Hipster, Hacker & Hustler – Cheat Sheet for Startup Success

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

NRO- National Reconciliation Order (5th Oct 2007)

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Drawing room politics and the impact of apathy on business

There are many beautiful things about Pakistan including the fact that we are the largest group of conspiracy theorists or, so lost for direction, that the national past time is an ongoing debate as to what will happen next.

Tragically, when most should be worried about internal politics and its correlation to industrial, commercial and financial growth, we are busy debating if Trump will be good or bad for Pakistan.

Yes so typical lets find some one else and blame all our problems on them or as a consequence of their actions, but the finger pointing should start at home; look outside, the filth in the average middle class neighborhood, look to the skies, the poles carrying power/telephone and or other misc un-licensed cables. The web of their complexity displays the chaos and indifference in our social fiber.

We haven’t been able to streamline how to run wires between poles in 50 years, we haven’t figured out if where we live also doubles as garbage dump, 2 degrees north of our main gates. Look at the guy(s) coming in the opposing direction to the drivers right of way, look to the line up in a bank. You know what; look even closer at the line or the lack their off, at break time at any canteen at any school.

The elite are spending $ & £ to send their kids to private schools, yet none have taken out the time to see where our civic sensibilities are, especially in those formative years. We are too busy discussing all the shit we shouldn’t and none of what we should. Same parents would end up at coffee mornings debating how badly the system is broken, yet contribute nothing to its regeneration.

Our commercial reality is that to this date we do not produce indigenously, be it automobile engines, be it PCBs, we do not produce any thing at scale, we have no national computer or semiconductor production company, we have not a single 1$Bn tech company, let alone companies that are legitimately in the $B club, barring a few exceptions. We can debate how dada jis tax free money result in the creating of that empire to begin with.

We have no large institutional players doing any ecosystem building for industry, tech, education i.e growth hacking. We have empires built around 1st/2nd generation saiths, their children typically neither have the inclination or the ability to sustain this pipe dream beyond their own generation.

We would rather debate nightly and daily will our COAS have his term extended, is he about to become a Field Marshal, who is in or out of prison, what will happen to the accountability of a sitting prime mister viz a vi his family’s alleged involvement in only the biggest scam exposed ever.Where’s Musharraf, more importantly what is Zardari thinking, what will happen to MQM. Day in and Day out, the national debate cant rise beyond this garbage.

In a country boasting youth to be at 60% as a subset of the total population we cant find a Governor under 70 for the largest economic and tax contributing province. How can some one govern a populace where the representatives chosen to lead them have nothing in common.

A place where the reps of the judiciary come out and say the point man has no social profiles and does not use any social media, because some one was using a fake profile under their name. Clearly we have bigger issues at hand than making public statements about this stuff. “Az Khud Notice” is the proverbial cluster f** of this generation. If some one were to analyze how many of these were initiated and their outcome, they’d need a full time staffer to analyze what I can tell them now, ZERO.

The stack, breed, pedigree of politicians we have, make Trump not from a lesser child but the son of a saint. Surely we didn’t not elect these morons, I for one have not, they do not represent me, I did not ask for a guy who opens or used to open briefings by saying “skoority(security)” I did not ask for men and women fighting out the agendas of their shitty political establishments on air. I am sick of the pundits and spin doctors who nightly predict this or that, a cursory glance says that all the pundits predict both sides of the coin and then side with which ever holds true. We as a nation clearly deserve this, due to the lack of calling a spade a spade, due to the lack of us giving a damn and due to our combined apathy.

Minus China not much is going on, we are in the circle of life that says

  • Find a bad guy party- give the population some thing to be busy about(this is called eating the mind share)
  • Make incumbents shaky so there is noise all over
  • Appoint ministers who my best guess says wouldn’t last 2 rounds of the popular TV show “are you a smarter than a 5th grader”
  • Rinse , repeat every day, till you die

China Is coming, China is coming, that may not be a bad thing, but what have we done to make sure our national interests are safeguarded, our jobs and money are not exported, what have we done to make sure there is transfer of knowledge and we up skill our workforce, where is the public discourse on routes, investments, growth plans, land acquisition disclosures and foreign policy changes to ensure mutual growth. Just yesterday we saw profiteering on the back of knowing where the routes will be and people having acquired wholesale land in those areas prior to the announcement.

