How dysfunctional Ceo’s/founders destroy great companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So you ask, what is this smart pipe dream?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nuts and Bolts of Digital Innovation & Transformation | Part Science, Part Art & Part Fiction.

This article has been updated with the PPT used at the 021Disrupt Conference on Sat Nov4th 2017.Disrupt-Faizan Siddiqi

Digital Innovation is not easy, actually its more difficult than transformation. Because Innovation is real touchy feely stuff, transformation at its core is the vernacular of the C suite chaps who like LBOs of the 80 and CDOs of 90s invented stuff that the average person couldn’t really understand. We all fell for it, but how many of us really understand at its core what it means?

Lets try to deconstruct why Innovation is so hard “Being active in youth may change the inner workings of brain cells much later in life and sharpen some types of thinking, according to a remarkable new neurological study involving rats.​” So for the new experiment, which was published this month in eNeuro, researchers at the University of Toronto and other institutions basically distilled it down to the following premise: Moving When Young May Strengthen the Adult Brain.

If you look at it rationally organizations are looking for younger folks(generally) to run and head Digital Innovation and Transformation initiatives because at some cellular level being in their 40-50s/60s they realize that as they cope with their cognitive issues at large its best to farm this work out to some one from the right generation. They are not very wrong in this assumption but they arrived at it because they them selves cant do it and its easier to appoint a person, a function a role to take the fall when their organizations falter at the seams as they fight off the startups eating away at their margins. I understand this is a very large scale generalization but it is backed up by what we see at corporations large and small. Find me a Chief Innovation Officer in their 50s.

Until you understand the principles behind innovation, you’re going to fall short. There is no innovation “formula” that magically works for every company. Don’t settle for fad management tactics or blanket solutions that lack nuance. There is no innovation “formula” that magically works for every situation. As a baseline your need to gain a deep understanding of principles, frameworks and skills that help you see the world differently. When you learn to see the world differently, you begin to think creatively.

Given the information overload and information paralysis we go through every day, we are victims to filter bubbles.

WTF are Filter Bubbles, let me demonstrate. Imagine your average day. What do you do?You read the headlines, tap, scroll, tap, tap, scroll.It is a typical day and you are browsing your usual news site. The New Yorker, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, take your pick. As you skim through articles, you share the best ones with like-minded friends and followers. Perhaps you add a comment. Few of us sit down and decide to inform ourselves on a particular topic.For the most part, we pick up our smartphones or open a new tab, scroll through a favored site and click on whatever looks interesting.Or we look at Facebook or Twitter feeds to see what people are sharing.Chances are high that we are not doing this intending to become educated on a certain topic.

No, we are probably waiting in line, reading on the bus or at the gym, procrastinating, or grappling with insomnia, looking for some form of entertainment.

We all do this skimming and sharing and clicking, and it seems so innocent.But many of us are uninformed about or uninterested in the forces affecting what we see online and how content affects us in return.That ignorance has consequences.

The term “filter bubble” refers to the results of the algorithms that dictate what we encounter online. So how can you innovate when all you are doing is consuming stuff and re hashing it. There is no net new creativity. Most days.

Much of the content we consume, the cord cutting shows we watch, the papers we read offer personalized content selections, based on our browsing history, age, gender, location, and other data.We become the subject as opposed to becoming the subject matter expert and we fully understand that we cant innovate till we at least have some grounding as an expert in a discipline, that grounding doesn’t come only via having a Phd or classical training in a field it comes with interactions and the ability to think within the constructs of the issue at hand with a view to find a solution.

In the absence of which and by being digital consumers alone, the result is a flood of articles and posts that support our current opinions and perspectives to ensure that we enjoy what we see. We program our selves to enjoy the mundane. Even when a site is not offering specifically targeted content, we all tend to follow people whose views align with ours.When those people share a piece of content, we can be sure it will be something we are also interested in. Take this blog post for example.

That might not sound so bad, but filter bubbles create echo chambers. We assume that everyone thinks like us, and we forget that other perspectives exist, which is a cardinal sin when you are tasked with innovating.

Filter bubbles transcend web surfing. In important ways, your social circle is a filter bubble; so is your neighborhood. If you’re living in a gated community, for example, you might think that reality is only BMWs, Teslas, and Mercedes and kids going to private prep schools because that will make them scions of industry and get other perks in life.

Your work circle acts as a filter bubble too, depending on whom you know and at what level you operate at.

One of the great problems with filters is our human tendency to think that what we see is all there is, without realizing that what we see is being filtered. There in lies the core issue around why most of us suck at innovating and why we are whole heartedly engaged in hero worship or having our ideas and thoughts being shaped by the bias in every thing around us. Let me demonstrate, watch the following:

If you watched this you have a very real sense of why filter bubbles are the crux of the problem of innovation.

Filter bubbles can cause cognitive biases and shortcuts to manifest, amplifying their negative impact on our ability to think in a logical and critical manner. A combination of social proof, availability bias, confirmation bias, and bias from disliking/liking is prevalent.

