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 If you are still thinking ad-tech or ad-sales both your game and your mojo are out of date.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)

http://www.sbp.org.pk/acd/branchless/Stats/BBSQtr-Apr-Jun-2017.pdf

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).

http://www.sbp.org.pk/publications/acd/2017/BranchlessBanking-Apr-Jun-2017.pdf

Ad-Spend Data from an earlier post

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

 

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.

 

Alibaba and its Chaalis (40) choices in Pakistan | 阿里巴巴及其在巴基斯坦的40個選擇

These days its seems like not a day goes by and some one or the other publishes a picture, a leaked story, an input a whisper about Alibaba talking to some one in the country. That in it self is fantastic and super exciting. The choices for Ali Baba are literally unlimited in what they do and I have no magic ball to foretell the future. But the implications for Pakistan will either be really good or really bad.

Lets list the public rumors in place over the past week or so.

  1. Alibabas Ant Financial services to acquire stake in Telenor Bank in Pakistan.
  2. TCS putting out pictures of Alibabas visits to Pakistan
  3. Daraz not being far behind saying again some one is buying them, this has been on going since a few months after they came in to being

 

Lets evaluate the Telenor news first, minus the percentage stakes being discussed at this stage that’s immaterial to any one unless you are a shareholder, given you are not, lets focus away from the noise.

 

So if Alibaba does buy out the stake say at 40%, what happens? Look at the shareholding structure above. Whilst the news it self will be great for Pakistan(consumer confidence etc). Just my sense is, the monies wont land here post acquisition the B.V/Dutch Hold Co will probably partake in that transaction. The company is setup for tax optimization and there is nothing wrong with that either, all businesses are setup to maximize shareholder value, there should be no apology expected from Telenor for watching out for their shareholder interest.

So all this celebration of Ant Financial coming to town, could be misguided, as it may not really have any short term benefit unless the government mandates domestic injection, then it’s a different story, given our Chinese friendship that should be a baseline ask. I neither know any info nor do I want to speculate, I am analyzing the data and facts available in the public domain.

What no one is talking about what Alibaba’s entry to Pakistan will mean for digital marketing and advertising and the potential blow it will deal to OLX, Daraz,  Classifieds online and offline and Ad-Networks like FB Audience Network and Google ADX.

You are probably wondering what the sale of shares in a Microfinance Bank has to do with advertising? You cant be blamed for wondering, its simple, some thing you have never heard of, but it is a rising tiger in the world of advertising to rival Google and FB, Its called Alimama .

Launched in November 2007, Alimama (www.alimama.com) is an online marketing technology platform that offers sellers on Alibaba Group’s marketplaces online marketing services. Now that is the real Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that will come to town when/if Alibaba comes here.

Coming back to our friends at Google and FB, they don’t have an office here, they don’t have a presence, the bulk of their advertising revenue are generated through product advertising, FMCGS, CPGS, Brands, Product Pushers. The success of FB viz a vi the advertising agencies they work with, is lukewarm at best, both companies have struggled to keep the conversations ongoing with counterparts in the country. Google has been more serious with boots on the ground, FB is still enjoying the consumer play of people using credit cards to buy ads.

But where is the real commitment to operate in Pakistan a market of over 200M consumers? Perhaps we shouldn’t blame them, has any one from Government really gone to FB beyond data requests and to Google beyond resetting passwords for accounts and offered them a real stake on the ground in the country from location to access to talent to tax breaks to legal protection? If not then we will continue to wait for them to show up at our door step where as other markets that welcome them will prosper.

Look at this example from Amazon,  shopping for a city to bid for amazon to come to it to build a second head quarter. That’s what government commitment is and should be if you want to attract the best.

Given what Google has done in healthcare alone, for a country like Pakistan where Chikungunya and others abound our government should be bending over backwards to invite Verily to de-bug our cities and towns if  it is not interested in the digital play, the human life play should matter.

Lets look at what will happen, when Alibaba in any form comes to Pakistan, they aren’t going to just sit idle and away from the Marketplace business which is their core. When that comes, so will Alimama, that will wipe off the entire value from product listings and classifieds businesses and thus wipe major value of AD Exchanges but wait, there is more, none of this will happen tomorrow. Some specialized verticals may continue to operate but it will be only a matter of time till they also become irrelevant or be bought out in the process.

Google and FB have to  take notice(More FB than Google). That is a fairly tough ask when Google is rightfully busy in the region with India, their interests aligned with launching payment tech (Tez) and their Next Billion obsession. FB on the other hand lacks even the commitment to operate out of market, they roll up from SG to UAE, where the hummus isn’t playing the unifier role it should between the German-Venezuelan + Pakistani mix . The UAE based leadership team responsible for PK has probably come here less than a dozen times. Credit where its due, Google guys are practically here every other week.

If FB , had they not put partnership folks and not just hired entry level talent from this country, would eat away at least 30% of other Ad Networks existing business and probably increase their pie by an other 80%, all they had to do was pay attention, there is still time if the interest level changes. Data is great, but context is the killer, it feels strange to be preaching context to Facebook.

Even beyond FB , WhatsApp related growth could potentially outpace all other business related growth in the months and years to come, no less for that you need to come to Pakistan beyond conferences and meet real businesses and hire customer advocates that have some real experience beyond trips to incubators, it has no real material output for Pakistanis beyond photo ops. Its time for the industry to grow up. Besides pretend to be grown up and promoting  self recognition.

Google is in a far better position, but I fear all their market education that had the best of intent will be ridden out by Alibaba in weeks, months and years to come. Their(Google’s) teams have really done a stellar job to educate the market. Fb is trying hard, they had a better value proposition, its easier to market on FB. Every one uses FB no new account is needed to market, any kid can do it all you need is a credit card ( what happens when the central bank decides that it is no longer cool to loose out 45m$ in FX via card or third party transaction. Invoicing becomes key.) Hence the conversation is much easier from FBs perspective with marketers; the results on the other hand are debatable as are the conversions.

