Bring your ‘A’ game Pakistan

The Valley is always a unique experience. But this time around it is proving to be a fairly eye opening one. There is more capital than opportunities, for VCs to put money in. LATAM to Central Europe to China to India, to South East Asia there is a VC gold rush. No one wants to miss out and be fired in the process.

The level of fake BS is also on the up and up. Every VC I’ve met so far is focused on AI, ML in emerging markets. A vast majority of these guys are lip servicing because one or more of their peers are operating in this new space.

Frankly it sucks to see this over abundance of capital in these markets whilst there is little to none in ours. Interestingly enough the reason for this capital or the ecosystem is due to the fact that the startups of yesteryears are now the VCs. Thus solidifying the belief that we need to promote startups as best as we can to grow and scale. Plus these countries are well represented in the valley and one common thread amongst the markets where these startups come from, Google pretty much has a presence every where locally i.e an office.

Pakistan not as much. There is representation, there is interest, but some how the needle is stuck as us being a sales destination or net consumer of Google tech /service as opposed to a net producer destination. Google isn’t to blame for any of this, if any thing they are the net positive contributor to Pakistan even getting a seat at the table. Not because we don’t have interesting companies but because there is a lot to be desired with the optics. Every one I’ve met this week, was surprised that I hail from Pakistan, that there are tech startups in Pakistan, that my last Company IPOd at LSE , that we have built technology featured across Google I/O and that there is a Google supported incubator in Karachi. So far so good. The thing missing is a large scale disruptive story out of Pakistan and I do not mean political, I mean a startup story of success.

The thing is, after multiple mentorship sessions and interacting with diverse startups from across the world, the one theme that is clear, startups every where want one thing , “they want to change the game” and it starts and ends with the team at play. Ideas come and go, the people who can execute them are the real game changes, so we need to promote the right teams and enable people to think big.

An other notable thing here is camaraderie, there are clusters of close relationships, people help each other and we must borrow a page from that manual. The other not so surprising thing is the age of the founders and companies. Compared to both our ecosystem and the typical businesses heroes we celebrate in Pakistan, we need a wholesale change. Tech, really is the only thing that can create Displacement Capital and empower gains larger than the cost of input. Till we start displacing old money and old capital by creating new money and new capital at scale we are doomed. We need to think big and dream big.

(To get started with this exercise I will run “DCC- Displacement Capital Camp” in Karachi in August and get the ball rolling on this).

Our startups are no less smart and no less driven, but we need to think about solving global problems as a starting point. I met some one on the sidelines who told me they wanted to build a 5b$ company. Call it crazy talk but he got my attention, you cant build billion dollar companies if you are looking to raise 50k$. The scale has to change. The thinking has to change. Most of all the mentors and role models need to change. The ecosystem needs to get more examples of actual doers rather than self promoters, don’t get me wrong plenty of those around in the valley too. No shortage any where in the world of those types.

The thing is, resources are scarce competition is tough, for our startups to scale and grow we need to bring our ‘A’ game to the table else we will be irrelevant in the business of Unicorns.

Why you should care about Allen and Company & not Raiwind and Company

You can and will be forgiven if you didnt know any thing about Allen and Company before today. But only this once. It tells me a few things about you, the amount of online hours you are spending need a new cause, as what ever you are doing online is clearly not half as bad-ass as you think it is.

Every summer, the the tech, media, and business titans assimilate in the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho. You ask why, they are there for investment bank Allen & Co.’s week-long conference which has been an annual ritual for 30+ years. It took them 30 years to be an overnight success no less.

This year too,  brought some of the wealthiest and most powerful people from around the world to Sun Valley once again.    Deals forged at the event in the past have included Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post, and Time Warner’s ill-fated merger with AOL.

To give you an idea, the billionaires summer camp attendees’ parking lot is Friedman Memorial Airport, which was packed to capacity with 100s of Millions of dollars’ worth of jets as of midday Wednesday as the event was kicking off .