We have an inherent desire to be around those who are like us and reinforce our worldview.  People form tribes based on interests, location, employment, affiliation, and other details.  Within groups (even if members never meet each other), beliefs intensify. Anyone who disagrees may be ousted from the community. Sociologists frame this as “communal reinforcement” and stress that the ideas perpetuated can have no relation to reality or empirical evidence.

Thats why when you join an organization that wants you to lead their innovation function and or digital transformation, the organizational bias that exists actually sets you up for failure. Only when the Leadership allows you to be free spirited can this be counteracted but in most cases and on most days that is not the case, hence the best of intentions to hire a hipster to innovate fails. The sum of the organizations attitudes make sure that 9/10 times that is the case.

Organizational Systems — be they people, cultures, or work groups, to name a few examples — naturally have to filter information and thus they reduce options. Sometimes people make decisions, sometimes corporate cultures make them, and increasingly algorithms make them. As the speed of information flowing through these systems increases, filters will play an even more important role.

You have to be able to see past them to really innovate. If you innovate at a steady state your transformation journey becomes easier, so my take is, without innovation digital transformation is just a fad that will have no new results when you try to solve old problems without innovating first.

Making time for deep reflection in your daily life in incredibly valuable. Do not miss an opportunity /any opportunity to simplify, clarify and get back to the essence of what it means to innovate.

I firmly believe that understanding without experience is worthless. Unless you are immersed in activities that allow you to discuss, execute workshops and practice newfound skills, rather than regurgitate them. You wont be able to innovate.

There is a  truckload of bullshit in organizational truths,  When I say [BS], I mean arguments, data, publications, or even the official policies of  organizations that give every impression of being perfectly reasonable of being well-supported by the highest quality of evidence, and so forth but which don’t hold up if you look beyond the surface.

Bullshit  has the veneer of truth-like plausibility. It looks good. It sounds right. But when you get right down to it, it stinks. So you gotta watch out for organizational BS. Before you can think at scale you cant innovate, till you can innovate you cant transform and till you cant transform you will be at the same place you started besides the fact that you’d have put on a fresh coat of lipstick on the pig.

As the programmer Alberto Brandolini is reputed to have said: “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” So even if your heart is in the right place at your organization and you are having to refute the old way of doing some thing before you can really innovate, most of your energy will be spent on refuting past truths. But there in lies the art part of my title, you must know the art of making sure you are not refuting all the time but that you have a balancing act. The fiction part is the story you must tell of a future, that by virtue of transformation will yield better results, so you have to have a truth well told. The science part is that once you get it right every one will start to believe that you have a method to the madness, hence it becomes as irrefutable as science , data and facts, because growing up we were all led to believe that most scientific truths hold true till proven other wise.

Understanding that what we see is not all there is will help us realize that we’re living in a distorted world and remind us to take off the glasses. Trust me, you need those glasses off to innovate and to transform, be it digital or other wise.

 

Disclosure: This article and every thing else on this site draws heavily from my daily filter bubbles and is a social experiment to see how many people have the same bias.

Wireless Carrier – Spammer or Innovator ? Leading from the front.

Oh Telenor I have now relied on you for 5 years why must you ruin my experience by literally spamming me daily? On an ill fated day, 27th Aug, I decided to trade in my 3g sim for a 4g sim and some how Telenor decided it had a right to offer me 100mb daily with a youtube link and then tell me my free quota had expired.

For all the things Telenor has gotten right this is making me rethink my decision.

This is brutal. 5:42 AM Spam. I dont know what tech is messed up but seemingly every time I go in and out of a 4G zone I have to deal with a text message. What is a consumer to do? What the hell is wrong with these companies? Nahin daikhney mujhay apni man passand videos on youtube. Not sitting idle all day to go view on your que especially not at 5am.  Cant fathom what is wrong with these guys. But always ready to market random acts of kindness when they cant even get basic service right.  Even without underwater trouble they seem to be smoking some really good stuff.

This only added insult to injury as over the summer(June 19th) I wanted to get voice mail, a very basic service else where in the civilized world, one which I had used off an on in the past but I called the call center and after a 15 minute activation ordeal I was told we no longer offer this service. But I am not sure, your account rep will call you. He called and asked me to share what measures id taken up to that point. So I responded via text msg as below:

On que, 30 mins later I get a call “Boss, kaisay hain aap, yaar I was told apko voice mail chaye hay” I humored the gentleman as he had taken the liberty of calling back and seemingly wanted to help.

He said he will “inquire” and let me know. True to his word, he calls back and says “Boss, we discontinued the service, magar aap kareen gay kia voice mail ka?”

Fantastic customer support no less:) The guy went from being my account rep to being the average Pakistani phuppo. Why must I defend my desire to use a service.  More so https://www.telenor.com.pk/help-support/faq/voice-mail is still out there albeit void of any info. I am struggling to understand why the disconnect across channels. Perhaps I expect too much. Or perhaps these guys have gotten fat and lazy. Or they are too busy focusing on other initiatives as opposed to basic customer satisfaction.