The market is missing a unified sales platform and payments, when both of those arrive, any guesses as to what will happen?

This brings me to TCS/YAYVO, from a Pakistani standpoint that deal makes the most sense for the exchequer, but from a value perspective Alibaba gets more out of buying TCS for logistics and fulfillment than it does to buy Yayvo for e-commerce. (Even if it paid 3/4x Revenues it would be a sweetheart deal)

Neither the TCS Ecommerce brand nor the way the operations are structured offer any thing that 2M$ cant replicate in 6 months. That is all it takes. TCS should be courting Alibaba to offload equity in the overall entity, e-commerce is some thing they should throw in for free. Make no mistake, Alibaba is already Pakistan’s largest e-commerce player by volume, you ask how? AliExpress.

Once FTA between China and Pakistan is sorted out, none of these brands will matter every one already knows Aliexpress, at least they get their products on time. The logistics game is a serious deal, check this out Amazon building an airline/Distro hub.

In the mean while if Alibaba wants to buy some thing to just try out and experiment, its not a bad deal to get Yayvo too. But by way of technology and talent, there is no real value to be driven from Alibaba’s perspective in buying Yayvo. Every other week, some Investment banker, market broker or some one is pitching the Yayvo deal, that is an indicator that they have run out of growth capital. Any plans of grandeur they may have had are actually on hold from the looks of things. Their SKU base is stagnant. Their systems are a mis mash, the sites performance are basic at best. So this is not going to be a tech buy for Alibaba an accu-hire for mid level talent yes for sure.

Which brings us to Daraz, perhaps Alibaba should do real due diligence there. Its simple, buy 5 products a day for a month and deliver to 5 cities a day, figure out the fulfillment ratios vs order placement and go from there. In developing markets that a better test than looking at a PowerPoint deck prepared by some one else.

Daraz will be a multi country Rocket Internet deal involving Alibaba so where-in other markets Rocket may have inherent business or operations value, in Pakistan : besides burning cash on brand building, iffy customer experiences, multiple management team exits and struggling market place/drop shipper experiments they have been consistently underwhelming consumers.

A cursory glance at  FB posts or comments on paid adverts in local publications will tell part of the story. Its not easy being the first here. Just cant blame them alone, they have done more for market making than any one locally has. User sentiment abound. I am sure some one as sophisticated as Alibaba would try to get a discount on the offer given the customer toxicity. No one does “one day sales” better than Alibaba and its singles day, just apply that metric to compute GMV and if all holds true, perhaps Daraz really has value beyond what meets the eye.

Daraz is a foreign owned venture, if Alibaba does acquire Daraz / or its parent co, that money wont see the light of day in Pakistan. Again not a great deal for Pakistan or Pakistanis, the value of the transaction will unlock offshore most likely. Long term e-commerce will come, but short term No cigar.

All these factors to one side, a real funded player in any one of these 3 domains comes to town, it will be good news long term. So heres to hoping that we at least get a true payments play first, every thing else will find its way on its own once that happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Developers….Are you building for the Onavo mindset?

So I was wondering how Facebook identifies upcoming companies, startups , products and competition. How did FB decide to acquire Whatsapp? How does it see traction? What tell tale signs is it mining for? Beyond trends there has to be hard data and user attribution that is allowing it to completely destroy the competition or rather either acquire or copy them.

The secret weapon is Onavo. They came to FB via a 2013 Acquisition.

Onavo was founded in 2010 by Guy Rosen and Roi Tiger; it raised $13 million from Sequoia Capital and others. It provides mobile data usage analytics and helps companies see how their usage stacks up against other companies.

So the stated acquisition goal was to help bolster its internet.org initiative as the underlying sorcery Onavo was doing at the time was measuring and controlling data usage etc. Simplistically speaking, plus it gave FB its first office in the Holy Land, not that they couldn’t go to and build an office in Tel Aviv.

But the added value of the data apps that they built, was what was under its belly, the analytics biz, which gives app makers the ability to gauge how their apps fare on the open market, as well as giving more insight into how people actually use the apps after they’ve downloaded them.

Imagine, Facebook can use that download and user activity data to spot trends in apps that are up and coming, potentially spotting at a very early stage the types of apps that are gaining traction with the public and what the end intent of that app or service or network is.

FB is doing a great job at it, they are approaching potential threats faster, doing more acquisitions faster and also they are not shy any more of copying features once they identify them.

From a Corp Biz Dev standpoint that’s the nirvana of information dis partiy. Facebook’s corporate development team can then check out these companies and enter partnership deals early on in the game — or perhaps just outright buy and hold them .

So my fellow developers from Pakistan, what you need to be working on is stuff that scales and build traction, FB is apparently watching. So instead of focusing our time on Meme Forwarding, we need to figure out how we commercialize a 56m+ internet audience + active daily users to satiate FBs interest. Remember it doesn’t have to make money yet, it only has to have an audience and active user base at scale. They could care less if it makes money. So stop. Pause , calibrate and think. Perhaps you have an idea that by design you can make-work.

Today when I look at Onavos, new and improved app and check out their privacy policy, I can be certain that they are enjoying the oodles of data we are all providing them.

We do not share or sell your personally identifying information to third parties except if we have received your consent or given you notice, or in limited circumstances described in this Policy. For example, we may share personally identifying information with third parties and “Affiliates” (businesses that are or become legally part of the same group of companies that Onavo is part of, including but not limited to Facebook, Inc.) to operate, maintain and enhance the Services, or for other purposes as described below. 

Pretty freaky stuff if you are paranoid about privacy. But if you use FB today you already gave up most of those rights.