With around 85 jets, many of them Gulf Stream G650 and Bombardier Global Express models boasting wingspans of almost 100 feet and prices of $45 million to $65 million each, the airport is a private gateway to Sun Valley for most attendees, whose nondescript aircraft typically carry no logos and are often fractionally owned. Did I say this was an invitation only event?

This time around the two that stood out were  Nike and Sprint , their jets’ flashy graphics featured company logos and left no doubt as to who was in attendance. I guess if you have your own Jet you can be forgiven for this type of opulence.

The gathering is put on by the investment bank and is closed to press. It attracts an impressive array of moguls. Warren Buffett, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, Snap Chairman Michael Lynton, Viacom Vice Chairman Shari Redstone, and Discovery CEO David Zaslav are among the names who have flocked to the resort and in the coming weeks many many more names will surface.

The gathering  included panel discussions on the state of the economy, the political divide in America, the drug epidemic, and scientific breakthroughs. Bill Gates spoke on  philanthropy.

Other speakers include Nike co-founder Phil Knight, Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and General Lori Robinson, who oversees North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command. (So yes it is a big deal) Past gatherings have included talks from the likes of Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
While in a parallel universe the entire machinery on our side of the planet is either trying to prove or disprove who is innocent or not. Where is our Allen and Co? We have industries and industrialists that pre date Allen and Cos 1922 foundations but thats exactly the problem.  The industries and industrialists  lack smart capital and an even worse we have a lack of companies, tech or otherwise who have either the scale or the gravitas of what is required to be globally competitive. We have some great companies, but we must not fool our selves of their paltry success against the S&P 500.
To give you perspective, here is the list of the companies with the highest Revenue Per Employee of 2016. Yes this is the revenue one employee contributes in that firm (hypothetically total revenue divided by employees). Some of our largest companies do not have total revenue equal to RPE of these firms let alone tech companies.

The table above shows the top 50 companies by Revenue Per Employee in 2016 in S&P 500.

 

This is why the Allen and Company Billionaire camp is note worthy, a host of these companies were represented there. We need our own camps, we need to start some where, it most certainly cant be f***  Raiwind. We have to get past our national obsession with “small people”, be it politicians or the forces or media personalities, we have to create our own billionaires club and not one which is created on the back of *allegedly looting innocent citizens.(* matter being           sub judice) . To create such a club we first need to dream and have ambition, that too kosher ambition , the halal variety that is not an outcome of robbing some one.

Also we have to park our national obsession of saving money vs generating money, these people did no become billionaires by saving X% of their income, they did amazing things that lead to amazing companies that led to amazing fortunes, you can not save a  7 or 8 or 9 figure net worth.  The best return on your time if you invest it in making money instead of saving money.

I see startups, people, businesses,  moms and dads, spending 30-40  hours per week doing simple household tasks, looking for deals, driving all over town and working their asses off to save  Rs 15000. Before you write me off as heartless, lets look at the flip side of the coin, If they would spend that same time and ingenuity working to generate money, they could easily lock down a potential promotion at work, if self employed add money to the bank by growing revenue using the same ingenuity and time, as I said before we need to be hustlers. All of us. Thats whats missing from our DNA, we have enough “juggar” hustle, but its real economic mind set hustle that we need.

That’s the real difference between a scarcity mindset and abundance mindset. All our lives every thing has been so scarce in our life that we have become hoarders, we hoard water, power, fuel, food and every thing in between albeit due to the likes of Raiwind and Co types, leashing economic hell for decades,  we have to totally and completely stop working so hard to hold on to a tiny slice of pie. We need to start  working on making the god damn slice bigger.  But we cant be blamed entirely as we have been conditioned this way.

The number of technology companies in the Fortune 500 has steadily increased since 1955, and this sector saw the second highest revenue growth during this period.It is also no surprise where companies are from. Take a look.

The  table above shows the growth rates of the 47 companies in this sector.

 

We need our California, we had it once in Karachi, but its been pillaged and run dry. We need a place that fosters growth, the arts, music, literature, tech and a general sense of freedom and an open and tolerant mind set in what we do and how we do it. We need to move away from minding others peoples business to using our minds to grow our own business.