We are growing in spite of all of this, not because of any of this, we are growing because in chaos there is opportunity. But we are being victimized by brain dain, people giving up- are victimizing us, we are victimized by the average persons in-ability to:

  • get credit
  • get respect in line at a bank or any public service
  • get fair compensation for our work
  • get professional counseling and direction to grow professionally
  • get social security
  • get free health care
  • get free education
  • get skills or training for basic sustenance

There are little to no Unicorns coming from the tech sector who will lift the fate of the country. I say this, not because I do not believe in our ability to innovate, I say this because of what we are using the technical revolution for

  • forwarding memes on whatsapp as a national past time
  • political and religious discourse on various groups on social media and then hating the other point of view
  • the consumption of content on youtube, based on the now trending button (cant even mention what it is, go look)*per capita we consume more video than India.

When was the last time you got a forwarded message from the MIT open courseware session, when was the last time some one shared any thing worthy of a share that was not in the political satire space or a joke.

We are a reflection of what gets shared. Religious intolerance, the gross categorization of the conspiracy of the E number in all processed foods being haram. I could go on, what we don’t see is people organizing focus groups to discuss pressing business issues, what we don’t see are youth organizing to discuss community action plans.

What we do see is the mental spacing out of kids, meeting virtually whilst ignoring reality and living in their bubble, I call these kids the helmet babies, they are so encapsulated within their helmets they cant bear being without them.

Lo and behold the Panoptican, a Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behavior constantly.

Modern day version of this for our youth is the Cell phone, whilst it can also be used to build the Unicorns like Uber and AirBnB our take is slightly different we are busy waiting for likes on our mindless shares and being the first guy to find a shitty viral video in our social circle.

Long term impact of this on business will be a completely disconnected middle class; and when they grow up, under skilled, mis-guided, of no genuine service to them selves and to our great nation, but perpetually in waiting for the Army, US, Politicians , everybody besides them selves to do some thing so that our passport doesn’t need a visa to get global access.

 

 

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

(Wed Sept 28th, Midnight)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sept 30th Midnight

“we knew all along this could be done”

Why Should I have to go to Dubai or Doha or Colombo or Bangkok?

(A follow up post to my earlier post on Pan AM 73)

29 Years and 10 months or 10896 Days after Pan AM 73 (Sept 5th 1986) was high jacked in Pakistan, roughly 3 decades later we still haven’t been able to recover from our loss. We can sum it all up in with these letters: AP-BCD. That is the registration number of a Boeing 737, which PIA leased to Emirates in 1985 a year prior to this highjacking, to start its operations.

Sadly, 3 decades on, PIA was till recently still flying it, struggling to fund a replacement, while the Dubai-based carrier has built one of the most modern fleets in the world. We must not blame them for their success but must retrospectively look at our over all ineptitude and failing political and economic position

This post has little to do with PIA but a lot to do with how others have capitalized from our initial victories and the early achievements our forefathers who had fought hard to put structure, growth, ambition and results in place.

Clearly due to their foresight and due to a sense of nation building they did what they had to do. Where as today every facet of society is impacted by the general apathy that is prevailing every where we look. Its easy to blame politicians its easier to blame men in uniform, but the real culprits are the average people who let the ruling elite get away with putting us in this hole.

If I want to go anywhere or do any kind of trade or be even marginally competitive I’m stumped at the beginning of that conversation because my initial cost of doing business or travel is higher than most if not every one else in the region. Plus the exchequer is loosing direct and indirect revenue and taxes, had most airlines stayed in Pakistan or had PIA not discontinued its services to majority of the destinations it flew directly to in the past.

