Visualise the following. You are launching a business, any business, the end product needs to make it to the consumer and the consumer needs to pay for it. Easy enough, even the US hasn’t solved for this seemingly simple concept at scale and at an affordable price-point. Dont confuse Amazon with the US and play along. Instead of looking to the West for inspiration, time to look East. The Chinese ecosystem has many things no one has, for sure 2 things the Pakistani ecosystem lacks API driven PAAS(Payments As A Service) and programable Logistics/Logistics of Things. So what does this have to do with any thing? Look around you, as nearly every thing is shut down and businesses struggle to survive we need rails to enable the post covid business ecosystem in this country.
Follow along.. Startups in Pakistan or businesses have to solve for both of these issues on their own, most days. Thus ideas that look good on paper don’t scale, because they are DOA(Dead on Arrival) due to the lack of any pre-existing infrastructure to plug into. Conversely if you are in China you can deploy your product or services by plugging into and using pre existing API Rails- what you get in return are cheap easy payments and same-day/next day delivery out of the box. White labelled, transparent. At such a scale that it doesn’t matter who does what leg of the payment or delivery. The price point is so affordable that every one wins as the eco-system grows. The Chinese figured this out long time ago thus witnessing astronomical scale and growth on e commerce and deliveries.
If we look at payments alone, we have nothing in Pakistan that works independent of the VISA or Mastercard Rails, (Granted we have One-link) every one has to pay MDR, but as of Feb at the new rate of between 1.5-2.5%, we barely have functioning IBFT that has no payment hooks built in, let alone prior to Corona even those carried charges not very palatable sans modern day tech bells and whistles. Across the pond Alipay and WeChat Pay are sub-50 basis point & highly available + they have their own verification protocols and one click payment options or alternatives. We continue to use verified by visa and others and burn FX on imported solutions. Our Goal should be to replace Visa and Mastercard with local payment schemes (PayPak any one?) and get on with life.
We can learn from the issues in the West, that despite Paypal, Stripe , Square and the likes thereof , every one still relies on expensive transactions on some one else’ss credit card rails. So masoom Pakistan is no different but just like we leapfrogged from land lines to cell phones we can emulate the China model on this one, or some thing close enough.
Switching gears and looking at Logistics, Alibaba and others in China invested heavily to make sure there were competitive logistics solutions and rails. If we look to the US and Amazon and try to wait or imagine some one will come and build self owned end 2 end logistics rails, likely that will never happen. Whilst Amazon has built an unmatched first mile, last mile logistics service, it has been at the cost of FedEx and doing enough value additions and dollar spend along the way to make sure UPS, and USPS cant keep up. In China there is enough logistics on demand capacity for any one to stand tall on the shoulders of other giants if they decide to ship their product from any where to any where and get paid instantly for it too. We are still struggling to decide who will get an “in principle agreement from the SBP” our ffing tax rupees pay for the folks we need to demand they get with the program vs getting in line and pleasing the makhanchoos who are nearing retirement and continue to be so afraid of the NAB that they better not do some thing exotic. *(tons of good people around too hence what ever progress to date, but its SBP its not Tesla so we must also be realists) These things wont fix them selves, book a tour to the SBP if you havent been. Then ask your self why we need govt policy level intervention. For a comparative see the above image, for benchmarking.
Whilst we are busy fighting the correctness of prose and vernacular of Ramzan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem we should actually be focusing on thinking that if we start a company, a business a service today, we have the luxury to build on top of the work of giants that came before us. We can stand tall on the shoulders of used smart phones and their processors to build mining rigs for example, or use existing networks of others to build adjacencies like using easy paisa agents as a distribution network and reimbursement network.
We take all this for granted, but we are standing on those shoulders like it or not. Evaluated in the our current context we are missing two key shoulders to stand tall on for e-commerce innovation or new biz innovation. PAAS(Payment As A Service) and LOT (Logistics of Things). Both are ecosystem plays, both are driven by less regulation more openness more standardised data exchanges. We are in the wonder-years for both ecosystems. Nothing concrete has been done industry wide, as we are all busy leg pulling and un-doing any thing of substance plus given our genealogy of rent seeking behaviour, we just want to dominate the market and take un-godly profits thus we don’t work collaboratively. We believe in holding all of the pie vs growing the pie.
Show me 2 Desi businesses in Pakistan that have thrived by working together? and the sum of their collaboration being larger than each individual group. This precludes GBM(Growth by Marriage) or MBIB(Merger by In Breeding). Since Ali Baba and JD actually dont have a Baba or Mr جیدی and consequently no vested interests of family or dynastic issues, they have continued to grow, we cant get past Sahab, Sir, Boss.
At a policy level, we now have an IT Minister who you should try and Google, but if you must, you can click on the link to his official profile and fill me in as to what the credentials are; to be justified, to be appointed and why the current Govt refuses to put some one from within their party ranks to the IT Ministry. Is it because they know they will make a cluster out of it and giving accountability to constituents that bring in 3bn$ of inward FX would be a tough one to defend online?