We need to move away from thinking when the power going to be cut off to worrying about if our AWS account will be cut off . Its a paradigm shift that wont come, irrespective of how much electricity Raiwind and Co generate. We still have a Minister who thought Calibri like Black Berry was was a phone and not a font on national television and still kept on arguing to make his point. He is presently Minister for Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Public Prosecution.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so for a change Ill share some for you to make up your own mind as to why the Allen and Co camp matters and why we need our own rival.

Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News, and Lachlan Murdoch(son), co-chairman of 21st Century Fox
The Wizard of Omaha Mr Warren Buffet
Apple Ceo Tim Cook and Sr. VP of internet software and services Eddie Cue
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos
Mark Pincus CEO of Zynga
GoPro CEO Nick Woodman
SNAP Chairman Michael Lynton
CEO Ycombinator Sam Altman
Twitter COO Anthony Noto
Former Ebay CEO John Donahoe
GM IBM Watson David Kenny
CEO Discovery Communications David Zaslav
CEO GM Marry Barra
Stewart Butterfield CEO Slack
Kleiner Perkins Partner-Bing Gordon
Ceo RRE Ventures Jim Robinson
Mr Facebook
Ceo of Warner Bros Kevin Tsujihara
CEO of NextDoor Nirav Tolia and Wife Megha
Jerry Yang of Yahoo Fame

Want to know what was happening in Pakistan around the the same time whilst Allen and Co sessions were kicking off. Raiwind sessions were kicking off. Ill leave it at that and one picture to sum it up.

Raiwind and Company

Interestingly enough with all that was happening in the White House these two still made it and were taking calls from the sidelines.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner on the sidelines of the Billionaires Camp

 

This is how they make sure that the show must go on. Not like our Raiwind and Co who are  obsessed with their own Incestual shit to give a damn about the rest of us. So its time we step up to the plate. No one will come and give us our Allen and Co it must rise from within. In the process clean the ( tax evading, bank loan defaulting, ECL listed, under invoicing, duty avoiding, politically motivated, morally bankrupt) filth that occupies the seat at the table in the corridors of business today and hand the reigns to those who will treat Pakistan and her subjects in a better state than they got them.

 

 

 

The End of Apps : OK Google, Alexa.. From AMP to PWA to AI

 

Play First, watch for about a minute then read on.

In 2016 Vani Kola, MD, Kalaari Capital asked Rajan Anandan, MD, Google SE and India, at the Kstart Digital Marketing Summit to share his thoughts. In retrospect when I watch this(he did know some thing) clearly the rest of us are only finding out.

If you watch the video, he categorically said if you are building apps you are toast. He wasn’t wrong really, he was actually so very right. So if you are a young scrappy developer in Pakistan and you are building Apps, for the most part, just don’t do it. You need to up skill your self and get on the new-age band wagon.

Google and FB are obsessed about bringing every one online because when you the user come online you will spend time in front of their ads and hence GF (Google and FB or your Digital Girl Friend) will make money on advertising eye balls. Like the proverbial girl friend, GF are also only happy when money is spent on them, albeit their platforms or when they make money, the online equivalent of investing in any relationship.

So why re invent the wheel? Cash in on that obsession. That obsession can only be fueled by fast access to data, super clean interfaces, offline content access(PWA) and converting the slow web(to AMP- Accelerated Mobile Pages, Or Instant Articles based) items.

So ask your self, why aren’t you already on this bandwagon, why aren’t you picking up this skill and adding it to your repertoire? I can think of a couple of reasons; if you develop for the domestic market, Your average client is an idiot, your boss is probably an even bigger idiot, if you work for an FMCG your boss or marketing leader is obsessing about Likes and shares(tragic) if you work for a development shop then you are probably building for the ecosystem around you, neither is benefitting your cause. If you work for an e-commerce player, you are still trying to figure out what it is that your employer actually does and how broken your systems really are. You need to step back and re evaluate where you are as a developer.

