what to order on FoodPanda vs building a FoodPanda. Its not their fault, generations before them are to fault for this.

Vint Cerf was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Muriel (née Gray), a housewife, and Vinton Thurston Cerf, an aerospace executive. Cerf went to Van Nuys High School in California along with Jon Postel and Steve Crocker; Both were also instrumental in the creation of the Internet .

None of this happened by sheer luck, it happened because the galaxy came together in some mysterious way every single time each one of these events needed to place and connected a host of un-connected folks to achieve greatness, their unifier was the state of California or rather the mix it offered for success .

This is not a history lesson about California. This is a very primal review of why when you nurture people by having the right mix of education, industry and the dream to win big you continue to produce effective results.

We are ways away from replicating the success and my confidence continues to be eroded by the patrons of industry at large. On my return trip home the first tweet I saw was this:

Elon Musk is sending cars into space and the collective intellectual horsepower of the Neslte advertising/brand gurus could only come up with building the worlds largest saucepan. I am just shocked how in this day and age a corporation of that size comes up with such stupid publicity stunts. If that money was spent to make just 1 Nestle powered school it would make for better a cause.

But I digress, if you’ve ever met the brain trust at these organizations at least locally; the highlight of their career is to get to Thailand to shoot an ad. Given that kind of mis guided sense of achievement there is no wonder why their aspirational target is building F**ing saucepans. At least its moved on from buying fake likes to appease their middle managers to having promoted tweets.

This continues to happen and I don’t mean just at one brand or an other but collectively in society because we have completely missed the boat on building a conducive ecosystem.

We all get lucky. Once in a while we do something really stupid that could have resulted in death, but didn’t. Recently I saw someone who was texting while crossing the road on to oncoming traffic , narrowly avoiding the car whose driver slammed on the brakes. Post event, we realize that was not an ideal way to go about doings ones business. What can we do? We can make the most of our second chances by building margins of safety into our lives. We need to build that into our country and our ecosystems at large, ranging from education to industry to just the way we operate as human beings.

Ever notice how your fuel tank indicator goes on long before you’re really on empty? It’s the same idea. The difference between waiting until the last minute and refueling comfortably early gives us a margin of safety. We need to add that principle to our lives else the GSG dream will remain elusive for generations to come and next we will be building the biggest Karahi(wok).

Charlie Munger, the business partner of Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is famous for his quote “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.”

That thinking was inspired by the German mathematician Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi often solved difficult problems by following a simple strategy: “man muss immer umkehren” (or loosely translated, “invert, always invert.”)

Jacobi knew that it is in the nature of things that many hard problems are best solved when they are addressed backward some things just cant be solved backward and our predicament seems to be the same, be it companies that operate in our midst our government or policy makers and even citizens can use thinking for the net benefit of society.

Simply, if you want to improve innovation in your organization. Thinking forward, you’d think about all of the things you or others could do to achieve that goal. If you look at the problem by inversion, however, you’d think about all the things you could do that would discourage innovation. Ideally, you’d avoid those things. Sounds fairly straight forward. But I bet your organization does some of those ‘stupid’ things today? Just like our saucepan example proved, thinking forward/innovating is not easy, but looking at the same problem from inversion should dissuade future generation of brand marketers in avoiding these kind of idiotic moves.

Despite ones best intentions, thinking forward increases the odds that you’ll cause harm especially in our context. But thinking backward, call it subtractive avoidance or inversion, is less likely to cause harm hopefully.

Inverting the problem won’t always solve it, don’t get me wrong but it will help you avoid trouble or at least spot it from a mile away. You can think of it as the avoiding stupidity filter. It’s not sexy but it’s a very easy way to improve. For us to foster an ecosystem like California we need an industrial level Stupidity Avoidance Filter. Its an uphill task but it must start with the realization of what we are individually and collectively doing wrong as part of the society we make up. We are all at fault in some ways, saucepan guys more so than others.

So what does this mean in reality?

Spending time thinking about the opposite of what you want doesn’t come naturally to most people. And yet may of the smartest people in history, have done this naturally. So we must borrow a page from history. Hearing Vint Cerf recently the central theme of how the internet came about started with avoiding things in the past that made it difficult for communication to happen between machines, Lo and behold the invention of packet switching or the TCP/IP protocols that power every thing on the internet today.

Inversion will help improve understanding of the problem(s) at hand. By forcing you to do the work necessary to have an opinion you’re forced to consider different perspectives. We need to have opinions beyond watching talk shows and regurgitating what we see as our own brilliance. We must get into the mind set of GSG and for that to happen we need some serious inversion in our thinking.

To all the startups out there specifically, if you want to have one key take away: Spend less time trying to be brilliant and more time trying to avoid obvious stupidity. IMHO avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance.

Brilliance comes over time, avoiding stupidity shouldn’t.


The next 100 million users are ready? Are you?

TL;DR; NBU(New Bankable Users) + E-commerce + Payments + Logistics. Did the big guys really miss this? Move over ad-tech, the ride hailing guys may just have a better handle on this one.

Here are the thick big published statistics.

An addressable population of 210M+. Roughly 125M people under 30 years of age. 60M smart phone users and 50M Internet subscribers. 140M bio-metrically verified Sim cards and telco subscribers. A projected middle class of 160M in ten years. We see these statistics flashed every alternate day. What is the big deal, you ask?

Combine them with the following gems:

Total domestic ad-spend of $650M.

Total digital ad-spend of $100M.

Existing M-wallets transactions at $2 billion.

Branchless Banking transactions at over $6 billion.

Two big players in the digital payments space (Jazz Cash & Easy pay) who are riding momentum of existing market share, ATL and BTL campaigns and a single decade old acquisition.

One of them, a case study of how little it takes to move the needle in Pakistan if you have cash, infrastructure and timing on your side.

Incumbent Banks with no net new innovation over the last decade that translates into a dramatically new, better or more profitable business model. They just can’t break out of the box or get anything with a real bite done.

Ability to get an e-money license or tie up with a Payment systems Provider (PSP) to launch new services.

A new universal connect in the works that will allow any telco network subscriber to connect to any other telco network subscriber breaking down the walls and the moats Telcos have hidden behind for two decades.

How do you monetize this army of young willing plugged in dis-satisfied users? Users who are ready for a better customer experience and for instant fulfillment. If you are still thinking ad-tech or ad-sales both your game and your mojo are out of date.

For a cash driven market like Pakistan there are only two words that you should be thinking of when you see the above stats. One of them is payments. The other is networks or systems. Take your pick.

60 million smart phones users doing a single m-wallet transaction every day for the next 40 years of their expected lives. What if its ten transactions per day? You do the math.

The incumbents, whether banks or Telcos have already blown the opportunity. Their best efforts over 5 years of product launches and onboarding initiatives translate into 2 m-wallet transactions a year on 50% of the accounts. The remaining 50% are in zombie mode.

Time for GO-Jek, Grab or Ant Financials to look at this ecosystem as there is a world beyond South East Asia where others are distracted or dis organized. Given the ride hailing guys have already made a play for POS/delivery/last mile/ad-on services and payment mechanisms all they need is a new market with a similar product market fit and go crazy with growth.

Essentially an ecosystem play.

The ride share boom has shown already that the Pakistani folk have an affinity for these services. If someone can build an ecosystem play it will only enhance that position. Careem to date has sadly missed out on payments, given the amount of “transactions” passing through its system (locally and regionally), it has either intentionally over looked or delayed getting in this space.

They won round one in raising half a billion dollars in funding and outsmarting Uber and the transport mafia in Pakistan but rather than building on that success, have gotten fat and happy. Round two, when it comes to scale, execution, consistent service quality and customer retention has been a disaster for them.

It may just be cheaper for their larger regional rivals to buy them out and do this right. They are already making all kinds of entries to build bolt on services on top of their respective platforms.

The Indian Story

For vanilla payments, the India example is a case study on the advantages we already have when it comes to building this out. The Indian market had to build out UPI (Unified Payments Interface), we are already ahead of the curve and by just a little tweaking could enable this using 1Link.

The key in India has been a PSP backend that maintains customer information, manages and issues virtual payment addresses (VPAs), resolves VPAs to user linked bank account for an incoming payment, maintains history of transactions, logs etc. Note that currently only banks and approved technology partners of banks are allowed to run their own PSP Backend in India.