Im sure, MQM would be happy to take some other ministry. Refusing to allow some one credible to help align the national narrative on tech, the government is doing a dis service to all. This Govt has the most Spammers( I meant , SAPMs to the PM. They are like a shadow govt. That shadow govt has its shadow lackeys who are advisors to the advisors to the PM. First we used to have members and secretaries now we have self established foundations and self appointed elves who are running around advising the advisors. Yet there is nothing definitive viz a vi policy around Digital Pakistan. We need less Webinars more work “less narrative building” “less cutting pasting” & “less self-reflection”, abhi juma juma aath din huey hain aur advisory cadres “reflect” kar rahay hain. This is Telenovella level shit.
بھائی کام کر لیں ، چلیں آپ کو تھوڑے سے آئی ڈیاز دییتے ہیں تاکہ آپ بوٹ شوٹ سے آگے بڑھیں
To quote a dear friend, “the state has a role to play, but the state continues to politico-hire/acquihire consumer tech folks from sales, they should at least hire some one from enterprise grade tech who understand ecosystems and frameworks. Else we will continue to build bots and leaderboards to self assess self proclaimed achievements” (JDIQ 2020 April)
On the subject of ecosystems and visions beyond ones own self interest, an other lingering issue every successive incumbent IT Board/Advisors/Mushir/Wazeers in tech have had, is to start competing with the general population. Some one tell me what business we have as govt to setup portals for volunteer doctors, for example https://telehealth.gov.pk/ whilst you have at-least 5 or 6 commercially available tele-health startups/post startups, with scale who could have just turned on the switch to register all the expats. I dont even want to know the effort it took to replicate/emulate pre existing services also the govt is now competing with the same startups who pay tax rupees to the exchequer but this portal wont. This systemic desire to self build to show momentum to count stars in front of the sitaray walas is not optimal.
ham ko ma.alūm hai jannat kī haqīqat lekin
dil ke ḳhush rakhne ko ‘ġhālib’ ye ḳhayāl achchhā hai
Enough digression but there is a reason to share why we are where we are as we continue to be driven by self interest. Before we get #DigitalAnything or #DigitalAnywhere, we need to be self aware, state needs to promote its constituents not compete against it.
We have mis guided ministers and ministries in the logistics space, using the postal service to compete with private players as opposed to working together to enhance the first and last mile of the country. Private parties can bring the tech, the scale and the governance, state can bring the manpower and access to physical distribution in every city of the country. Match made in heaven, one parties precision other parties tax subsidised existence. Similarly for payments, govt needs to get out of the way, SBP is working on their own thing, National IT Board is doing its own consultations, #DigitalPakistan is allegedly also doing some thing. Also don’t forget Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is working on a Micro Payment Gateway with the SBP. When will any of this see the light of day besides consultants circle jerking each other?
Look nothing against any one, but China solves most of its ecosystem issues by having local understanding and local momentum. In our case almost every body solving for #digital #payments #logistics is a recent #Wapistani, beyond the cute hashtags there are serious consequences to this. Basic rule of thumb, Jang Akhbar parhwain and have them write a summary of what the Awaams core issues are?
Whilst Malcom Gladwell’s 10k hours of doing some thing to become an expert has been widely contested, there is some “truth” “Sadaqat” in the fact that most of these people haven’t even lived in Pakistan for 10k hours consecutively before arriving on the scene. In the end not much real Rails are being built for the consumers or for the businesses that really need those Rails- Instead some fantastic social media posts are being generated. As if some one previously left a play book behind. Oh Wait. Yes we already also had that happen:) More on that an other day.
In short, hiring two riders by every business to do localised deliveries and collecting payments wont solve any thing. Baji main larka bhaij dayta hoon cant scale either. Do you think the Chinese used some ghutka eating boys to get where they are? Ride hailing tried to scale it and now the after effects of the gig economy are also all over the place. Like Splatter marks at a bad homicide.
Most of the startups and consumer tech people only know eye balls and don’t know monetisation, Google Pay Still hasn’t turned a dime in India, Deliveroo never made any money and never intend to really get past building scale. We have to look at businesses that have true scale potential whilst being profitable, we need to help build those businesses by creating the rails that they can ride. We need to get past visions of building unicorns, we need to build stable companies that have the ability to self sustain and scale.
What we need to focus on is to find our anchor apps/products or try to have a use case that allows an app to have super app scale. Then we need to go down the path of Mini programs which are lightweight apps that run inside another app (like WeChat, Baidu or Alipay). So that consumers don’t need to download stuff through app stores and constantly look for wifi to upgrade. They make it possible for one app to perform the service of many apps. In a place where not every one has access we need to plan ahead for low friction once we have people with smart/er phones.
Sadly we don’t have any local apps with said traction but we have some that are close, only if the telco dons egos were smaller than the size of the downloads we could get some where. But an other alternate are News sites and their apps given the insane news consumption. It’s time for our #DigitalKalkars to evaluate a new cure and prescribe less of what they already know and more of what others have already done successfully(In China)
An outside-in approach would be for some one to come in, look at all the apps that drive traffic & are local, acquire and build a super app via a single update consolidating say the top 5. Similarly use other peoples digital channels with large audiences. Since whatsapp Biz APIs continue be missing in Pakistan, its time to go build our own tech and migrate our folks across by providing better value, not by danda or shutting down whatsapp locally (wink). Be it news be it any thing else, once aggregated, then work with payments and logistics players to try and take a different approach to solving for PAAS and LOT. Every things needs a platform to scale. Time to get to work, less tweets more products. Build scale and bypass the regulators, apologise later. Every one is willing to forgive some one who helps every one grow.