But your primary resource is knowledge and information both accessible online and free, you need to see past the so called nonsensical thought leaders domestically and try to grasp what’s happening and how up-skilling your self will increase your marketability and keep you relevant. They only care about doing Banking Summits, Ecommerce Summits, Mobile Payment Summits , Advertising Summits and give awards to each other. When I see what the average person/organization is working on, I feel the IQ in the room dropping collectively by a 100. We need to be innovating, the first pre requisite for that is to be on the stack, technologies and methods that are making waves across the world. Not what we learnt in programming class or what our egg head “team lead” says or does. Nine times out of ten I can bet, they are just happy in the fact they know more then their boss who is probably in their 60s and they are happy to be the “technical” guy at work that their boss leans to for support. In that sort of eco system you will always remain mediocre. So step away.

The world doesn’t end with AMP, it’s a starting point, get all the worlds information to load faster, So that’s happening weather you like it or not/same with instant articles(albeit inside of FB), Next come PWA(progressive web aps, the antithesis of real aps, it’s the evolution of the web, a website that works like an app, wow, what a cool concept. The thing is, you are already late to the party if you have not starting working on this for your client facing work. So you have super fast pages ala google cdn, you click you come to a PWA site that’s light weight, works in offline mode and doesn’t need you to get a 25mb app to do the same thing. Wow?

Whats the use case, in our part of the world(which is the fastest growing part of the digital world at the moment) the average user has a $32.26 USD smart phone, with limited capabilities, they delete apps daily to make room for others, but as data prices fall they can add to home screen a PWA and viola, no need to install un install, for content based apps which is the bulk of use in our region. Just like an app needs internet connectivity so does a PWA, what the PWA does is, it uses less data to actually cache every thing. So the user experience is fast, it off loads the processing online with keeping space free for camera and other user needs.

So the use case is brilliant. Further as most of the lower spec phones do not have a licensed play store, this is the fastest way to deliver your content. Also fear the wrath of Google when and if they brick the phones or dis-able app installs on unlicensed android devices. Will PWAs be your savior?

So you are still un sure, then see the second part of the clip from above, just watch for 10 seconds or so.

Moral of the story, stop building for the NOW, start building for the future and the future is closer than you think. The thing is, for all its advances in AMP and PWA the next level of growth or client engagement will be voice driven and AI based, OK Google to Alexa to Siri perhaps. But there are still ways to go before native support for URDU arrives, Google is hard at work(or maybe not), perhaps not really realizing how big the offset will be the minute the focus is on Urdu. But till we can communicate with AI in Urdu, AI wont be able to communicate back. Localization and discovery are 2 aspects every one must start working on today.

A third of the local mobile smart phone users, only play games and don’t consume text content, they do consume video, but cant search, so they rely on links forwarded to them, they operate the device on visual cues because they can neither read nor write. But they click links sent to them. Now imagine if they can originate the links if they had access to a discovery service?

So imagine the power of combining visual cues + discovery platform + AI. Or even starting point, Visual Cues + Discovery Platform + Fast Loading + No App install. The possibilities are endless. You have to start building for the future, the future is showing us that video will be all the rage. So you must get every thing in order, to manage that reality and to capitalize on it. It also shows the convenience will be all the rage. It shows us that we will offset our tasks, needs, action items to a voice in the cloud. Are you building for that challenge? or you still stuck in appeasing your boss, your client, your company and yourself. You need to be working on Google Actions and Alexa Skills and what ever else shows up in this space relevant to the ecosystem. The time is now. Stop wasting your time, re calibrate and do your self a favor.

Pro tip: If you are a young freelancer and work on android or ios, your work is typically a commodity at 25-30$/h if you are half decent, the average free lancer specializing in AMP/PWA/Google Actions/Alexa Skills is over 50$/h. The choice is yours.