Some argue the market size is not large enough and FB really isn’t interested in Pakistan. On the contrary, FB at the moment has product teams working on analyzing the data and insights its getting from FB users from Pakistan as is evident from country specific items showing up within FB. Small subtle hints like Urdu text appearing in shared FB links, the FB OG tags them selves have new undertones supporting some product localization efforts.

Rest assured they are trying to figure out all kinds of sharing habits, they have enough meta data. I wouldn’t be surprised if they become the largest (original) news/information/content source in Pakistan in months and years to come given they have exacting level details on every target demographic and their sharing and consumption habits. Keep this in perspective, every time a marketer sets up a FB campaign for a client, FB has access to that data, they can almost in real time track the full lifecycle of that activity. Similarly the single biggest nugget of information FB has is access to political sentiment data. We will leave it at that, but the Trump campaign apparently relied on FB to Swing voter sentiment. So just saying, imagine the real power FB has with this data at play.

FB like Google has no office in PK perhaps they don’t need to. Their recent VP level engagement with the government shows that they are intrigued enough to come out to protect their interests. They just don’t know with the political climate at play, what side to join. Like Google they can get most of their stuff done remotely. Or hire third party contractors to provide local context to data without actually telling the poor data analysts what the end outcome of this data collection will yield. If they were smart(which they clearly are) they would be pairing psychometric and demographic info an adding a contextual layer to it to basically understand both market trends and growth opportunities. Given at their scale the total market growth opportunity for them in Pakistan is probably worth investigating but not action up on yet.

If they were to launch their marketplace feature in Pakistan, they would wipe clean every single Craigslist variant in the market, Kaymu etc folding in to their parent are fairly good examples of times to come. It would also completely clean house on the private seller groups on FB as there would be a natural tendency for people to move to the market place model, as you add secure payment on top of it, it would essentially clean up the mid market e-commerce folks also. Don’t know what FBs grand plans are in that space but clearly a lot of hustle is happening. Facebook is getting stingy about Pakistan based content producers accounts to be verified also, in its mind as the smaller guys who own large market views will become a big challenge if they are verified. Hence there is no clear policy on verification and based on market sentiment, private small publisher who have 10-20M Page views are constantly being denied the proverbial gold standard, albeit the blue verified status.

I am sure from mom and pop sellers to folks selling scorpions on FB are clearly trends worth exploring. The moral of the story is, there are many ways to stand out especially if you have a product, service or content play that can attract X-Million active users in Pakistan. The larger the scale and larger the active user demographic, with a compelling idea or product, you will be noticed by FB. Make sure you have a Delaware corporation that your are tied to, else the legal formalities of either investing in you or acquiring you will be a larger pipe dream than actually building a product that gets acquired. Lots of good things are happening in this space, keep your eyes out, build products that scale fast build market traction and will remain locally relevant. FB will come calling.

Does your startup have a plan to indulge Google, FB, Uber, AliBaba and the likes – at scale?

There is no simple plan or check list, if I had one, I’d be using it my self. Clearly one doesn’t exist, in its entirety, yet . If you read either or both of my last posts you know that these guys generally don’t need to be on the ground to launch a viable product or service.

But to make money consistently and at scale where it matters, sooner rather than later they will need to be on the ground. That or they  will need access to some one who is. Park the advertising side for a moment, there is more to all these corps besides ads/ad content either as spenders or consumers or both.

If you have any thing going for you or your company at the moment, I hope it’s large scale of localized data or the aspiration to get copious amounts of data based on the products and services you are building or deploying; be it in any industry or vertical so long as the only way to obtain is to be on the ground and that some one had to be locally collecting or building that data. It could be

1) Points of interest data (mosques, cinemas, schools , salons, grocers, butchers, tuition centers, thanas)
2) Housing Data (address data)
3) Shortest urban routes data
4) Time of day temperature data
5) Contextual data about road accidents
6) Delivery data on urban food deliveries
7) Consumer data on a multitude of CPI basket goods
8) CPG-FMCG Spend data
9) Product distribution data
10) Map or GIS data
11) Localized data on  atms, hours of service of shops, contact info (at scale)
12) Reviews data(product & services both)
13) Shopping comparison data (Physical and Virtual Goods and services)
14) Service Industry data
15) Power outage data
16) Voice overlay data
17) ID Card verification data(probably a government domain)
18) Financial services data
19) Goods and Services data
20) Human interaction data

This is not a comprehensive list but a starting point, the race to the top is about data, the race to the bottom is about still building apps. App strategies are good if they get you to the end goal of data. But if you are still building an app in 2017 to book movie tickets or to get discount coupons, just do your self a favor and don’t do it. You need to be working on Machine learning, AI, Health Care some thing meaningful at this stage. Lets pause this thought till we deal with the next one.

In short, a few groundbreaking changes will happen whilst these companies are still not here or fully committed to being on the ground. All of a sudden the balance of power will change in the mobile hardware space when the Chinese variant phones in Pakistan who are not Google/Android compliant in terms of not having the play store installed (as a benchmark). When, not if Google decides to force (it’s a growing trend in China, soon to come every where else) these companies to complying seemingly over night it could brick all those devices running side loaded play store or Google Play Services or stop select apps from working. Whilst it could be a potential dooms day scenario for the mobile guys operating locally it allows others, if played out, smartly; to get a huge competitive edge. It could give rise to an alternate android play store market “made for Pakistan” provided the phones not bricked entirely.

This doesn’t just apply to Mobile phones, it applies to all the so called smart Tvs and after market car head units and TV boxes or even IoT devices and gadgets running android. Not that any one expects Google to be in the enforcement business over night, its not good for business but this whole device strategy/licensing will either hurt you as startup if you rely on cheap unlicensed hardware or make you super competitive if you have a play for when there are millions of bricked devices in the country or partially working devices that you can build services for or using.

