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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

New Frontiers: 9 days to plan 26 days to build and the longest night of my life to execute…

(Wed Sept 28th, Midnight)

The idea was one of a kind proposed by a key strategic partner; the partners’ man on the ground was enthused this could be done. Reeling from a year long journey of building, re building, stabilizing platforms, home grown technology, winning notable mentions, guest speaking engagements whilst still keeping our heads down and producing work we could be proud of that bore the, made in Pakistan badge. This was perhaps easier to process as an idea over a conversation as opposed to the reality.

In hindsight which will happen in 10 hours and I will update this entry via an appended Para will either be, “we knew all along this could be done” or “we gave it all we had”. I am hoping for the former.

We are taking a dinner break, pausing, to re calibrate, every ones been on the go for the last 24+ hours. There is a calm, before the storm, hopefully the ships will weather the storm. For now this is an epic proportion journey. Some times it must be done it just must, every time I tell my self why change or challenge the status quo, why pick a task that doesn’t need solving, why pick a solution and define the problem. The problem is as I’ve realized today, is the desire of scale and adrenaline, for junkies of the digital world. There is no known cure, than to try harder and aim to not fail, but if you do fail fast and re calibrate.

Some would call it diversification risk, I call it emerging marketing capitalization. Venture to do what most would not, deliver and plan enough to not die trying. But be ready to weather the storm, it wont be an easy storm. What this new experience has taught me is that Pakistan has a key “infrastructure personnel” and “architect” shortage, what it gives me hope for is that we have the potential to scale up and learn these things.

The National Information Infrastructure can and will scale with a clear and present focus on expanding our technical depth. We can write all the code, all the apps, all the prose and poetry, but if we do not have the engineering talent to scale our infrastructure depth to take on large scale digital audiences we wont be ready for the conversations we play back in our mind.

An other lesson learnt is you cant do it all. That goes for my self + every one else on the team. Amongst many other lessons learnt the key is as always to not break at the tipping point and give up but strive to make sure you are re calibrating all your options. It also pays to have a team that believes in working together and partners that want to change the status quo.

Sept 30th Midnight

“we knew all along this could be done”

Pakistan say Panama – (From Pakistan to Panama)

We are a joke, we want to be treated as a joke. We have one of the poorest countries in the world, with the worst industrial growth averages, completely un fit to be economically competitive in any thing but labor arbitrage of any kind. I have proof, we built a profitable labor arbitrate 3-4 years ago and made a lot of early stage investors a lot of money. On the back of cheap/inexpensive Pakistani intellectual labor. Yet the biggest thing that is upsetting us as a nation is a what the outcome of 4 peoples flight to the UK holds for the fate of the nation. How lost as are we that literally 4 people hold the keys to our fate. You(the average Pakistani ) put them there, sadly.

I do not want to be part of a nation where my fate and my kids fate is in the hands of a few politicians who I didn’t put into power, who have abused the balance of power to leverage poor Pakistanis to vote for them. Who collect votes on the basis of family, creed, ethnicity and not outcomes of their performance? What f**ing democracy? We are not fit to be left on our own. Given the performance of the last few governments. Corruption is rampant as the fabric of society, we have stopped giving a shit about what is not acceptable any more, as almost every day, the lowest form of low is becoming acceptable. The bottom of the pyramid are completely F**d and the top 1% driven by greed and lust for more money are doing what any where else in the civilized world would be considered a war crime.

Lo an behold the Prime Minister, their family. Whilst its not illegal to have an offshore account, our illiterate country is being riled in to believing it is. What the larger fundamental issue is that for every off shore account or any account of any type you need to have funds. The key question being over looked, missed, or mis understood by every one is, where did this money come from?

By just saying we are rich from Behind(peychay say ameer) doesn’t cut it any more. We the seemingly educated class must do some thing about it, we must ask pertinent questions. It’s a 24 hour exercise to figure out the following

  • Source of funds
  • Paper trail of migration of said funds from Location A to Location B
  • Taxes paid on said funds
  • Declaration of Wealth and assets in national tax filings from the reported year of this wealth being in the family
  • Compliance with the foreign exchange regulation of the country

If all the above are met, chapter closed. If not, a resignation and trial by military courts. Further when they froze the FCA(foreign currency accounts) worth roughly 11bn$ the question needs to be asked as to why the night prior 500m$ was still remitted via friendly banks and where is the accountability for that. When these goons have the right to protect their money, why doesn’t the average Pakistani?

So look at this in perspective, the sitting Prime Minister does not have faith in the monetary system of the country so he stashes any money, ill gotten or other wise in Panama. He has no faith in the country at large, so his Kids reside in UK. He has no faith in the medical system so he goes over seas for treatment. The irony of the situation is lost on these morons. Further by just looking at TV footage, if this is a private medical trip, why must the national carrier foot the bill(which btw is also being pillaged and r*p*ed by these super stars), further why is his press contingent and spokes person and groupies traveling with him. Who is bearing the expense on that? Sadly the broken roads and leaking drain pipes in my and your neighbor hoods are bearing the cost of this and all their other trips.

We must demand a daily balance sheet of the Prime Ministers expenses and the ROI of his spend. Everywhere else where there is a just financial system, there must be a balance of accounts presented to the people. The government works for you and me, and not the other way around, they should fear us, the citizens and not the other way around. Democracy is great when its equal for all, not when the scales are tilted like they are in a monarchy. No one wants to hire a policeman to oversee them but given the filth we have; by virtue of politicians the lesser of two evils is some one playing big brother for the sake of the country. Democracy is great when cyber crime bills are not passed to silence the other side of the popular debate, when its not used to pass draconian rules to silence any one who seeks responsible answers.

There is no shame left, there is no business left in this country to do for the average person. When the average Joe tries to do some thing online, they cant get their funds back into the country legitimately for offshore services, why is there no F*u*king national debate on how to enable online payments and make repatriation of funds easier? Why the f*k are we sending our idiot politicians to Turkey to do deals on transport items when we cant even sort our payment woes, why is the tax exemption from IT services export being withdrawn? Its because not a single person in the government is either fit to understand the need nor the plight of the average Pakistani. Having not worked a single day for spending pocket money handed to, by daddy’s goons in brief cases, the realization is not there. These guys are no less entrepreneurs, people who have figured out how to get the first movers advantage in ripping off people, stealing national resources and building diversified asset bases over-seas on the back of the sweat and blood of the average Joe who cant even die in peace in this country as there is a waiting period on “qabar” real estate in most places. This is what this political system has reduced us to.

Given all the above, there is a reason why Panama Khappy (Sindhi phrase which means “Long live”), because in the end, Panama provides the safety, security, anonymity, respect and business environment they couldn’t create them selves even after being in power many times over….