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 or what is being considered a loss), watch out its a matter of time the Central Bank regulating  this space soon.(But must look at the other side of the coin also)

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, which is what should matter to any one with half a brain)

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(Its safe to assume that for each 45m$ outbound share, there is a 100m$+ inbound share). So from my perspective Google is likely a net FX contributor(if you look at other markets where data is more transparent and who are of a similar demographic) 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. Further, the missing piece are all the Google Services that free lancers use to build products, which they then advertise, either on FB/Google/Elance/the rest, and get paid $$ for services, time, products. All that FX arguably comes back in some form or an other.

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.

 

What I learnt at Google I/O 2017

The biggest was the realization that whilst on one end of the planet there were discussions around Tensor Flow and AI on chip, the same day glancing through the various news papers in my own home land we were still busy holding expos, international university recruitment seminars, immigration consultants promising a future abroad and various FB posts around awards and shields to the so called elite in various walks of life. A regular day in the neighborhood.

I didn’t see any stories on patents filed or any net new innovation or any Pakistani doing some thing remarkable some where in the fields of science, engineering, technology or education at home in Pakistan.

I did read about power outages and how our political regime had been told to attend a conference in Saudi Arabia while using taxpayer dollars in valuable FX that we don’t have a lot of. I wonder if some of them came to I/O it would have done them good. They would have learnt lessons on how technology is a force for democratization. But alas, they only believe in the democracy that funds their pockets.

We are doomed because of hero worship and because most of us don’t know any better. The ones masquerading or with access to resources have the scales tipped in their favor and the AWAM at best is sinking in debt.

We are truly wasting our time. But I digress.

The first thing I learnt was that the Halal and Kosher meals put Muslims and Jews in the same line up for food every day, twice a day, for three days. Else where in the world major differences of religion/political affiliation or just pure lack of knowledge would pit these two crowds against each other. But not at I/O. It was fascinating to observe that the best of civility comes through when people have a base line education and thus respect and an attitude to focus on what is important. Yes I said it right the first time, Line up, every one of the 7000 people got in line to collect their lunches and snacks.

In this case most people were at I/O with the dreams, hopes or aspirational targets of being innovators or they were innovators who were showcasing what they had done. The common thread binding them was a desire to learn or a desire to share their learning’s. Beautiful things happen when such is the case. When humility is the base line.

No one was there to show off their new Bunto jora, or to arrive in their new Mercedes and put up a show. The clear difference was that even with an all access pass I took a Lyft to the venue and walked the 2 miles to the entrance. What I/O does so well was that it democratizes all aspects of access. Every one is the same, every one has a common goal, there is shared learning no one is better than any one, only people who are willing to help others and their success is measured by the impact of their work.

This post is not about the 30+ big announcements Google made, those can be well, Googled. This is about all the things no one said and the things Pakistanis and entrepreneurs need to focus on.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of wealth and wealthy people, but it was subtle. When Fei Fei Li was introduced and came out on stage the only thing I marveled at was the introduction that described what she did at Google.

Chief Scientist of AI/ML, Google Cloud it was about 5 minutes into her talk I realized the size of the Diamond on her ring, clearly visible on the giant screen only because it was catching the beautiful morning sun at the Shoreline Amphitheater. I do not intend for her to be apologetic for being successful. But the thing is, I would be equally happy if half the Banto wearing aunties could just spell Stanford as opposed to being Associate Professor of Computer Science and Head of AI.

The thing is, the rest of the world has moved on, they are conquering different beasts, whilst we are stuck in the wrong kind of game. Our aspirational target is the diamond, but not the hard work that goes in to being successful to produce minds like Fei Fei Li’s . We are happy with our under invoicing and our non tax paying nature, easily justifying it to our selves why it is ok to do so. We are hard at work but at these small time cons.

Plus we are easy to judge “she must have married rich” btw her husband Silvio Savarese, is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and director of the SAIL-Toyota Center for AI Research at Stanford with research interests including computer vision, robotic perception and machine learning J . Perhaps the reverse could also hold true in this case.

An other key component of I/O was that seasoned entrepreneurs with multi million and billion dollar exits were in the code lab sessions and sand box sessions asking questions as aggressively as the next guy. They may have done it before but the still hunger for more, it is this drive – that separates them from the rest of us.