The approved Technology partner is the golden nugget here. Same/similar holds true for Pakistan yet no one has capitalized on this in its true sense.

 As of now, only banks and approved partners can operate PSP Backend. 40 Banks currently operate their own PSP Backend, which is connected to NPCINet. (National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) the settlement agency).

In our case 1Link could arguably do this today. If only a mature, willing hungry partners builds an OTT service. The Asians seem hungrier for scale, so much so, Google made a bet on one of them just recently.

Three non-banking entities, PhonePe, BHIM, and Tez, operate as technical partners of the banks in India. In addition to building user facing apps, players operating PSP Backend can also provide business solutions to enterprises by means of exposing PSP APIs/SDK. A replicable model, with most if not all the components existing today in Pakistan.

Our banks and PSPs are not going to expose anything, besides their admission that they are late to the party.

There may still be time so that the industry reorganizes it self and get the Central Bank on their side or at the very least start building open API stacks where third parties could deploy services today.

You ask why?

Because if only the likes of GO-Jek or Grab look west from SE Asia or the Ad-tech companies look east from Mountain view or Menlo park they will realize that based on the demographic stats and the market access numbers above it is a no-brainer to enter this market.

Actually if they had been paying attention to actionable intelligence on Pakistan’s payment dynamics they would step back and first look at the money movement stats/volumes alone and then decide if they too may have missed the boat on this.

Sometimes, people don’t know what they don’t know. It is time to change that. It is great to look at Pakistan as a net 100% growing market for ad-sales by everyone, but the bigger opportunity lies in payment, commerce and the logistics space.

Think about it. If you grow commerce and logistics, it is just natural that ad-spend on line will grow. As an ad platform what more can we do to seed growth for the next two decades?

Moving from JUST payments to e-commerce

Jazz has shown, how little it takes to move the needle in this space. All it takes is one well funded player that has platform and tech experience, they had the funding part down atleast.

This is not even taking in to account the fact if some one would roll out a service and then enable in-ward remittances; potentially every android phone becomes a vessel to ship cash back instantly.

We take this one step further. Imagine if an Ali Express type service rolled out on the back of this. The ecommerce – ecosystem has already publicly proven how well e-commerce works; when executed correctly. Imagine if GOSF (Great Online Shopping Festival) or some type of Express market place was a permanent feature and the payment method always worked.

In one clean sweep, the entrant will displace most of the bad press around              e-commerce, yet still use all the underlying e-commerce partners and help              e-commerce grow leaps and bound but have a guaranteed payment system powering their own store and could work with banks and others to build loyalty as opposed to discounts to incentivize users further.

It should be a position that the folks at GO-Jek , Grab and maybe even Careem should be lining up to exploit. They already have a lot of experience with both stored value systems and services and large consumer facing apps.

Now look at this from the point of the average e-tailer not funded by corporate cash, they would get guaranteed electronic payment/settlement and less reliance on COD, thus potentially reducing returns and increasing reach. If Walmart and Target think it can work, I am sure a lot of thought has gone into this. It also gives rise to the notion of Market place of market places, allowing localized/hyper local shipping and rural access to products and people and cash and to the player who comes in an opportunity unrivaled any where else. If they happen to be in the ride hailing space it gives them last mile logistics too.

Realistically all it takes is to stitch the pieces together. Ant financial continues to be in the news, no one knows for sure what will happen, their approach is to buy a financial service provider and enter the market that way. Our South East Asian friends could take the easier route and tie up and do a technical partnership. No government with half a brain, during election year would say no to expedite some thing like this.

Sometimes I wonder with all the mental horsepower that the big boys have, what happens to the in country intel going back to Menlo Park or Mountain View? It probably gets rolled up as an ad-sales number somewhere and then rounded down due to being insignificant as a subset of the region.

We just need a fresh approach that Grab and GO-Jek have capitalized on in this region. Kudos to the Central Bank for putting out hard data all it takes is to take some intelligent views on this to be in line to capitalize from a multibillion dollar opportunity.

The next 100 million users are ready? Are you?


Annexures – Sources and Methods.

Branchless Banking Transaction Volume total was 746,569,386,455 PKR or 6,734,055,865 USD. (Six billion seven hundred thirty-four million fifty-five thousand eight hundred sixty-five USD)

M-Wallet transaction stood at 228,810,886,060 PKR or 2,063,874,192 USD (Two billion sixty-three million eight hundred seventy-four thousand one hundred ninety-two USD).

Ad-Spend Data from an earlier post

Special thanks to Jawwad Farid for his input, additions and corrections plus all the other nice bits.


Tech bandits come to Pakistan: Economic Hit[wo]men in Startup land

Pakistan has many internal and external aggressors. We cant blame every thing on external elements, as we are, ourselves to blame for letting things get out of hand. A strange thing is happening in Pakistan, in the race to the top of Tech stardom.

Before we dive in to the details, to understand what’s going on; a brief history lesson is needed. What we read in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man an autobiographical book written by John Perkins published in 2004, provides us with Perkins’ account of his career with engineering consulting firm Chas. T. Main in Boston. What we are witnessing is a page right out of the book and a chapter out of history. The aggressors are a different breed, but the methods and mandate almost similar.

 According to Perkins, his role at Main was to convince leaders of underdeveloped countries to accept substantial development loans for large construction and engineering projects that would primarily help the richest families and local elites, rather than the poor, while making sure that these projects were contracted to U.S. companies. Later these loans would give the U.S. political influence and access to natural resources for U.S. companies.[1] He refers to this as an “economic hit man.”

 In the 5 years I have been part of the larger local tech community we have seen a transition in the tech ecosystem. We went from a largely BPO and Hire-to-Build narrative to a startup hungry nation. Which is a fantastic transition to witness. Every one and every thing under the sun, progressing towards startups. The goal; to attain economic freedom and break free from middle-class shackles. That is the fantastic bit of this story. The desire, drive and success of Pakistanis trying to use the power and reach of the Internet in pursuit of their dreams is commendable. What a time to be in Pakistan.

 The not so fantastic part is, that is giving rise to a new type of technological colonialism. In the absence of domestic funding or at the right scale or without the right appreciation for the startups at home. With that, its open hunting season for foreign VCs , Funds and Angels. It is this Angel category, that is not so Angelic , once you peel the layers of the onion. (We want all the reputable VCs and Funds to come and excited by the ones reaching out to do due diligence)

Imagine this scenario: If you are a cash hungry startup, with limited access to domestic capital and un-realistic demands local of investors to take a 50-80% bite out of your equity. You are out of luck. Well typically you were, but not really. My self and many others, who are involved with mentoring the young startup community, started getting calls from eager beaver startup founders, who couldn’t contain their excitement. Just weeks prior they had given up on their dreams, they resented being in Pakistan, they thought they were being dealt with unfairly, calling into question their belief some times. A vulnerable lot. Emotionally, mentally and financially. We need to nurture them, that is where we have failed miserably.

 So what was getting them so worked up? They were calling and unanimously repeating a few names and offers of 10-100k of patient capital. They had all found their savior(s). Formerly un-heard of Angels(in the Pakistani ecosystem), mostly foreign origin(migrants them selves in their now chosen lands) and with some really prominent yet cryptic back stories. (As in you could Google them but to the unordained, they would seem fairly legit)

 Slowly but surely, seeing & seizing this opportunity from Silicon Valley and beyond, a new breed of hit[wo]men started emerging on the scene. Friendly and at first glance harmless men and women, typically multimillionaires/trust fund babies/ inheritance Angels – empathizing with the cause of Pakistan and our youth. Oh how they “believe in them” how in their own native land(s), they are the champions of causes that are challenging our Pakistan and our youth. How they want to help, “oh just do a little some thing”. I tried to ignore the misgivings I had for these types of Angels. But your “gut” is rarely wrong.

 Then an other interesting thing started to happen; this lot started traveling to Pakistan. They started identifying and socializing with what I call the bottom of the pyramid Pakistani IT folks. Not to demean any one, but the scum of the earth types, who have no real jobs, have no technical background, have never done a startup, never written a line of code, but some how show up every where and get their pictures taken. You get a fair idea, every industry has these “kalakars” we have ours, this Angelic lot started finding these “idiots” and started harvesting relationships with them. This did not happen over night.