It didn’t end there, I also realized on a recent visit to a franchise in my desire to get an other number for an IOT device, that once I ran my bio metric, I could not access any other feature/update/sim replacement prior to 8 hours because the Nadra verification had a time lock. So I am standing there dumbstruck being told I need to come back. It was a rare treat for me to be there in the first place the thought of dragging my self back still doesn’t appeal to me.

I am struggling with the back end systems lack of design and untested use case of authenticate once and keeping the session live while the customer is on premise and ensure all their transactions are complete before the authentication key is let go. Who in their right mind would come back in 8 Hours and continue to keep on doing so if you happen to be one of the lucky ones with multiple sims/numbers.

I wonder where the technical innovation is?  why is customer service so difficult? why are the systems untested? I guess like every one else Telenor is caught up in the startup frenzy.  They got lucky with easy paisa and it truly revolutionized an industry. Credit where its due.

The next guy with greater marketing muscle to come in, can and will disrupt even that space. It seems most companies here are one trick ponies, just because they did some thing right once, they have a right to consistently delivery crappy services for life.  With Google payments(supposedly launching) in India this week. It takes one market force of change to destroy the status quo. Cant wait for a real payments company to come out of the domestic talent or to show up with VC money to put all of the telcos in place.

The larger challenge is why every one puts up with shoddy service and how the CEOs of these companies parade their CSR and Best Employer regimens to un suspecting Facebook users. These guys should be made to use their own service with out preferential treatment and go stand in line at a service center to understand the plight of the consumers that fuel their growth.

If these copycat CEOs must borrow a page from a play book, I encourage them to go read this and try to emulate 5% of  what this guy is doing:

http://read.bi/2x32kfT

 

 

 

 

Digital Displacement Camp | PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Experience the highs and lows of a startup and entrepreneurship in |1| Day.

 

Who is this #BC (Boot-Camp) for?

  • An entrepreneur or any serious entrepreneur.  What you should be thinking before you think about coming. I have an early-stage startup or aspire to start one. I want to get on a path to a paying customer and want to understand the mind set to build, grow and scale.
  • A corporate entrepreneur- (Intrapreneur ). I work at a growth-stage startup or established enterprise. I want to help my company innovate. At the Boot Camp I will learn new tools and will learn from ideas and innovation around me to take new learning’s and a new mindset back to my company. Hopefully they will change or I will do some thing with my time that brings change and focus on launching some thing my self.
  • A team or group of folks. You want to work with us to develop a rigorous business plan, pressure-test your processes and become a better team but don’t know where to get started? Then you must come.
  • Any one who feels he/she is underwhelmed by life and wants to do some thing about it,  a retired professional or  a wealthy individual or a retired wealthy individual , who doesn’t know what to do, but has the inkling to do some thing, also has some ideas perhaps some reserve funds, or a fantastic product that they’d like to commercialize or get involved in a cause that helps others around them by either their time, experience or money, you are welcome to register.

Here’s how you can still register

https://goo.gl/RG7n7k

 

Challenge Yourself

Entry to spend a fully day at DDC is highly selective because time is precious; we only want to bring those who have committed to building their own Displacement Capital TM. Many will apply. Only a few will make it through to the initial bootcamp. Its all about mind set, if you didn’t bother to fill out the form beyond a few lines, you need to do better next time.

 

Window into You

Learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses. Working with “randomly selected” teammates who are the same but completely different, not only helps you become a better listener but also more open-minded and trying to learn to de construct problems and get a window into seeing your self from a distance and interpret the best and worst of your self for better future outcomes.

 

Key Challenge + S

At the end of the day, attendees will identify a key challenge to solve, present their solution and receive specific, and actionable feedback not a pat on the back, in fact the idea is to make you recognize failure and success so you can either re calibrate and move on or scale and grow.

 

What can I possibly Learn in a Day? (at least one thing more than you knew coming in)

– Team Dynamics & Conflict Resolution
– How to think about innovation , Identification of problems & Ideation
– Establishing Product Market Fit
– Scaling for Exponential Growth and thinking BIG

 

What are the Stretch Goals of the session?

– Learn to solve challenges in a disciplined & systematic way.
– Experience the challenges of 2-3 years of startup life in 1 day
– Develop a can do attitude and take things head on
– Believe in your self and your idea(s)

When is this happening?

SAT 19th of August

Where is this Happening?

Karachi, confirmed participants will be given location details 6 days in advance.

How long does this last?

It runs from 9am to 6pm. Its free to attend , Lunch will be served.

Who will run the session(s)?

The primary session/day long activity will be run by Faizan Siddiqi (www.linkedin.com/in/faizansiddiqi ) http://blog.chinookstrategy.com

There will be guest appearances through the day for 30 mins each, which we will confirm to the participants once we make final selections given the sheer volume of interest we want to make sure we invite meaningful speakers to maximize the utility of every ones time. Keep an eye out for this space, I will be sharing speaker updates here.

 

Happy Learning.

 

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.

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.

 

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.