I also learnt that the world is moving away from ride hailing service clones and airbnb clones and away from drop ship technologies. People are trying to solve challenges of speed and challenges around bringing the next billion people online. People whose first device will be a low end smart phone, whose needs, wants and experiences will be fundamentally different from the vast majority of the English speaking internet users from the West. So its time to solve for that challenge. There is no need for yet an other ratings app, a ticket app, an e-commerce comparison site etc etc.

There is still hope, Pakistani innovators have done a phenomenal job in the valley no less. But we need more of those, they have been successful in spite of their challenges and not because of any concessions being afforded to them for being Pakistani.

For our part of the world we need technologies that help bringing affordable health care, technologies that exploit smart phones to make remote health care affordable and universal. Technologies that bring education to the masses in the languages they know already. Technologies that solve problems vs technologies that incrementally make life better. The next billion are not looking for incremental change, they are looking for fundamental change. Lets put our energies to solve for things that address those challenges.

I was compelled to share my views because this morning the first thing I saw on TV was a feature on college students from a tier 2 city on an equally local/regional channel around an exhibition the students were doing. Predominantly girls, they had used recycled house hold goods(boxes, rope, plastic spoons) to make models of rural and urban scenes and an Army camp. The first thing I thought of was how badly we had let down these kids because every one of them being interviewed shared how proud they were of our armed forces (no reason to not be proud) and how their camp and model showed how brave they were(I still didn’t get how a stick and paper tent showed that). Not a single one of them could explain what their exhibition was about.

A Project of this nature would be apt for the 4th grade not to be on TV no less and that too at the college level. We have a long road ahead. It has to start some where. The world has a clear and distinct lead on us so unless we use technology, common sense and a whole sale educational and political reform to bridge the gap, we will not even be qualified to run call centers in the next few years because AI and ML would have dibs on that work too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Stop Playing Startup and Start Growing Up: Its not you, its your Incubator

The real cost of Incubators and Accelerators and the boogymen who promise capital

I love startups. I hate the startups that don’t do any thing and cant stop playing pretend. They are wasting every ones time, most importantly their own. But at no fault of their own, they don’t know any better.

Day in and day out, I see founders that are more interested in playing startup than actually being one because of the guidance they are receiving from their “mentors” and “Incubator Owners/Hosts”.

Startups are a beautiful thing; they create value where nothing existed before, and the best of them succeed despite the unimaginably high likelihood of failure. Yet some how we are going down a misguided path of what a startup is, should be, who should run it, what it should do and how it should scale. Let alone how it should make money, create employment and empowerment.

This path is misguided because most startups are coming out of incubators that are run by people with money (or access to money, or who like to play rich) or those appointed by institutions who have zero background in doing any thing enterprising or even working some where that has done any thing remotely in line with being entrepreneurial. We are misinterpreting money and retired corporate types + academics as those who can help any of these startups. They can barely help them selves. Generalizations aren’t great, but this one is fairly on the money.

Incubators are good for the ecosystem, but when the entire ecosystem is mostly incubators, with no real VCs along with a sprinkling of angel investors that typically want a photo op rather than a patent ap and incubators that have 20 some things using downloaded guides to building a startup or Guy Kawasaki’s models and PowerPoint’s. My response is, you are already late to the game and completely lost, we have “Google” for all that. I should be the last one advocating age as a pre curser for success, all my life I’ve bet against the status quo, skill rather than age is what matters, unfortunately its linked in our ecosystem, the folks handing out the advice them selves are completely lost and the irony is, they are not volunteering at the incubators after a successful or failed startup journey, they are entry level upstarts trying to navigate their own careers and futures. The flip side is not any rosier, our system is set to respect Grey hair vs Grey Matter.

What a travesty that your first/entry level gig is that at an incubator. Wherein you will be responsible for helping and advising others on how to lead their startup journey. You cant make this stuff up, this bizzaro level crazy.

