Winning Formula. Till Real VCs do us part.

In the general course of listening to pitches and meeting various startups a curious trend is emerging amongst the funded ones. Especially those who were funded locally by local groups. Whilst I do not want to generalise the phenomenon is one that is growing and clearly took me by surprise.

There are multiple categories of local investors lets define a few types so you are familiar.

  1. Pathan Loan Shark PE (PLS-PE) Meaning the last generation was involved in Loan Sharking, second generation white washed it with some overseas qualifications and degrees, professionally managed Insta and plethora of awards and accolades/re-branding in progress, taking semi-old money and converting it in to the “House of X” “ This Group” “That Group”, these guys never were the 21, but they sure are dicking every one over with their sub 21% loans++)
  2. Returning Allegedly Successful Serial Investor – Pakistani From Abroad (RASSI-PFA). This is about a 5 year old phenomenon give or take. Unverified Overnight Pakistanis who no one knew in Pakistan before they left, who no one really knew after they re-emerged, come to town with 1-2 White Guys, slowly started hosting events, did a few first deals three under 200k around- Boom they arrived. Offshore shell companies galore, likely their source of funds is all Pakistani Money Parked Overseas. (PMPO) . They aren’t the JP Morgan returning types, details are sketchy, most ppl know its local money being funnelled back but since it is some form of funding in the absence of real VC money people will take what ever comes their way. Plus bro they have white guys.
  3. Daddy’s Umm Money Daddy’s Umm Marzi.(DUMDUM). This is a cross over between the above two, young scion comes back with a degree, figures out they have a better deal in PK because daddy has privilege, daddy is typically and industrialist but, in most cases{پیچھے سے امیر}, rich from behind. (RFB). Money comes from textiles, agri, oil, govt concessions, construction, export oriented generational family money. Some political types also in this, best to stay away from those and the ones that have Rawal-P (R)  blood line.. Those are also emerging.  The core game has been to take as much equity as possible and then go into acqui-slave models. Daddy’s political cover and access to easy regulatory approvals would have one imagine that this variety would have created dominance by now, but the apple has truly fallen far from the tree and the second generation is still pretending to invest with real money and since they have limited insights need daddy’s blessings in the end. They may wear the big boy pants and suits, but the fear of daddy’s chittar makes sure the real decisions come from Abba jis office and his trusted munshis.
  4. A – Usually New Technological Yuppie (AUNTY). This is what one would classify as the AID based Islamabad/DC/London centric crowd. John Perkins in his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman Describes them as “Economic hit men(Not all are men though esp in this category) (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from foreign “aid” organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources.” Domestically this follows some part of type 2 above, a seemingly new face shows up on the ground, with “its complicated” on their fb status, a closer look shows that , before they became a VC/fund organiser their LinkedIn goes from  community developer of some tier 4 fashion boutique or such or Bank Teller at “first community bank” to Chief Disruptor of this NewHipCo in PK. Source of funding un known. Dinners and bottle service galore.. They engage in quality content production and high-fiving liberals, if you get in their path you get labelled as backward or movli-tech. They continue to aspire a generation of startups in a completely mis-guided fashion.

But I digress, enough explanations, each of these categories and some more; deserve an entire post on their own. But what is worrisome is not who is doing the pretend VC game, it’s how it’s being done.

So local VC type 1-4 above, invests in a PK Pvt limited company. Say 100k USD in PKR, some times not all cash either, in kind or services, or charge the Startup for use office, utilities, legal services, sundry items etc all provided in kind or letting them use their profile as a board member against future considerations.

Typical target companies are where local PRK is spent on the startup (health care, agri, agri tech, services, product and companies building tech for other companies and a host of logo shops + content shops). The founder then is encouraged to open a Singapore Entity by the VC. Up to this point there is no real traction in the business it is largely fuelled by Aids/Grants/Other competitions and typically has some element of social enterprise or is minority led etc.(not always but more  times than none). These 1-4 connected types get them free media exposure, access to grants and special monies the common man has no access to in the right circles to create Visibility and an illusion of success sans balance sheet data.

5000$S Later a New Hold Co is setup in Singapore that owns 100% of PK Pvt Limited. In that NewCo, the investor owns their share. The founder goes to all incoming investors (largely introduced by grant giving organizations or development funds) and proposes the following:

  1. My seed investor wants out this is not their core; my valuation is now 2x 3x as we have a term sheet they have gotten from a 3rd party(wink wink). You can invest into the Holding Co in Singapore and we can clean out the investor and you can get majority. In-fact we will help you do it, our  seed investor has agreed.
  2. My Seed investor is willing to put in another 50k at a new 2x Valuation, but I have an option to buy his share out but for the new valuation, hes happy to stay too. But if You  want, you can just invest in Hold Co I will talk to them and  will take them out and you can own 100% of what they have up to the point. They are happy to continue, but you see; if they stay, they back my valuation as should you. If you are interested.
  3. My Seed investor is happy to dilute down, you can come in at the original valuation but I had a consulting arrangement with them for which they need to be paid 100k USD, because I had a separate contract with them on this “sorry”. But they added so much value and funded all my travel to these grant competitions and my SanFran visits and insta posts really I have to make them whole.
  4. Unknown to the startup the money coming in from SG into Holdco, is the investor just repatriating previously un-accounted for FX from PK, on the way in, they will register it and then have the option to legally make it all white. Since they own Majority, and the startup has say less than 15% its still cheaper to route the money through this system than other less than kosher means. Plus if the startup works it kills two birds with one stone.

If you haven’t figure it out, the Pakistani investor is investing in Pakistan, in PKR, the new investment coming into Singapore is giving them the ability to retain their 100k USD in Cash in Singapore. Effectively doing a PKR to FX Swap. Who knows if they had originally invested the 100k equivalent in PK or not, but they are cashing out offshore.  None of their share will come back to PK, they are essentially helping startups to create opportunities to either:

  1. Clean funds offshore if there local funds were sketchy or undocumented/esp if they provided in kind services at a value of 100k vs actual money
  2. Create a larger upside as their in-kind stuff cant be measured
  3. Splitting the difference with some founders and finding a way to both take out the tech and the company and its future investment and revenues out of PK. Whilst re-patriating some %age back and showing that as FDI and having it repatriable over time as its registered on the way in.

Trust Desis to find a way to have a value lever on even these startups. 95% of starts Are Not doing this, but the ones that are; are on a glamour ride and winning contests and jet setting actually don’t have business fundamentals. These 4 types of investors are driving them to their own agendas. By the time real investors and real VC money shows up people will be so tired of having being taken advantage of and the startup community will have such a dodgy reputation that people will be afraid. Because the other 95% aren’t really getting the exposure, it’s the so called funded and 1-4 aligned ones that have visibility and so called traction its this 5% that will shade the view for all others. Lets hope that some of the 95% variety get real funding and re write the story the way its supposed to be.

I used 100k USD as an easy example to illustrate the mechanics of the transaction

The more responsibility I gain,
Further away I want to run.
Life pushes on my shoulders,
And it no longer seems like fun.
Coleen Brown.

#DigitalJuloos

TL:DR Let us start off by defining what this post is not. It is not a critique of any thing besides the content and the context that it was published under and its likely implications. It is also a recognition that you cant make every one happy but you have our respect for going down this path and accepting the Challenge.

This document has varying degrees of focus and at some places no focus at all, I sincerely hope #DigitalPakistan is a collection of action items beyond HashTag wisdom. No denying the history lesson or to recognise the strength of our country, our people and our resilience. What does #DigitalPakistan bring to the table? that we already don’t know? What ministry is this part of? What is the official make up of all the team members of this initiative. There are murmurs of capitalists lingering in the hallways of power whilst this is being done. Is it a policy initiative only? Does the PMO expect Tania to do this alone? She has braved enough initial feedback by her self. Where is her team? Why? When so many SAPMs also not make her one? But beyond the intergovernmental f*ups, lets look at the content.

Know thy constituents.

Digital Pakistan, a glocal movement”

This document starts off with defining Digital Pakistan as a glocal movement. Glocal, an adjective, by definition, is “reflecting or characterised by both local and global considerations. The term “glocal management” in a sense of “think globally, act locally” is used in the business strategies of companies, in particular, by Japanese companies that are expanding overseas. Heres some history to go with it…The concept comes from the Japanese word dochakuka, which means global localisation. It had referred to the adaptation of farming techniques to local conditions. It became a buzzword when Japanese business adopted it in the 1980s. The word stems from Manfred Lange, head of the German National Global Change Secretariat, who used “glocal” in reference to Heiner Benking’s exhibit: Blackbox Nature: Rubik’s Cube of Ecology at an international science and policy conference.

So when you are putting out a national level policy directive or an initial guidance document it must make sense to the masses and the constituents both in context and content.

We should build what works for us. I can’t imagine mobile phone usage/growth/adoption in Pakistan without prepaid services. If Telcos had tried the postpaid route(and modified global models), many dead carcasses would be on the ground due to indebtedness. Our peculiarities matter. Glocalization is good but lets do this one step at a time with context and a feel for the local market. You cant helicopter in and rescue the ones who already have a life boat, look for the ones that dont.

Lets look Deeper at the content..


(1) Access & Connectivity
(2) Digital infrastructure
(3) eGovernment
(4) Digital Skills & Training and
(5) Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Even prior to and independent of this announcement, nascent conversations and even the usage of the #DigitalPakistan hashtag was prevalent. Many public and private stakeholders exist today that partially overlap with Digital Pakistan. However, an overarching body to help keep “the bigger picture” in mind to cohere messages and calls to action, and ensure that outcomes are aligned with the mission, tends to be missing.

A Document that starts of by defining the #Hashtag DigitalPakistan vs the listed 1 through 5 Areas of the vision, does not give me the comfort that the team putting out this document has a sense of what all the constituents and citizens of the ecosystem want and expect. It seems like a document thats heavy on expat-pleasing vernacular vs substance. Look, I want this to succeed as much as the next person. I have invested time, effort, physical presence in to relocating to Pakistan by actively participating on the ground. But this reality distortion field(document) is not going to help any one the way it stands now. By trying to appease other actual government constituents, this seems like a communication that is white washing the issue and doing diplomacy as opposed to national information infrastructure building. The PMO should not be building consensus within their own ranks at our cost. Not every one is going to be tweeting #goodjob #bestofluck and asking on how to participate in this vision. Some of us are going to ask #whatnext?

As a mission-driven initiative, Digital Pakistan’s focus is primarily on ensuring that desirable outcomes are achieved. Specifically, this means that Digital Pakistan’s success should primarily be measured on whether such outcomes are actually achieved; the concrete implementing body and / or method is secondary.

I read with interest the above items in bold. Let’s take it from the top, is this a vision? is this an initiative? Is it a Program? Where is the Mission? Who is defining the outcomes and achievements or did #DigitalPakistan just concede space to existing state actors, bureaucrats and others to say;

” hey, we want to do good work, it doesn’t matter if your actual ministry or cell or division does the work.” The buck has to stop with some one. So what I’m reading is ,that its ok if the end-details aren’t worked out; what is important is the work starts. Thats not a good starting position. Displacing accountability before doing any thing real is already at the detriment of the people at large.