 This too is entirely our fault, take the example of a parent who has 5 kids and plays favorite with the smartest two, the other 3 are susceptible of being naughty or just play into the hands of the less than welcome “outsiders, neighbors” etc etc. We should have watched out for our own, but we didn’t. They have 0 background in to what’s going on but they are on Whatsapp. They are living the dream, getting their pictures taken, creating and making industry events and presenting awards on subjects where they sometimes cant even spell the underlying technology let alone understand the ramifications of how they are being played. The other lot being played are CEOs from our Telcos to our Banks to our FMCGs and Govt IT bunch. You ask how? In the effort to feed the beast which is their “ego” they are championing the cause of these “kalakars”. Truly we have been trumped.

These Angelic Cyber Colonials picked up on the weakest link of the chain. They spent the better half of the last 2 years harvesting Pakistan’s cumulative equivalent of “Donald Trump supporters”. I raise my hat to them, they have single handedly with their money their gravitas and the free trips become masters of this circus of “IT Dimwits”. Given the lack of hero’s an entire breed of these folks are hero worshipers. As soon as some one familiar, reaches out to them from the West and wants to meet them; they put on their 2 sizes too small Valima Suit and show up. Slowly and gradually these “Angels” started getting invited to industry events or the lack their off, started creating with the “IT Dimwits” new events, new groups, new forums, new Whatsapp groups. With that came the condescending dis-information drive, the playing down of Pakistan and Pakistani startups along with every thing else in their way, whilst our own “village idiots”** cheered them on. Saying stuff like “Mashallah we now Have IT GURUs in Pakistan” (I am quoting from a whatsapp group). These imported gurus are cashing on the frustrations of our most vulnerable and its not just to create an “arab spring” equivalent.

These Angels are some of the worst type of people out there, they have the money the motivation and now the access to our youth to destroy and entire nation worth of rising stars and entrepreneurs, whilst leaving in their trail a sense of low self worth, self esteem and apologetic mind set. The sad part is that the one who can call out this bullshit fear the isolation within the ranks and cant live without their egos being stroked, they are the first ones to get in line to get their pictures taken, so the “Angels” are thriving.

 This proves that any one with money can get access to our most vulnerable. In this case young startup founders and the “village idiots of IT”, they are able to shape the narrative and their own glorious past stories and not a single person has fact-checked these people or their bullshit, they continue to spew hate and an agenda backed with “showing Pakistanis the way”.

 I thank them for taking the time to partake in our ecosystem. But whilst I must agree that they bring stories of and steer conversations towards building sustainable companies and ecosystems, their intent is perhaps exactly the opposite. Them downplaying Pakistani and Pakistan origin mentors and offering sage advice on domestic challenges and on mentorship is borderline arrogant without knowing the ecosystem. By flying in and meeting some folks and perhaps getting second hand info, its quite naive to think that the only veterans are the likes of them and their own friends, who actually aren’t even based here and are mostly inheritance millionaires, which no one needs to apologize for, just call a spade a spade.

 The worst part is, there are some within this lot who I am sure mean well, but they got tied up with these shallow arrogant and useless types, and are basing their view entirely on their self-hating Pakistani social circuit friends. As a participant in the ecosystem it is glaringly evident that they are cashing in on the insecurities of the “village idiots of IT”, given the fact that most their comments, engagements, awards ceremonies and media appearances are weaved around the same group of 8/10 common folks. Imagine all it takes to fuck over a large segment of our startup and investible companies, can be fuelled by 8-10 people and a few outside Angels.

 What these “Angels” are doing is not helping the ecosystem with their passive aggressive comments and observations, Facebook posts, Whatsapp rants and tweets about “oh how glorious Pakistan and Pakistani startups would be , IF only we could fix X or do what Y is doing ??? Btw we haven’t even gotten to the part where they are doling out money and advice on religion. The toxic mix gets worse, we will only focus on the money for now.

 They are talking down an entire fraternity of Pakistanis who are working very hard to build up the ecosystem by offering cheap cash in exchange for their even cheaper values.

 So like the Perkins’ account of the years gone by here’s what’s happening. These Angels are coming to town, they don’t need to convince governments any more, they need to just write checks to the Startups, before that they ensure, that they give board seats to their so called friends in Pakistan. So that their interest is protected. Their friends along with the Village Idiots, slowly but surely are government folks, people of political influence and any one in a position of power happy to take funds in exchange for favors or to be invited to Amreeka or elsewhere for “good time”. Cheap..Really cheap.

The reality is, where this money is going is in 3 very well calculated places. Grants to startups that would typically find it tough to scale, To them I say take the money and probably more. Use it to your benefit but don’t get driven by the Angels agenda.

 The second lot is the scary one, companies that have the potential to sit on and collect oodles of data on youth and youth related preferences (So startups in the hyper local and data space).To them I say, you have your entire life ahead of you, don’t sell short.

 Last but not least, retired so-called Pakistani veteran CEOs of Tech/Banking/Obsolete Multinationals and their “NEW” so called startup companies and ideas. These hit(wo)men have the right idea, they are trying to get into a parasitic relationship within the right constructs of society. The young, the under-funded and old guard, all where they can play to ego, cash or one final shot at making it big.

Startups, consider you self warned. If you see some one or some thing that looks to good to be true, it probably is. Fellow ships and foundations are the new tool of this economic warfare, run as far away from those as you can. If some thing is free, always remember you are the product.


“village idiots”** are those individuals who are perpetually free and clear to do any thing but work, not to be confused with the hard working startup entrepreneurs. But rather the free loaders at every award ceremony.

How dysfunctional Ceo’s/founders destroy great companies

I have been taking time to extensively evaluate what makes companies tick. Besides the central idea, that there is either an amazing product or service; that solves a need at scale there is more to it. It took me just shy of working for 2 decades to really figure it out.

You might be thinking that I ran of topics to write about, But having spent a week at a global accelerator program; meeting startup after startup, I couldn’t but help focus away from the idea/service and on to the founder(s). The ideas were solid, many before me had evaluated them to be at a stage where they were getting advice from tier one mentors who are at the top of their game globally.

Hence I kept on mentally classifying each founder, albeit based on my own experience, if they were going to amount to some thing or not? meaning would I read about them in the papers? I had a bench-mark, a fantastic CEO who built a great company then ran it in to the ground compared to the potential of the company. As I applied my template to each of those conversations based on the experiences I have had, I could literally see who Id read about in the papers. You can see them from a mile.

Founders who are lucky get to live scale, founders who are really lucky get to live scale and make money and founders who exceptionally lucky get to live scale, make money and retain their core team or their co-founders. The really unlucky founders f**k up and loose every one along the way as they explain to them selves that change is inevitable and people move on.

They are also the same ones who are operationally hands off, because, scale is new to them, they try to hide behind people to make key decisions.

This(the people need to move on concept) has to be the biggest founder lie known to man. I agree some times its needed, most times its not. Most times founders just hide behind it when they make emotionally underwhelming decisions. Its self actualization for them. They tell them selves, “hey I made a great company, I raised funding. I have so many people working for me. I must be doing some thing right”. This is where CEOs/Founders put on a reality distortion field. I call it “i’m all the shit syndrome” it eventually leads to making the startup into shit.

I have lived through my share of startups. Once as a funded founder (what they now call pre series A) and other times as an early stage employee or at leading turn-arounds at struggling startups or corporations.

Every situation has been different. The common thread for success has been only if the CEO was not a prick, selfish or insecure, every time there was a mix of this. The scale took a hit.

I worked with a founder, who had a great idea, made a great company, but was a fuc**ing train wreck when it came to dealing with emotional depth of decisions. Some people are good at ideas, some are good at sales, some pare good at starting companies some are simply great at being lucky. He was a mix of luck and perseverance.

The same people are not good at leadership or getting their hands dirty and getting into the weeds. They do have one fantastic quality, they pick amazing launch teams, they know who to empower but never learn to let go. They confuse empowerment with ownership and that’s when it breaks down. I have seen it one too many times.

Some times the same people should be replaced as the CEO, as they destroy the very company culture they wanted to build. Its actually not their fault. Their investors must be shot as must their board members for not seeing though this.

If you are an investor; let the CEO go, good shit happens when you do. Know a company called Apple? They once let their founder go. (Agreed that kind of stuff is once in lifetime but it does happen and then they make movies about it.)