Here’s a glimpse at the sad truth,  we have lost Cathay, Malaysian, Singapore, Swiss, Al-Italia, Japan Airline, Air France, Lufthansa , KLM and British Airways, I am sure there were others that I don’t know about missing from this list.

International Travel has gone up by 11% roughly by CAA estimates(2013/14), but the serviceability from PIA and global players is on the decline.

The domestic situation isn’t any prettier: whilst the  IATA (International Air Transport Association) forecasts Pakistan domestic air travel will grow at least 9.5% per year, more than 2X faster than the world average annual growth rate of 4.1% over the next 20 years. Keeping that in mind domestic travel options are equally non-existent but the needs continues to grow.

However despite growth in traffic domestically and internationally, the number of international airlines has drastically been reduced and the direct services of PIA have also been clipped. So its about time the powers be fixed PIA or sold it or at least made it more competitive?

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistan_International_Airlines_destinations to get an idea of the terminated air routes)

As a consumer why should I have to travel in an opposing direction first to the GCC and then onwards or add hours to my travel time, if I actually want to fly to say Nepal or Tokyo.

Similarly why should I have to go to Colombo if I want to go China or India. Direct flights options being next to non existent we are forced to fly to the global hub of our limited partners. They are definitely exploiting this, if we had more carriers, this would benefit the end consumer and would allow for more trade and cross cultural exchanges. (Given our current geo political and socio religious stances perhaps the question is, if any one would really come to Pakistan for tourism? Perhaps that is an other post all together)

Similarly in the past We, the consumer had the option to break journey in Europe with either a large buffet of PIA services or other European carriers. Today both on pricing and level of treatment Emirates and Etihad do not consider the PK-GCC-PK route as tier one, we are forced to pay non competitive rates due to a near monopolistic control, yet tier one service is only reserved for “Caucasians” “Westerners” as determined by visual queues gathered by all the GCC players and their staff. Saudi Airlines being the exception as they are “douches” to pretty much every one regardless of creed. They should be given a history lesson on the help received from the SSG Commandoes in 1979. Perhaps their long term memory loss will be jogged then.

Simple example of what happens on this route, Airlines serve doggy bags instead of real in-flight meals citing not adequate travel time, further the planes on both Emirates and Etihad from Karachi at least, more times than none don’t dock with the terminal they are parked away from the terminal and we are treated to stairs and a bus ride once in the GCC. At the very least services should be reciprocated as both airlines dock at KHI.

On other similar time frame flights originating from Dubai or Abu Dhabi the doggy bag argument doesn’t hold, nor does the less than decent treatment. We are special like that, we teach people how to fish and they take the pole from us and use us as bait.

We are becoming more and more inaccessible as a country and as a people, as our religious right drives us to further isolation our political and state machinery and their ineptitude will drive us to economic isolation.

The question is, why hasn’t any one given 2 cents about this phenomenon? Clearly its been 30 years in the making. The issue really is that the 1% who continue to influence these decisions are the same 1% who travel First and Business class, so they aren’t impacted by the common man or the average Pakistani laborers plight when he gets treated inappropriately because they will get off in Dubai and make their connection to their next vacation stop, using Marhaba services. There is Zero impact to their lives. Actually they prefer not being associated with the “other class” of Pakistanis onboard.

So its not just only about air lines and flight options its about how we are widening the divide by not caring. Its about time some one cared enough and figured out a way by bringing back some of the international airlines and worked on a strategy to fix our own broken down infrastructure. We must demand that, of our government at the very least. That a good idea, but we will have to take a flight to have that demand heard.

Clearly since more than half the political machinery is in England for Eid, it may be a good option to perhaps to utilize PIAs still functioning flight and shed light on this cause, before PIA stops flying to London too.