In some ways, I do agree, that inter departmental politicking will be bad but this document at-least up-to this point does-not define any thing substantive. Besides clearing their air between seemingly hostile intergovernmental constituents I cant get a feel for where this is headed.

A key part of Digital Pakistan is therefore assuming the mantle of custodian for a set of principles and values defining what Digital Pakistanis. By further helping shape and advance the Digital Pakistan narrative, we hope that the plethora of initiatives and widespread energy spent by various
stakeholders is channeled productively
, in return, making each individual effort more successful.

Key Digital Pakistan Principles

1.#shaamil- Responsible and inclusive access to information and information technologies are a fundamental right.
a. Affordable access to any required hardware devices (e.g. low-end smartphones)
b. Universal data access (e.g. connectivity in geographically remote areas)
c. Affordable data access (e.g. mobile subscription plans)
d. As free flow of information as possible

#Shaamil..hmm
A) Affordable access to hardware..well this seems to be out here because the govt already reduced tax for feature(ish) phones https://www.phoneworld.com.pk/taxes-on-mobile-phone-import-reduced/ in the first week of Jan. This is a post effect engineered win for #DigitalPakistan. The whole regime on phone taxes is a different issue in-itself that needs better management on control and chori vs taking irrelevant half baked policy decisions on Low end smart phones. You never make a high end play using low end thinking.

B) Universal data access, we already have enough basic access to get the ball rolling. Had Google Station not been shut down, id imagine this to be out of that play book. Clearly 4g reigns supreme even for Google. https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/17/21140698/google-station-discontinued-free-wifi-india-south-africa-railway-stations

C) Again our carriers are doing a good to great job on this, we have some the least expensive data plans in the world. So what does #DigitalPakistan bring to this. *Note, ask any cell phone carrier and they will tell you that between 6pm to 11pm their data utilisation is off the charts. Also ask them what percentage of total data is being used for Youtube. So who are we really helping without having effective policy controls in place for ad-revenue/taxation and incorporation help for the giants? This is a gift that will keep on making other people rich(non-Pakistanis) if not linked to substantive policy decision to course correct.

D) I dont get this, this akin to saying, eat healthy to stay healthy, what does #DigitalPakistan have to do with it?

2.#hunarmand – 21st century skills to reap benefits of technology
a. Digital literacy and how to operate e.g. a smartphone
b. Skills for digitally enabled jobs (e.g. home-based selling of goods via social commerce)

#ifhashtagswereoutcomes this vision/document would have already won. Nothing wrong with the above, but if operating a smartphone is the hook, whats the kicker? Who will define it, how will it get done? For any one to migrate from operating a phone or point a to b, literacy to skill for digital jobs, we have a long way to go. Home based selling is a good story to sell but social commerce has key infra requirements that are seemingly outside the remit of this group. The postal service has had 300m$ plus of losses, if you want to work on actionable social commerce take that money and build out a distribution network that works. For social commerce to work, basic commerce has to work, tax nets and input items need to be managed, you can not continue to tax the working middle class over and over again. We are facing some of the. worst poverty numbers and highest inflation ever, hashtags arent going to feed any one any time soon.


3.#pehchaan – Simplify interactions between citizens, government and the broader economy.
a. Development of a “Pakistan Stack” as technology and data infrastructure connecting these different spheres.
b. Using digital technologies for easier and more transparent public expenditures, tax collection as well as prevention of tax evasion
c. Driving towards the ‘Ask only once’ principle i.e. aim to ensure that citizens, institutions, and companies only have to provide certain standard information to the authorities and administrations once

I can get behind this for sure. Digital Identity for better taxation, transparent services and govt/data/infra Rails, Spot on. But again this is old wine in new bottles, nothing has been done by transforming quick wins like OneLink etc to be coupled with Nadra etc to offer these services. I understand criticising this is easy, but we have quick wins possible, Instead of focusing on political wins like reducing dumb phone taxes alone, focus on other top priority areas like building an ecosystem for feature phone development incentives for local software companies.. Tax theft is easy to prevent, beyond intentions, link all banks to id cards and all bank data to a national tax system that is managed electronically, that blocks the tax evaders electric supply, their gas, their ability to have a cell phone and their kids to go to school.

4#digitaljugarus – An inclusive digital revolution must be an economic boon for all,
a. Fostering mass employment creation through digital platforms like marketplaces,
freelancing communities or ride hailing companies.
b. Creating an appropriate legal, financial and regulatory environment for technology
startups to flourish.
c. Be the conduit for linking local digital skills supply with global demand in areas with high global demand like machine learning or python.

For all the right things this basic document is trying to organise(admittedly this is better than any thing the IT Ministry ever came up with) it is marginalising the key contributor. The Community. This kind of imported terminology vernacular is completely out of place & border line embarrassing. It is also completely out of touch from the reality of free lancers young and old and those who want to evolve from truly basic operations into a SMEs, SMBs and Operate under a formal structure.

A) The government doesn’t need to get into the market place game/business, there are plenty out there and there is roughly between 1-3bn$ worth of free lance GreenBacks that are locked out of our eco-system, this money is parked offshore not because every ones a crook but due to lack of systems/payment processes in place. These guys are not Jugarus, how dare you? They are active contributing members of society who were let down by every one, who by them selves figured out to monetize their skill digitally, before there was a #digitalpakistan.

B)This item is the need of the hour, many cheers for having this in this 2 pager, but what is the 90 day action item that will make sure this happens? You realise all the companies your(various ministers) want to tax overseas are being gated from local presence because no one gets their legal framework ask. Not saying you make it to suit Google alone but there are many others who would jump on the opportunity.

C)The supply that is already there is operating in the free market and making dollars through freelancing, unless you up-skill the masses, there is no new value or economic input that you will impact by being a conduit of any kind. ML and Python take some time to scale, viz a vi training, there is investment $$s that need to go into it too. Google loves Python, if we fix the regulatory items, we can surely get some love from Mountain View? Maybe even others. But why limit to what you know get larger stake holder involvement, figure out what freelancers are bringing in the most moola and then adapt. Why prescribe items where there is limited hw, given one model already works. Scale that first. #askforhelp

Key Areas of Work

(One of the most fascinating aspects of the digital revolution is the vast scope and diversity of how it Impacts everyday life. As such, Digital Pakistan’s work and internal capabilities & capacities to advance the mission are multifaceted. In general, the bulk of the work can be grouped in five broad categories:

1.Channeling of and representing the Digital Pakistan Movement
a. Ongoing communication and evolution of the Digital Pakistan Narrative
b. Defining (annual) themes (e.g. jobs, education, government services) that can help channel the majority of efforts by Digital Pakistan Foundation but also other stakeholders towards focus areas

2.Information dissemination (e.g. enable other parties to make better decisions and / or Identify potentials). This includes:
a. content creation for layman and stakeholders (e.g. videos, white-papers, text, illustrations)
b. Train the trainer courses
c. Basic training courses (< 40h training)

3.Policy advancement or intervention (e.g. creating dialogue, lobbying)
a. Identifying key aspects of policy that can help accelerate adoption in Digital Pakistan’s focus areas (i.e. “What should be done that isn’t being done”).
b. Advising on existing or proposed policies that may stunt the digitization agenda (i.e. “What shouldn’t be done that is being done”)

4.Technology development. This includes:
a. “Quick Proof-Of-Concepts” to show potential real-world impact of certain ideas with the goal of being (eventually) replaced with permanent more scalable solutions
b. “Cornerstone technology development” that is built and / or operated by Digital Pakistan or potentially contributed to the Government of Pakistan for operations and has long-term strategic value to the overall mission

5.Building bridges and facilitating dialogue between citizens, government, local industry, and international players

1- If all we are worried about is the narrative then we shouldn’t be in this game. The word Digital Pakistan shows up in this 2 pager 17times. Have we run out of substance at launch? This is looking like an echo chamber to provide self assurance that some thing is being done and a quality angrezi document was produced. More than 50% of your intended audience cant make head or tail of this. Further when you translate this from English to Urdu, it will actually loose most of its opacity. As a first/launch document(you used an image and talk about transparency no text version made public), I cant even define what this is, is it a policy framework, is it a document to tell the “awam” what is coming? Is it there to show some thing is being done? Most of the items are dated, given past efforts have also come without action plans, time lines and ownership the awam will loose patience in a short time. This document it self says, dont worry about who does the job? What kind of a cop-out is that? You havent even started yet.

2- Dont get how information dissemination alone, translates to helping others make better decisions. What lay person uses white papers ? What does train the trainer have to do with the context of this point. Perhaps I am lost, but this is gibberish to cover a checklist of things that are said publicly that if googled make the general awam happy with some thing being done may be a good PR stunt but add no value to the bottom line.

3- If you are in government and you have to lobby to tell people what to do or what not to do, that tells me you are not empowered (yet). We dont need any more policies, in-fact we need less regulation any one who thinks and or wants to add an other layer of policy direction will meet with challenges far larger than their existing comprehension on the subject. Advisors have already destroyed this country beyond repair, Not saying this will meet the same fate, but we need an execution mind set.

“””maiñ ne us se ye kahā
har vazīr har safīr
be-nazīr hai mushīr”””
https://www.rekhta.org/nazms/mushiir-habib-jalib-nazms


4- In plain speak you want to do MVPs and show things work, you also want to play a role in enabling tech that brings out long term changes. Great. But you will have to compete with NITB who are launching Islamabad specific app after app, and other state run orgs, who spend public money on accelerators and such. Also an IT Ministry that has no minister. So yet again the “awam” will pay the price of complete anarchy at the govt level. Zero planning, loose threads and a prayer. (This is one of the vaguest statement in the entire document).

5- P@sha does a decent job, other trade/functional bodies do too. Strengthen what you have, learn from what others have organically built in this country. Within their repertoire they also gave you the first incubator, that actually kick started the ecosystem and brought Pakistan to the attention of major other players who didn’t get involved before that. The Nest i/o with full admission of my bias, launched 021 disrupt, where you arguably had your first mass address to the community too. Strengthen those bonds, help facilitate that, get rid of PSEBs of the world and build out stronger support bodies. Less is more esp when it comes to regulation and growth. We are rooting for you on this. You have shown by your actions that you are looking to build an inclusive ecosystem. But this document does a dis-service to an otherwise stellar vision shared earlier publicly.

“You have to take the bull by the horns, you have to have a clear articulate strategy for each milestone”

Much like your selves I for sure don’t have the answers, but I didn’t sign up for public scrutiny by being a govt employee, no less as some one who is an active participant in the ecosystem, what Id like to see are items around:

1) A Concrete Payments Strategy

2) A Software Export Strategy & Plan Including Tax Incentives

3) A Legal Framework for foreign tech company incorporation

4) FX regulation on incoming freelancer payments and ability to hold up-to 50% of incoming USD for onward USD Expenses (hosting/subscriptions/tools etc)

5) A ban on predatory loans being made via apps locally (30-70% interest)

6) A regulatory control over what Jazz/EasyPaisa and others charge as fees for transfers (SBP needs to come into action here).