If they stay they destroy the essence of growth and scale with their own insecurities and immaturity when dealing with scale. The co relation of ones title vs real experience and on ground expertise is not the same thing. Lots of CEOs get delusional with they first become millionaires. Boards get it wrong daily. So do investors. Its really not the CEOs fault. Typically it’s the first time, a founder is such a role and they royally s*rew up.

Research has shown that when you take some one who lives in a 1200 sq foot apartment and move them to a luxury suite of a hotel with full turn down service, they still continue to clean up after them selves. This holds true even weeks in to the change of their surroundings.

Initially its about the guilt of “being middle class”, its almost surreal to have people wait on you. Worse, judge you? Its naturally difficult for the brain to take on scale or change in scale. In this case the scale of ones surroundings changed, yet the brain is still living in the 1200 sq foot apartment. This is what it distills down to.

They may have grown from a 2 person or a 10 person company to a 1000 person company but some times they still cant deal with turn down service. This is when the CEO completely f**ks every thing up.

The good news is, there is always time to fix it.

They are in a dark place, every time there is investor pressure, they want to tweak stuff and they cave in to making bad decisions. Their mind is flourishing in the luxury suite, which is their new scaling business, but their soul is stuck in their 1200 sq foot apartment and their body is deteriorating.

Tweaking is the worst thing that happens as an outcome of board pressure. If you see your founder doing stupid shit, call them out. Some tell tale signs are being passive aggressive, lack of trust, gradually firing the teams that helped build the company, under the guise of “change”.

Its typically a death warrant when CEOs hire “buffer” “adult” staff to fire the other founding team members. Its like the Mafia, the God Father has others doing their dirty work. Sadly the dis-connect is, that in the Mafia you only make God Father after you have been personally responsible for making “people offers they couldn’t refuse” not hire Capos to do the dirty work and make God Father. You have to pay your dues to society. But in the tech/startup world, you can have the illusion of doing this back words and making it work. Typically it does not.

The change is already under way, it’s the founder who cant deal with it. A lot of good people and good companies get fu*ked over by a founder who cant distinguish between fear and the need to execute.

Also with your first few million $ you feel invincible as a consequence, I’ve seen most founders family lives take a turn for the worse after a liquidity event. Their lack of emotional maturity destroys the fabric of most relationships they had prior to being “wealthy”.

Whilst Key Man clauses are all the rage, some times it’s the Key Man who is no longer required. Let them hold on to their shares, let them be Chairman of some audit committee or a comp committee, but get them out while you are still ahead as the investor. Ive seen great companies loose their hockey stick scale when the key man was acting like a key a** hole.

Such CEOs and Founders are in a bad place, they are going through the best and the worst time of their lives, they need every ones compassion and true advice. The ones that deal with it, lead awesome companies. There ought to be syndrome similar to imposter syndrome but not really the same; that the founder is going through so that they get the care they need.

They are victims of their own success. Help them, help them selves and save great companies. **




**investors and board members the only people who can influence this are you guys.

Bhai Thora Sa AI bhi dikha dayna. Aur koi acha digital samaan bhi.

Middle class Pakistanis should not be given credit cards. Because it gives them access to the business lounge at airports. Whilst I do not mean to demean any one, given I’m part of the same hypocrisy. I was blown away recently by a conversation.

So let me put some ground rules down, I am curious by nature, I had an hour to kill and the whole lounge could hear what I’ve put down as the title of the post. Now its time to fill in the blanks for you so you know the events leading up to that monumental day.

I was minding my own business actually catching up on some pre read before a meeting. With my headphones blazing some Ustad Pathanay Khan. I could hear 2 super loud folks in the lounge going at it. It was like a dinner conversation yet they were at a fair distance. Just couldn’t ignore it any more.

After listening to their conversation it become fairly evident why banks are getting hacked. In 2 mins of listening to both of them I got 2 piece of information. Their names and that they work at some bank. So as with every thing in life, I Googled “Person 1 Name + Bank + VP”

Then I Googled “Person 2 Name + Bank + IT + Payments”

3rd image on Google search bought both these clowns at the famous bank signing ceremony pictures our industry takes. Guys with dis proportionately sized ties awkwardly above their bellies, typically red. Some pastries and yellow cake sitting on the table. I was aghast. This was too easy. What was worse, one of these dudes was a CIO. My next instinct was to make sure by next banking day I had no money at this Bank.

I wanted to mind my own business but the nuggets of wisdom being thrown in the conversation at a pitch and volume would make it seem like that “person1” the younger of the two. Wanted his presence to be felt. New pair of Jeans, check. Brand new fake Tag, check, Requisite 3 phones. One Iphone 2 andorid devices, check. (Don’t ask it’s a new thing, it’s a form of external importance affirmation)

He called some one. From memory this is what I remember. That’s when this got beyond interesting and border line retarded.

“Beta, Sir aur main aa rahay hain bas tou laadlay, VIP service honi chaye. Demo bhi lush karwana. Aur bhabi bhi aa rahi hain, full ghoomnay kay bandobast karwa layna”

Then he turns to his boss, says, sir wahan whats app nahin chalta, aur unka apna google hay. Buddu. (Whatsapp doesn’t work there, + they have their own Google/Baidu). Music to my ears, only one place on the planet that rhymes with that. Its called China.

So boy wonder, Boss and Mrs Boss were going to China. What I couldn’t figure out for the life of me was, what the fu*k for. It seemed like one of those vendor sponsored trips to buy hard ware or some shit.

No less, then he asked them to get Wechat, both mr and mrs did so or struggled with the setup. Mr was VP at the said bank and operational leader for Digital(per his bank profile). He had to be shown how to download the app. It was an other 20 min ordeal for all three to make an account. Then using the said Wechat, boy wonder got some tea and started pacing in front of me and said

“Haan beta, fit chal raha hay. Ive told every one that whatsapp etc wont work. Acha sun. Bhai Thora Sa AI bhi dikha dayna, na yaar. Aur koi acha digital bhi. Bahut door say aa rahay hain, Aur koi video unlock type scene bhi to dikha day na. Yaar suno time lay lo, we will stay for 4-5 hours, sab item achay dikha day na. Yaar Pakistan main sab bank Artifical Excellence laga rahay hain. To tumharay solution bhi AI honi chaye. (FML).”

I died a little inside, the bank didn’t matter, the persons “Attire/otherwise known as dressing” didn’t matter, the fu**ing conversation killed me. Here we had two reasonably senior guys, well senior enough by designation and access to have their profiles in the about section of their bank.

It made me laugh at first, then it made me sad a whole lot of sad. This whole f*cking hero worship of “puranay loag” especially at banks and hiring under qualified clearly “parchi” type CIOs is not going to lead us to innovation. These guys don’t even have the fu**ing background to innovate, the only know how to f**king buy hardware and software given this demonstration that too is debatable. So if any of you are counting on these guys to build Pakistans first indigenous bank fired payments or settlement solution, this fucker thought AI means Artificial Excellence. I would have not been compelled to write an article had it not been for the next step.

His boss the old man finally got a wechat account going, he asks the young guy, yaar password kia rakhna ho ta hay. He said sir, who apni bank wala dal lain “************” . Clearly im not going to put it there. But trust me a friend told me, it seemed like a universal password across devices, accounts, platforms, services.

Not all banks or people are made equal and im not trying to diss banks. But clearly with this kind of public display of stupidity could have resulted in serious consequences if the audience had some creative people and not yours truly.

Whilst your credit card like mine may give you access to the lounge, don’t give others access to your Bank or to your lives by publicly being stupid.




The Game of Assumptions. Road to Pakistan’s GMV

This is joint post by Jawwad Farid & Faizan Siddiqi *

Before we start let us all take a deep breath and try to ascertain what GMV means.

Gross Merchandise Volume

From Wikipedia

Gross merchandise volume or GMV is a term used in online retailing to indicate a total sales dollar value for merchandise sold through a particular marketplace over a certain time frame. Site revenue comes from fees and is different from the dollar value of items sold.

GMV or gross merchandise value for e-commerce retail companies means sale price charged to the customer multiplied by the number of items sold. For example, if a company sells 10 books at $100, the GMV is $1,000. This is also considered as “gross revenue”. In this case, the business model is based on a retail model, where the company basically purchases the items, maintains inventory (if need be) and finally, sells or delivers the items to customers. It does not tell the net sales or actual amount of audited services as GMV does not include discounts, costs involved and returns of products.