So now look at what it does to the ecosystem. Think about the mobile carriers and their data plans and voice minutes if supposedly millions of devices get bricked or aps rendered useless or un-installable. What about all the after market Chinese Navigation systems and other head units used all over. What if your smart TVs are no longer smart? Or for that matter phone or any other device running android. Time to pause, re think and calibrate. Perhaps if the devices aren’t bricked then a manufacturer specific store? Some thing to think about, all it does is isolate us in the grand scheme of things and limit the ecosystem.

Now we revisit our friends fondly viewed as the opposite of the Do No Evil guys of MTV, our friends in Menlo Park aka, Facebook. Its very difficult to judge Facebook but at the same time its very easy to judge what they are up to.

You take 2 leading carriers, you bundle free data(Zero Rated + free basics) , you give free WhatsApp + FB + you potentially have access to location data via your app, you have all the phone numbers and voila you have a living breathing data set. Here are some of the things that could be interesting when you have that information.

You come home, FB most likely knows, home, work , other places of interest, based on app location settings or phone GPS or carrier data. How and why is this scary from a privacy stand point? Google also supposedly has this info, not really. What they don’t have is your contact book/relationships ala WhatsApp and further segmentation data based on groups its Members their FB profiles and their demographic data etc. Even though for the record FB says it doesn’t do any of this stuff.

So if 5 friends go to lunch, all have WhatsApp, all have FB, all are at the same location at the same time. FB has that point of interest, info on those 5 people. FB now also knows the demographic info on the people, it also knows hypothetically all the others that frequent that restaurant. It also knows times of day pictures are uploaded. If you are a cheapskate and using the restaurant WiFi, it also knows start and end time of your session to let them estimate how much time you and others spent data that you consumed, activities that you did, status updates or pictures or both, did you tag people? it is building up FBs reference library on you and your ecosystem of relationships. You just handed over your personal data, by just hanging out with friends and now every one in your circle of relevance is exposed to this potential data harvest.

It can build dense relationship and thus decision trees (for later marketing/re marketing to you) of people place, interactions, usage, connections and pretty much every thing else you can choose to mathematically co relate. (Hypothetically speaking). Speaking of co relation take a look at this and be inspired to do some thing interesting with it

What its missing is an equally deeper level of localized data. Not to encourage some one from building a data layer that helps FB or any one else violate privacy, but if there was a Shopify style local plugin of all restaurant menus, and online orders and payment info, that added to the stream of FB info would drive a large scale suggestions business model for FB then perhaps ordering, delivering, via partners of course, or resell that info.

With payments being launched inside of WhatsApp in India already, what if FB/WhatsApp already knew, or was location aware and offered you deals and discounts and in-platform shopping? There go all the coupon, discounting folks, along with bank cards and their offers.

It already knows who your friends are, who you spend time with where you eat together, so with 10 phones present in a room with WhatsApp or FB on them , how difficult is it for FB to figure out; frequency of connections and time spent + activities and locations where people meet and were together. Plus the gold standard of every interaction, “repeat behavior”. If any one can mine that, they are sitting on gold.

Imagine the privacy implications of snooping or knowing where you were, who you were with and how frequently and at what intervals ☺

You have 2 choices as developers & as companies, get in the data game, every ones looking for locally relevant data, if you can find, organize, structure and setup data, these companies will come and buy you or you data or license it, it’s a cheaper option for them. Again not saying you should help build anti privacy companies, but you get the idea of the possibilities data has in both realms. You have the tool and the means to deploy them. You have a loaded gun so to say, know how to nurture it, till the day you need to use it. Unlike what I saw this morning on my drive to work.

Loaded Gun In Pocket

Imagine the impact of in(platform) FB-WhatsApp payments and shopping, if you could or you already have the biggest mobile financial wallet, wouldn’t it be easier to just piggy back off you. If Google’s Lense project is any indication of what is to come in AI, soon I wouldn’t need to know the name of any thing I wanted info on or shop. But what about local items, their local availability? I couldn’t just point towards a Peshawri Chappal or a Qorma plate and expect Google to spit out relevant info.

It will spit out some info, but you need to be in the business of making that info relevant so when they come and open the flood gates in our market for shopping, retail, e commerce, it is your data that powers their stack. If not you have wasted your biggest competitive advantage, i.e being local yet doing nothing with it.

Uber is here, arguably Ali Baba and all are coming too, but where is the urban addressing data and orders delivered data for Uber eats to launch for instance. Are you working on it?

Not like the Uber launch has been any thing but a series of mis-steps from the launch press conference to how they are setup in this country, but their loss is your gain.

Ali Baba is supposedly in state level negotiations, instead of waiting and hoping Ali Express products come to you cheaply flip the coin and see what information resources they will need when they come to play here, look at and investigate what their history has been.

If you paid attention to Jack Mas Davos interview, he said that the Ali pay financial services card or a persons credit standing on Ali Baba is sort of a secondary financial services system in the absence of a credit score, and in rural and urban settings where families don’t know each other they use the score to determine suitability for marriage based on credit worthiness and character. Can you think of sub applications of data in this context? What that means is, if Ali Baba wanted they could launch the largest digital marriage service or credit check service. If they wanted that is. They already have the data.

I started with a list because I want you to go and reflect on what you could be doing vs what you are doing and what the big boys are doing. Now think of Google Assistant and Google Home, Also think of FB & Chat Bots and Augmented Reality and think of what you could be doing in the realm of AI, NLO, Communication and Data to help make profound difference in the cities, communities and areas you live in – at a national and regional level and ultimately globally.

That should be your starting point. Look around you, see what the global guys are doing, if they aren’t doing any thing, then again, you are the product because you haven’t figured it out yet. A lot of wholesale changes are going to come to the ecosystem. Be ready, be agile and make some money at it. But first please be self aware, no one is going to buy an other me2 product or service, very unlikely, unless it has a treasure trove of data.

If only Google and Facebook knew! Trust me they know already.. The question is, do you know what they know?