7) Single CNIC based Free lancer registration with a FreeLancer Bank Type so incoming funds are not held by banks from these freelancers and they are not made to feel like criminals when they go to get their money, they should be made heroes vs being given shitty treasury rates.

8) A legal framework to regulate predatory apps and services like Bigo live who could potentially be responsible for FATF style bans if left unchecked. (Pro Tip, call the telco payment companies and ask how much of Bigo Live/similar apps, enabled transactions are passing through their system.)

9)A policy on Nano-Lending (we are solving the wrong payments problem, we need to solve the nano-lending and the fiat currency change problem)

10) Create a policy of equals with China on e-commerce and cross border taxation, without controls, the willing and un-willing will import the hell out of drop shipping systems and use local postal delivery to burn FX on importing items. Regulate to promote local growth. Dont confuse it with enabling people to sell online. This is causing a trade deficit.

There is a whole lot more, but this is a good start, work on national info and payment rails, similarly tax rails. We need less lip service and documents and more actions. Most of the items here are a great first pass, but missing substance and the document feels like its talking down to the tech constituents of this country. Do not under estimate the people who are contributing hard $s to the economy, you can learn from them but don’t learn at their expense. We need actions now, because the ones we elected sadly were not capable. You have a long journey ahead. From Jan 5th 2019 and the formal launch of DigitalPakistan 76 days have lapsed and if the net outcome is 2 pages, I am but compelled to ask difficult questions. So lets hope you guys deliver on #DigitalPakistan vs this turning into a #DigitalJuloos .

It is time for Change, It is time to Change.

Drive around the country, drive around in big cities and small, look at the names of the streets/roads/avenues. We cant get past sports men, leaders of yesteryears(most of whose f**kups have really put us where we are) yet they all continue to get an honourable mention, some in their life time most posthumously. Not to forget war vets and other leaders of a different ilk. Some educators thrown in for good measure, a few poets, some judges, some “notable family/scions” some of the 21 Club fame. What is missing are the businesses, the true industrialists (pre nationalisation even) and those who have done well in trade and commerce. A nation that cannot create business heroes, will continue to  produce zeros. We have not let businesses thrive, we have not let people come out on top due to innovation, of those who have “allegedly” become big names, all have small dirty secrets of tax evasion, bribery & influencing the law in their repertoire. But generational wealth washes the sins of your grand daddies, so you can start fresh.

We have to genuinely ask the question about who is representing us in the govt machinery? Where are their interests? Are they aligned with any national outlook or just personal. Let us start from the basics, what do we need to build business heroes? we need businesses, what can launch businesses at a national level, the ability to have:

A) Access to land
B) Less regulatory burdens
C) Ease of doing business (Not just BS around it)
D) Not having STATE compete with commercial enterprises

Let us look at it simply, Why do we need a National Bank? Why do we need Sindh Bank or BOP? Why do we need LDA/CDA, Why cant these things be privatised? Similarly Airports? Railways, PIA. Heathrow is private, the Toll road in Canada is private. We have to encourage people to come and do business, we need smiles at the airports, not to have them look like Thanas and pissed off morons manning the counters. Some times I wonder what side of the immigration desk is the crook?

In the same spirit, lets look at ease of visa. Why the hell do we not have visa free entry for just every one? Do the screening on arrival, its time to increase trade and FX. If they come they shall bring in $$… This small mindedness around national security and spy agents and others, is a glaring admission of not having security really where it needs to be, intelleignce where it needs to be vs the generational bullshit we feed our selves, that we have to take the extreme measure of stopping every one. No ones coming to steal nuclear secrets, people are coming to attend weddings, business meetings, trade missions, just to see whats going on. This whole nadra site for visas is more confusing than it is easy. If i need a chamber letter and invite and then submit it a the airport pre arrival, it is just pure stupid on so many levels that it is not visa free entry…

Lets look at this scenario, some one comes from the US, we submit their docs, they land at night given thats where the GCC carriers typically come to our shores. By night the person leaves the airport, gets stopped on way to PC as it says “no foreigners in cantonment” move the ffing cant out of the city then. Let every one come, dont scare them dont make insane rules, think this through. Make room to do business. Sorry it may inconvenience a few but it will open up the economy.

Tell every one we are open for business, open for trade, open for cultural exchanges, open for some expat in Dubai who on the weekend wants to visit friends or just come have some authentic food. Have tour operators, certified by private entities who can do food tours, who can do city tours who can do business tours, who can do pop up meets with families who want to take in airbnb style guests. Atleast start the conversation. Make insurance mandatory from local firms on tourists. Make money, dont send them back… Silly tourism ministries and cutlural exchanges where our ffing ministers go over seas wont fix this, instead of saying come see our northern area, bhai open the airports, make it cheaper for flight charters to land. It starts with first getting your internal security right, work past the hype, tell every one to come. We are solving the wrong problems.. Our internet is open(so far) dont block returning expats phones, remove shitty systems for tax payment of phones, fix the root cause dont make people suffer for your governmental and security apparatus failures.

Before any of this, take a piece of paper, if you are in government and write, “I will not be over smart any more, I need to fix my domestic issues around security and stop making claims, I will do some thing productive in my life time and my career”. Change happens with the realisation that you need to have change.

We are in the worst economic cycle we need to have open borders and open flights to get FX coming in, when people come in then companies will follow.

Threatening Google and FB and begging Netflix to come when really they cant even travel here makes me wonder how stupid our government machinery really is, are these guys in line for the Darwin awards?

Ease of business should be so simple that an incoming person or a local resident should be able to either go online and provide an ID and be able to get started and open a bank account. People should be able to come in and spend 200$ – 500$ and open a business account. This is the stuff we need to do to kick of a mini foreign SME revolution. Simplification of SECP nonsense and SBP SROs is next inline with taxation and just getting started. Reputed and regulated money changers should follow next. Allow banks to do it too. Hint Hint, any one coming with Dollars should be able to spend them with ease, period.

Stop building govt spend based incubators and accelerators, start building farmers markets, fresh produce packaging efficiency, local product displays, food sampling stations so people taste, eat, get hooked and buy and take back. Package it right, they will come.

Before most of this fix this airline situation please, next stop this bullshit around a soviet era steel mill, donate the land to any one who wants to put up a factory, give loans to SMEs without domicile BS. Clean up the govt machinery and make it fair to get into govt. Make it mandatory for govt employees to have to send their kids to public schools. KGS and Aitchison aint it. If Ghabrana nahin hay to make this the bench mark. Stop all foreign govt travel, open Pakistan for business. Let people come see us at our best or worst, enough pitching. Start showing, showcasing.

Oh whilst you are at it, f**ing fire all of the airport security staff that allows people to smoke in bathrooms at all the airports. Take bids let people make and build out airports. Just put in the rules. Starting from getting your basic act of security of non-smoking enforcement. You want me to believe these circus acts can manage security even with visa restrictions, they cant even stop people on the right side of the Quaid from smoking. Loads of introspection required. Mann all your airport counters, stop hiring retirees.

On to my fav subject of the govt competing with private enterprise, tell your ministers that the state doesnt compete with private enterprise, it helps them flourish. Pakistan post cant compete with Private mail operators and shouldn’t, just like DHA shouldn’t even be around to compete with private developers(of which there are none, Malik Riaz is a state within a state, like DHA) Similarly Pakistans largest enterprise/startup listed and otherwise is full of retirees who are veterans of an other state institution. In a country of 50% or more 25 yr olds, learn to Ffing retire and let others get a chance. This holding of secret ballots hand shakes, systems, exams, referrals etc is all non-sense holding us back. You had one shot in active service, don’t make the nations young pay for your power hungry desire to never retire. (R).

Be honourable do the honourable thing.

Have bankruptcy laws. Its not too hard, weve been at it for 70 + yrs get the basics figured out. Fix the tax structure, tax agriculture, why the f**k dont you, because of your vested post retirement zameen interests and of those who are in power and have massive agricultural land. Reform will only happen when it starts from within. Iss hamaam mein sab nange hein.

Extension dain to bhai achay kaam ki. Extension dain to make late payments, for helping succeed. Its simple, we all know what needs to be done, starts with having a voice and raising it, Do not continue to live in this country on rent, and dont let the 1% collect the rent. Make them pay, its time for change, be vocal.

Stop all the khaipias on flights from Dubai, Srilanka and Thailand to khi.(No dis respect, but action starts from calling out the issue, if you take a flight you know it, you have seen it. Open other avenues so a generation of these guys do other stuff, put their business sense to productive use.

Misguided religion much. Carry Agent:) Wow.. This is whats wrong with us. Steal with one fine swoop and include god in the other.

Who is bringing the pans? the garments without the paperwork? Who is paying off the customs guys at the airport? opening bags on the belts? swapping items? I have been put through the secondary scanner but the guy bringing in a 75 inch tv walked past:). I pay taxes, he steals from the govt, he is under invoicing, making us loose FX and paying $ equivalents to get on those frequent flights to bring in goods that are all vastly illegal. Dont raid the markets, stop this shit at the airports first. You want to stop these Mffers, not the tourists who bring their phones on roaming to make calls and spend money. Solving the wrong problem is the larger problem for us. Mr IK the exam question is, are you going to do any thing to change the status quo?

Every ones under invoicing, but the guy who is not, cant compete with them? Do you see the problem? You want to fight FATF, go stop all the hawala that is going into trade, at the point of import find out how those goods were paid for? auction them when there is no money trail. Google the price of an item it takes 2 minutes. Auction when found to be illegally imported. Stop the gift receipts and under valued shipments. Oh whilst you are at it, stop Alibaba/Ali Express from sending 90% of their goods to retail based sales and B2C thats coming in duty free and depleting FX. You dont have to look hard. Stop being taken to task by traders bodies and market associations, they are all crooks if they want time and concessions. If they strike you strike back. Basically the issue is no one is used to 5% or 10% or 15% margins, the guys at the top want a windfall. The only way that happens is at the cost of the rest of the nation.

It truly is time to promote people to do business, trade, to get into exploring new ideas, making business easy for all those who want to do some thing. But more so than SMEs make it easy for big business to establish a strong hold, allow large infrastructure projects. Equity like land smells like shit when you pile it up, when you distribute it, flowers grow in it. Spread the wealth. #nayapakistan

Ps. If you are an expat Pakistani and want to suggest that we focus on the positive things the govt is doing and that IK is one person only. You only have a vote if you bought the Pakistan Bano Certificates. Your once a year guilt ridden trip to see your ageing parents and bringing gifts does not qualify you to an opinion. Dont send us #prayersandwishes send #greenbacks or come and participate from within. Change seldom happens from tweeting. No roads will be named after you for your Hashtag tantrums!

The road less travelled. Pakistans likely export angle (Amazon, Ebay & Others) and how local businesses can benefit from it.

No, I don’t have any outsider, let alone insider info on Amazons plans on the Pakistani market. I also have no pictures of meetings with Amazon staff, past present or future. What I have is the media view on the tough love Amazon is getting in India and the relative change of direction Mr Bezos is orchestrating by  stating that the e-commerce giant will use its global footprint to export $10 billion worth of ‘Make In India’ goods by 2025.