It had to start some where(Some incubators in Karachi and Lahore for the risk of Bias, are doing a service to the underserved masses) and I am glad it did, but it has to quickly evolve beyond what it is today. There are also incubators who are working on the look good methodology, to look good they bring in companies, not startups and do a fantastic PR job around them whilst they are incubated, sprinkle some institutional/govt capital, sign a few MOUs, cross promote within their fraternity and 6 months later we see this cycle being repeated and no trace of the last ones. Its self promotion at best.

In the last 6 months I’ve seen any one with some money + recent retirement + Doctorate + Bureaucrats all enter this space by the boat full. For some its post mid life crisis, unfortunately due to the hero worship mentality and the lack of career counseling in general at our academic institutions, our kids/youth will get in line and gobble up the garbage advice coming from these types and abandon their real dreams for getting a seat at the table with these self professed success stories and play pretend. There is no real money coming; there is no real growth. In 2 years I want to revisit this post and see how many startups got 50m$ in scaling capital post their incubation, let alone be commercially successful.

Most of the people running or deploying the incubators have been corporate types, who are now pretending to be Titans of industry. Their hired help, on the other hand comes from a varied mix, some have never had a real job, but a crisp white shits and a suit with spit polished shoes are essentially all that is required for the photo op and misleading every one around them. They by disposition of their last name, or their pedigree were in the right jobs, or by virtue of their political or family affiliation at the right place. These kids are far too naive to really understand the Sind Club / Punjab Club /Islamabad Club undertones and pick them up, there are just pawns in this game of pretend. Incubators that have spawned as of late, their promoters to me look like “frat brothers”. It’s a nexus of the small and interconnected and borderline incestual. I wouldn’t have a problem if they’d invested real money, beyond self promoting their own agendas and doing launch parties and lunches and posting pics with other “self professed” starsJ.

What’s lost on the startups is that these guys are hawks, they are fishing for ideas under the guise of “investing” “growing” “helping”, they are running industry events, collecting insights, finding cheap labor, handing out 8-20% equity and deploying their capital to fund their companies that will be run by fairly smart kids at what any where else in the startup world would be considered minimum wage. I.e a lock in at 8-20%. Incubators are what discotheque were to party goers in the late 70s and early 80s, a way to stay relevant, it’s the LSD of the Baby boomers Generation of Pakistan. They are doing a real dis service.

So here’s what you must ask the “owner, host, patron” of your incubator/accelerator/VC promise seller to really see if they can help you before you eagerly hand over your sanity and future to a lock in:

  1. Have you ever built a company or a product? Being a politically or family nominated CEO doesn’t count.
  2. Have you ever worked at a successful or failed startup?
  3. What makes you qualified to evaluate technical ideas?
  4. Who are the mentors in your network?
  5. Have you ever funded a successful or failed enterprise?
  6. Does your money come with strings?
  7. How much available capital does your network pledge to invest post incubation? Do you have a credible network of investors? What is their track record?
  8. Do you have a financial or technical background?
  9. When did you last file your personal taxes? Can we get our accountant to look at your incubators corporate structure?
  10. Do you have any patents? Have they been commercialized?
  11. Can you provide 2 references that will vouch for your past investments and business dealings?
  12. In you last job what did you do?
  13. Is your capital, family money, a retirement fund, or does it come from an institution or govt of politically backed entity ?
  14. You have shared that you are prolific venture capitalist? Do you have a Venture company license to operate in Pakistan?
  15. Who will own the IP we create in the business and how will we protect it?
  16. How much time will you spend with each startup? How many startups in each cohort, and besides introducing to your corporate friends, can you share a list of mentors and their background?
  17. How many times a year will you introduce us to funding cycle programs/demo days?
  18. We need to go from 1m$ in sales to 5m$ in sales, what would recommend as the best way to raise the money? Venture Debt? Dilution? PE?
  19. Since there are no bankruptcy protection laws in Pakistan how do you propose to deal with a failed startup?
  20. How do you select ideas and people to invest in, host, or accelerate, what is your growth and investment philosophy?

 

There is still time, look at the data and facts and select wisely.