GMV Estimation

  1. In order to estimate GMV we could use three possible methodologies.A top down approach that starts off with a single piece of data from an authentic and well respected source and builds up an educated estimate on top of it
  2. A bottom up approach that tries to piece together the market size based on what we know of local market participants. We pick the top 20 players, add up the sum of their GMV, scale it up by a factor of 30% to 40% and voila we have estimate number .
  3. A forward looking approach that ignores current data looks ahead 5 years to see where our market is likely to be and work backwards from that figure for estimate number 3.

With all three approaches the objective is to keep the assumptions (moving parts) to a minimum and base the model on at least one authentic, publicly reliable data point.

In the absence of transparent market based disclosures, the true answer will likely be found somewhere in between using some exotic mix of all three approaches.

To illustrate the mechanics for purely illustrative and educational purposes we will use one approach to make a simple point. Any analysis we do at this point is going to be completely irrelevant a year down the road. Perhaps even sooner, but to have a conversation and to understand the real potential of the scale of what is to come.

Given the direction this market is going and given how this specific movie has played in other developing markets before us, the current market size or efforts to estimate it are useful for educational purposes only. You can’t put them to work or use them for deal making, acquisitions or valuations given the disparity you are likely to run into when it comes to projecting the next 5 years. Nothing is constant over 5 years let alone what we are about to project out. It can no less be a basis for getting in on the action.

Model One. SBP data set

Let’s begin with a look at the most basic of our collection of known documented facts. The source for all three statements below is the State Bank of Pakistan Annual review report of 2017.

  1. E-Commerce in Pakistan has 571 merchants offering their products online. During FY 17, 1.2 million transactions valuing PKR 9.4 Billion were processed through ecommerce[1]. Using the current exchange rate of 105.25 that translates roughly into USD 89 million – the share of the local ecommerce pie captured by credit and debit cards.
  2. There are 17.9 million debit cards and 1.2 million credits cards issued by the banking system.
  3. The 9.4 billion and 1.2 million transactions suggest an average ticket size of USD 74 per transaction.

Remember that these are all unadjusted figures. We can use them as is but its best to account for and adjust some items that may impact local market size estimates.

The likely case

We take the USD 89 million figure and trim it to account for local ad spend on Google/Facebook platforms. This trimmed figure then get scaled up since a large chunk of local e-commerce pie uses cash on delivery or COD. We put in a range of values for the distribution between COD and cards and generate our final total market size estimate.

There are two key variables.

  1. The adjusted figure that represents the share of credit cards in local ecommerce sales. We can round this up to total ecommerce sales using the second variable below.
  2. The share of COD in local ecommerce sales. If we know the dollar amount of card sales, we can use the COD component to scale up total sales.

We can plug in a range of values for both parameters and see the possible range for total market size. When we do this we end up with the grid below.

Here is how you read the grid. There are two bands that represent the two parameters. The row on top (US$) and the column on left (%) that we use for navigating to the estimated value.

The row on top gives the trimmed down estimated figure that represents the share of credit cards in total ecommerce sales. It ranges between values of US$ 30 to US$ 80 million. The column on left gives the percentage share of COD in total ecommerce sales. It ranges between 25% – 95%

The table below has 5 distinct colored bands. The one that we are interested is the light green 3×3 matrix with bold figures that represents values on which consensus can be built. Primarily because these are values that we see across vendors we track and talk to. Anything outside the grid is certainly possible but is not supported by credible, authentic, publicly available data points. If you have data that contradicts these points and are willing to share it, we will be happy to update this analysis.

The range in this specific grid is between US$ 100 to US$ 500 million per year. The likely answer for estimated GMV is somewhere between US$ 333 million to US$ 500 million based on this model.

Which implies that our trimmed down estimate for credit card share is somewhere between US$ 50 – US$ 70 million and our estimated COD share of total sales is between 85% – 90%. Market feedback suggests that the COD share could be as high as 95% but we are happy with our 90% estimate.

Now that we have these two values, we can dig a bit more and see if we can find additional data points that would support or challenge these assumptions.

There are also two new questions that we need to answer. Both deal with growth.

  1. At what rate is the ecommerce market growing?
  2. If it keeps growing at this rate for another five years what would be the total market size? Would it be large enough to be of interest to serious money?

These questions are of interest because they allow us to tackle the same problem from another angle. Where will things be 5 years down the road? From that specific perspective how attractive or unattractive does the current market or market valuations look right now?

This is the question we should really be asking ourselves. How big will the total pie be in 5 years? Using the midpoint of US$ 400 million from above and a 30% annual growth rate for the next 5 years we end up a rough estimate US$ 1.5 billion.

That is the limit of our current analytical tools. We are bound and married to data in the visible spectrum. When we stretch the visible spectrum our numbers become questionable.

Time to throw this analysis and this model out of the window for one simple reason.

We used a similar logical rational step by step model to estimate the projected future share of smart phones in the local market in 2009-2010. The objective was to project actual smart phone in use in Pakistan in 2015. Two of our smartest analysts and a data czar took part in the exercise. With hindsight our estimate was off by about 97%. It was good thing our analysis was not released for public consumption.

Model Two – The alternate forward looking perspective

When compared to our nominal GDP basis the figure of US$ 1.5 billion is not exciting. It looks great compared to your current size but it is actually quite depressing and unlikely for reasons that we will just highlight.

One hint is the metric that measures the size of the internet economy as percentage of total GDP. The G-20 benchmark[2] for this metric is 5.5% with some economies seeing values as high as 12%. Given the availability of 4G data, the affordability of smart phones, the increasing share of data enabled phones in local phone sale and the growth of online retailers in the local economy, our benchmark figure is likely to rise.

Before you flag or question the G-20 metric let’s take a look at G-20 membership. In addition to the developed world, the G-20 also includes the following countries – India, Indonesia, Argentina, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. We are not just talking about North America or Western Europe, some of these markets are quite similar to our own in terms of cell phone penetration, population demographics, data usage and middle class growth trajectories.

Now back to the GDP. Our estimated GDP figure on a nominal basis for 2017 is US$ 304 billion. 5 year later in 2022 this figure will hit US$ 380- US$ 400 billion using the current growth rate of 5%.

US$ 1.5 billion in ecommerce sales represents less than 0.4% of our current nominal GDP. The G-20 benchmark by 2022 is estimated to be between 7% – 12%.

Our actual number 5 year later is likely to be at least 2%. Improving logistics, lower reliance on COD, higher consumer confidence, removal of payment system frictions, better service quality, more polished players, better supply chain management, higher fulfillment rates, growing middle class, increasing prosperity and spending power are all factors that will play a part in increasing the base rate.

Some of us in the analytics world think that since we have already skipped a few steps in ecosystem evolution, our actual share may be even higher.

But let’s not be too greedy. Let’s stick with that 2%.

That 2% translates into a market size of US$ 7.6 – US$ 8 billion in 2022.   At 4% you are looking at US$ 15 – US$ 16 billion. Our current “hand waving magical wand in the air” market size estimate is US$ 400 million.

What happens to a market when it jumps from US$ 400 million to US$ 16 billion in 5 years?

When a market jumps from US$ 400 million to US$ 16 billion do you really care if your original market estimate was US$ 400 million or US$ 650 million?

If you sold out at US$ 400 million and the market jumped to US$ 16 billion… Let’s not even go there. You would be what we would define as a sucker.

If you have the staying power for 5 years, I think it’s time to buy some online real estate. If you had the foresight to buy it and have credible business management skills, it’s not time to sell, it is time to hang on to it because you are in for the ride of your life.

In English, please.

So here is what all of the above means in simple English. In case you don’t like spending too much time with tables or on numbers.

The current numbers out there, made popular by the usual suspects range between 110$M TO 170$M. The state owned official nice to have figure is 1 billion by 2020[3] subject to usual qualifications.

The question to ask your self is, if you were pitching those numbers because you work at an ecommerce store/ allied business, would you really be dumb enough to get out now or do you just need an exit valuation so you don’t get past the hype cycle you created yourself? Bonus pool? Contract renewals? End of the line?

The time is now. Raise capital and stay afloat. Sit down and plan out the long game. There is no point to get out now, as you are in the driving seat or at least have a shot at it (you know who you are). If you are cash rich it is time to diversify. Buy some of the really crazy plays out there. 500 odd players is not large enough for a country of this size and the volume we are talking about.