For the past 5 years that I have now been back in Pakistan the hottest topic of discussion amongst techies has been the arrival of Google and Facebook in Pakistan on the ground with in country presence. Besides techies every bureaucrat angling for relevance claims they are talking to the likes of Google, FB and recently PayPal and Ali Baba.

A lot has been said, discussed, hypnotized and speculated. Let me bust some myths offer some common sense pointers around what is likely to happen and why these guys aren’t here yet. Further why it may be fairly plausible for them to be on the ground soon, but later than we hoped.

First things first, they fully know and understand what the size of the opportunity in Pakistan is. Both companies are vying for new customers/audiences/new spend. They have sort of bottomed out in the West, the now famous “Next Billion” initiative at Google “ and FB trying to put Internet in the realm of affordability for the 4.3Bn people who are not online yet are not doing it for the social good of humanity but for creating a new customer base/audience that consume what they produce.

Based on the fact that the population of the earth is currently about 7.2 billion. There are about 2.9 billion people on the Internet, give or take a hundred million. That leaves roughly 4.3 billion people who are offline and need to be put online.

Hence the relative importance of Pakistan in that context cannot be ignored. Half the population of 200M folks around 25-32 years in age, mobile phones gaining momentum as is connectivity. So it is not in Google or FBs interest to watch from the sidelines. To the trained eye, they are not at the sidelines. Any thing but.

They are both pushing the envelope, they aren’t here but they are here. Here’s a hypothesis of the Advertising Market ad-dollars being exported out of Pakistan by companies buying Google and FB ads alone. I have no way of knowing this besides trying to connect some dots and asking some probing questions and doing some time honored financial filings research by associated companies and 10k filings in the US.

Here goes:

The total Advertising Market stood at $650 Million [1] in Pakistan(Again other peoples estimates/industry reports in Pakistan). That’s basically every thing rolled up.

Google Sales Last Year Attributed $45M to sales from Pakistan* based on research and inference of data available from various filings and domestic industry trends and sizing studies.

Google is 45% of Ad spend in Pakistan and FB 45%, again based on share of voice and advertising agency research.

FB would then also safely be at $45M give or take.

That Means the remaining 10% is  All others, local + bing + yahoo + linkedin etc.

Are you ready for the real number?? So the AD SPEND is already roughly at 100M$ so all other past estimates are skewed. This may be too, but its fairly close to what the data can support today. This also means the industry’s total pie has increased and there is more to come. All the old school ways of figuring out total spend is done to keep the Tax man happy so not every thing is reported by our local agencies and ad-czars.

So all the self professed pundits of industry(age 60+  with digital ambitions) and their sizing metrics are completely off, and Google and FB are laughing all the way to the bank.

So lets evaluate whats going on, 100m$ are roughly being lost in FX transactions, with no tax being paid by FB and Google as they are not locally incorporated.(This is the government’s beef with the situation), watch out its a matter of time the Central Bank regulating  this space soon.

This is how the ad-spend process works:

An average consumer with a credit card who wants to do FB marketing does it, spends 10$ or 1000$ online, using their or a friends card. They get their online campaign, FB gets their money, the Bank runs the transaction and then by magic(or rather established) settlement norms the intermediary bank settles the charges in FX.

Like vapor the FX is gone. There is no tax regime in any of this.

Same thing for Google, they have less retail customers but still do, no less if you look at the model an agency sells a client on a Google campaign, the agency in turn uses a domestic or international credit card. If the order size is larger they are on net 30 day billings in which case they proceed to wire the Money out to Google in Ireland which is the central billing.

Again. FX gone. (Not really though as it is resulting in spawning economic activity)

But that is a very simplistic way to look at it. Lets look at the net effect of this, like any advertising this is arguably adding to ‘market making’ activities. Ads result in conversion of prospects to clients, who in turn spend money, which in turn drives the eco system, which in turn results in Jobs, access to information or even international clients that could result in FX coming back in. So from my perspective Google is likely a net FX contributor when you account for all the small /mid sized/large publishers and game developers and every one else in the eco system who receives money from google monthly against content or games etc.

The real issue is our inability to take the conversation to Google and FB and make it economically competitive for them to enter Pakistan along with managing their plight for legal protection and liability risk.(Operational, legal and personal for staff and others based here along with intellectual property protection)

So do you really think Google or FB care that their 45M$ in earnings were taxed? They could care less. 9M$ is a rounding error for a single P&L for either of them on a given day. Then what gives?

There is an evil beast at both of these companies called “Policy” the people arent, but the role or department some times is cited even internally as such. I have met some wonderful people, they are merely doing their job.

Lets look at this in retrospect. Remember the little saga with YouTube in Pakistan. A Ban. Now imagine Google having an office in Pakistan, Imagine any thing negative happening, then imagine a mob showing up at the Google office for mob justice. See the lock down on FB posts and govt demanding FB to block folks, yea, imagine them having an office and some staffer being picked up by FIA for not blocking an account… Now do you see why they aren’t here yet. This is the stuff that causes international incidents.

All of a sudden it makes sense, why the policy group at Google or FB is unwilling to put their employees in harms way. They need legal and personal protection before they come here. They may take a risk or two here and there, but there has to be firm commitments to make the operating environment similar to India to say the least, where Google has a huge operations(Roughly 5k direct/indirect employees) base and FB is not far behind.

Not only that, look at the pay scales reflected below

Google India

FB India

So there are many facets to FB and Google, one arm is responsible for Sales and there are many others who are doing R&D, Product Development, Investments, M&A and other activities. We just don’t want a sales office, we want the real deal, the real deal will only come when there is some one in government who is  “Sane and Materially smart” who can represent the voice of the tech community and can arguably understand what needs to be done by way of incentives and legal protection to invite all these giants to come prosper in our part of the world. Not some minister who uses Gmail or has an FB account and thinks they are “with the program” because of this. We need a national level decision on this, not a provincial one. This is for the greater good of the country.