This gives a good insight of whats to come and the directionality of the market. Interestingly Bezos also stated that Amazon is going to invest $1 billion in digitising the small and medium businesses in India. By that measure keeping that their GDP is roughly 7 times larger than ours, we need about a 150M$+ run rate to ramp up our own digitization and infrastructure to get similar export access. But what is missing is, we have no Amazon in Pakistan.

Our sellers cant even really, authentically sell or setup fulfilment by Amazon unless the use intermediaries or ship and store with Amazon state side or other nearshore destinations where Amazon is engaged in FBA. Other complications include, identifying the product, listing it, setting up a legal entity to collect the payments, exporting from Pakistan and other launch based items that gate the average person, exporter, product developer to really not get in to the value chain, instead they offset their product by consigning it to some body smarter, more resourceful and some one who can take their product at 35c a dozen and mark it up to 5$ a Dozen and sell on Amazon/Ebay. This value addition doesn’t see the FX delta come to Pakistan and doesn’t add any special value addition skills to the net-producers domestically.

With amazon ads business nearly in full swing allowing a company to customize and curate a multipage digital storefront, our producers are missing out. They will continue down the path of middlemen. Stores aren’t new, but the company has added features like shoppable images and the ability to schedule updates like new releases or seasonal changes. Imagine if just for the textile industry or additional traditional large scale non value added exporters this channel was made available?

The simple view would be that you would have an Ideas Store on Amazon or an Al-Karam store on amazon plus all the others who are engaged in selling bed-sheets and towels and others D2C(Direct to Consumer). They can continue down the export path to be vendors of record for Macys and others but once they start earning US D2C margins the ball game will change. This is just in the higher end of the value chain. Imagine all others who are not as large but want to explore the global market(s). Imagine if they could hold inventory at FBA and others used this to drop ship using their own brands? You now become a multiparty supplier as apposed to just a manufacturer of record. The game changes significantly as does the growth multiple. Not like no ones doing this already from Pakistan. Shan has a store on Amazon, but the average Shan Masala retailing in the US at under $2 and selling on the Shan Amazon store for over 6$ doesnt Make sense. Interestingly Shan has 800gs pink salt for $3.50 Whilst competing stuff sells for higher. https://www.amazon.com/Shan-Himalayan-Natural-Grain-Powder/dp/B07XTN7DMB/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1AXN3MQRNBHT8&keywords=shan+pink+salt&qid=1580720515&sprefix=shan+pink+%2Caps%2C336&sr=8-1 and more confused pricing for amazon prime and refined salt etc. Also most competing products are listed in Ounces and Lbs. Its interesting but clearly shows the disconnect even large brands seemingly have. So there is a lot of upside potential here.

So where do we start? Amazon isn’t coming to Pakistan just yet, based on what ever data they are crunching, their bet has been India and GCC (Amazon.ae). But can we get smarter, can we use the .AE route to reduce one more middle man and get on to the Amazon bandwagon? Lets back up a little bit, before we get down to having visions of grandeur we must learn from the Amazon example in India and them digitising small businesses to the tune of 1bn$, in its simplest form it means having accurate product information data, moving toward Harmonized System (HS) for classifying goods is a six-digit code system. It means getting the producers ready to make the product Amazon (export) ready, in turn making it globally ready.

It also means linking the money chain, from export to bank to return payment to FX transfers. I would be shocked if Amazon didn’t get into a Stripe model to allow direct merchant on-boarding, albeit a localised version because they are present in India. Hypothetically a vendor could sign up locally, price in USD/INR equivalent, collect the net sales proceeds locally and the only person doing FX conversions is Amazon, imagine the float and the local payments play, if Amazon got in to a captive wallet and expanded it into a system to pay for inputs by local manufacturers and vendors.

Only time will tell where this is headed but sadly looking at the state of our export chain and value addition we are almost stuck in what we did generationally without really taking the leap of faith on doing some thing different, the only thing that has grown is the countries over reliance on the same sectors to export to earn FX.

Even the domestic market is too big to ignore long term. In the short term there are other bigger bets to make and Amazon is making those, we should no less be prepared and be ready to exploit these companies and these systems when they are accessible to us. Or figure out smart ways to plug in to the existing FBA value chains and store fronts. As a starting point all the Pakistanis Immigrating to Canada/Australia and other locations, nothing is stopping them from setting up a bridges to provide cheaper arbitrage for the Made in Pakistan Narrative. Kamyab jawan should find plug-ins to extend beyond just rhetoric .

We need to bring our own plug-in for selling on Amazon, instead of buying into dubious VPN based setups and being completely out of the value chain and at the mercy of the evangelical church equivalent of used car sales people promising our manufacturers sunny outcomes. By getting on to FBA programs and taking unassuming college kids to partake in get rich schemes of doing Drop ship form China to Amazon store fronts. Granted some of those work, short term for the person researching top selling products/categories on Amazon and doing drop shipping etc, but it adds no value to local manufacturers and to our FX items. In turn most of the money made this way is retained offshore.

We have to think of a longer term play, starting from working to increase over all exports, to increasing the value addition. Simple example is Pakistani Pink Salt, imported in to Dubai by Indian players, re-branding and adding world class packaging and marking up by 200% for retail sale in the US and Canada. This phenomenon is still on-going. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/10/03/763960436/pakistan-wants-you-to-know-most-pink-himalayan-salt-doesnt-come-from-india (This article will you give you some more insights) We have yet to protect such things, lets take a que from New Zealand AND Manuka Honey ( http://theconversation.com/manuka-honey-who-really-owns-the-name-and-the-knowledge-105508) Some other things now that we have gone down this path that the government or other individuals should consider are Kashmiri Chai (Either ready to brew like instant Cofffee) or As a solidified crystal or using other packaging mechanisms for delivery and even popularising some thing local. Along with brand protection for an entire segment.

We have some amazing startups in Pakistan that are working hard to bring unfair advantages to businesses both local and international in the global trade space. From knowing your markets to one click research to expanding your footprint, data is your friend. One such startup http://www.tradeforesight.com/ is a hidden gem. If you have access to figuring out whats selling where, how since when along with trade based regulation and laws, half the battle is already won. Not sound like a product endorsement but if would truly help a new generation of exporters online.

Its not just Amazon, but if for instance you saw the pink /Himalayan salt exports go up from Pakistan and you could enhance the upstream value chain in real time by packaging and then re-exporting would you not try to take a go at it? Coupled with having the ability to sell on amazon or ebay for that matter? But the first you need a view into the space. Whilst research on Amazon tells you whats selling on Amazon, it also gives you additional insight if you can see country by country, region by region, export and import types and vendors/manufacturers etc.

For instance, Traderjoes the notoriously famous food chain out west in the US has an entire team that does global food sourcing. Has any one even tried from Pakistan? https://www.traderjoes.com/contact-us/new-vendor-requirements are we just too lazy and too focused on traditional trading partners and markets? Are we ready to enhance our value chains.

All the money the govt and aid agencies are dumping into stupid projects should be redirected towards helping local industry achieve export related certification , local presence and certification outfits etc so we can up-skill and up-scale at the same time. Kudos to those who using their scale have already done FDA and other certifications and exporting into those markets. None of this will happen by waiting on international players to come to our door step. Some international players who have come, come at a price of giving exposure to Chinese led products even on their market places(I explored that in an earlier post). So whilst the Chinese have it right, they came to our market and allowing their exporters to export in to Pakistan, we have to figure out a way to export our goods out of Pakistan into other markets. If we continue to let others treat us only as an import first destination we will have no control over our trade deficits.

The time is now to really revisit what we have to offer as exporters and figure out a sustainable path to value addition. Waiting for others to come and disrupt our market, will lead to a different kind of disruption that we are likely not prepared to handle.

Where Do I Start?

This will not be easy, I have decidedly been off the grid to give changes in our surroundings a fighting chance. My friends said I am not bullish on the tech sector + government action and PMR Items. They say, progress takes time. How much longer should we wait for things to get better?We are a nation in waiting it seems. Our governance rhetoric has not changed, there is one entity in charge of the country really. That shall not be named. Lets look at the alleged digital progress we are making under the new government and under the tailors of technology(*some insights from a previous article).

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the following tweet the other day.

Before we get in to the UI/UX, the App it self or the aesthetics or functionality of the screen shot embedded in the tweet. Let us first reflect on the messaging. As best I can remember we are a free market economy, so how can a DC *(Public Servant) tell local constituents to stop buying fruits and vegetables from the market. Among the listed mandate of the DC is “He is responsible for efficient use of public resources for the integrated development and effective service delivery.[1]” I am confused how can a public servant actually work to dis-intermediate free market systems and economics.

This clearly had to be investigated further. For an app that is made for the Awam, lo and behold it default loads in English, Albeit credit where its due it has a visible Urdu toggle. So once inside that App, todays vegetable rates for example would not load up(Re tried at 12th Jan./2020).

NO Products Found-

The rate part is great. People deserve to know what if any control rates are in place so that they get a sense of benchmarking. We know circa last 70 yrs that those rates do not hold in practice so I was some what excited the government machinery is trying to do some thing right, but the jury was out if they could be the next grocery e-tailer/ala whole foods. There is an online order button. So then naturally I had to go to Durust Daam App and check its about section, which clearly doesn’t have any stated goal at the time of launch about selling stuff online.. So whats going on? Whose selling the groceries?

Well so naturally I had to go and click the order button within the app to see what wizardry was afoot. Lo and Behold

This is where I encounter MIT level logic. ICT Administration Through Market Committee, ICT, has shortlisted the following delivery providers after due process.. Wah bhai Talian….(screen shot also attached for ICT site)

  1. Can this selection criteria be made public, the largest grocery related e-tailers would I am sure like to know as would potential market place aspirants and established companies.
  2. Wait, the text says delivery providers. Time to take offence, are these Sabzi sellers making margin on bulk delivery of COD or double dipping and also selling and making margin on the products them selves? (Mandi Express, Bykea, FoodPanda, EatMubarak by this measure could all participate then?) Did they? Fowrrys website claims its a market place no less but govt says delivery provider. So lets make up our mind please…
  3. Shortlisted and added to the app are 2 very different things. So my Tax rupees are being used to list only 2 market vendors where dozens exist so the cost of customer acquisition is being borne by the Citizens of Pakistan. Because you get taken to a download link . Bhai I want in on this business… Having built and run some of the most viable lead-gen/CAC based businesses this is the first time I am seeing the government being an affiliate partner. Not a bad deal if the deal is made public and we see what the ICT Admin gets in return for their support so that they can re-invest that for public good. I will give you a simpler answer to make this a free market system. Read carefully, if the govt has a published rate, then make sure you enforce that rate to all marketplaces, offline or online, instead of integrating links of select market places/delivery service into a govt entity app. Instead list all the online market places in the country, because if there was rule of law, every single one of them would be inclined to sell at no other rate besides market rate. So you see, like all other things wrong with the govt machinery, they put on boots to go running instead of running shoes. Solving problems that dont exist without solving for root cause. Some applied common sense could save every one concerned serious time effort and tax payer money. Instead of solving the price enforcement item, honourable PM is endorsing the effort of all constituents who are trying to solve a systemic problem by creating alternate lines of solutioning. FIX the damn price enforcement issue vs getting in to competing with and getting the business of apps, market places, logistics, infrastructure etc, you already have a country to take care of, fix the macro and enforce the micro without getting into PR stunts of app launches and self serving solutioning that will have zero to no material impact. We can do the math, how may people have internet enabled and subscribed smart phones, how many of them live in sub-urban areas, how many know how to engage in online commerce, would it not be easier to use tech to enforce pricing control so when I walk to my market I know that every one has to play by the underlying pricing rules. Not thats #PakistanStrong and True #DigitalPakistan if you can use tech to dis intermediate first the arthi and then enforce rule of law on pricing and then work backwards to pay the farmer on time and fix the agriculture cycle of the country vs launching apps.
  4. A quick glance through the customer feedback on the apps shows that like almost all items no turns, were taken to test the apps or their usage or the back end process. Its not my view, read the app store review. So the same consumer you want to save from the plight of the crooked middle man you are screwing via a govt endorsed service. If my govt tells me to buy some thing that its backing or has vetted and my online reprieve is the PMs portal, then #DigitalPakistan is actually being fought out at the cost of the citizens of this country. Like every thing else, because a good idea allegedly by someone was put out in the form of CDO of Pakistan, seems like it wasn’t endorsed likely in some govt or bureaucratic camp resulting in turf wars fuelled by app wars instead of big picture policy and strategic moves. Every ones “dair einth ki masjid is evident” The pettiness of the thinking may not be visible to all, but this point scoring is going to take down the nation in more ways than one.(We will come back to this later). Were you expecting #DigitalPakistan to be this? I most certainly wasnt. So whats going on here?