Imagine getting into DHA Phase 8 in 1997-98. Everyone was selling, the city was on fire, valuations were crap, sentiments and basements were both underwater and people laughed at you if you even mentioned buying real estate in Karachi. And then to make matters worse dollar account were frozen and sanctions were in place.

If only you had listened we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now and you wouldn’t need to work today.

This promises to have the DHA/Bahria style returns the average saiths are looking for – Not 10X but 100X if you call it right and have staying power. If you know what you are doing and you have the right people on side to help you scale and sustain. This isn’t for every one. Most people will die due to inexperience, greed and timing challenges. Only a few will survive.

Here is another kicker for my many friends shopping for exits and posting pictures with our esteemed friends from China. What we must all realize, is that if a Daraz type transaction goes through, it does zero for the ecosystem.

Most if not all the money exchanges hands out side of Pakistan and no value is created till such time that a new operator/player is fully involved domestically. All they buy is a brand and a functional site, albeit well known and mostly with other sister properties regionally. A regional/geographic play for the buyer and if the price is right, a fantastic one in 5 years.

Yayvo and the lot, if a transaction does go through, the buyer actually buys a really big tongue twister. A race to the bottom with out VC money to burn. Race to the bottom (cutting price) type outfits are really not needed.

The data in its true form shows that you don’t need to underprice to deliver. Investors must ask what is the rocket science in selling product at steep discounts funded by their dollars? It is the oldest question for sales team – anyone can sell at a discount – why do we need you?

The market has the appetite for real players with real service. More so if you own data, fulfillment, delivery, service quality and warehousing. Beyond self-promotion on social platforms and hashtags the substance is lacking or lost in translation. If hashtags were GMV all these social media types would be billionaires.

All others who aren’t in a race to the bottom or a rush for quick exits in the end will do better. Write this down on a piece of paper and look at it when people mention exits. Just two words, two syllables. Long Term.

A small slice of a US$ 15 billion dollar pie goes a long way. Not everyone will make it to the table or have the appetite to sit or stay on it. Those who do will all have one thing in common. A healthy respect for other people’s money and the ability to play the long game.

* All the nice informative bits in this piece including the easy to read tables in color were crafted by our resident numbers guru Mr. Jawwad – ask the right question – Farid. I would recommend a google search, if you haven’t met the gentleman or crossed his path. He is even more polite than his prose in real life as long as you don’t mention funding or short term exits in his presence.

All the other nasty, waspy, brutal parts that will eventually piss of the ecom/bankers/transaction types were crafted by yours truly.

[1] State Bank of Pakistan, Annual Review, 2017. Page 25. This is the first year that this number was tracked and reported by the central bank. That by itself is a market action trigger.

[2] The Internet economy in the G-20, Boston Consulting Group, 2013-2014

[3] Source PTA Annual Report, 2016/17

**k your Accelerator / Saith Investor & get ready for an IPO

Are you an Entrepreneur with either 100k MAU or between 30-40% Margins in your business(Not Just Tech)? Are you struggling to scale beyond this? Read on.

Are you interested in Scale? Chinook Strategy will invest its resources for an 8%-10% revenue share to either lead you to a desirable seed round, exit, IPO or institutional buy out. Provided you have the right stuff. For this lifetime opportunity CS will take 8-10% equity on the total exit value, it may choose to continue to retain its shareholding or liquidate it, depending on where the wind blows. It’s a better deal than the XYZ 60+ investor will give you for “Total Control of Your Corp” for a 100k or 20k:)

We aren’t interested in Me2 apps unless you have the users to prove us wrong 🙂 , we aren’t interested in “to be built” products or ideas, this is not a VC deal to fund your dreams, this is to take your dreams and add growth capital and fuel to it. If you are in business you better be incorporated, ideally a Delaware corporation, if not, then you must be ready to take the right advice.

If you don’t have audited books and a clean tax bill of health esp if you are post revenue, you better have a very compelling reason to get in touch. If you are pre revenue but 100k MAU and are happy to be compliant with all taxation/incorporation items do connect with us.

This is patient capital, we patiently hope that for our connections, advice & fund raising to help us earn out : we take a rev share to capitalize the value of our time in the books of the business. Any incoming financial transaction is valued in relation to our capitalized value in addition to a max 10% equity sweetener. No we aren’t greedy, we are just plowing back the time we will invest with you. Nothing is free in life not even our time and advice. We will only take 5 mandates a year, we already have 2 for 2018. So we decided to change things around for the new year and share this as a post.

So consider this, we are a pay for performance 10x growth accelerator you didn’t have access to, but we take no equity upfront if you don’t grow we don’t cash out. If revenues do grow, our continued interest grows with our 8-10% rev share component. If you have no sales we will explain how the 8-10% will work in your case.(But if we have to explain you may not be ready for prime time yet).

If this excites you and you want to work with real people who have grown shit to 10-15x growth and have IPO, Exit and real world experience in tech deals and whose names dont end with Sahab or Sir. Please leave a comment with your email address and a url or initial details about your business, some one will get back to you and share detailed next steps.


The Worlds Biggest Startups & The Men who run the largest Accelerator @ Scale

I bet you are thinking to your self you already know the answer to this question. If I was a betting man, I would wager that you didn’t, or at the very least it would not be your first guess any way.

Saudi Arabia doesn’t come off as easily as MTV(Mountain View) or SFO(San Francisco) or Bay Area, but you cant be blamed for it just yet. What you are seeing in the news are select choice public placements in the news.

Allowing women drivers to drive, the re opening of theatres . These items have been in the making since MbS took an active role in things. (MbS you ask ? or as lovingly referred to as HRH.Mohammad Bin Salman the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia). None of these news items are accidental; there is a massive transition about to happen, the jury is out on the what and how and when. It has been in the works for quite some time. These are not reactionary moves to say the very least. This is the time of MbS and in line with Vision 2030  which was formally ratified  by the Saudi cabinet as the National Transformation Program, it provides a blueprint for a kingdom that offers less charity and more austerity. It calls for Saudi Arabia to reduce its dependence on the energy sector, privatize state-owned enterprises, and cut state largesse. A lot of players in Saudi Arabia, want to do the following

1) Create Quick Jobs for Locals but meaningful jobs
2) Create diversification away from oil
3) Encourage locals to get involved and out of their comfort zones
4) Create Education and vocational opportunities
5) Divert subsidies to building long term human capital as opposed to a young population reliant on the state

No one in Saudi Arabia it self wants to talk about this stuff, internet crack downs and mis-understand on both ends of the aisle. The trust deficit and wholesale non police state image will be a tough sell, albeit it has to start.

Red sea resorts  and corniche investments and re development programs are part of a longer strategy it seems but that stuff is not going to happen over night.

Here comes the other force in this game, not lesser known by any stretch of the imagination but clearly not as famous as MbS but an equalizer in the dynastic politics when it comes to social/economic reform. Mr Adel Fakeih the honorable minster of Economy and Planning.

He clearly does not have an easy task. The kingdom is on an Uber ride to modernization and diversification and we all know whats going on with Uber.

Under the belly of the beast are some phenomenal items, that you can be forgiven to have missed but the sheer importance of those is a definite sign in the changing of the guard. It is good for the Muslim world and for the world at large. Imagine your rich cousin all of a sudden had a change of heart and opposed to sponsoring or funding its brand of politics its funding startups. Three cheers.

So did you know Saudi Arabia just had its first-ever YouTube FanFest in March 2017, Pakistan it is my estimate has roughly between 30-32M Monthly Active Viewers yet we dont get that kind of love from YT. Pakistan is considered a “security risk” yet Saudia isnt, let me not get into the politics of it all. But Google understands the value of having a friendly government in place as these restrictions ease of and is putting in bucket loads of concessions and resources to make YT work in Saudi Arabia.

Based on public information peppered in press releases by the best PR Machines on the planet, Google. This is what the YT data looks like :

The number of YouTubers in the MENA region have tripled in the region in the last three years. In Saudi Arabia, watch-time has grown by 50 percent and by 65 percent on mobile in 2016. More than 50 channels in MENA have more than one million subscribers, more than 20 of those in Saudi Arabia. Last year, the kingdom witnessed a 100 percent growth in total uploads coming from Saudi Arabia. The kingdom contributed a third to the total watch-time of the MENA region in 2016. 