Not like Google and FB cant see their own data, they are both openly reporting that search results/ organic growth coming out of Pakistan is off the charts. So their engineering teams and others are constantly innovating to engage the audiences from far away. No one in Mountain View or Menlo Park can really understand the on ground sentiment irrespective of how many “show and tell visits” they undertake and Photo Ops( they do with government types angling for relevance, see my earlier comment on that breed,) from their Singapore or MENA offices. Interestingly enough Pakistan has less in common with the South Asian Countries and the MENA teams and their staffers from an ethnic background and a market making stand point than the guys in MTV or MP , because in the US you may find expats who actually went from a deep rooted Pakistani base and understand some of the dynamics if not all.

Our export variety ex-pats who went recently from PK to MENA or SG are typically not at a career trajectory to impact decisions at a global level within these firms from a Policy stand point. Don’t get me wrong, they are the ones because of whom we are still relevant. So a personal note of thanks to all of them.

Just that I like to call a spade a spade and put the issues out there so if some one actually makes an effort to read this they can understand what the hell is going on.FB and Google have been hiring sales, marketing and BD staffers from PK (3-7 yrs experience range) its great for us, our guys are getting exposure, but its not great for the country, because we are not placing senior talent at the companies that understand the economic value of making the case for Pakistan. From a career standpoint it opens a door for more Pakistanis to get in to these awesome firms, no doubt. But its not helping our cause.  At a deeper level it will take these guys an other 10 years to impact changes we need today)

I know of one maybe two Pakistani origin VPs at Google and Maybe an other at FB . I know 2 dozen Indian origin at both places. So the issue is not India vs Pakistan, its visibility and momentum. We have neither going for us.

Imagine a CPEC level effort was put in place by the Government to put out credible folks, who understand Tech, M&A and the legal side of the house to court Google and FB, now that would be a “real damn tabdeeli.”

Giving f***ing press statements and putting up pictures on FB accounts with captions like “successful meeting with FB” “Great talks with Google” “Pay pal coming soon” etc is all immaterial and only fuels false hope and inspires our already mis-guided youth to believe crap and to hero worship those, who are doing this for their 5 minutes of fame till they are in government and want to stay relevant at all the Diplomatic and International kitty parties.

Some other insights for all of those who think that by not being here Google and FB are missing out. Lets look at some product innovations from both of them that did not require them to be here, but had they been, the localization quantum would have been crazy.

  • Google Maps has traffic data. So guess what, every one of your android carrying members of the Google regime are voluntarily providing Google location data, by calculating tower location and average speed they turned on live traffic without needing any damn permit or permission. For all the Pakistani map companies that think they will use laws and regulation to keep Google out, best of luck. You should rather be working on localization items so that just like in India Google turns around and buys you out for some thing of value that you produce.

 

  • If you are a Telenor or Zong customer using FB, see the little sign that comes up that says, you are using FB for free. There is no such thing as a free lunch, FB is running attribution studies on you, your profile, age mix, social disposition, economic demography, because they are mapping your connection data to your profile data, they are segmenting the market and will use this info to better target ads. If some thing is free, you should quickly understand that you are the product 🙂 They have more points of info on you and your habits than your spouse.

These are some very basic examples that I didn’t have look far and wide for. If this is the level of access they have without being here we must understand the flip side of this equation. They do not need our permission to operate here, but It would be good to work with them so as to  benefit from their products, services, economic propensity to spend/invest and grow markets.

Its not like only we are at some sort of fault on the other end of the equation these companies know they can push the envelope till some thing breaks, they will then come to drawing board. They know that in economies like ours every thing is for sale, including government, legislators, policy makers for as inexpensively as a photo opp or an internship for the relatives of the “well placed”. We know from the confessions of an Economic hit man, how this new world order operates.

No less it is in our best interest to open the market the economy and let some one else in besides the boogie men of CPEC.

So when you put up the power plants and generate excess electricity you will still have one of the highest un-employment rates in the world for youth. Also instead of turning the whole nation on to an army of  Free-lancers(which does have its merits when there is an over supply of talent not when there is scarce talent or mediocre talent) it would be better to grow the organized sector where by these guys are given opportunities at careers and exposure to new and ground breaking technology. That will only happen if we invite the right kind of international firms and global firms to come invest with us jointly, for their gain and ours.

How many PHd free lancers do we know that innovated on their own, it does benefit to be part of an ecosystem. Sadly the lack of payments coming in from free lancing and the plight of these free lancers dealing with the banks is still not resolved. They are exploited and their monies held on to so the banks can make an extra buck of the interest earnings. But the frenzy continues.

Some one who has no real world training, schooling or is self taught, 9 times out of ten will not be able to compete any thing globally competitive even in the free lancing space. Not every one is born gifted to make or launch free lancing million dollar fortunes. We are at best creating an army of mediocre people who could have done better but we let them down.

I share this to demonstrate how badly our priorities are screwed. Its election year(soon), I bet if for nothing else just to be electable it may be a good strategy for some of these politicians to go out and bring one of these foreign firms home with all the modalities thought out, no short term MOU bullshit. I can assure you the youth will look up on that favorably. Even though, arguably it still is late.

[1] This data is hotly contested because the reporting agencies like Gallup and Nielsen apply various discounts on the actual rate cards, in this case the Gallup study for the year 2014 has a 65% discount applied. http://gallup.com.pk/bb_old_site/AdSpend/2014/MediaAdSpend_14.pdf

As a basis for research and discovery when these and other studies are analyzed they list digital to be 1-2% of total Spend. The overall media space is seeing increase in spend year or year as an aggregate and digital is only Growing.

Other research available online, quoting data points of size and percentage of spend circa 2013 etc also available at

http://www.cpdi-pakistan.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Broadcast-Media-in-Pakistan-Hostage-to-Media-Economy.pdf

Updated Nov 30th 2017 with additional background info.