I was unable to find Sabzi Mandi Onlines website and their app is listed as developed by Neuron solutions who have in their repertoire some amazing credentials like making data collection apps, wrestling event apps for booking partners, activation apps for village based marketing etc. Most having 50 Downloads, but Sabzi Mandi having 10k+ So that validates the piece that free marking viz a vi a govt based affiliate download program really does help user downloads if not adaption. Perhaps the govt should think about a national policy on creating affiliate links and monetising govt sites using Google Ads? Perhaps some thing the CDO Can spearhead, given every one is alleging thats what she did at google. If the govt has sites that are visited 100s of thousands of times a day, ads revenue could be the new FX the govt has waiting for and this is an issue they can likely solve in house. I am sure Google would be open to piloting a national program and open avenues of now being an aid-fx agency style partner for major governments. All this because I was forced to see what the govt app was up to.

So Fowrry was delivering Nachos in sept 2019 per their twitter,

so this transition to market place and being synced up with the govt is great for the citizens of Pakistan. What is more promising is that the above feedback will now be replicated in Karachi. What ever is left of Sindh will now be serviced par excellence by an Islamabad based outfit. Given FoodPanda, EatMubarak , Bykea, Careem Now all operate at a bigger scale if Nacho deliveries were to be taken as a benchmark. How do we know this is coming to a neighbourhood near us…

So this is less about sabzis or the last mile fraternity or the market places. This about mis direction of resources, mis direction of people, mis direction of policy and using govt services without thinking. The intent is for us to collectively think about problems we are trying to solve vs every one coming on side and championing a cause where a pic with a pm can be taken for drawing room conversations. We must think past this.

This thinking is endemic. It doesn’t end with Sabzis lets see some more colourful examples. A few form app for overseas Pakistanis to lodge complaints. Again focus on the, on-ground issues, overseas Pakistanis went overseas for a reason or 2. Will the govt machinery continue to admit failure of policy and implementation of rule of law and the writ of the the govt because it seems every app being released or developed has to do with rules not being followed and complaints being generated. Again focus is not on solving systemic issues but finding round-about ways of doing things. If the negative reviews are to be read albeit from said constituents who are desired to be served, it paints a shitty picture, seems like a zero sum game to me.

Some free advice to the Chief Digital Officer of Pakistan. We the people of Pakistan don’t know who is in charge, but hope some one is. If its a group of people, can we first start by not having govt bodies taking credit for the following online and that too publicly. Why you ask, because on the one end we want Paypal and Google and others to come (thats the govt rhetoric) yet we are listing the following as our key accomplishments installation of Lan, doing procurement. WTF? Lets stop doing meetings govt wide, focus on creating solutions focus on increasing inbound investments, focus on dissolving sub comittes and task force and shadow bodies who do nothing besides have the zerray walay biscuit and chai in Islamabad. If Islamabad could fix our woes we wouldn’t have needed you. So get folks, to get with the program(heres to hoping there is one) and leave the sabzi selling and app making to the free market economy and let the best players win, you have them focus on rule of law and using digitization to bring universality of application of rules and regulations to all the citizens of the country.

“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.” ― Plato, The Republic

The Emperors New Clothes. A short story on the digitization tailors.

The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short tale written by Danish author  about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent – while in reality, they make no clothes at all, making everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid.

That is the state of the tailors(advisors) who are advising the PM, the Government and IT Ministry etc. But power to the Emperor too, for selecting such tailors. Ministers come and go, this has less to do with who the person is and more about what the person needs to know to do their job in a manner that helps Pakistan.

It’s much like having a veterinarian doing cardiac surgery on a paediatric patient. The tech sector in it self is in a state of infancy and we are using the tailors and vets to chalk the course of what is to come. I don’t even know where to start. We have academic press releases and conference presentations from the Ministry of IT to the Ministry of Commerce, not one person from these ranks has either been an entrepreneur or an information technology professional nor have they the academic fortitude to debate things like the NII(national information infrastructure). The only thing they can do is cut ribbons, read pre written statements and not speak two cohesive words to address their constituencies who are victims of natural selection not doing its job in time and be at the receiving end of this wisdom.

Let us run a comparative on IT Ministerial candidates in the region with similar aspirational targets as ours. Lets start with Indonesia, their progress on the tech front is no Joke, 4 Unicorns and counting. Btw they have all kinds of payment systems and the likes of Google and FB in town. We continue to be impressed by the shiny veneer of foreign companies and sponsored trips where-in our counterparts have done lasting good for their countries. The Indonesian Minister for Communication and Information Technology and his credentials below. Just so we know what kind of tailors to get.

Malaysia that has Lazada , ie 1 unicorn in its count, has the following Minister of Technology.

Moving on to Singapore and its 3 Unicorns lets see the credentials of the Minister in charge.

I am sure you get the theme now, well versed, professional, held key strategic roles in public and private sectors. Thats a start. Also Age has nothing to do with it, we have from the young to the seasoned in the small mix profiled above.

For comparisons sake the official Bio for our representative. Just saying, if Information Technology is the name of the game; your sites not being secure is not good start. Further not sharing any profile info is probably not a confidence boosting measure for all the alleged investors and VCs and funds they are working to bring to Pakistan.

Even if being IT minister was a popularity contest, we aren’t winning it. Just see the view count on the tweet from an industry event yesterday. Clearly there should be more than 8 people(well 7 if discount my view) that care about the national IT Agenda or consider any value being created out of these “shaking hands and kissing babies” activities.

At the said event, which in it self is a great melting pot of getting the right stake holders in a single location, the Member IT(what ever the f* that role is supposed to help the tech industry) claimed a 3bn$ IT Export. According to SBP data that isn’t even half the picture, let alone him taking credit as Pakistan being the 4 the largest free lancing market.

Ironically he was saying this whilst sitting at a Knowledge Economy panel, where-in free lancing is the exact opposite of knowledge creation, it is skills based execution that over time goes to the lowest cost provider bypassing repeatable process and knowledge creation. He was hailing how India is now too expensive, sadly without realising that they are working on value addition and moving away from basic services, which to-date, we cant do.

We had other gems from PSEB, TDAP and the Commerce Ministry. The biggest gem was the e-commerce policy framework that the Commerce ministry has given itself the charge to manage. If there was a more exciting idea out there, I haven’t heard it in a while. More amusing was the fact that whilst in 2019 I can forgive not knowing PowerPoint, I cant forgive folks working on policy who are checked out from reality and local context. Let me ask you a question, why isn’t it so that people in the private sector are lining up to hire these Members and Ministers if they as bastions of Tech and Commerce and all things progressive?

Didn’t know single window hub was still a thing in this day and age from an e-com perspective

At the moment our infatuation is reverse, industry and government is top loading tailor after tailor from local to expat, we can already see the new dress shaping up at the hands of these tailors. Mostly not their fault, they get doused in the romanticism of helping nation and government, sprinkled with a healthy dose of political show and tell, blended with the pixie dust of a tour-de-pindi-boys. Tough to resist.

The thread of choice of all tailors today is digitization. In the history of Pakistani ministerial and government ineffectiveness has a word been murdered more brutally without understanding the reason to undertake the crime of passion. From this particular conference to others, to the national agenda and national IT boards these games are high stakes ego battles with me before we and I before us, we are all about to get f**d at the hands of these digital weavers.

We have had zero movement on national payments issue, no indigenous clearing or payments mechanisms that sit outside the banks or the regulators. Instead of promoting home grown and building solutions, we want to just borrow examples from else where without knowing local context or use cases. The brilliance of these items is that the ones making these power point decks, have never left the corridors of power and gone to tier 4-5-6 cities of this country to understand how financial inclusion will really work, how the under banked or un banked will give up cash, which is friction free, to go to cashless which at the moment is full of friction. Again academic exercises by tailors. I am waiting in earnest to see what the emperors clothes look like in the end.

We have zero movement on up skilling talent, or real tax benefits to the tech industry, we have zero movement by the government to attract a single serious VC fund to come to PK. Domestic private equity is just a fancier version of the so called “pathan loan” (no disrespect to any one) just describing what the market calls this variety of loan sharking. So do our startups even have a chance?

Finally a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” 

Update: The Theme for Digital was influenced post the conference where I heard emphasis by the powers be on augmented reality, artificial intelligence, smart products + digitization..

E-commerce, FX, CPEC, Fintechs, Last Mile etc etc| Welcome to the Hype.

We are going through a major hype cycle. If you are not familiar with what the hype cycle is heres a representation to quickly come up to speed.

In the absence of a real technology trigger, but just people talking about technology things; we have built up expectations on the domestic front of being a near a technical revolution that will fix and or repair the state of the nation. Whilst technology can help and change the dynamics of a host of things, talking about technology really wont. There is a lot that must change but just talking about change wont do any thing positive in the short term, it may lead to select individuals doing select things to achieve select goals, but at a whole sale level not much will change.

Lets start with e-commerce, the expectation was that as the Chinese come in, viz a vi their investment in Daraz, there will be in an overnight revolution. The revolution in my mind was the fact that there was a real exit of sorts and it did create buzz but since this was announced in May 2018, various pundits claimed the retail sector would be re-imagined, local industry would finally see the real potential given Ali Babas global scale and experience with all things tech, payments and e-commerce. As always we tend to celebrate early. In the time that has since passed the only visible item I see as a consumer is that service levels have not increased, product listings across the e-commerce sphere remain stagnant across the board and as any basic level of social media search shows the general dis-content of the online consumer on customer service. Cash is still king, no one has figured out a real use case for Wallets, if HBL/Meezan/Jazz/Telenor et all discounting were to end, some would argue there is no real benefit to the consumer either to shop online at least in KLI(Tier one markets). More alarming is the fact, that was perceived to be a win for Pakistani Businesses and Pakistani Consumers, seems like a net net win for every one else but Pakistanis. Simply if you look at the case of the Ali Baba acquisition, whilst part of the FDI may have come into PK on the transaction, what about the FDI that leaves the country daily on the same platform? that was touted to be a saviour for Pakistan and Pakistanis. The usual disclaimers apply, these exercises are not witch hunting exercises, especially in a global world and in a country that imports net net, this should not come as a surprise. But I searched for a 6.35mm Audio Jack. Total listings 362, Slight Catch though. See the Images below to see if you can spot it?