The key stat buried in this presser is essentially this. 1/3 total watch time in the entire mena region comes from Saudia. Any surprises, there are literally no activities in the kingdom pertaining to entertainment,  culture, theatre etc. With the vast majority of population being young and no access to open television either, YT is filling the void.

A nation whose young are diabetic, Saudi Arabia has the second highest rate of diabetes in the Middle East and is seventh highest in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).The prevalence of diabetes is in Kingdom is at an alarming level Over 25 percent of the adult population is suffering and that figure is expected to more than double by 2030. Half of the people over 30 years of age are prone to diabetes.

You cant brush all this stuff under the carpet, these are life style diseases and the lifestyle must change.

So what about the worlds biggest startup and incubator and what not have you?

Look around you, Saudi Arabia is doing startup building, funding, large scale growth at state level funding with 2$T to back its ambitions. The country is both incubator and accelerator and its own largest market as a burgeoning young population emerges. In a society like Saudi Arabia, there is no real middle class, when these startups disrupt the status quo, create jobs, it will create new wealth, which will create a self sustaining ecosystem outside of the compounds of Aramco.

They have started without you and me really knowing. They are launching  a massive scale global PR effort to fix their global image. As time has told us, with enough time and money you can fix any ones reputation, look at how people were mourning Hue Hefner, living and dying on his own terms. *Go back click the reputation link and see what a reputational fix means.

So where is this opportunity for Saudi Arabia and others who want to get in on the ground floor of this soon to explode startup ecosystem? But their startups may be bigger than your startups, may even be bigger than the GDP of some countries. It will be interesting no less. Here are some things that come to mind as an outsider looking in.

  1. Al Jazeera is done in Saudi Arabia, content and news aren’t.  Saudi Arabia needs its brand of news dissemination services. It is already late to that party.
  2. With such prevalence of diabetes, if the population is too sick to do shit, thats all they will do in the end, so the stage is wide and clear for innovation in life style products that capitalize on the geographic terrain of Saudi Arabia.
  3. People are watching YouTube because its content created by their own, so a huge content play is missing in Saudia, the first person to build and dominate a Saudi brand of teen /adolescent engagement via video will rule the airwaves in any format. Digital, OTT, Linear, what ever. People are dying for content.
  4. Tech, will win big, here is why. Have you ever been to a mall in Saudi Arabia? go to a GAP, select an item, go try it in on. Oh you just realized there are no changing rooms. So what you must do is you go to the malls bathroom and try it on. So how does tech fix this, e-commerce and last mile brings products to home. TV,  home shopping, ecommerce they creates massive back end employment.
  5. An other one that baffles my mind is a huge huge play on street numbering and maps + a SaudiEx like FedEx , there is no street naming to enable parcel deliveries(At large) most of it is PBOX driven and even on google maps and other data is sparse.  The national address system a good effort in the right direction only has 3M customers and 4.5 Million registered addresses for a population of 33M people. So the journey has only started. Again there is no innovation there, its state run and bland.

Heres what wont work and why

  1. Just importing talent (many years of that already evident) since the average person cant even get to Saudi Arabia without a hassle free visa process and further immigration nightmares its not the default location for the best talent to show up. America for all its quirks works because for most of the world it is still easy to get in and stay in.
  2. Launching actual incubators and accelerators for tech alone, because who will run them? who will be part of them? where is the ecosystem, will you import your muslim brothers startups from say Pakistan or Indonesia? Then what happens? There wont be any shape shifting till Saudi Investors and investment funds go out and invest in the startups of these great nations and build investor confidence. Much like the American who then repatriate their best talent using L1 Visas. Saudis need the same, also No ITS NOT cool to hold on to my passport when I come to your country. So a lot of that has to change too.
  3. Move away from Branch Plant mentality. Look around you, every thing Saudia has is a branch plant of some big company, Toyota, Honda, GE and many more and then you add the franchises and the whole country is the SUM of other people innovations. Every entity is just a surrogate. That has to change, dollars can help change that, but it cant fix it over night. A lot of systemic change has to happen for this to really become effective. No amount of money can fix generational items over night the right strategy can fix it, no less in time.
  4. They need to be able to have outsiders operate out side of fear. Hence perception must change, people must be free and able to discuss things. That will be the first step towards building a startup culture. Saudi Aarabia doesnt need any more yes men or consultants, its already spend 1.5bn$ in 2015 on consultants.

Mckinsey already does that job really well there. According to the Financial Times, Saudi businessmen have sarcastically dubbed the Ministry of Planning as the “McKinsey Ministry.” If the pattern seems familiar, it is. The company teams up with young heirs to the throne, who are eager to make their countries’ economies conform to their vision of the future. A less palatable similarity for someone like Prince Salman is how many of the countries who drank the McKinsey Kool-Aid became epicenters of the Arab Spring. Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Yemen — each was convulsed by demonstrations, often animated by economic grievances.

 McKinsey’s approach to reforming foreign governments is dangerously flawed. The company’s school-lunch approach to economic reform — one size fits all, regardless of appetite and culture — makes no effort to consider each country’s unique history or social background. It also fails to consider whether the recipient’s political structures are robust enough to withstand the unrest that often emanates from job losses, privatization of state-owned enterprises and social services, subsidy cuts, and increases in the cost of living.

Coming back to point 2 above. Ecosystem and Startups, you can be forgiven for missing the news of a 100bn$ fund that the Saudis have setup up along with SoftBank out of Japan. So there will seemingly be a best buy moment for Saudi Arabia and Softbank they can go to the tech candy store and make more investments like the 3BN$ one the Saudis did earlier in UBER. This is the new reality and they are the new investors in town, they will need to look beyond their shores to fuel long term growth within their shores.  The initiative they have kick started to amounts to future shock for a conservative society. Specific targets include tripling non-oil revenue by 2020, to roughly $141 billion, and the creation of 450,000 jobs outside the government sector.

So my question to  Pakistani entrepreneurs is, are you ready because a funding revolution is coming to a city near you.

“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the Strong but time and chance happen to them all”

How SMART is your Pipe? Are you building Smart Services yet?

No I am not talking about the latest fad in smoking accessories , i.e the e-cigarettes or e-pipes. I am talking about data/telecom pipes. I am talking about Jazz, Telenor, Zong and Ufone. I guess to differentiate every player has to have its own strategy on consumer engagement and retention. Frankly I see much of the same every where.

You can choose to be in the dumb pipe business or you can be in the smart pipe business, but what I am seeing is mere confusion in this space. Carriers are loosing their ground it on what their public facing strategy is or should be. Pipe or no pipe, the years of un-federated growth with out really trying are seemingly coming to an end and every body is re inventing their story. Or coming up with illusions of really glitzy digital ones.

In no particular order, Jazz is bringing Veon. A content + We chat style play, a cursory look on Veons site has the standard market data numbers to make a case for why they are the latest and greatest and how growth numbers support their vision :

The evolution of new platforms, like mobile financial services in Pakistan, is both generating additional sources of revenue whilst accelerating financial growth. The expansion of mono-brand shops in Algeria and the introduction of branded smartphones will accelerate data adoption. The rapid take-up of social network usage in Bangladesh shows the potential for self-serve, e-commerce and new content partnerships.”

The only news worthy item in this whole statement is the part around content partnerships. Which could be promising. But my fear in this space is that, most if not all Telco’s cant even get their basic consumer facing items right in this country yet. So a content play and getting that strategy right is a big question mark when their current app launch pitches are calling 20 agencies and requests are going as off center as “digital amplification plans for the new year”.

Its one thing to control and grow what you have vs. what you don’t. They haven’t done any advancements yet on the part of the value chain they own, to go down the path of importing “made as Dutch**” technology and implanting it in Pakistan. Which really has a limited use case besides some new injection of capital inter company and hiring of new folks in this space. The amount of time and energy needed to just build partnerships is cringe worthy.

**If you are old enough to remember the accessories of the Suzuki Motor company that were locally made via self professed OEMs in the 80s, used to say Made as Japan an ode to the quality of its Japanese counterpart.

This Veon thing is what Mobilink did with mobicash-to Jazzcash transition to now it seems a full blown marketing effort to potentially even re brand the whole carrier as Veon. It seems the writing is on the wall for an other execution strategy to rival the blunders of yesteryears. But its not because of Jazz its because of Veons global ambitions(formerly Vimpelcom) on building a unified brand.