 

Hipster, Hacker & Hustler – Cheat Sheet for Startup Success

 

In March 2012, at SXSW, Rei Inamoto, then the chief creative officer for AKQA, shared a nugget of wisdom that has stayed with me since then: “To run an efficient team, you only need three people: a Hipster, a Hacker, and a Hustler.” 

This was perhaps the best summation of what startups need to make loads of money or what they lack when they fail. As you start building out companies you must pay attention to H3 mentality.

Fundamentally what you require is a pop-culture nerd that’s obsessed with content and creating bucket loads of it, a tech maestro that can make sure your project works across all platforms with no glitches, and a salesman who is out schmoozing clients and bringing in the greenbacks. Everyone is replaceable at any company, but my experience has been that the Hustler is the least replaceable. Any founder worth their salt has to be a hustler.

To form the H3 Collective, There is a fairly decent laundry list of things you should be watching out for, or doing.

  • Say Yes to every thing. The Golden rule is, if it makes $s it makes sense. So if some one brings a crazy idea, don’t poke holes, try to figure out the positive side of every thing before you start shooting down stuff. You are literally a no body to make a call this early on. Give every thing a listen, see if it makes $s, if it does, the details you can figure out.
  • Don’t let your best friends, wife’s first cousins uncle who is a book keeper manage your money. Money is best managed by the Greenspans of the worlds. The Goldmans and Leehmans. You get the gist, if you don’t. You need to quit while you are ahead.
  • Suck it up and don’t complain. If you are doing 9-5 and check out and don’t answer you phones whilst in startup mode past business hours, you need to reevaluate your life. If a Client/Peer/Advisor/Mentor/Partner is in town and feels like grabbing a bite to eat or smoke a cigar, put your shoes back on, kiss your wife goodnight, and get the F*** out there.
  • Email ping pong doesn’t cut it. The millennial syndrome of work shifting is s%#t. The ball is not in some one else’s court if you have emailed them. Pick up the damn phone, stalk them if you need to, and get the answer you need to move on.
  • Don’t bring you F%$#ing phone to a meeting and no don’t even think about bringing an Ipad its like a man purse. Bring your decency and your undivided attention. Gadgets are a distraction and they say to everyone else there, “I’m not really here.” If you have to take notes at a meeting, bring a notepad it is cheaper than tablets and you need the money for other stuff any way.

The God Father. Remember where Marlon Brando says, “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”? The point is that you can’t deliver at work when your home life is cyclonic, so don’t cheat(refer to being a decent human being above) and make sure your spouse feels appreciated. Only a happy life can generate income. You cant hustle if you have no more hustle left.

In the end, the only way to feel satisfied is by doing sh** that feels risky makes you feel uncomfortable and is out of character. A startup is basically all that . When you try to make some thing out of nothing and it works, it’s the best feeling out there. If you can survive being crapped on by friends, family , investors and the rest, loose money and still come out on top. That is what makes you an entrepreneur if it was easy your khalas larka would also being doing it, but no he decided against that and became a Dr. instead.

 

Power of the Executive Order, how the government killed entrepreneurship from NERO to NRO

NERO – Nationalization and Economic Reforms Order (1st Jan 1972)

On 1 January 1972, in a speech to the nation, Bhutto and the peoples party’s government promulgated the three-staged program, under “Nationalization and Economic Reforms Order (NERO)”, which nationalized all major metal industries, including iron and steel, heavy engineering, heavy electrical, petrochemicals, cement and public utilities except textiles industry and lands. The first stage of the nationalization program integrated approximately 31 major industrial mega corporations, industrial units and enterprises, under direct management control of the government under 10 different categories of basic industries. The program intended to assert public ownership over the industrial mega corporations.

NRO- National Reconciliation Order (5th Oct 2007)

It granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism between 1 January 1986, and 12 October 1999, the time between two states of martial law in Pakistan.

For a quick historical perspective the 22 Families who owned these businesses pre nationalization were essentially driven out of business, for the state to take over business. Irrespective of what one thinks of these families, their claims to fame or the equality of wealth, the external narrative at the time was as follows and sadly not much has changed.

Since we have no national database that I know of, to do an evaluation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan from the time of independence to date, the recent de classification of the CIA documents has provided a nice treasure trove for history buffs. Albeit how much you read into these documents is a personal choice. About 13 million pages of declassified documents from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been released online Jan 18th 2017. The above snippets come from there.

 

 

Not much has changed, the government decided to take action then to repatriate alleged funds and savings over seas and to try a method of equalizing the playing field by curtailing influence of those in business and theoretically spawning economic growth.Sadly most of it didn’t happen that way. Further the Government of Bhutto collapsed and we were in a state of martial law, clearly not much innovation was happening then either.

But we fast forward to 2007 and essentially any one who was in a position to dominate, influence, execute, political or business control by either being in or by being in a position to manage positive outcomes for them selves and their clans got a clean chit and their cases were dropped by the NAB. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) presented a list of 248 politicians and bureaucrats to the government, whose cases were cleared by NAB due to NRO. That’s 248 folks who got the better end of the stick in a country of 200m+, essentially economically enslaved every one else.

That in any system is an unfair advantage to 0.000124% of the population. By way of wealth, access, influence, power, business and any other way you cut it. You and me and every one else has to reclaim what belongs to us. This sort of un fair advantage typically afforded by access to large, industrial, land, feudal complexes can only be overtaken by building scalable tech companies. The only way to ever be equals is not by how much land we can acquire or how much access to influence we can have, because they already run/own/operate the system and we have to get smart if we want to get our selves and our country out of the current state of disrepair  it is in.

For the rest of us the game from NERO to NRO will only end well if are able to build value by virtue of large scale disruptors. We have no other edge and no other resources besides the god given ability to level the playing field by applying our intelligence with a view to scale faster, more quickly than the generational reliance of these guys and turn the balance of power in our favor.