So Only 6 Items are being shipped or available from Pakistan, 356 from, you guessed it China. So is this e-commerce panacea and progress every one wants/wanted or is this merely an FX drain? Much like the many drains on AD Expense dollars etc that Ive written about in the Past. Whats the check and Balance on this cross border FX loss. The thing is, its not just one brand or entity doing this, there are dozens of Amazon drop ship operations happening in Pakistan and locally operated Chinese e-commerce players. Not to mention AliExpress it self ships to Pakistan using China Post and Pakistan Post. Who is regulating the FX component of these transactions and the many mushrooming local trading enterprises that are bringing in near commercial quantities avoiding most duties/taxes but depleting FX.

Who if any one is responsible for the customs duties on these items + the FX leakage on credit cards etc? Does any one see the irony in the so called e-commerce and digital revolution? Who is really benefiting from this? Before you jump in and say well these Ali Babas of the world create(d) employment in Pakistan , But does that employment off set the FX Losses we continue to get? Again no sense in blaming the channel, but rather the inefficient process of the institutions that have set out to regulate, they are actually stifling domestic e-commerce growth and growth at large without putting in pertinent clauses to manage around these advantageous tactics being used by the players in the market.

Dont have to look too far to evaluate what productive regulation looks like “On Feb. 01, the Indian government implemented several restrictive changes (pdf) to India’s FDI policy for e-commerce. The new rules state that online marketplaces can no longer enter into exclusive deals for selling products on their platforms nor can they have a single vendor supply more than a quarter of the inventory. The government also restricted marketplaces from influencing prices in a bid to curb deep discounting. It also forbade the marketplace for forcing vendors to use its own warehousing and logistics, payments financing etc.”

The smart move was to let the FDI come in via investments from Amazon (4b$) WallMart 15$Bn and then give the domestic brick and mortar retailers a chance to play fairly in the e-com space without discounts and venture money as the only value add.

In this new world, data is the new oil. And data is the new wealth. Anil Ambanis view has been that in India’s data must be controlled and owned by Indian people and not by corporates and most particularly not global corporates who have direct insights into online user behaviour. Clearly across the pond the regulators seem to agree. I had raised similar concerns earlier in an article around data being the new currency. 

Sadly we continue to measure vanity metrics a reflection of which is evident in the current economic growth numbers. Its not e-com alone, lets look at Fintech, half the folks talking about or dispensing advice on the subject work at large scale Banks, most of which have been fined in the recent past for various KYC/AML issues globally, or have been hacked. Do we really want to, or are in any capacity to trust the same brands/institutions? I have written extensively about the fault lines and both the technical inability of the switch companies and their Incestual relationship with the Banks. Sprinkle in the regulatory teams at the Bank that are near retirement, who do not want to take any “un safe” actions 2-3 yrs before retirement, we are consistently at the mercy of self interest and the average consumer continues to get F**D. This has more to do with the political environment and the NAB related items, no public servant wants to serve time by doing shit that they know nothing about 3 yrs before retirement. Can we blame them? The relationship and attitude in the Halls of the regulator are extremely odd, I have worked with regulators globally, ours are way more special. Most have the right idea, but are not equipped to dispense justice to the cause. Thus there is a stalemate. There is virtually nothing been done to enhance SME growth. Yet the government continues to chime about helping just that sector.

Last-mile is an other flavour of the month of the Hype cycle crowd. There are many many contenders in the space and many more will come. The ones aligned with the hype cycle are the VC/Angel funded ventures that are not concerned with the bottom line but focused on customer acquisition ala Amazon style model, where over time your scale allows you to dominate. The other end of this spectrum are traditional players who will continue to thrive, because they grow organically and long after the VC money is gone. Purely because there is a growing population and increasing demand around logistics at large. But there is a hybrid model for the taking if you can effectively figure out mobile money and tie brick and mortal to last mile. Sky is the limit, in tier 2, 3 cities there is a much larger demand that can be opened up if the stars align on this. Tier one cities are still easier, the real enablement happens when you cover the smaller cities. But smaller city activation really doesn’t much to the valuation multiples, so typically overlooked.

If you have staying power today the real space to play in is a combination that will benefit from the economic value that the CPEC will create. Depends on who you ask and where you look. Domestic players have a once in a life time chance to scale businesses to meet existing demand in virtually all retail sectors by adapting technology minus the hype and by trying to create domestics multi party alliances to keep the competition in check. The only catalyst required is effective policymaking, when that happens the hype cycle will start to break and we may uncover real value.

Just like we only tax the salaried class in this country and refuse to grow the pie, we see similar items happening in relation to people movement. Last year we had about 7M domestic Air travellers and about 15m International travellers. Indonesia did roughly 34M international travellers. By the same measure look at the maturity of their online space, real fintech companies, real tech companies and real unicorns(ride hailing etc). Many similarities in population numbers and general make up, but they have completely outdone us because of having a progressive government and progressive IT Minister who understands the value of real growth vs hype. They have allocated tax $ to growing their eco system, our tax $ go into ill planned Incubation etc with out any directionality, that select on most occasions pre existing companies, white wash them, re launch them to essentially win the Incubator race that no one really cares about.What state money should be spent on is to make the ease of doing business and run road shows to invite VCs to town as opposed to taking tax payer money to attend “meetings” overseas. Had they been producing unicorns i’d have sent them easy load to continue down that path. But besides photo ops nothing of value having come from their ill thought out initiatives, I really don’t see a continued use to funding them from my tax money. All this eco system talk makes sick to the core, it’s essentially for people to hold on to a govt funded subsidy. There is definitely a better use for all this money to really support the ecosystem if some one thought this through.

“You can hype a questionable product for a little while, but you’ll never build an enduring business.” Victor Kiam

The Business of Content & The Secret Sauce(s) to dominating your niche.

If you are a startup or established business in the content business in Pakistan, you already know that the CPM Rates from AD-Networks really suck. Yet most people continue down the path of building content alone and praying that they start getting international traffic that commands higher pay outs, that may remain a panacea because the content being pushed out is neither creative, timely nor distributed across all relevant channels. The ones who have marginal to decent successes in terms of revenue are click-baity and continue to produce 3rd tier content, driving views on objectionable and culturally and morally inappropriate content. They no less have discovered what you still haven’t. Video is king, short form content is a close second but specialized long form is also in that category. You cant evaluate any of these without knowing your audience and structuring your content for instant-mass propagation.

Lets look at a few under served segments in no particular order both content wise and technology wise.

Recipe’s: This is by far my favorite segment and one that continues to be disorganized, yet it has a fantastic number of organic traffic potential and a vast spectrum of searches. Whilst content is available both in Urdu and English from Pakistan origin sites, its haphazard. But it shouldn’t be, if you are in the content business, even if you aren’t but are looking to get in, what will set you apart is fairly simple. Google has pages and pages of documentation on it. Perhaps it’s time for you to get in to this space. Most sites, copy content off each other, half of it is in image form particularly the Urdu content, scanned recipe-book content. That shit doesn’t work online. It drowns the site. The second is English recipes but in roman, something that domestic publishers and content creators aren’t really focusing on. I wonder why? It opens the path to audio delivery on assistant.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Mark up your recipe content with structured data to provide rich results and host-specific lists for your recipes, such as reviewer ratings, cooking and preparation times, and nutrition information. Your page is eligible for different features depending on how you add structured data to your page:

Search: Add recipe structured data to drive better engagement in Search with rich results.

Guidance: Enable the Google Assistant to guide users through your recipes on Google Home and smart displays. (This is one to focus on, every android phone has built in assistant, when will you build for that? You need to get started today, especially in a market where text search volume is lower in Urdu than it is in English, but you can surely do some basic items to make your content discoverable in audio)

Carousel: Add carousel structured data to enable your recipe to appear in a carousel of rich results. This can include images, page logos, and other interesting search result features.

AMP: Build your recipe pages with AMP to provide instant-loading recipes.

The Difference between doing it right vs doing it wrong:

Korma Search Without any relevant local formatted content
Korma Search with a relevant local formatted content

Imagine if your content was formatted the right way. Had all the check marks, you would rule the category. At the moment, sadly whilst search volume is very high on the subject of Korma the reality of where that content is being served up from, is any where but Pakistan. Take a look below.

See that the search volume is coming from High Paying CPM Markets Yet no content is available from Pakistan to cash in on that.
If you dig deeper you can see the rising trends and associated categories and areas where you must focus to dominate this space.

An other overlooked space is some thing that started very strong many years ago.

A discovery engine for Unique Places, Products & Events so no not a Google Business Listing or search for one-off things. Think of it as a grown up version of the infamous Khi Snob page + Yelp + Recommendations paired with relevant content(not mass produced) and not a check list of features or listings. Consider the size of the middle class population, consider their age, consider their connectivity. FB doesn’t serve the need for authentic consumer driven reviews nor does it curate things in perpetuity in a single place. If you were a business the way it works is that past your 1% of followers you gotta pay to be relevant.

Consider the salaried millennials, like many most don’t have  big liabilities and want  to explore the city and see what different parts of the country have to offer in terms of culture, entertainment, and dining. And guess what? Contrary to what Telenor, Jazz and Zong would have you believe and even sprite, its not about finding a Karahi chicken or holding a DSLR and looking cool. Beyond that garbage, options are generally severely limited when it comes to Friday night out plans. No one just wants delivery recommendations or listings for this one thing happening at this one place, or an event near you via Facebook, there is more to a city than these tv advertisement idiots would lead you to believe, based on their marketing prowess on television.

The Urban millennials  who, unlike their predecessors, study hard, work hard and want to party harder. They have a good spending capacity on account of being part of a well paid working class or having turned entrepreneurs and making sizable incomes.

This crowd wants to look beyond information – provided by FoodPands or EatMubarak or discounts by BOGO apps or other credit card discounting platforms,  for numbers of local businesses and go-to places.  To date nothing exists for restaurant reservations and barely two or three ticket booking sites for entertainment regarding the latest films, plays and other events taking place in town. They(the urban folks) want to  zero in on specific events and exciting undiscovered places that are the pride of every urban area and which are as yet, not on anyone’s radar. In other words, places that are cool and awesome enough to spend an evening with friends.

Build it and they will come. This also plays in to aspirational visitors to your site and aspirational folks who want to re-live a virtual experience when the real thing is either expensive, out of reach or some thing that drives nostalgia. But please don’t go out and do yet an other f**ing episode on BurnsRoad. Please know your audience. Don’t just make BuzzFeed type videos for food reviews only. Think bigger, think at scale and make sure you build for the mobile and voice web. Content is king, build audio, video, short and long form once you know the audience you want to cater to.