Pakistan say Panama – (From Pakistan to Panama)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On being so fortunate as to finding the right mentor and role model

Bright eyed and bushy tailed I arrived in Smyrna, Georgia some where in the 90s. First Co-op at General Electric, met my direct manager and then his boss and was wowed by all the free Ice cream, this was a time for cultural conflicts, the dotcom craze was making giants like GE uncomfortable. Every one had to use the “Internet” and graduate an entire generation of non tech hard liners in the most manufacturing oriented company in the world on the right side of the digital revolution.

All the Co-ops were assigned housing, swanky corporate apartments and we got a company car rental. What more could a middle class kid want? Right? With this transaction came my corporate buddy, Ajay Singh, a typical East Coast dude. We were all assigned to different Directors and roles but all the Co-ops were basically spending a lot of time on organized activities “the GE way”.

Says Ajay to me, “hey my manager is a Pakistani dude” perhaps the most profound and joyful moment up to that point. Wow a Pakistani guy at GE. This I had to see. Ajay said, “hes some top level shit but really cool guy” I just met him.

Fast forward almost a week, middle class values intact, Friday rolls up, I look up the Directors name in the corporate address book, reach out to him and introduce my self and ask if he knows of a Masjid near by. He says back to me, “see you down stairs in 5 mins, I am headed there, will take you with, I have a red car”

So at the risk of embarrassing him, I will only use his Initials. So I am waiting and rolls up a Red Mustang, top down, it’s the middle of summer in Georgia and the guy says “Are you Faizan” , I am “AD” get in.

I don’t speak to AD every day, I don’t speak to him for months now, most of it is on me. But let me tell you, the single biggest person who impacted my professional life in any profound way has to be him. As I try and mentor folks my self, I always think back to that moment, what does AD have that totally makes him tick.

The answer, real life experiences, completely self made and Zero Bullshit. From humble beginnings in Lahore, to driving a bus in London to working at a tailor and then making it to biggest consulting companies in the world, to GE and probably a half dozen C Suite roles in every imaginable corner of the world with one Fortune 10 company or an other. Whilst picking up an MBA on the way from one of the best schools out there.

Top qualities, he’d offer time, even when I knew 100% he had been traveling weeks on end and just got back home . He would pick you up, drop you off, he donated a car to me some years later, when he recruited me to Tyco. I say donated, because what he paid for that sporty little number I totally didn’t pay him. An other top quality, sharing in his success, a middle class boy from Karachi didn’t even have the aspirational target to be in that 2 door. But he made you aspire, he made you think bigger, want larger, work harder. The massive subsidy helped no less.

Taking interest and helping beyond being tied by a Pakistani bond, to this day, he would do the same for any one who asked. People who worked with him at GE, worked with him at other companies, work with him today… Its not out of any thing besides sheer respect.

Time spent with AD, be it in the board room, on a flight for work, or once upon a time being convinced by him to take up making a new staircase and doing some basement work has been a unique learning experience every time. I realize now or rather many years later that a top Fortune 10 executive didn’t need free labor, he was passionate about doing work around the house, but that left him with no time, and since I sought his time, he’d get me in on what ever activity he was doing. Teamwork, like you wouldn’t believe. Ive never met a person who didn’t admire him or like him.

Amongst other emulation worthy qualities was cooling you down and providing lessons in how to manage corporate rage:).  Over the years, I’d find my self at his door step “completely pissed off at some thing or an other” and he’d say, go back “write your self an email save it, re read it. If you still feel the same way in 24 hours, come back and we will chat.” Once I went to see him and he ended up having me open his mail using a letter opener, a good 30 mins not speaking to me in his study as he was busy doing some thing when I arrived and said “yaar sort this out”..

Most importantly every time I had the itch to do a new gig, do some thing crazy or just do some thing different. One phone call later he’d probably talking me into exploring a possibly bigger role etc., advising not limit my self because I was unhappy in any current situation. So seeing through the short term and planning for the long haul, this guy has it down to an art form.

I have a few dozen stories if not more, the guy has the most authentic work ethic, I’ve never seen any one work harder, smarter or with the tenacity he has, hence every word of advice coming from him seemed legit, implementing half or a third of what I saw him do, is perhaps better than all that I could have come up on my own. All the advice seemed legit, hence it inspired a 20 some thing year old to try it out.