It is but absurd why some one would co-opt content to any Telco, unless they also make money on the traffic or the data it self? To enable a Telco to eat away from the pie of digital content already being produced and consumed is not a long term strategy that makes the size of the pie bigger its at best a land grab for eye balls by borrowing some one else’s content, till you can produce native content or buy the content companies (if that happens it could be interesting). It is strange what is happening in this space vs. what should logically be happening. There is a lot of talk and little to no action. The avg linear content producers and their sales drones get excited when the Telcos approach them because they don’t understand the value of their own data/content. In its infancy it is a parasitic relation ship at best.

Whilst we are on Jazz and I continue to call them Mobilink in my mind, the following statement all but made me laugh. Jazz could be buying out startups, completely or maybe partially, during days to come, said the CEO of Jazz in an exclusive interview” . I don’t know how exclusive the interview was, but if this is what the CEO of a major Telco is angling it, this has to be by far the saddest news for the tech ecosystem at large.

I mean which CEO is this un sure and if you did want to release some market making news, don’t say “partially or completely” till you have a way forward and a strategy. It almost sounded like hmm I may buy a 6inch Sub, no wait, lets make it a foot long, I’m not sure how hungry I am.

Its all about appetite and the wiring to make these decisions, buying companies is not just like acqu-hiring ppl and giving them new badges and having them show up to work at your offices. Mergers & acquisitions, how ever small need planning, post acquisition integration and teams to lead the charge in making sure the acquisition executes as desired. From the looks of this comment alone, it seemed like a really half baked response which shows the over all attitude of this industry unfortunately. Too big to fail is what comes to mind and a mandatory watch for all these strategy doling pundits at Telcos.

Most of them must thank their lucky stars they got where they are by persistence, perseverance and political agility, but most of all by being at the right place at the right time(as not enough expats had the desire to operate in these markets) and they should not mistake their years spent to be directly proportional to their future relevance and contribution.

It takes one Real MVNO to come to this market that is aptly funded to take these guys to task.

Like banking, car manufacturing and other oligopolistic competition in this country and an extremely wishy-washy regulatory structure these guys have protection that in a free un regulated market would lead to an end to their lack of innovation and “khalifa” mind set. I say most if not all of this as a current of past consumer across all the brands.

Then we have Telenor, I think they should get past the easy paisa story(we all get it, thank you) please innovate so we can get past a one trick pony and all. From what industry insiders’ claim, that these guys are building their own ad-exchange. It gives me goose bumps when I hear stories like this and I hope they aren’t true. But if they are, we need to get in on some consulting action here. Clearly people are making some bucket loads of money with an idea that’s circa 2005.

With the astronomical potential of smartening up their pipes and doing attribution studies and segmentation analysis and focus on the core of leveraging that info, all these forays in to B2C type tech where already the likes of Google/FB others play is not a good use of time, unless your CPM rates are like 4x the current monetization available.

The cost of changing how business is done and to not have a demand pipe in a new ad-x will be a killer blow to the content providers who become early adopters and a net new revenue gain for the established players(FB/Google) when this happens. It takes open source code and 3 developers 20 days to build an ad exchange, so there is no pat on the back required for those teams any where. You can fork the code(CEO Alert, Search “Open Source Ad Exchanges to understand what your teams have failed two deliver in the last year or so with this pipe dream of building an exchange) it’s the demand side pipes and the balance of supply side economics that is not a laughing matter.

In a similar vein to Veon, Telenor has Wowbox again I fail to see the purpose. An other play at content when the larger data play is not yet explored. I will come back to it in a second as to what this whole hue and cry is on the smart pipe. Because we must understand what a dumb pipe is first by demonstrating where every one is in their journey.

Lets look at Ufone, I don’t even know whats going on there. They are rarely in the news besides with the Etisalat /pk deal side of things. Some times I see job adverts for digital roles at Ufone, let me share a glimpse.

  • Develop strategy and roadmap for increasing traffic on Ufone corporate website. Ensure the roadmap is implemented in a timely manner.

(My take is, if as a Telco this is your priority and you want traffic to your Corp site and cant do it still, wow, it sucks to be you)

  • Develop strategy and roadmap for increasing downloads and usage of Ufone mobile app. Move customers from standard(USSD, SMS & other featured transactions) to smart transactions on the Ufone mobile application.

(This is promising, but can one manager in-act this social change? What is the corporate strategy and the market data that supports this move to data centric items, you are the Telco. Know who your smart phone users are already, what you need is a Corp strategy and not a digital manager to blame)

  • Increase traffic on Ufone’s Social Media Platforms. Identify new areas of acquisition on the social media front, ensure Ufone’s presence and acquisition of followers on Social Media. Monitor consumer sentiment on social media and take necessary actions based on the dynamic nature of the “overall” sentiment.

(This has to be the shittiest reason in the year 2017 to hire some one, social media likes, plus the statement in itself is not coherent, even the hiring manager has no clue)

  • Increase Sales and usability of the overall digital footprint for Ufone while driving high quality traffic on digital media.

(This is mind blowing, if you are a Telco, you cant drive high quality traffic on to digital media, you need fire whom ever is responsible for your strategy- period. Plus have a serious sit down with your CEO(I mean your board should, if this is the kind of published recruitment ads that our there)

 At least they tried with their new TVC marketing Internet packages to a female entrepreneur audience. If I were the CEO Id ask the head of marketing and sales what the conversion for that is. Also wouldn’t the target segment of that be better served with Google or FB ads? Given the market sizing data, that segment shouldn’t warrant a TVC but that goes to show that its gimmicks and not innovation that drives the fabric of growth at all of these players. Some times just trying some thing new where every one in a circle sits around and claps for you, is good enough. Almost like pre-school circle time.

At least Telenor and Jazz have larger aspirations even though they are going about it in a fairly dis organized way. At least they are keeping up with the buzz words and the social norms of pretending to being “cool digital stuff” like may or may not be buying companies and talking about block chain etc publicly.

Oh and who can forget the new craze of accelerators etc. I mean Telenor and Jazz both should take some cash and fund the incubators to form accelerators, folks who have experience in doing this sort of stuff. All these are major detractors from the real good work that can be done.

So you ask, what is this smart pipe dream?

Let me share some basic examples missing from our telecom ecosystem when it comes to smart pipes/services.

  • Wifi + Data integration to offload calls.
  • Using your back haul to build out the nations most affordable security and home and business monitoring business.
  • Horizontal M2M Platforms, Voice, Messaging and Data APIs for 3rd
  • Telco enabled Identity and Authorization, Advertising and Marketing, Payments. APIs to non-core services and assets.
  • Service provisioning APIs for cross network payments and 3rd party add on services for uses cases the Teclos cant even think of today
  • For all this useless talk on IoT, focus on solving local problems around agricultural yields, enabling farmers, not building market places just yet, micro loans based on credit scoring models around payment histories, providing micro insurance to segments which do not qualify traditional requirements.
  • Setting up an industry forum to anonymize data for the betterment of the Pakistan data/market story. Pool your data and build an organization that is impartial and reports growth and user stats + service stats as an industry number. Use your pipes for greater good and build shared services between your pipes and truly enable entrepreneurship.
  • Make it easy to cross connect/co locate and get shared identity /authentication services across providers (build industry collaborative standards for such info exchanges)

These are some basic ideas I am sure there are many more that much smarter people can come up with. Also please stay away from block chain and bit coin and other stuff you profess at conferences, its not one size fits all model. You are a Telco, focus on your core.

Zong , don’t think I forgot you. You are focusing on Reach and QoS from within the shadows an interesting play. Given you are good at the game of Chinese whispers, it seems to be working in your favor while your peers are so distracted in strategies that may make it a safe tenure for their CEOs as they do not want to do any thing out of their comfort zone. These are nice cushy job and only push hard enough that your career aspirations don’t get messed by any sudden un safe moves.

To Zong, none of this shit matters, its long term strategy comes in an import friendly package, when it arrives in Pakistan it goes to the right offices, its unpacked, defrosted and then re-heated to achieve the same results that the home office has either achieved some where, or wants to accomplish here; in line with their greater strategy for the region. Cant blame them they are truly focused on what ever their puppet masters are deciding from the mother ship.

But both Telnor and Zong aflush with FB cash/time/resources to work on open cellular and open BTS initiatives still give me some hope of the future to come. I just see a mishmash of strategies and no real on ground advancement in the last so many years. I hope for once these resources are put to good use and we get some real innovation coming our way.