Pro tip: Build event booking, reservations, delivery and payments all into one location, don’t try to build a closed loop ecosystem, the more partners you have once you have your content and discovery strategy figured out, the most incremental revenue you will make past ad $s alone. Think affiliate networks.

An other all time favorite of mine, that is very often overlooked is the absence of a Shared Blog/Content Network in a place like Pakistan.

This is not an easy one, this requires some common sense and or some serious capital.

On the common sense piece, I’ll elaborate more:

There are a few dozen individual run blogs, sites, news portals, content plays etc that all do marginally well. Some are in the business of toxic reviews, others are in the business of the 3rd tier click baity business (you know who you are). Irrespective there are others who have good content, a good fan following; yet individually they will only scale to a point where they make money off it as a side hustle or as a very basic form of monetary growth. Yet if these blogs and their custodians got together and agreed on forming a consortium, they would give the established players a run for their money. Be the Baskin Robins of content, 32 flavors. The media companies, traditional or the Lahore variety funded by the fumes of fertilizers continue to only bring readers using paid facebook tactics or by spending ad$. You can completely change the equation and turn it on its head.

If you are the owner of a blog or content play:

  1. Get together and choose a leader (Please don’t build a society or nominate the oldest person in the group, they likely know the least, also stay away from any brand name big media players-they will be irrelevant soon if not already)
  2. Work together to define content standards and technical standards
  3. Bring all your work under a new brand or figure out cross domain sharing arrangement where by you preserve canonical references
  4. Yet build/deploy technology so advanced that if a user comes to say a tech review site, they should have the ability from your site to navigate to your partner member site for other related content like the best place to get a falouda.
  5. This way you will own the user(and their cookie) as long as they continue to stay on the merry go round, which is your “shared consortium”
  6. Over time you can build your own ad-network should you be that successful (I hope you are)
  7. Stay away from hard news instead integrate dozens of sources from twitter etc, based off keywords that interest your audiences.
  8. Focus on multi lingual content in Urdu and English
  9. Agree on content frequency and freshness, agree on cross network integration and banner promotions.
  10. Hire a lawyer and contract this stuff in to place. You will only get one shot a this. You can try and get UthoDaikho.com (its available at the moment ) and build the first shared content creation and delivery platform that will eventually out live, out maneuver and out grow traditional news/content players. They aren’t innovating for shit. This is your chance to all get in a room and make more money as a collective. Strength in numbers.

Be under no illusion all this is a lot of hard work, both technically, organizationally and whilst content is king, architecting this the right way is equally important. Google tells you how to do all this, you don’t even have to be above average to get the basics right.

There is one more thing you could do, if you were in this space and had cash. Just buy into the blogs and aggregate them. Give the owners a fair piece of equity and acquihire every one. Not like any real Valley VC money is about to show up any time soon. Also most folks may want to raise 500k and 1m$; the thing is, you could get some thing like this going for 1m$ total and give every one an earn out. If only people were smart enough and took the money and went on to solving other problems. The thing is, whilst they may be making 4k$ a month, in their minds eye every entrepreneur thinks they are at cusp of greatness. Make them an offer they can refuse and serve some reality on a platter and let them cash out a bit.

Key technical take aways:

AMP AMP AMP

Follow the markups Google tells you to do

Stop focusing on AD$s alone, focus on what people want and then build for that.

1000 Visitors or orders a day is not big enough, the magnitude that matters in 200 million people is far from that.

Focus on the ex-pat market, their ad$ and their engagement is higher figure out ways to build, deploy and cater to their needs.

Keep it simple, don’t over complicate it. Know your audience and ask the question, “is there a google help forum article on this”

Video is king. (But not the 2 cassette tape variety on which your mamus valima was shot) Keep it brief, bold and brilliant.

I promise to add a few more segments to this. Verticals I think would do well if executed right along with the technical marshaling you could do to smoke your competition. Ill be sharing thoughts on :

  1. Maps
  2. Last mile delivery + some interesting plays on integrations and APIs
  3. Consumer ratings
  4. Comparison and data led resource providers
  5. Matrimonial’s
  6. Business and Finance
  7. Non-Traditional Classifieds + Payment Integrations
  8. Education

“It’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a carefully edited, overproduced and photoshopped world very dangerous.” 
― Brené Brown

Alphabet Inc’s, Google India Problem can become an opportunity for Pakistan.

TL;DR,

a) Has an Indian reporting line hindered Google ambitions in Pakistan b) In an age and in a company where everything moves at the speed of light, why hasn’t anything happened on the Pakistan front in 5 years. c) Is there really an opportunity worth exploring in Pakistan? d) Can the government take concrete steps to bring about positive change in tech?

One would imagine that a large American multinational conglomerate headquartered in Mountain View, California would have a clear line of sight and visibility into what is happening across its most profitable subsidiary; namely Google.

In the larger interest of economic growth and upholding the tenants of ethical business I wanted to put pen to paper and share some observations of what’s really going on within Google regionally and what its consequences are on the self-professed most valuable market, i.e NBU (Next Billion Users) and most particularly in the Pakistani context.

NBU is newer phenomenon headed by a VP of Product Management. That function and role is based out of Singapore but its back-end engineering for the most part, based on publicly available data and product releases shows that the teams are pre-dominantly India based. To illustrate, Google Launched, Google Station (free internet) starting from India (now part of its NBU initiative) along with Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines very recently.

Yet Pakistan seems to be visibly missing from that equation. Google did do some PR, a small typical veiled and curated announcement on its Datally product in Pakistan towards the end of Nov 2017 a much smaller NBU product. Which frankly no one needs or cares about from an economic impact aspect. There are plenty of free apps that do the same or similar stuff for years. The question this raises is largely one of potential telecom revenue reduction as the author covering the above PR announcement alludes to and challenges Google for a response based on the write up.

But thats an other ongoing issue with Google and Pakistan, most of the PR/Events and Items are highly curated, with measured talking points (mostly hand outs are given by appointed PR Agencies), as if the powers be, in the region do not want locally facing teams to openly engage on the Google platform with Pakistanis.

All Pakistan market announcements seem like an afterthought or muted. Is it because Pakistan is not on the agenda of Google in the region? Be it, due to all engineering for the region being done in India, or for that matter, YouTubes regional Legal support and complaint escalation for Pakistan also being in India, leaving publishers and content produces no leg to stand on as they work to mitigate platform challenges.

There is a lot of cultural sensitivity also missing because of the way for example how an Indian only legal team supports Pakistan origin items or queries. Surely Google can solve for this? If not, Alphabets share holders must ask the question why the directionality and tone around supporting a 200M strong population is centered around strategic bias? NBU wasnt defined by Pakistan or Pakistanis, its a Google classification, yet one of the larger markets seems to get no real love from Google. Not only that, its strong Policy and Legal teams in Singapore drive a very command and control structure, that saying some thing in Pakistan is almost Taboo. Most of the PR items in Pakistan traditionally are over managed that the PR needs PR correction to contain items given the vagueness of most releases. 9 times out of 10 due to the Policy teams, Google is scrambling on the ground to get its “PR messaging right”. A recent interaction with the government and over curation resulted in domestic media speculation around GPay being launched in Pakistan.

The way Google is setup or operates as far as Pakistan is concerned (to date), it has had a purely sales focus and an AD-Sales Pakistan Organization (similar to Facebook). That organization sits in Singapore. Do remember that in this market they have been operating for a decade give or take without on ground employee presence. Citing legal framework for corporate and employee protection, they continue to be operating from the shadows (Contractors or employees flying in and out of Pakistan from Singapore). Kudos to both Microsoft and IBM for being on the ground no less by the same measure and for many many years prior. Also increasingly to Ant Financial and a host of other global companies who are very much on ground and doing business.

The above construct causes direct losses to the exchequer when local companies have to buy USDs or use Credit cards to do FX transactions for Google Ads or FB ads or others where there is no domestic settlement because there isnt a Google entity in Pakistan, that can bill in PKR.

I have explored that thread in a past post along with tax implication for the country. Some thing the government should ask, given the present reserve situation and pose the question to these companies on local presence and incorporation. Not like they didn’t follow suit in other places like Indonesia etc where the governments policy led to Google and FB being on the ground settling tax matters. Where by the way they support aggressive government startup measures also.

Coming back to the issue at hand that the Sales organization reports to Vice President, South East Asia and India. So in affect, for all practical purposes any strategy for Pakistan as it pertains to Google has the buck stopping in India. Lets not venture guesses around motivation and intent and stick to the facts and how small but seemingly calculated moves continue to not let the Pakistani market develop and thrive, is it because the priority isnt being set so? If not, who will course correct this?

In 2015, the only time the VP South East Asia and India came to Pakistan, he made the following statement “This is an ideal time for Google to expand its footprint in Pakistan’s e-commerce and digital space, both directly and indirectly”. Basically nothing has happened since, nor has he returned. If you look at the carefully crafted PR, the use of the word “India” is missing from his official designation and the word “indirectly” is essentially a good lever to not really be present in the market thats been used in the communication. Its 2019 nothing remarkable has really happened in Pakistan Viz a Vi Google. Odd, given that Google is not one to shy away even from Moonshots.

BTW Google only came because of the generosity of one local group TPL, that had the wherewithal to promote the Pakistani market opportunity and engage with the likes of Google to explore growth opportunities devoid of any regional biases that may be present on the other-side of the equation. Plus there are signs that suggest that the said Google VP may likely have political ambitions. What could that possibly mean around prioritizing Pakistan as a market? Or being engaged locally?

What a market it is, made up of over 200m people and 65+M connected users who have been subjectively deprived of advances, both technological and operational as evident by things like Google Station and others not being on the radar. But let’s look at some specifics.

Case 1: Localization Language AD Support . For over 4 years we have been hearing via various Googlers that URDU localization is coming to Pakistan in full swing. Clearly it hasn’t as expected, we have seen lukewarm roll outs and at best “basic” ad-targeting, even the contextual mapping is not where advertisers would like to see it. The reasons being shared is that Google a Multi Billion $ company is un able to or unwilling to hire Urdu localization teams and experts , whilst they claim its being worked on it continues to hurt the largest publishers in the country who publish in Urdu and more so the small ones too. Because when an advertiser tries to do Urdu based campaigns they see a 180M reach as opposed to 7BN for english. It has to do with content also, fully understand that, yet they worked with local publishers, advertisers and industry in India and Indonesia to solve for these items and grow the ecosystem.

This btw has very little to do with Sales but more so with Engineering. Most of these engineering teams are based in India. Token Urdu speaking teams/individuals to provide support have always been present, but the market has yet to see an engineering push in relation to local requirements. Basically as there is no on ground work being done on this there is little to no interest to grow this tier.