Biggest trait, being on time always, without fail, without question, irrespective of who set the time, why it was setup. Ive seen interns setup time with him(my self included) to CEOs. If hes not 5 mins early he is probably 10 mins early. Just like children emulate their parents, good bad or ugly, entrepreneurs or wantapreneurs emulate their mentors.

Only so many of us will ever be this fortunate, I most certainly have been.

 

Stop Learning – Start Earning

Seems like every one in the country is building a startup or learning to build one. Startups are cool, startups are special. But startups with daddy’s money are neither cool nor special. Its like an Arab kid a flush with oil money buying 2 dozen franchise to bring back home and one of them eventually taking off. Where’s the excitement in that, what’s the real value creation, its like buying your self a long term job and telling every one that you really cant innovate and you are better off being a cog in some one else’s large scale corporate dream.

Then we have the middle class minions who think, who believe, who aspire to build the next Whatsapp. Snap-out of it I say. We need to move past the Me2 phase of copying others. The biggest dis service being done to people who are grounded in the country middle class, is that our friends are our biggest hindrance.

Since we’ve never learnt to push back and being really honest with our friends, we encourage shitty ideas till they break the bank. So we must move past that. We have got to stop soliciting feedback from the “mamu, the chacha, the uncle who works for some guy whose successful to the one Doctor in the family, to friends whose dad does import export, or some one who has a friend the Army” That is a sure fire way to get f***d trying to do an MVP or trying to prototype an idea on a limited scale.

Resources are scarce, relatives are not. So don’t rely on relatives who know nothing about your dreams, your aspirations or your goals. Some one who has worked all their life and barely gotten by, wont :

  • Give you their vote of confidence in your chosen discipline of being an entrepreneur
  • Wont relate to what you want or empathize with your cause
  • Wont be able to share any thing practical that will help you being successful
  • Would probably want you to come back to your senses and apply to an MNC just like bhai janaans son did.

The learning you so yearn for viz a vi people around you is basically useless. Time to move on.

Its good to have role models, but look around you, outside of your comfort zone. Don’t go out on a limb and have Richard Branson as your role model, the likely hood he will give you any practical advice or of you ever meeting him are next to none. There has to be a teacher a mentor a colleague a person you admire professionally, it takes a simple courtesy call to have them help you out and take you under their wing. The worst that can happen is a no.

You can then move on to the next. Be clear in your mind what you want from the relationship, most folks who are remotely successfully are dreadfully busy(topic for an other day) so its best to capitalize on the time you get.Be grateful when people offer you the biggest gift you will ever get when you are a “nobody”, its “somebody’s” time. Also remember that when you are a “somebody” you return the favor in kind and always be grounded in reality of your own origins.I see so many successful entrepreneurs who forget this rule..

Coming back to earning, you have to get of this death spiral called pivoting, because you can re calibrate only so many times. Make it, market it, manage it. If you cant do that then some things broken in the model. You can and should go back to the drawing board, but don’t get caught up in the lies you tell your self about one more week, one more month, one more deal, one more positive review. If its not working out(take the learning) cut the cord. Move on. Do some thing productive and constructive with your time and the feedback you have so generously received.

“Being an entrepreneur is not special, making money whilst being an entrepreneur is.”

You have to monetize it…if you cant, no one else can. This is not the valley, we don’t have VCs who have cash to burn, we have limited “so called” Angel investors and some real hard core “vulture capitalists” locally. Every one wants your pound of flesh along with a deal. We rarely have the “feel good” “philanthropist” investor who will write you a check because your idea is cool and they really don’t want you to make money. There is zero to limited “patient” capital in this country, so dream and dream big, but dream about ideas that can commercially get funded and when you make it big, you can use your own money to fund your “real dreams” and “the crazy ideas”. Till then, focus on earning…$$$$$