For every Unicorn you build, you impact the lives of thousands of people, that is the only way to take on the industrial/feudal/political complex and their un fair advantages garnered over the course of history. The only way to change history, is to make history by coming up with ideas and executing those that will disrupt the status quo, there is no other way any one can compete with the established brands, family franchises, politicians, bureaucrats and those in uniform because they gamed the system from inception. The only thing to do, is to the change the game in town and make it your own.

38 Ceos? The Interesting case of our very own Alternate Facts

For the last three days roughly, there has been a positive sentiment around a lot of foreign Ceo interest in Pakistan. I for one actually missed the news item initially but later saw variants on official FB Pages, Media outlet sites, TV and last but not lease a frenzy of “fwds, via  Whatsapp”. Most interestingly there was a list of 38 CEOs floating all over the Pakistani Internet ecosystem.

Whilst there is, will be and continues to be long and short term FDI into Pakistan the way this story was laid out or en cashed by the powers be, did not make sense.  For one, there weren’t 38 CEOs. There were 13 Chief Executives/MD/Heads representing 12 Different organizations.

Further there were 19 Additional people from one organization only, so unless they operate in 19 countries and each had an independent CEO & P&L, just a cursory glance shows that the optics of the media releases did not align with the data on the ground. No body is taking away the fact that whom ever brought these various leaders and senior executives is truly doing us a service. No less had any one only, more than glossed over, it would be evidently clear, that in affect 38 companies were not represented, they are not coming to open shop here, at least not all of them. We continue to mis guide our selves by presenting our “alternate facts”. There were and are 38 people who came..

One of them already has large scale operations in Pakistan in the tech space. Further, excluding Pakistan these 38 people were from 15 countries or markets.

Had the news focused around the fact that we had arguably 2 billionaires + a few Multi 100m$ folks in town along with an even more interesting mix of individuals, minus the fact that not all were CEOs. There were guests of the visitors + embassy staff + other friends of friends in the list. Goes to show proof reading is a dying art form.

I took some time to put a list together of all the Public Domain data available on the foreign non Pakistani origin visitors. You can get a snap shot here Who was A Ceo?? . Some of the highlights were Mr Alessandro Benetton of  Bn$ Fame most easily recognizable because of the Benetton Group . When you look beneath the surface you quickly figure out where their business interests lie beyond private  equity. On closer inspection “The family’s other interests run from Atlantia, the company which operates the majority of Italy’s motorway toll roads, to airports in Rome, Florence and Turin and a share in 13 of the country’s main railway stations. They also control Autogrill, the roads and airports caterer”. So its befitting that they met the Pakistani motorway moguls too. (https://goo.gl/2TPHPh)

Sadly we were busy talking about quantity over quality. There was some interesting visitors, like the son of the EX Prime Minister of Spain, whose father is on the Board of a Pakistani origin company along with being on the board of News Corp that owns 21st Century FOX and other news and programming assets. He is listed in the documents as a “Silent Programme Manager, Spain” . Ive frankly never heard of a silent program manager before and couldn’t lookup a reference from google or the Project Management Institute , I suspect when your dad is an ex PM , his  connections came in handy  to craft such a curated title. No less 10 points for trekking it across even if it was for the ride or the adventure trip on the side as per the press releases earlier. The best part of all this, is that we had 38 people show up, who will take some thing positive back with them. If we only had an equally sensible government apparatus to capitalize on this visit as was needed vs for their own data trolling before election year.

We have the ex Banker turned Chairperson of the Aussie Billionaires  Gaming and Entertainment holding company. Rob Rankin, who works for the Billionaire James Packer. Packer, who has a net worth of about $5.2 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He was born into an Australian media dynasty started by his grandfather Frank Packer and expanded by his father Kerry Packer.

Since inheriting the family business at 38, James Packer has quit most of the media investments inherited from his father and expanded into casinos in an attempt to capitalize on Asian consumer spending. So a Casino bosses point man in Pakistan? Now that makes for an interesting cover story. Perhaps he came to meet his usual high rollers in Pakistan:) I guess our tax payer money will be adequately  utilized for more roulette.

Then we have the CEO of Huawei, not a surprise because of our CPEC items, but clearly big news. Global head of Huawei making the time to come across clearly means business engagement at some level + his family to come along, I guess to meet with our first family. Almost looks like a family outing to scope out the sites for what ever future industrial complex/housing etc is to come. There is a fairly dynastic feel to what they might be out to accomplish here.

On the subject of housing we the Sinolink World Wide developers son in the mix. With almost billionaire genes he also makes for a perfect candidate for the trip. Ceo of Snam from Italy from the energy sector also a hard hitter and heavy roller. So the focus is fairly evident, transport, construction, energy, high tech and if we include Kolon group of Korea we bring in heavy manufacturing too (Plus they will fit right in , they settled with Dupont over industrial espionage of the Kevlar technology and paid over $250m+ in a $900m+ award ( https://goo.gl/GbWicT ). Minus a few under whelming investor types, like the adventure tour operator from UK Mr Cookson or the Ninja Van Ceo from Singapore who I think came along for the sight seeing trip which the larger group went on earlier. There was a banker from Italy too. Who at a closer look is fairly connected to all the Italians on the list so seems like “friend of a friend” who came for the ride. No less in his own right comes from money/wealth and a fair bit of board positions back home.

All in all the 13 key folks are on the money, what their motivation is or could be, is up for debate, the way this circus was orchestrated for optics, could have been done better. Here is to hoping that these alternate facts turn to real factual execution on the ground and these folks just didn’t come for a short R&R break to Pakistan. I, like many others, will be heart broken if this does not translate to some real deals resulting in some real economic benefit. Here is to hoping that the alternate fact machinery takes a hiatus and to thanking the people who continue to do good work for building Pakistans image across the world.