Case 2: Google Assistant Urdu language support. Same vein as above but different item altogether. Look at the image above to understand the dis-service to Pakistani users, audiences and likely economic gating by not rolling this out. 65Million 3/4g Subscribers, Let’s assume that 30M have an android device and 50% of those would benefit from voice assistant services. Yet no road map in sight. This selective engineering bias is not limited to language localization. Is it likely gating things like the Bolo literacy app that Google launched in India? Alphabet should be asking if Googles moral and philanthropic responsibility starts and ends with India? This is a phenomenal effort no less on Googles part and we must value the impact it will have. But should this not be more inclusionary? Does it even have the URDU rails or other language rails for the region to offer a similar service? Is that even on the roadmap?

Case 3: No roll out road map and launch market inclusion for Pakistan when Google rolled out AMP and PWA. I know it on good authority, even before the AMP carousel was turned on for PK independent publishers and enthusiasts were delivering AMP content from Pakistan. Way before many mature markets. Yet it was launched in India officially and other markets, but in Pakistan it just started showing up in SERPs. Incidentally, AMP results for URDU were mainstay for publishers in Pakistan but over night URDU AMP pages started falling off the radar, sans BBC Urdu and continue to be a hit or miss for local publishers.

Im sure if one looked further you’d find more examples. I strongly believe that Google as an organization has enabled massive economic opportunities in Pakistan. Having said that, since around 2014 there seems to be an un-said gating process along with little to no prioritization in decisions pertaining to Pakistan. You can gather your own facts and evaluate them. All this information is available in the public domain.

Now let’s focus on the opportunity piece. How does Pakistan really turn this into massive operating opportunity? It’s simple, invite Google to the table, engage with them, publicly ask questions about services and features as they pertain to Pakistan. Don’t shy away from asking the question(s) around India based management and engineering teams leading the charge for decisions in Pakistan and the low priority responses provided on open ticket items. Also don’t leave these conversations or any conversations up to advisors. Just because they take selfies doesn’t mean they are qualified to handle a national debate on tech growth.

From a government perspective, the next frontier for growth, financial inclusion and e-commerce is Payments. With the remarkable up-take GPay(formerly Google Tez) has had in India, it would not be lost on them to launch similar services in Pakistan. I have written about payment enablement at length earlier too.

Given that the SBP Mandates that all electronic transaction data reside in Pakistan, it must work with all international players looking to enter the market to ensure that they build technical provisions to host and pass-through banking data within the geo-graphical remit of Pakistan. Allowing this to go unchecked will create huge national security implications. In the case of ANT financial and others, bringing them in to the regulated sphere by virtue of them having to acquire a stake in a Micro Finance Bank was the right move.

An enhanced policy frame work must be put into place for any international payment or wallet providers even the ones that have applied for EMI licensing to adhere to this. Any such operators, be it the ambitions of the ride hailing companies who want to capitalize on their existing clients to the likes of Google all must be able to segregate the domestic transactions and work with the SBP to ensure they can piecemeal their domestic data, locally and not mirror it in the cloud and that the whole processes should be independently auditable.

This is most pertinent because not doing so will kill the local Fintechs and wallet companies who have adhered to these provisions in the rules from day one. This is nothing new, the EU also launched similar provisions called the GDPR to which all the tech companies had to comply with including Google. That spawned of an entire industry within it self and in Pakistans case it will create a host of new jobs and economic activity.

Secondly a subsidized no-fee or near-0 fee models like the ones Google used in India, must be discouraged. Long term whilst Google can support a race to the bottom on no fees, Pakistani Fintechs will die in a blood bath. We are only starting in this effort, so we must not tilt the scales in the direction of one company or companies the fuel the likes of NBU initiatives on the back of strong advertising revenue backed balance sheets. Pakistani Banks will also be the net-looser in such a scenario.

Multi party partnerships are the way to go and also to keep the likes of ANT in check, players like Google must be invited to the table.

The issue is, Tez or Gpay was made in India for India pre-dominantly by an Indian workforce. So if Google is serious about Pakistan, or product localization, it must rise to the occasion and get past token Pakistanis in its teams and build engineering capacity either domestically or outside of India to remove any bias. The SBP should work with the local tech industry, academia and Google to solve for that issue. But first Google has to show willingness to engage. It does become very difficult when most of its top Product, Engineering and Sales Leadership likely will have visa challenges. Thus we must look at the Pakistan opportunity not from an Indian specific lense but from a Google and Alphabet one.

The government has the opportunity to embark on real engagement with Google past MOUs. Those don’t help any one. It must seek professional help in ensuring ease of business for the likes of Google and full support across the board. It must stop making committees with people with android phones alone as the baseline criteria for understand Googles complex makeup and for once shun the old guard.  We must learn to call a spade a spade and also fix our operational issues.

Provide massive tax breaks to the likes of Google to encourage them to bring in talent from Mountain View and across the world to operate in Pakistan. Incentivize them to open shop locally. Work with them to use their best in class payments rails and help leapfrog our own ecosystem. Partnerships will only make things successful long term. But these partnerships have to be mutually beneficial.

It’s time to engage and time for Alphabet to introspect if its leadership which truly is world class, needs to reevaluate its Pakistan playbook by redrawing reporting the lines drawn in sand. I have one simple ask, how many of the 20% personal time projects at Google in India are focused on solving items for Pakistan?

KBC: Khana Banao Certificate, The Global Thai Restaurant Co Model.

One thing across every major mall in America is the presence of Thai food. Whilst Mexican and Chinese restaurants might be more abundant that also has to do with population dynamics. With over thirty-eight million Mexican-Americans and around six million Chinese-Americans, it’s no surprise that these cuisines have exploded on the American foodie scene.

Comparatively, there are only about 300,000 Thai-Americans—less than 1 percent the size of the Mexican-American population. Yet there are an estimated 5,342(today) Thai restaurants in the United States, compared to around 54,000 Mexican restaurants; that’s ten times the population-to-restaurant ratio.  It just got me thinking, why is it so. Is this really new age “gastro diplomacy”?

Remember Arthur Anderson? I do. In 2001, I read a WSJ piece which I recalled recently, and was amazed at the far sightedness of the Thai Government. They were raising 10M$ to bring between 1000-3000 restaurants in 5 years to the US and 8000 globally to serve authentic Thai Cuisine. Back then I wondered why?

 This didn’t happen overnight. Since the 1990 the Thai Government methodically sent qualified chefs all over the world, they also setup in-country institutions for culinary arts. They set up manufacturing lines across the nation and re-tooled old utensil factories to deploy neo-modern cooking utensils fit for a new class of yuppies, enthusiasts and professionals alike.

The global movement of McDonaldizing Thai Food. Now that’s an idea and something to be proud of. Something we need to still copy and emulate as the government of Pakistan. Instead of making insanely dumb committees and task forces, with a vast majority of dumber people and has-beens who besides self-enrichment have done nothing at scale in this country or any other. The yes sir, ji boss, bull$hit is back.

Without being side tracked, in 2001 or there about the Thai were exporting 6bn$ in food related exports worldwide, meaning ingredients, herbs and spices. In 2017-2018, Pakistan is struggling to export rice greater than 1.3bn$. Spices and other Pakistani-ethnic foods don’t even show up on the radar. You want to see the kicker? Thai exports to just their foreign restaurants were as $1.5bn in 2000…

Some one really needs to just copy this model and get started. Its been tested over time and given dividends in all the areas our current government aspires to draw in-bound dollars. Tourism, Tech to name the two top of mind items. But it should be exploring entire ecosystems of industries as opposed to one offs.

Just to re-cap, in 2001 or there about the Thai were exporting 6bn$ in food related exports worldwide, meaning ingredients, herbs and spices. In 2017-2018, Pakistan is struggling to export rice larger than 1.3bn$. Spices and other ethnic foods don’t even show up on the radar. You want to see the kicker? Thai exports to just their foreign restaurants were at $1.5bn in 2000… Some one really needs to just copy this model and get started. It’s been tested over time and given dividends in all the areas our current government aspires to draw in-bound dollars into. Tourism, Tech to name the two top of mind items. But it should be exploring entire ecosystems of industries as opposed to one offs.

Why did the Thai government do this?

The predominant motivation for the venture, according to the government, which was to hold a stake of less than 30%, was the frustration caused by the fact that people cooking Thai food abroad just weren’t doing it right. There are too many western distortions in what purports to be Thai cuisine.

The restaurants themselves were to be established with start-up funds of over US$10m and split into three price bands, upscale, mid-price and fast-food, and be called Golden Leaf, Cool Basil and Elephant Jump respectively. Experienced franchise partners would run the companies on a day to day basis, but according to the then, Thailand’s deputy commerce minister, Goanpot Asvinvichit, the government will be playing a “strong role” in the conception of the menus, and overseeing quality. How ever mis-guided that sound(s) then or today, It catapulted an export revolution.

Knock-on effect in export markets and tourism

Market watchers had expressed concerns as to just how much Thai food can be digested in the west, but a glance at export figures shows that as the taste for cuisine in specialist restaurants grows, so did demand for “authentic” Thai ingredients – both for foodservice sales channels and home consumption. Clearly this has been a global winner by way of execution.

Indeed, the government played this right, they had intended and made sure that at least 70% of the foods used by the Global Thai Restaurant Co. are exported from Thailand.  As stated earlier, the country already grossed over US$6bn from food-related exports annually, and over US$1.5bn from supplying restaurants with both food and cultural merchandise, and the Thai food industry gained a significant boost from the venture and continues to grow to this day. An idea well played out.

As well as the profitable growth in the ethnic food sector, and the related export boost, Thailand also gained from  the intrinsic link between exotic food and its destination: the tourist trade is booming even when the politics was at all time low. During 2000, the country welcomed nearly 10m tourists, double the amount that arrived in 1990. In 2018 those numbers were at 22M. The increasing availability of long-haul flights is a major factor of this, but so too is the advertising provided by popular local restaurants. Imagine the mix at play, all well thought and executed correctly to now stand in 2019 at the top of the game. It did not happen by accident it happened by deliberate planning and by way of some thing every Pakistani feels strongly about. FOOD…

Over the course of this exercise it has been fairly evident that People who enjoy Thai food are more disposed to visit the country, and tourist officials are widely distributing leaflets and brochures in eateries. Its an ecosystem of one. One mission, one drive, one end result, brand Thailand.

Further evidence of the close link between Thai food and the country is in the establishment of cooking schools in Thailand to cater for the tourists’ desire to learn more abut the cuisine. One such example is the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts on the popular island of Koh Samui, but similar centers have mushroomed in the tourist hotspots in recent years. We need to learn from this. Whilst Indian food is on the up and up in the West, similar examples of Pakistani food are far and few in between.

What have we been doing and what should we be doing?

We continue to focus on the wrong thing, set in motion by the wrong set of people leading self driven agendas. We need to think outside the box. Pakistan doesn’t have a PR problem, we have an “Idiot” problem, we are taking our versions of political idiots and putting them in charge of solving economic problems. Actually this whole model could be copied by any half decent so called local group or company that has the where with all to think beyond its table stake businesses of being a rent seeker.

The Thai Govt didn’t import the London Bukhar equivalents to dream up these things, they didn’t invite other patrons of high-business and high-friendships to devise new ways to save the Thai Economy. Do remember they have had 12 Military Take overs; yet continue to be perceived as a safe destination, rampant with ease of doing business, tourism and now a center of high tech innovation.